Most book milestones are measured in time—six months to deadline!—or word count. For Nicholas Kitto, author of Trading Places: A Photographic Journey through China’s Former Treaty Ports, the pertinent metric was step count: in the process of searching out the subjects for his photographs, Kitto walked 2,784,010 steps in the course of fifty-one different journeys from his home in Hong Kong—which must have amounted well over a thousand miles on foot.

Biographies have much to offer as a way into the past. Lives are messy, and avoid neat conclusions about history—frustrating things, they refuse to fit a preconception. Human lives have a complexity that can keep history-writing honest. To navigate subjectivities keeps us alive to the truth that the work of history, too, is subjective. 

Titling a book The Myth of Chinese Capitalism invites prospective readers to expect an unraveling of this singular, definite-articled story. It also suggests, to this reader at least, weighty theoretical contents, including perhaps tables and pie-charts. Dexter Roberts’s book is no work of dense economic theory, however, nor does it pretend to have uncovered some singular narrative of China’s development. Rather, it is lucid, personal, nuanced—and rather difficult to summarize. 

Buddhism would undergo profound changes as it was transmitted from its origins in India east into China, in the first century CE. Terminology had to be assimilated, for one thing. And when one language is translated and assimilated into another, it is inevitable that some conceptual connections will be lost and the meaning of ideas altered. Take Zen Buddhism. In his latest book, David Hinton says that we in the West are not just once-removed from the original Zen—but twice removed. This is because the Zen we know from Japan had already lost much of the original Daoist underpinnings of  Chinese Zen—known as Chan—even before the religion traveled across the Pacific to America.

In Remembrance of the Saints: The Rise and Fall of an Inner Asian Sufi Dynasty, Muḥammad Ṣadiq Kashghari, David Brophy (trans), Columbia University Press (January 2021)
In Remembrance of the Saints: The Rise and Fall of an Inner Asian Sufi Dynasty, Muḥammad Ṣadiq Kashghari, David Brophy (trans), Columbia University Press (January 2021)

In the first half of the 18th century, rival dynasties of Naqshbandi Sufi shaykhs vied for influence in the Tarim Basin, part of present-day Xinjiang. In the 1750s, the collapse of the Junghar Mongol state gave one branch of this family an opportunity to assert their independence in the oasis cities of Kashgar and Yarkand. Others sided with the armies of the Qing dynasty, which were massing on the frontiers to invade. The ensuing conflict saw the region incorporated into the expanding Qing imperium.