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

Just a Song: Chinese Lyrics from the Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries

“Song Lyric,” ci, remains one of the most loved forms of Chinese poetry. From the early eleventh century through the first quarter of the twelfth century, song lyric evolved from an impromptu contribution in a performance practice to a full literary genre, in which the text might be read more often than performed. Young women singers, either indentured or private entrepreneurs, were at the heart of song practice throughout the period; the authors of the lyrics were notionally mostly male. A strange gender dynamic arose, in which men often wrote in the voice of a woman and her imagined feelings, then appropriated that sensibility for themselves.As an essential part of becoming literature, a history was constructed for the new genre. At the same time the genre claimed a new set of aesthetic values to radically distinguish it from older “Classical Poetry,” shi. In a world that was either pragmatic or moralizing (or both), song lyric was a discourse of sensibility, which literally gave a beautiful voice to everything that seemed increasingly to be disappearing in the new Song dynasty world of righteousness and public advancement.

Opera, Society, and Politics in Modern China

Hsiao-t’i Li
Popular operas in late imperial China were a major part of daily entertainment, and were also important for transmitting knowledge of Chinese culture and values. In the twentieth century, however, Chinese operas went through significant changes. During the first four decades of the 1900s, led by Xin Wutai (New Stage) of Shanghai and Yisushe of Xi’an, theaters all over China experimented with both stage and scripts to present bold new plays centering on social reform. Operas became closely intertwined with social and political issues. This trend toward “politicization” was to become the most dominant theme of Chinese opera from the 1930s to the 1970s, when ideology-laden political plays reflected a radical revolutionary agenda.Drawing upon a rich array of primary sources, this book focuses on the reformed operas staged in Shanghai and Xi’an. By presenting extensive information on both traditional/imperial China and revolutionary/Communist China, it reveals the implications of these “modern” operatic experiences and the changing features of Chinese operas throughout the past five centuries. Although the different genres of opera were watched by audiences from all walks of life, the foundations for opera’s omnipresence completely changed over time.

Aesthetic Life: Beauty and Art in Modern Japan

Miya Elise Mizuta Lippit
This study of modern Japan engages the fields of art history, literature, and cultural studies, seeking to understand how the “beautiful woman” (bijin) emerged as a symbol of Japanese culture during the Meiji period (1868–1912). With origins in the formative period of modern Japanese art and aesthetics, the figure of the bijin appeared across a broad range of visual and textual media: photographs, illustrations, prints, and literary works, as well as fictional, critical, and journalistic writing. It eventually constituted a genre of painting called bijinga (paintings of beauties).Aesthetic Life examines the contributions of writers, artists, scholars, critics, journalists, and politicians to the discussion of the bijin and to the production of a national discourse on standards of Japanese beauty and art. As Japan worked to establish its place in the world, it actively presented itself as an artistic nation based on these ideals of feminine beauty. The book explores this exemplary figure for modern Japanese aesthetics and analyzes how the deceptively ordinary image of the beautiful Japanese woman—an iconic image that persists to this day—was cultivated as a “national treasure,” synonymous with Japanese culture.Also available in paperback.

Voting as a Rite: A History of Elections in Modern China

Joshua Hill
For over a century, voting has been a surprisingly common political activity in China. Voting as a Rite examines China’s experiments with elections from the perspective of intellectual and cultural history. Rather than arguing that such exercises were either successful or failed attempts at political democracy, the book instead focuses on a previously unasked question: how did those who participated in Chinese elections define success or failure for themselves? Answering this question reveals why Chinese elites originally became enamored of elections at the end of the nineteenth century, why critics complained about elections that featured real competition in the early twentieth century, and why elections continued to be held after the mid-twentieth century even though outcomes were predetermined by the state. While no mainland Chinese government has ever felt that its rule required validation at the ballot box, the discourses that surrounded elections reveal much about important tensions within modern Chinese political thought. What is the best means to identify talent? Can the state trust the people to act responsibly as citizens? As Joshua Hill shows, elections are vital, not peripheral, to understanding these concerns fully.Also available in paperback.

Shrines to Living Men in the Ming Political Cosmos

Sarah Schneewind
Shrines to Living Men in the Ming Political Cosmos, the first book focusing on premortem shrines in any era of Chinese history, places the institution at the intersection of politics and religion. When a local official left his post, grateful subjects housed an image of him in a temple, requiting his grace: that was the ideal model. By Ming times, the “living shrine” was legal, old, and justified by readings of the classics.Sarah Schneewind argues that the institution could invite and pressure officials to serve local interests; the policies that had earned a man commemoration were carved into stone beside the shrine. Since everyone recognized that elite men might honor living officials just to further their own careers, premortem shrine rhetoric stressed the role of commoners, who embraced the opportunity by initiating many living shrines. This legitimate, institutionalized political voice for commoners expands a scholarly understanding of “public opinion” in late imperial China, aligning it with the efficacy of deities to create a nascent political conception Schneewind calls the “minor Mandate of Heaven.” Her exploration of premortem shrine theory and practice illuminates Ming thought and politics, including the Donglin Party’s battle with eunuch dictator Wei Zhongxian and Gu Yanwu’s theories.

