The subtitle of Kerry Brown’s new book, China’s World: What Does China Want?, is a question that is on the minds of the world’s statesmen, policymakers, international relations scholars, global investment advisors, international business leaders and geopolitical thinkers. Given China’s growing global diplomatic, economic, and military footprint, the answer to that question will shape the geopolitics of the rest of the 21st century.
“Over the past two years Chinese communists have devoted increasing attention to extending their influence in the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia,” reads an United States government report from 1957. To counter that influence, Eugene Ford writes in Cold War Monks, the US developed a strategy of “considerable guile, sophistication, and determination”, a funneling of significant funds through a front organization to help the Buddhist faith retain its hold on local populations and its leadership aligned with Western interests.
The Indian stand up comedian Anuvab Pal jokes that Gandhi gave the mantra of nonviolence or the message of “Don’t Fight” to the people who did not want to fight in the first place. Gandhi recognized the reluctance and laziness among the Indians to fight against the British. Well, that’s one theory.
Think hard; use your imagination. Try to remember the time when the world was not an oyster, with its pearl geolocalized on Google Maps, rated on TripAdvisor, its best sights already pre-dissected on The Lonely Planet and travel blogs. There was an era during which the world had not shrunk yet to a global playground easily explored with a smartphone and a wifi connection in hand or indeed, before planes, videos and even ballpoint pens. It was the epoch of explorers and discoveries, of years spent away from a home that less and less could be called as such. And this is the time during which Alfred Raquez wrote his travel journal, In The Land Of Pagodas, A Classic Account of Travel in Hong Kong, Macao, Shanghai, Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou.
World War II created its fair share of myths: on the American side, the “Flying Tigers”—a “small private air force that fought the Japanese over Burma and Western China”—became one of the first, providing as it did some of the few bright spots in the days after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to June 1942, the force which “rarely had more than forty airworthy planes” managed to take down almost 300 Japanese aircraft. A John Wayne movie came out as early as 1942.
It is that time of the year again. The day after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights loudly celebrated with an army of firecrackers, Delhi residents wake up with something that is worse than a hangover: a cloud of toxic fumes stubbornly sitting on the face of the Indian capital, choking it to a slow death. In her book, Choked: Everything You Were Afraid to Know about Air Pollution, Indian writer Pallavi Aiyar dissects the airpocalypse that has spread to India’s major cities over the past few decades.
The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, by journalist Ian Johnson, is an infectious, celebratory book about the state of religion in mainland China since the 1980s. Framed around the lives of various religious devotees in China—ranging from solitary seekers to associations to experts —Johnson explores different aspects of Chinese religion and spirituality, as well as the “import” religion of Christianity, as living practices in China today. He wants to understand what motivates religious believers in a time of greater material comforts, and what their beliefs mean to them.