Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Asian Studies

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to Asia. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. The promise and peril of things: literature and material culture in late imperial China
Li, Wai-yee. Columbia, 2022

Li (Harvard) employs everything from literary classics to anecdotes in analyzing the preoccupation of late imperial Chinese elites with valued objects ranging from love tokens to antique collectables. In chapter 1, Li contrasts the crassly commodified view of human beings in the Míng novel Plum in a Golden Vase with the way the Qīng novel Dream of Red Mansions often anthropomorphizes treasured things, such as fallen blossoms that seemingly deserve a ritualistic burial. Chapter 2 explores how things can flesh out the dichotomy of vulgarity versus elegance through Dream of Red Mansions’s portrayal of the rustic Grannie Liú’s interactions with urbane youths in the Jiă family’s Grand View Garden. Chapter 3 discusses how people can distinguish between genuine and fake things of apparent value through such vehicles as vignettes within selected operatic texts. Among other insights, the last chapter reveals how precious things lost during the overthrow of a dynasty may be surprisingly rediscovered in a later era. An epilogue, endnotes, and a bibliography round out this erudite monograph with conveniently interspersed Chinese characters. View on Amazon

2. The Routledge companion to Korean literature
ed. by Heekyoung Cho Routledge, 2022

Taken together the 35 essays collected in this book constitute a historically and thematically broad study of Korean literature, probably the most extensive exploration of current issues available in English. The first three parts—”Premodern and Early Modern Korean Literature,” “Modernity and the Colonial Period,” and “Liberation and Contemporary Korean Literature”—offer insights into such subjects as print culture, gender dynamics, transgressions, the development of the novel, coloniality and decolonization, art and politics, humanism, diaspora, and North Korean literature. The final part, “Queer Studies, World Literature, the Digital Humanities,” looks at these thematically rich areas of inquiry from several important trans- and interdisciplinary perspectives. In addition to the works cited at the end of each essay and the comprehensive index, the volume includes an invaluable list of English translations of works of Korean literature that are, according to the introduction, being made available through a searchable online database. This volume will undoubtedly prove invaluable. Readers will welcome the groundbreaking research by leading figures in the field, as well as the extent of the literary materials and critical perspectives covered. View on Amazon

3. Biographical dictionary of Tang dynasty literati
ed. by William H. Nienhauser Jr. and Michael E. Naparstek Indiana, 2022

This is the first Western language biographical dictionary that focuses on Tang dynasty (7th–10th centuries), the most important period in Chinese literary history. The dictionary comprises biographies of 140 literary figures, including less-studied figures among Buddhists, Taoists, and women. Each entry begins with a concise and informative biographical introduction to the writer, including a translation and biref analysis of an exemplary work or works from the writer’s literary corpus, followed by an up-to-date bibliography of editions, annotations, and translations of the writer’s works, as well as scholarly studies of the writer. This informative dictionary is an indispensable reference work for understanding different aspects of the Tang dynasty literature and writers. Its “Overview of Tang Literature” and the “Literary Timeline of the Tang” are also immensely helpful to students interested in exploring the history of Chinese literature. View on Amazon

4. The road to Dien Bien Phu: a history of the first war for Vietnam
Goscha, Christopher E. Princeton, 2022

Goscha (Univ. du Québec à Montréal, Canada) employs his unrivaled command of French-, English-, and Vietnamese-language sources in a magisterial new interpretation of how Ho Chi Minh transformed a band of guerillas and an embryonic political entity into the military force and administrative state that defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. Using the example of Vladimir Lenin’s war communism, he explains how Vietnamese communism and nationalist manipulation grew the political state and a large modern army. Although there is deference to his zealous talents, there is no hint of hagiography about Ho, a brutal totalitarian who, with Chinese assistance and following their model, subjected his people to untold, unconscionable suffering through death and starvation, using mass mobilization, conscription, manipulation, and land reform to achieve his goals. For Goscha, the sociology of the conflict is as important as the military campaigns, and, inter alia, his descriptions of the acquisition, allocation, logistics, and politics of food are as important as the battles. Alongside Fredrik Logevall’s Embers of War (2012) and the never-outdated writings of Bernard Fall, this is the new standard on the French Indochina War, the battle of Dien Bien Phu, and Ho Chi Minh and his associates. View on Amazon.

5Made-up Asians: yellowface during the exclusion era Lee, Esther Kim. Michigan, 2022

In this remarkable volume Lee (theater studies, Duke Univ.) illustrates how performances of Asians living in the US during the exclusion era were not based on or performed by actual Asian Americans living in the US or in Asia. Made-Up Asians demonstrates the use and power of so-called yellowface during the period of exclusion (1862–1940) in US history. Exclusionary laws were deeply entrenched in US society and were normalized in the acting industry, in which almost all major roles on the stage and the screen were played by white actors. Whiteness was the default racial barometer in the acting profession, and Lee argues that for a white person performing an Asian character was a demonstration of artistry. Thus, Asian actors were doubly excluded, and Lee shows that even in the contemporary era casting is based on that notion. Lee provides a detailed exploration of the impact of this racist practice. She illustrates how the practice of yellowface affected the makeup industry, how Asian actors had to negotiate this practice, how white European and American actors prepared for Asian roles, and how scientific racism created the intellectual milieu for yellowface to develop. View on Amazon.

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