A review of Modern China-Myanmar Relations by David I. Steinberg and Hongwei Fan has just been received. Appearing in the Fall 2014 issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies, Balázs Szalontai of Kwangwoon University writes:
This book, a breathtakingly panoramic analysis of Sino-Burmese relations from 1949 to the present, demonstrates that this traditionally neutralist Southeast Asian country occupied a more significant role in Beijing’s Cold War strategy than one would assume from the standard monographs on China’s policy in Asia, focused as they are on the battlefields of Korea and Indochina.
The strategic importance of Burma/Myanmar is nowhere more apparent than in this map from a recent NIAS publication.
Balázs Szalontai concludes:
All in all, this book is a uniquely comprehensive monograph on post–1949 Sino-Burmese political, security, and economic relations. … Steinberg and Fan masterfully integrate the history of the Sino-Burmese partnership into the larger context of Cold War politics and by doing so illuminate the Cold War from a novel angle. Furthermore, the observations they make on various aspects of recent Chinese-Myanmar cooperation—such as the nationalist Burmese leadership’s unwillingness to become too subordinated to its colossal neighbor—offer valuable lessons for specialists of Sino–North Korean relations too.
This very positive review is not the first we have received for the book but its positive judgement is in line with the others. Not for nothing did Robert H. Taylor write in 2013 “Modern China-Myanmar Relations will be an essential reference work for years to come.”
So far this year, winter has had little of its old bite. Eren Zink’s fine study of global warming seems especially relevant right now. However, yesterday the snow fell much of the day and a few flurries continue today, lightening up the post-Christmas drabness, as can be seen out of one of the windows in the Press office (we are blessed with three).
“Flurries” in more ways than one … Recently, there’s been a flurry of book reviews coming in. Typical here is the case of Negotiating Autonomy in Greater China: Hong Kong and its Sovereign Before and After 1997, edited by Ray Yep, which was published 18 months ago but is only now garnering reviews in the journals (a matter of frustration given the rich topicality of the volume).
Last week was the turn of China Information (28:3), in which John M. Carroll of the University of Hong Kong wrote:
The premise of this exceptionally well-focused collection of essays is that Hong Kong’s autonomy has always been a process of negotiation, and that understanding how autonomy becomes political reality requires analysing it within a complex range of interactions between London and Hong Kong and between the PRC’s centre and its periphery regions.
And now today, in the China Journal (no. 73), Alvin Y. So of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology writes:
All the chapters in this book are interesting and well-written. The book sheds new light on the contentious process of negotiating autonomy by offering insights from scholars from different disciplines (including political science, public administration, sociology, law and history) and researchers from different social backgrounds, including expatriates who have served and lived in Hong Kong for decades; local academics born in Hong Kong who are well versed in Western and liberal ideas; and overseas Chinese who crave an identity distinctive from the mainland regime. The richness and sophistication of this book is enhanced by the diversity in perspective, discipline and case materials, as well as the different personal backgrounds of the authors.
The first two titles of 2015 have showed up at our NIAS Press office (and are out there in the wider world, hopefully coming to a bookshop or library near you). Both books coincidentally deal with important issues affecting China –territorial disputes and the environment.
This made for a perfect opportunity to charter Karolina to present the books in true NIAS Press fashion!
On the left we have Coping with Calamity: Environmental Change and Peasant Response in Central China, 1736-1949 by Jiayan Zhang, an important contribution to the field of environmental history, providing unique insights on the Jianghan Plain (Central China) and its volatile environment.
Then on the right, shining under an ornamental pragmatic dragon hanging in our office, we have Eric Hyer’s The Pragmatic Dragon: China's Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlements. This title provides a comprehensive and detailed treatment of China's various border issues and negotiations, and examines the strategic environment in which China has operated.
And there’s more. The two massive volumes on the Danish Royal Library’s Japanese and Korean collections (mentioned in October after the printer’s proofs were checked by Gerald when he passed through Singapore) should have been soon reaching our shores but for a glitch discovered in the jackets of both volumes. This morning we heard that all is now fine and the books will be on their way.
More about that later.
Certainly, the hot new NIAS Press title this year has been Burma/Myanmar - Where Now? edited by Mikael Gravers and Flemming Ytzen. But the hotness is now official. The news just in is that the book is #1 on TripAdvisor's recommended reading list for Myanmar.
That is not surprising - but well done all the people who made it happen!
(More about the book here.)
If you look at the 'Forthcoming' section of the Press website right now you'll see only one book sitting there. This is misleading; a whole lot of new books are on their way but haven't been announced on our website yet. Likewise there is a new catalogue being loaded on the website real soon.
Two new titles are well advanced, both belonging to our COMDC series of catalogues from the Royal Library in Copenhagen - vol. 10.1 (Japanese manuscripts and rare books) and vol. 10.2 (Korean).
NIAS Press editor in chief Gerald Jackson was in Singapore recently and found time to visit our printer there to check the proofs of both volumes.
We are pleased to report that both sets of proofs looked great and the volumes are now being printed with the first copies available by Christmas.
If you are interested to learn more about such printers proofs, a fuller explanation is here.
Trying to find out about the process in which my book has been banned by the current Maldivian regime has reminded me of Franz Kafka's 'the Castle'. It has given me insight, although this would imply that I have at least seen something -which I didn't, in the hidden and uncanny ways the Maldivian government works.
