Publications Program

The Asia Center Publications Program is one of the world’s most widely respected publishers of scholarly books in East Asian Studies, publishing about 15 new titles per year. The program has published nearly 500 titles since its founding in the 1950s; it became part of the Asia Center in 1998. In the past decade, books published by the Asia Center have won more than a dozen major awards in their respective fields.

Asia Center titles in print may be purchased from our distributor, Harvard University Press. Through collaborations with JSTOR, Project Muse, Proquest, and the ACLS Humanities E-book Program, nearly all of our titles are now also available digitally. In 2020, we began to offer our e-book collection through Brill, where readers can view and purchase downloadable e-books of Asia Center titles.

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List of Publications


Vietnam: Navigating a Rapidly Changing Economy, Society, and Political Order

Karl Börje Ljunggren and Dwight Perkins
In the late 1980s, most of the world still associated Vietnam with resistance and war, hardship, large flows of refugees, and a mismanaged planned economy. During the 1990s, by contrast, major countries began to see Vietnam as both a potential economic partner and a strategically significant actor, particularly in the competition between the United States and an emerging China, and international investors began to see Vietnam as a land of opportunity. Still, Vietnam remains a Leninist party-state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam, which has managed to reconcile the supposedly irreconcilable: a one-party system and a market-based economy linked to global value chains. For the Party stability is crucial, and over the last few years increasing economic openness has been combined with growing political control and repression. This book, a joint undertaking by scholars from Vietnam, North America, and Europe, focuses on how Vietnam’s governance shapes the country’s politics, its economy, its social development, and its relations with the outside world, and on the reforms required if Vietnam is to become a sustainable modern high-income country in the coming decades. Despite the many challenges, some of which clearly are systemic, the authors remain optimistic about Vietnam’s future, noting the evident vitality of a society determined to shape an ever better future.

Dreaming and Self-Cultivation in China, 300 BCE–800 CE

Robert Ford Campany
Practitioners of any of the paths of self-cultivation available in ancient and medieval China engaged daily in practices meant to bring their bodies and minds under firm control. They took on regimens to discipline their comportment, speech, breathing, diet, senses, desires, sexuality, even their dreams. Yet, compared with waking life, dreams are incongruous, unpredictable—in a word, strange. How, then, did these regimes of self-fashioning grapple with dreaming, a lawless yet ubiquitous domain of individual experience? In Dreaming and Self-Cultivation in China, 300 BCE – 800 CE, Robert Ford Campany examines how dreaming was addressed in texts produced and circulated by practitioners of Daoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and other self-cultivational disciplines. Working through a wide range of scriptures, essays, treatises, biographies, commentaries, fictive dialogues, diary records, interpretive keys, and ritual instructions, Campany uncovers a set of discrete paradigms by which dreams were viewed and responded to by practitioners. He shows how these paradigms underlay texts of diverse religious and ideological persuasions that are usually treated in mutual isolation. The result is a provocative meditation on the relationship between individuals’ nocturnal experiences and one culture’s persistent attempts to discipline, interpret, and incorporate them into waking practice.

Literary History in and beyond China: Reading Text and World

Jack W. Chen and Sarah M. Allen and Xiaofei Tian
Literary History in and beyond China: Reading Text and World explores the idea of literary history across the long span of the Chinese tradition. Although much scholarship on Chinese literature may be characterized as doing the work of literary history, there has been little theoretical engagement with received literary historical categories and assumptions, with how literary historical judgments are formed, and with what it means to do literary history in the first place. The present collection of essays addresses these questions from perspectives emerging both from within the tradition and from without, examining the anthological histories that shape the concept of a particular genre, the interpretive positions that impel our aesthetic judgments, the conceptual categories that determine how literary history is framed, and the history of literary historiography itself. As such, the essays collectively consider what it means to think through the framework of literary history, what literary history affords or omits, and what needs to be theorized in terms of literary history’s constraints and possibilities.

Inked: Tattooed Soldiers and the Song Empire’s Penal-Military Complex

Elad Alyagon
Inked is a social history of common soldiers of the Song dynasty, most of whom would have been recognized by their tattooed bodies. Overlooked in the historical record, tattoos were an indelible aspect of the Song world, and their ubiquity was tied to the rise of the penal-military complex, a vast system for social control, warfare, and labor. Although much has been written about the institutional, strategic, and political aspects of the history of the Song and its military, this book is a first-of-its-kind investigation into the lives of the people who fought for the Song state. Elad Alyagon examines the army as a meeting place between marginalized social groups and elites. In the process, he shows the military to be a space where a new criminalized lower class was molded in a constant struggle between common soldiers and the agents of the Song state. For the millions of people caught in the orbit of this system--the tattooed soldiers of the Song, their families, and their neighbors--the Song period was no age of benevolence, but one of servitude, violence, and resistance. Inked is their story.

The Threshold: The Rhetoric of Historiography in Early Medieval China

Zeb Raft
What happens when historiography–the way historical events are committed to writing–shapes historical events as they occur? How do we read biography when it is truly “life-writing,” its subjects fully engaged with the historiographical rhetoric that would record their words and deeds? The Threshold, a study of the culture of historiography in early medieval China, explores these questions through the lens of the History of Liu-Song, a dynastic history compiled in 488 and covering the first three-quarters of the fifth century. Rhetoric courses through early medieval historiography, from the way the historian framed history for his readers to the political machinations contained within the historical narratives, from the active use of rhetorical techniques to the passive effect that embedded discourses exercised on historian, historical actor, and reader alike. Tracing these varied strands of historical argumentation, Zeb Raft shows how history was constructed through rhetorical elements including the narration of officialdom, the anecdote, and, above all, the historical document. The portrait that emerges is of an epideictic historiography where praise was mixed with irony and achievement diluted with ambivalence, and where the most secure positions lay on the threshold of political power and historical interpretation.

