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.

About   |   Information for Prospective Authors   |   Awards   |  Staff   |  Executive Committee   |  Advisory Committee

List of Publications

Publications

Regional Literature and the Transmission of Culture: Chinese Drum Ballads, 1800–1937

Regional Literature and the Transmission of Culture provides a richly textured picture of cultural transmission in the Qing and early Republican eras. Drum ballad texts (guci) evoke one of the most popular performance traditions of their day, a practice that flourished in North China. Study of these narratives opens up surprising new perspectives on vital topics in Chinese literature and history: the creation of regional cultural identities and their relation to a central “Chinese culture”; the relationship between oral and written cultures; the transmission of legal knowledge and popular ideals of justice; and the impact of the changing technology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on the reproduction and dissemination of popular texts. Margaret B. Wan maps the dissemination over time and space of two legends of wise judges; their journey through oral, written, and visual media reveals a fascinating but overlooked world of “popular” literature. While drum ballads form a distinctively regional literature, lithography in early twentieth-century Shanghai drew them into national markets. The new paradigm this book offers will interest scholars of cultural history, literature, book culture, legal history, and popular culture.

Orthodox Passions: Narrating Filial Love during the High Qing

Maram Epstein
In this groundbreaking interdisciplinary study, Maram Epstein identifies filial piety as the dominant expression of love in Qing dynasty texts. At a time when Manchu regulations made chastity the primary metaphor for obedience and social duty, filial discourse increasingly embraced the dramatic and passionate excesses associated with late-Ming chastity narratives. Qing texts, especially those from the Jiangnan region, celebrate modes of filial piety that conflicted with the interests of the patriarchal family and the state. Analyzing filial narratives from a wide range of primary texts, including local gazetteers, autobiographical and biographical nianpu records, and fiction, Epstein shows the diversity of acts constituting exemplary filial piety. This context, Orthodox Passions argues, enables a radical rereading of the great novel of manners The Story of the Stone (ca. 1760), whose absence of filial affections and themes make it an outlier in the eighteenth-century sentimental landscape. By decentering romantic feeling as the dominant expression of love during the High Qing, Orthodox Passions calls for a new understanding of the affective landscape of late imperial China.

The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity, and Images in Daoism

The question of truth has never been more urgent than today, when the distortion of facts and the imposition of pseudo-realities in the service of the powerful have become the order of the day. In The Paradox of Being Poul Andersen addresses the concept of truth in Chinese Daoist philosophy and ritual. His approach is unapologetically universalist, and the book may be read as a call for a new way of studying Chinese culture, one that does not shy away from approaching “the other” in terms of an engagement with “our own” philosophical heritage. The basic Chinese word for truth is zhen, which means both true and real, and it bypasses the separation of the two ideas insisted on in much of the Western philosophical tradition. Through wide-ranging research into Daoist ritual, both in history and as it survives in the present day, Andersen shows that the concept of true reality that informs this tradition posits being as a paradox anchored in the inexistent Way (Dao). The preferred way of life suggested by this insight consists in seeking to be an exception to ordinary norms and rules of behavior which nonetheless engages what is common to us all.

Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan

Powers of the Real analyzes the cultural politics of cinema’s persuasive sensory realism in interwar Japan. Examining cultural criticism, art, news media, literature, and film, Diane Wei Lewis shows how representations of women and signifiers of femininity were used to characterize new forms of pleasure and fantasy enabled by consumer culture and technological media. Drawing on a rich variety of sources, she analyzes the role that images of women played in articulating the new expressions of identity, behavior, and affiliation produced by cinema and consumer capitalism. In the process, Lewis traces new discourses on the technological mediation of emotion to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and postquake mass media boom. The earthquake transformed the Japanese film industry and lent urgency to debates surrounding cinema’s ability to reach a mass audience and shape public sentiment, while the rise of consumer culture contributed to alarm over rampant materialism and “feminization.”Demonstrating how ideas about emotion and sexual difference played a crucial role in popular discourse on cinema’s reach and its sensory-affective powers, Powers of the Real offers new perspectives on media history, the commodification of intimacy and emotion, film realism, and gender politics in the “age of the mass society” in Japan.Also available in paperback.

Feeling the Past in Seventeenth-Century China

During the Manchu conquest of China (1640s–1680s), the Qing government mandated that male subjects shave their hair following the Manchu style. It was a directive that brought the physical body front and center as the locus of authority and control. Feeling the Past in Seventeenth-Century China highlights the central role played by the body in writers’ memories of lived experiences during the Ming–Qing cataclysm. For traditional Chinese men of letters, the body was an anchor of sensory perceptions and emotions. Sight, sound, taste, and touch configured ordinary experiences next to traumatic events, unveiling how writers participated in an actual and imagined community of like-minded literary men. In literature from this period, the body symbolizes the process by which individual memories transform into historical knowledge that can be transmitted across generations. The ailing body interprets the Manchu presence as an epidemic to which Chinese civilization is not immune. The bleeding body, cast as an aesthetic figure, helps succeeding generations internalize knowledge inherited from survivors of dynastic conquest as a way of locating themselves in collective remembrance. This embodied experience of the past reveals literature’s mission of remembrance as, first and foremost, a moral endeavor in which literary men serve as architects of cultural continuity.

