Book Blitz

New finds in UW Tacoma’s lofty stacks (amid the scent of coffee in the nostrils thick, thinking of oneself or the other as the dedicatee of various works, the heft of books in the hand, communion of silence broken and gladly so by Latino technicians with new chairs in a library which is already new, glass museums squiggle through the mist, a fleeting thought of crayons and joss paper is dismissed, and greenery lies munching soil, inexorably, in the Northwest):


1. Samuel Hawley, ed., Inside the Hermit Kingdom – This scholar caught hell for his ginormous history of the Imjin War in Korean Studies journals (too many English sources, apparently?), but he just keeps pumping it out, to his great credit:  The present 1884 diary is published by an offshoot of Rowman & Littlefield; its author, George Clayton Foulk, treks all over Korea in that consequential year.  Somehow everytime I read lines like “The cause is not yet lost. I want to get to Seoul quick to see our Minister” (p. 151), I get a little jealous stab when numbers were so much fewer, there was no such thing as a terrorist attack, and one could saunter up to a consulate/embassy in Seoul and have a nice conversation with a Western diplomat who had only months before been hanging out in the White House with Millard Fillmore.

If anyone is aware of a website or an article compiling the data, even just bibliographical, of similar sources (e.g. Western travel memoirs) from eastern Manchuria, northern Choson, and Mount Paektu/Changbaishan, please do inform!

2. Michael Harrold, Comrades and Strangers is a 2004 memoir of years and years spent in the DPRK as a translator for Kim Il Sung’s works.  If I or my colleagues were able to carve out the time, this might make a decent, informal, and accessible addition to a course about the contemporary DPRK.   Harrold also spins a couple of threads about Kim Jong Suk, the mother of Kim Jong Il, about whom I have been cultivating a small but growing interest since picking up her rather fractious official biography from my Yanji bookseller.

3. Christopher Bluth, Korea (Hot Spots in Global Politics, UK, 2008).  Just dreadful, drop this thing immediately!  May as well just put on a tape loop of IAEA IAEA IAEA Inspectors REPEAT and go to sleep.  Although, since Keith Howard (one of my scholarly idols for his work on Korean music) gives it a nice blurb on the back…the bibliography is potentially useful.

Andrei Lankov with His Output

Andrei Lankov with His Output

4. Andrei Lankov, From Stalin to Kim-Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. Everything about this book is interesting and I feel the need to revisit and get the old database trimmed and fighting.  Used in a few current manuscripts; come to think of it, pretty much everything Andrei Lankov does is, to put it subtely, an instant classic.  I would imagine that Chuck Kraus, rooted in China at the moment, has similar sentiments about this work.  I don’t believe I have ever had the priviledge of sitting in the same room with Lankov, Charles Armstrong and Gregg Brazinsky, but one can always aspire to such moments.

Lankov’s humorous ass-kicking of the rest of us in terms of first-hand knowledge, as well as foresight, is available as streaming audio and in transcript form via the US Institute of Peace.  Andrei, you are a Rock Star!

5. Glyn Ford with Soyoung Kwon, North Korea on the Brink: Struggle for Survival. London/Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2008.  Oh great antidote!  Completed in July 2007, this book is beautifully organized, chock full of original and interesting photographs,  and serves as a probably-indespensible guide to contemporary North Korea.   The prose is pithy, the ackronyms light, the graphic design nimble, the perspective European, the expertise needed.  I don’t know if Cumings’ previous assertions about how no one knows anything about North Korea, or willfull ignorance about the DPRK, hold up if more folks read this (and a few other texts).  Hope to have more analysis on Ford’s text in the future, and welcome links to its ongoing discussion.

6. John Feffer, North Korea/South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis. Feffer is only, only, a very reasonable person with a wealth of knowledge whose expertise on the macro-level is truly needed.  But he isn’t afraid to throw a few firebombs into his prose…The conclusion to this text begins with the wonderfully incendiary phrase “The missionaries are greedily eyeing North Korea.”  Footnotes are solid and his grasp is sound.  And besides that, this is a good-looking book.


On an extraneous side note, you know John Feffer is a good guy because he works with the Quakers (I was introduced to his stuff via the Howells in Athens, Ohio) and he also has friends all over the world; Glenn, for instance, is a fascinating colleague of John’s and a developer of historical board games for American kids, who I ran into a Starbucks last summer (where I go for the air conditioning, ice cubes, and clean air) in the Shijie Shichang on the south side of Beijing.  People like Glenn and John listen really carefully when you talk, and then they devise ways to help you out and promote peace.  As my friends in Brooklyn would say, “You gotta problem wid’dat?”  Peace-makers are tough!

7. Various volumes on Koreans in Japan (Sonia Ryang, ed.).  Occasionally I have a student who is just completely into this topic.  And Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s Exodus to North Korea seems to be priming the pump further.  I don’t have the expertise, but a course on North Korean-Japanese relations, or some kind of a summer study tour, would seem to be a great opportunity for certain students to delve into that relationship.  And besides, Megumi’s mom has published her memoir in English (coming soon to a library near me?) and Koizumi’s 2002 trip has got fodder upon fodder and the issues cloud up the 6-party talks….



