Plato Goes to China: The Greek Classics and Chinese Nationalism, Shadi Bartsch (Princeton University Press, March 2023)
Plato Goes to China: The Greek Classics and Chinese Nationalism, Shadi Bartsch (Princeton University Press, March 2023)

As improbable as it may sound, an illuminating way to understand today’s China and how it views the West is to look at the astonishing ways Chinese intellectuals are interpreting—or is it misinterpreting?—the Greek classics. In Plato Goes to China, Shadi Bartsch offers a provocative look at Chinese politics and ideology by exploring Chinese readings of Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and other ancient writers. She shows how Chinese thinkers have dramatically recast the Greek classics to support China’s political agenda, diagnose the ills of the West, and assert the superiority of China’s own Confucian classical tradition.

Food journalist Angela Hui grew up in rural Wales, as daughter to the owners of the Lucky Star Chinese takeaway. Angela grew up behind the counter, helping take orders and serve customers, while also trying to find her place in this small Welsh town. In her new memoir, Takeaway: Stories from a Childhood behind the Counter, she writes about the surprisingly central role the takeaway plays in rural Britain.

The World of the Ancient Silk Road describes what once represented the epicenter of civilization, before being swallowed up and forgotten, like the Library of Dunhuang, by invading sands. In the last thirty years or so, researchers have increasingly brought this world back to light. The operative word in the title is “world”, for it is really on an expansive scale that editor Liu Xinru has structured this volume. 32 different academic papers cover topics as varied as the merchandise of an ancient caravan. Fittingly, many of these papers use the dispersed manuscripts of Dunhuang as their sources.

After years of diplomatic pressure from the United States, China placed all fentanyl-related chemicals under an enhanced regulatory regime in 2019… only to see India emerge as a new source for the drug’s precursors the next year. Since then overdose deaths have continued to surge, prompting one US Senator to declare that “The flow of deadly synthetic opioids across our southern border is a public health crisis and a national security threat.” Peter Thilly’s new book, The Opium Business: A History of Crime and Capitalism in Maritime China, shows that a rising tide of addiction can indeed threaten a nation. It also shows why government attempts to disrupt the drug trade so often fail.

Development came to Macau relatively late and the city is therefore reasonably well-preserved by East Asian standards. But much, inevitably, has nevertheless been lost, as any perusal of old photographs immediately indicates. Photojournalist Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro spent a year collecting old photos and then tried to match them to present-day Macau. The result is an intriguing photo-album.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) did not just appear out of nowhere with China’s rise to military superpower status in the 21st century, though there has been very little written in English about its origins. Until now: Toshi Yoshihara, a former professor at the Naval War College and currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, traces the PLAN’s beginnings to the Chinese Civil War and the early years of Mao Zedong’s rule in his new book Mao’s Army Goes to Sea.

What does it mean to be a meritocracy? Ask an ordinary person, and they would likely say it means promoting the best and brightest in today’s society based on merit. But that simple explanation belies many thorny questions. What is merit? How do we measure talent? How does equality come into play? And how do we ensure that meritocracies don’t degenerate into the same old privileged systems they strive to replace?