China’s National Day is a carefully orchestrated occasion. Each year on October 1st, rigorously rehearsed celebrations take place nationwide, with those on Tiananmen Square broadcast live across China. On the decadal anniversary years, the display of pageantry is ramped up further, though these commemorations of Mao Zedong’s announcement on October 1st 1949 that the Chinese people had “stood up” have often been marred by events outside the careful control of the party leadership.

In 1865, the eminent American journalist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture called “Pictures and Progress”, in which he discussed the role of photography in exposing the evils of racism and slavery. Referring to Louis Daguerre, he pointed out that “men of all conditions and classes can now see themselves as others see them, and as they will be seen by those who come after them,” and that “man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of earth has the capacity and passion for pictures.”

The name Taikoo—or Taigu in Mandarin—means “great and ancient” and was adopted by John Swire & Sons in China in the 19th century when the UK company was relatively new and still minor. Historian Robert Bickers’s latest book tells the story of how this Liverpool trading house that initially dealt in cotton, apples and turpentine from America became an international conglomerate centered in Asia.

In Chinese history, the Tang and Song dynasties are often contrasted for their attitude to the foreign: a cosmopolitan Tang, its late turn to xenophobia, succeeded by a proto-nationalist Song. Changes in attitude tend to be explained by political events, most frequently by the dynasties’ brushes with foreigners. In The Way of the Barbarians, Shao-Yun Yang wants to detach intellectual history from this political determinism.

As it does to our lives at present, death—virulent, episodic, unbidden—haunts Yan Lianke’s memoir Three Brothers. First published in 2009, and rendered into English by translator and Sinologist Carlos Rojas, it is an elegiac homage to the people and places no longer present for Yan (at least not physically), who has spent the better part of his life oscillating (both physically and emotionally) between city and countryside in search of home.

Pale skin is valued in Asia: cosmetics to whiten skin such as “White Perfect” and “Fair & Lovely” are widely advertised. To Americans, and Asian-Americans, however, promotion of skin-whitening products appears to be racist and “colorist”, as people of color in the US have suffered from discrimination by the white majority. Whiter is a new anthology of essays by Asian-American women on skin color and “colorism”, edited by Nikki Khanna, a sociologist whose previous work has focused on biracial identity.