During a one-year sojourn in London in the 1970s, my secondary school O-level history curriculum covered about a century from mid-1700s on. A decade into a discussion of the Napoleonic Wars, the history master (for such he was called) mentioned, almost in passing (and, in retrospect, probably for my benefit), that after marching through a swamp, a detachment of British soldiers had burned down the White House. “That’s the War of 1812!”, I interjected, finally twigging to what we had been discussing. “That’s what you call it,” was the reply. The “war” that engendered the National Anthem was to the British a mere police action in a far more important conflict.
The Sino-Russian relationship is often seen by the West (for which, read the USA) as a sort of counterpoint to Sino-American relations with Russia ready to step in when the US takes a step back. Sören Ubansky’s recent book is one of the periodic but salutary reminders that China and Russia’s mutual dealings are not just centuries old but have also for the most part had little to do with third parties.
Iris Weijun Wang is just like any other New Jersey teen. She enjoys shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Her parents are Chinese immigrants who speak English at home and are pretty hands off when it comes to their daughter’s school work and extracurricular activities. But when they learn during Iris’s last semester of high school that she’s about to flunk out and has been rejected from every college she has applied to, Iris’s parents flip out. Her otherwise laid-back father comes up with the perfect solution to teach Iris some responsibility. Off to China she goes.
For some men, getting to know a woman isn’t quite what it seems. In this quirky collection of stories by Xu Xu, we can read about a man who dates a would-be ghost, another takes up with a supposedly mentally-challenged girl who has conversations with birds and eventually becomes a Buddhist nun, a third hooks up in a pro forma marriage (which later becomes real) with a mysterious Jewish woman whom a new acquaintance has asked him to help get to Europe, and a fourth falls in love with a strange girl who eventually kills herself after telling her tragic personal story to the narrator.
In the summer of 1953, a massive drought hit the Chinese province of Zhejiang. Villagers took the disaster as a sign that deities were angry at officials for converting temples for secular uses and destroying ritual items, including statues and dragon boats. To placate the gods, villagers rose up to try to take back religious spaces and pray for rain by resuming boat racing, which officials saw as a “superstitious” practice incompatible with the spirit and law of the new People’s Republic.
November 12, 1941 was in Shanghai a day like another. Except that this was the day of the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club. And that within a month the Japanese would put an end to the Shanghai that everyone knew. In Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai, James Carter uses this one day to paint a “kaleidoscopic portrait” of a dynamic city on the brink of war. On that day thousands of people across Shanghai gathered at one of three places around the city: a celebration of Sun Yat-sen’s birthday; the funeral of Liza Hardoon, Asia’s wealthiest woman; and the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club.
Chinese often claim a special relationship, sometimes verging on kinship, with Jews. The origins and reasons remain unclear but it may be at least in part due to two Jewish families—the Sassoons and their rivals, the Kadoories—both of whom played lasting roles in the development of two of China’s most modern cities: Shanghai and its rival, Hong Kong.