For the past six months I have been seeking to elucidate why my publisher NIAS Press has had no success trying to get my book 'Folktales of the Maldives' published and distributed in the Maldives.
The place would be an ideal market since there is a big tourist industry and this is the first time a comprehensive collection of traditional tales is published in one volume. Long ago the publisher approached Novelty and the months passed. I was telling him to be patient. Maldivians are usually very slow, and things in the islands take time. But two years have passed and this is far from normal. After much prying I have found out from my Maldivian friends that somebody high up is blocking the permission to publish and distribute. Letters and applications are useless. They say that it must be someone very powerful within the administration. They made it clear this is no second-level official, but a topmost figure who is unshakable and very secure in their high position. The process is subtle and absolutely noiseless.
To the local would-be publisher a discreet hint is given from above; he is quick to realize that this is really a command, and freezes on the spot, immediately submitting to the will of the lofty master. Following this brief but intense event, no acknowledgement whatsoever is made that there has been a vehement order forbidding the publication of the book. The person receiving the "hint" will protect the source, keeping mum about the fact that any such powerful veto has been given. The increasingly desperate reminders of the foreign publisher are repeatedly ignored in the hope that NIAS just gets weary of requesting. A pall of silence falls after the last puzzled appeals, and the potential questions hang in the air. Thus the book has been banned.
I got this assurance that the book has definitely been banned only after much inquiring and from a couple of good sources who are too afraid to be named.
Now the questions in my mind are: 'Why has this book on local tales been forbidden?' Is there someone who wants to keep the folklore of the country buried? Could it be that the current administration does not want to be seen as promoting syncretistic traditions? Do religious hardliners truly have a lot of weight within the system? Do they feel threatened by customs that are not strictly Islamic, but which still are very much part of the character of the nation? It is difficult to know.
We have just heard the following sad news from Justin McDaniel on the TLC list:
I am very sad to announce the news of the passing of one of the greatest scholars of Southeast Asian Studies in the last century. Grant Evans, author of numerous ground-breaking books and friend and mentor to many people in the field, passed away from cancer on 16 September 2014. I thank Ian Baird and Nick Enfield for informing me. They have no details about his memorial at this time, but I will send any information out when I hear. He passed away in his home with friends and family.
Thanks to Philip Taylor for the advice.
As well as editing Where China Meets Southeast Asia and contributing to such other NIAS publications as Contesting Visions of the Lao Past, Grant undertook peer reviews for us and generally offered critical support to many scholars in the field. He will be sorely missed.
Just received today are our first copies of Catherine Earl’s absorbing study of upwardly mobile young women in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s New Middle Classes explores the social consequences of the massive industrialization and urbanization that followed the doi moi reforms of the late 1980s. It focuses on young women graduates who have moved to the cities to better themselves, an ambition that is achievable – so long as they remain single.
And there’s the rub. As they enter their 30s, Vietnamese women face increasing pressure to marry, as the author recounts in an extract from the book appearing here.
That needn’t be a problem, says Oscar Salemink, a leading Dutch scholar working on Vietnam and now located at Copenhagen University. When presented with a copy of the book earlier today, he remarked somewhat flippantly, “The trick is to marry but get divorced within the month. Then you are free.”
Judging by the cases recounted by Catherine Earl (which cover much more than the marriage issue, by the way), it is not always quite that simple.
All scholarly books experience a brief moment of freshness at publication. Thereafter they age, some gracefully, while a select few works mature becoming timeless classics in their field. However, far too many studies wither under the pitiless sun of passing time, fading into irrelevance.
Sadly, most books do not become utterly irrelevant, let alone valueless; they are simply forgotten. And yet, time and again, something happens in the world that apparently is new but which is beautifully explained – given context – by one of these old texts.
NIAS books are not immune to ageing, either, but we have decided to do something about the obsession with now and the stampede towards obsolescence – hence the launching today of a new website with which we aim to link current events (especially in Asia) to Asia research published by NIAS.
Welcome to NIAS Inside, a website demonstrating that fine scholarship is timeless.
It is often said of social science books that typically their sales go ‘up like a rocket, down like a stick’ because the subject matter quickly gets out of date. In contrast, history titles may have a flatter sales trajectory but a much longer one.
Even so, it is rare that books whose sales are dormant suddenly take off again. Generally, this is because of an event reviving interest in a study (hence, in addition to the splurge of new books on World War I currently being published, there is certainly a revival of interest in some of the classical studies of the war as the 100th anniversary of its outbreak approaches).
So it is with the ongoing unhappy situation in Xinjiang. This has not only increased interest in a recent NIAS Press book exploring the place of Tibet and Xinjiang within China; it has also revived curiosity in a NIAS title published way back in 1999: David Wang’s Clouds over Tianshan, which explores the brief quasi-independence of Xinjiang in the 1940s.
Nor is this the only NIAS book suddenly enjoying new sales.
The trick, of course, is for authors and publishers to point new readers to their books long after they have been published, demonstrating their continued relevance. That is not easy, but it is something we are working on.
- Feb. 29 2016
After a year of 48-hour days and frantic juggling, first copies of the printed volume of End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World, edited by David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, finally reached the NIAS Press office this morning.