Return to Sinology / UW Tacoma STACKS

This morning at 6:46 a.m. found me on a train moving south, into the wilds of Tacoma.  And a new biblioteque was discovered!

University of Washington-Tacoma Library

University of Washington-Tacoma Library

Through some miracle and wonder of Tacoma’s strangely modern link trolley, I arrived at this edifice with a blazing coffee in hand at the very moment that it, the library, opened.

Glorious place!  It is an old factory:

and below, the E 183.8 C (U.S.-China relations) section....

and below, the E 183.8 C (U.S.-China relations) section....

Anyway…a suprising number of new finds were unearthed.  To wit:

I. China Books

1. Zhang Lijia, “Socialism is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China (New York: Atlas & Co., 2008).

Zhang Lijia was born in 1964, and is thus of that peculiar generation of Chinese who have a handful of hazy, hungry, and sometimes traumatic but just as often sweet, memories of the years of the Cultural Revolution.  Spared of the political dust-ups of the mid-1960s, they nevertheless grew to age as the children of those consequential power struggles in Beijing.  Ideology of class struggle formed the backbone of their elementary school years.  (While 1978-79 marked the beginning of the “reform period,” it is often forgotten that from 1978-1981 in particular, prior to the Party having rendered its historical verdict on Mao at the Eleventh Party Congress,  educational rhetoric remained largely revolutionary.   There is nothing more interesting, but quietly unsettling, about standing in a friend’s study or in a second-hand bookstore, reading through an English workbook from the PRC from those years.  “We continue the revolution, how many reactionaries divded by two and times five equals 100 flowers” etc…..

How lovely it would be for us to imagine that all Chinese of that age were like the fetching (and somewhat older) Jung Chang, who escaped to London as she breathlessly recalled, ready to get out of the hothouse of China and start a new life.   But in fact, most Chinese stayed in China.

Zhang Lijia is one who stayed, and her memoir weaves among narratives of iron-rice-bowl systems, social changes, personal relationships, and ultimately the Democracy Movement of 1989, which is where the memoir ends.

It is an attractive book, tightly bound, immaculately cut, with a beautiful typeface that respects the eye and adorns the page; it is embossed in red and is just the right dimensions for one’s hands, whatever their size.   (The physical aspects of book layout are far too often neglected in the composition of reviews!  I will always regret not praising these aspects of my review of Ian Johnson’s Wild Grass, whose design, layout, and ribbed orange cover strike me even in recollection with a subtle chill.)

Zhang is a fine writer, who uses real verbs like “locked” (e.g., “When Ma returned home from work, I was locked in Fortress Besieged.” (p. 134, opening salvo to Chapter 14).

More on this completely worthy text later.  The discussion of marital fidelity and its connection to/tensions between romantic love is particularly frank.  Sexuality and love in the early 1980s PRC is here given a voice (p. 284).

My final thought with this text is for the need to revamp periodization and university curricula so that students can understand “Modern China” from 1979 forward, rather than 1949.  A self-respecting China Studies program such as exists at my university (in fact, I appear to be an integral part of the thing!) and those with similar faculty resources should probably be offering China courses along the following lines:

1. Foundations/Civilization/Qin/Han

2. Imperial China (Qin/Han to the Qing)

3. Revolutionary China (late Qing-early Republic)

4. Mao / CCP history, 1921-1978 [with occasional topics courses in the Chinese Civil War]

5. The Cultural Revolution

6. Modern China, 1978-present

That’s an ideal and what, to my perceptions, students would take.  And the 1980s are a completely fascinating decade in the PRC, especially as regards rock music and popular culture.

Thinking about the Saint-Saens Concerto

Lately I have been revisiting a piece which has on and off of my cellistic plate for almost twenty years: the Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in a minor, opus 33, by Camille Saint-Saëns.  Finally having travelled to the region of its naissance, or birth, c’est-a-dire Paris, I think I am getting a better grip on the French style of composition, if only incrementally.  Of course dedicated and certifiably Francophone/Francophile colleagues like Eric Lenz are far, far ahead of me here, including in terms of flawless cello technique and verb conjugation.

In any case, inspired by Alan Harris and finally able to revisit his studio via the wonders of YouTube, yesterday I began to compile a few thoughts on how students of mine might approach the Saint-Saens Concerto.  Thus:

Obviously this method is still nascent and my bowtip is too high (it’s a carbon bow I bought in Beijing a few years back after an intense struggle session), but perhaps it points forward to a democratization of cello pedagogy more widely.  The multiple tens of thousands of dollars (U.S., not adjusted for inflation/通货膨胀) which I invested in working with Alan Harris and others resulted in a certain knowledge base which I am eager to fuse to my more recent pursuits as a teacher more broadly.

Waivers /

Joe Smith with some  other guy

Joe Smith, right, with LeBron James

A few pick-ups, like old NBA sharp-shooters off waivers just before the trade deadline passes (or the library closes):

2. Re-envisioning the Chinese Revolution, ed. Guobin Yang

3. Radiant Carnage: Japanese Writers on the War Against China, by Zeljko Cipris

4. Anything by David J. Dallin on Soviet Far East in the foties

5. The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies (vols. 15, 21, 22, 26)

And another four, but this library is now closed and I am NOT Nicholas Cage!