Territorializing Manchuria: The Transnational Frontier and Literatures of East Asia

Qiong (Miya) Xie
Xiao Hong, Yom Sang-sop, Abe Kobo and Zhong Lihe—these iconic literary figures from China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan all described Manchuria extensively in their literary works. Now China’s Northeast but a contested frontier in the first half of the twentieth century, Manchuria has inspired writers from all over East Asia to claim it as their own, employing novel themes and forms for engaging nation and empire in modern literature. Many of these works have been canonized as quintessential examples of national or nationalist literature--even though they also problematize the imagined boundedness and homogeneity of nation and national literature at its core. Through the theoretical lens of literary territorialization, Miya Xie reconceptualizes modern Manchuria as a critical site for making and unmaking national literatures in East Asia. Xie ventures into hitherto uncharted territory by comparing East Asian literatures in three different languages and analyzing their close connections in the transnational frontier. By revealing how writers of different nationalities constantly enlisted transnational elements within a nation-centered body of literature, Territorializing Manchuria uncovers a history of literary co-formation at the very site of division and may offer insights for future reconciliation in the region.

Saying All That Can Be Said: The Art of Describing Sex in Jin Ping Mei

Keith McMahon
In Saying All That Can Be Said, Keith McMahon presents the first full analysis of the sexually explicit portrayals in the Ming novel Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅 (The Plum in the Golden Vase). Countering common views of those portrayals as “just sex” or as “bad sex,” he shows that they are rich in thematic meaning and loaded with social and aesthetic purpose. McMahon places the novel in the historical context of Chinese sexual culture, from which Jin Ping Mei inherits the style of the elegant, metaphorical description of erotic pleasure, but which the anonymous author extends in an exploration of the explicit, the obscene, and the graphic. The novel uses explicit description to evaluate and comment on characters, situations, and sexual and psychic states of being. Echoing the novel’s way of taking sex as a vehicle for reading the world, McMahon celebrates the richness and exuberance of Jin Ping Mei’s language of sex, which refuses imprisonment within the boundaries of orthodox culture’s cleanly authoritative style, and which continues to inspire admiration from readers around the world. Saying All That Can Be Said will change the way we think about sexual culture in pre-modern China.

Genealogy and Status: Hereditary Office Holding and Kinship in North China under Mongol Rule

Tomoyasu Iiyama
By shedding light on a long-forgotten epigraphic genre that flourished in North China under the rule of the Mongol empire, or Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), this book explores the ways the conquered Chinese people understood and represented the alien Mongol ruling principles in their own cultural tradition. This epigraphic genre, which this book collectively calls “genealogical steles,” was quite unique in the history of Chinese epigraphy, for these steles were commissioned by northern Chinese officials under Mongol rule exclusively to record a family’s extensive genealogy, instead of the biography or achievements of an individual. The evolution of these steles delineates the way Mongols thoroughly recast the local elite stratum in North China who, while thinking of themselves as the heirs of traditional Chinese elite culture, fully accommodated to the principles of Mongol imperial rule and became one of its cornerstones in eastern Eurasia. Also, the rise of this epigraphic genre demonstrates that Mongol rule fundamentally affected how northern Chinese families defined, organized, and commemorated their kinship. Because most of these inscriptions are in Classical Chinese, they appear to be part of Chinese tradition. But in fact, they reflect a massive social change in Chinese society that occurred because of Mongol rule in China.

Demarcating Japan: Imperialism, Islanders, and Mobility, 1855–1884

Takahiro Yamamoto
Histories of remote islands around Japan are usually told through the prism of territorial disputes. In contrast, Takahiro Yamamoto contends that the transformation of the islands from ambiguous border zones to a territorialized space emerged out of multilateral power relations. In the formative years of modern Japan, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, Tsushima, the Bonin Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands became the subject of inter-imperial negotiations, where empires nudged each other to secure their status with minimal costs rather than fighting a territorial scramble. Based on multiarchival, multilingual research, Demarcating Japan argues that the transformation of border islands should be understood in as an interconnected process, where inter-local referencing played a key role in the outcome—Japan’s geographical expansion in the face of domineering Extra-Asian empires. Underneath this multilateral process were the connections forged by individuals. Translators, doctors, traffickers, castaways, and indigenous hunters crisscrossed border regions and exerted violence, exchanged knowledge, forged friendships, and transformed their own lives. Although their motivations were eclectic and their interactions transcended national borders, the linkages they created were essential in driving territorialization forward. Demarcating Japan demonstrates the crucial role of nonstate actors in formulating a territory, usually narrated in the languages of inter-state relations.

Building a Nation at War: Transnational Knowledge Networks and the Development of China during and after World War II

J. Megan Greene
Building a Nation at War argues that the Chinese Nationalist government’s retreat inland during the Sino–Japanese War (1937–1945), its consequent need for inland resources, and its participation in new scientific and technical relationships with the United States led to fundamental changes in how the Nationalists engaged with science and technology as tools to promote development.The war catalyzed an emphasis on applied sciences, comprehensive economic planning, and development of scientific and technical human resources—all of which served the Nationalists’ immediate and long-term goals. It created an opportunity for the Nationalists to extend control over inland China and over education and industry. It also provided opportunities for China to mobilize transnational networks of Chinese-Americans, Chinese in America, and the American government and businesses. These groups provided technical advice, ran training programs, and helped the Nationalists acquire manufactured goods and tools.J. Megan Greene shows how the Nationalists worked these programs to their advantage, even in situations where their American counterparts clearly had the upper hand. Finally, this book shows how, although American advisers and diplomats criticized China for harboring resources rather than putting them into winning the war against Japan, U.S. industrial consultants were also strongly motivated by postwar goals.

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