Famine Relief in Warlord China

Famine Relief in Warlord China is a reexamination of disaster responses during the greatest ecological crisis of the pre-Nationalist Chinese republic. In 1920–1921, drought and ensuing famine devastated more than 300 counties in five northern provinces, leading to some 500,000 deaths. Long credited to international intervention, the relief effort, Pierre Fuller shows, actually began from within Chinese social circles. Indigenous action from the household to the national level, modeled after Qing-era relief protocol, sustained the lives of millions of the destitute in Beijing, in the surrounding districts of Zhili (Hebei) Province, and along the migrant and refugee trail in Manchuria, all before joint foreign–Chinese international relief groups became a force of any significance.Using district gazetteers, stele inscriptions, and the era’s vibrant Chinese press, Fuller reveals how a hybrid civic sphere of military authorities working with the public mobilized aid and coordinated migrant movement within stricken communities and across military domains. Ultimately, the book’s spotlight on disaster governance in northern China in 1920 offers new insights into the social landscape just before the region’s descent, over the next decade, into incessant warfare, political struggle, and finally the normalization of disaster itself.Also available in paperback.

Poetic Transformations: Eighteenth-Century Cultural Projects on the Mekong Plains

Claudine Ang
In the eighteenth century, multiple migratory groups with competing political ambitions converged on the Mekong plains. In the frontier region, literati‐officials of a territorially-expanding Vietnamese state crossed paths with a network of diasporic Chinese Ming loyalists closely affiliated with the coastal trading network. Drawing on vernacular Vietnamese and classical Chinese sources, Claudine Ang identifies the different ways two leading statesmen of the time employed literature to transform the frontier region. In their rival cultural projects, we see the clash between the aspirations of Vietnamese and Chinese migrants. Ang shows how a bawdy play, in which a lascivious monk turns his charms on an unsuspecting nun, acted as a vehicle for differentiating Vietnamese lowlanders from their neighbors, and she uncovers in a suite of landscape poems coded messages aimed at founding a new Ming loyalist stronghold on the Mekong delta. Through its close reading of satirical drama and landscape poetry, Poetic Transformations captures a historical moment of overlapping visions, frustrated schemes, and contested desires on the Mekong plains.

The Worship of Confucius in Japan

James McMullen
How has Confucius, quintessentially and symbolically Chinese, been received throughout Japanese history? The Worship of Confucius in Japan provides the first overview of the richly documented and colorful Japanese version of the East Asian ritual to venerate Confucius, known in Japan as the sekiten. The original Chinese political liturgy embodied assumptions about sociopolitical order different from those of Japan. Over more than thirteen centuries, Japanese in power expressed a persistently ambivalent response to the ritual’s challenges and often tended to interpret the ceremony in cultural rather than political terms.Like many rituals, the sekiten self-referentially reinterpreted earlier versions of itself. James McMullen adopts a diachronic and comparative perspective. Focusing on the relationship of the ritual to political authority in the premodern period, McMullen sheds fresh light on Sino–Japanese cultural relations and on the distinctive political, cultural, and social history of Confucianism in Japan. Successive sections of The Worship of Confucius in Japan trace the vicissitudes of the ceremony through two major cycles of adoption, modification, and decline, first in ancient and medieval Japan, then in the late feudal period culminating in its rejection at the Meiji Restoration. An epilogue sketches the history of the ceremony in the altered conditions of post-Restoration Japan and up to the present.

Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyōshi of Edo Japan, Second Edition, With a New Preface

Manga from the Floating World is the first full-length study in English of the kibyōshi, a genre of woodblock-printed comic book widely read in late-eighteenth-century Japan. By combining analysis of the socioeconomic and historical milieus in which the genre was produced and consumed with three annotated translations of works by major author-artist Santō Kyōden (1761–1816) that closely reproduce the experience of encountering the originals, Adam Kern offers a sustained close reading of the vibrant popular imagination of the mid-Edo period. The kibyōshi, Kern argues, became an influential form of political satire that seemed poised to transform the uniquely Edoesque brand of urban commoner culture into something more, perhaps even a national culture, until the shogunal government intervened. Based on extensive research using primary sources in their original Edo editions, the volume is copiously illustrated with rare prints from Japanese archival collections. It serves as an introduction not only to the kibyōshi but also to the genre’s readers and critics, narratological conventions, modes of visuality, format, and relationship to the modern Japanese manga and to the popular literature and wit of Edo. Filled with graphic puns and caricatures, these entertaining works will appeal to the general reader as well as to the more experienced student of Japanese cultural history—and anyone interested in the global history of comics, graphic novels, and manga.

Imperiled Destinies: The Daoist Quest for Deliverance in Medieval China

Franciscus Verellen
Imperiled Destinies examines the evolution of Daoist beliefs about human liability and redemption over eight centuries and outlines ritual procedures for rescuing an ill‐starred destiny. From the second through the tenth century CE, Daoism emerged as a liturgical organization that engaged vigorously with Buddhism and transformed Chinese thinking about suffering, the nature of evil, and the aims of liberation. In the fifth century, elements of classical Daoism combined with Indian yogic practices to interiorize the quest for deliverance. The medieval record portrays a world engulfed by evil, where human existence was mortgaged from birth and burdened by increasing debts and obligations in this world and the next. Against this gloomy outlook, Daoism offered ritual and sacramental instruments capable of acting on the unseen world, providing therapeutic relief and ecstatic release from apprehensions of death, disease, war, spoilt harvests, and loss. Drawing on prayer texts, liturgical sermons, and experiential narratives, Franciscus Verellen focuses on the Daoist vocabulary of bondage and redemption, the changing meanings of sacrifice, and metaphoric conceptualizations bridging the visible and invisible realms. The language of medieval supplicants envisaged the redemption of an imperiled destiny as debt forgiveness, and deliverance as healing, purification, release, or emergence from darkness into light.

Harvard University's Asia-Related Resources