In the Wake of the Mongols: The Making of a New Social Order in North China, 1200–1600

Jinping Wang
The Mongol conquest of north China between 1211 and 1234 inflicted terrible wartime destruction, wiping out more than one-third of the population and dismantling the existing social order. In the Wake of the Mongols recounts the riveting story of how northern Chinese men and women adapted to these trying circumstances and interacted with their alien Mongol conquerors to create a drastically new social order. To construct this story, the book uses a previously unknown source of inscriptions recorded on stone tablets.Jinping Wang explores a north China where Mongol patrons, Daoist priests, Buddhist monks, and sometimes single women—rather than Confucian gentry—exercised power and shaped events, a portrait that upends the conventional view of imperial Chinese society. Setting the stage by portraying the late Jin and closing by tracing the Mongol period’s legacy during the Ming dynasty, she delineates the changing social dynamics over four centuries in the northern province of Shanxi, still a poorly understood region.

The Korean Buddhist Empire: A Transnational History, 1910–1945

Hwansoo Ilmee Kim
In the first part of the twentieth century, Korean Buddhists, despite living under colonial rule, reconfigured sacred objects, festivals, urban temples, propagation—and even their own identities—to modernize and elevate Korean Buddhism. By focusing on six case studies, this book highlights the centrality of transnational relationships in the transformation of colonial Korean Buddhism.Hwansoo Ilmee Kim examines how Korean, Japanese, and other Buddhists operating in colonial Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Manchuria, and beyond participated in and were significantly influenced by transnational forces, even as Buddhists of Korea and other parts of Asia were motivated by nationalist and sectarian interests. More broadly, the cases explored in The Korean Buddhist Empire reveal that, while Japanese Buddhism exerted the most influence, Korean Buddhism was (as Japanese Buddhism was itself) deeply influenced by developments in China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Europe, and the United States, as well as by Christianity.

Beyond Regimes: China and India Compared

Elizabeth J. Perry and Prasenjit Duara
For many years, China and India have been powerfully shaped by both transnational and subnational circulatory forces. This edited volume explores these local and global influences as they play out in the contemporary era. The analysis focuses on four intersecting topics: labor relations; legal reform and rights protest; public goods provision; and transnational migration and investment. The eight substantive chapters and introduction share a common perspective in arguing that distinctions in regime type (“democracy” versus “dictatorship”) alone offer little insight into critical differences and similarities between these Asian giants in terms of either policies or performance. A wide variety of subnational and transnational actors, from municipal governments to international organizations, and from local NGO activists to a far-flung diaspora, have been—and will continue to be—decisive.The authors approach China and India through a strategy of “convergent comparison,” in which they investigate temporal and spatial parallels at various critical junctures, at various levels of the political system, and both inside and outside the territorial confines of the nation-state. The intensified globalization of recent decades only heightens the need to view state initiatives against such a wider canvas.

The Translatability of Revolution: Guo Moruo and Twentieth-Century Chinese Culture

Pu Wang
The first comprehensive study of the lifework of Guo Moruo (1892–1978) in English, this book explores the dynamics of translation, revolution, and historical imagination in twentieth-century Chinese culture. Guo was a romantic writer who eventually became Mao Zedong’s last poetic interlocutor; a Marxist historian who evolved into the inaugural president of China’s Academy of Sciences; and a leftist politician who devoted almost three decades to translating Goethe’s Faust. His career, embedded in China’s revolutionary century, has generated more controversy than admiration. Recent scholarship has scarcely treated his oeuvre as a whole, much less touched upon his role as a translator.Leaping between different genres of Guo’s works, and engaging many other writers’ texts, The Translatability of Revolution confronts two issues of revolutionary cultural politics: translation and historical interpretation. Part 1 focuses on the translingual making of China’s revolutionary culture, especially Guo’s translation of Faust as a “development of Zeitgeist.” Part 2 deals with Guo’s rewritings of antiquity in lyrical, dramatic, and historiographical-paleographical forms, including his vernacular translation of classical Chinese poetry. Interrogating the relationship between translation and historical imagination—within revolutionary cultural practice—this book finds a transcoding of different historical conjunctures into “now-time,” saturated with possibilities and tensions.

Shen Gua's Empiricism

Ya Zuo
Shen Gua (1031−1095) is a household name in China, known as a distinguished renaissance man and the author of Brush Talks from Dream Brook, an old text whose remarkable “scientific” discoveries make it appear curiously ahead of its time. In this first book-length study of Shen in English, Ya Zuo reveals the connection between Shen’s life as an active statesman and his ideas, specifically the empirical stance shining through his wide-ranging inquiries. She places Shen on the broad horizon of pre-modern Chinese thought and presents his empiricism within an extensive narrative of Chinese epistemology. Relying on Shen as a searchlight, Zuo illuminates how an individual thinker summoned conditions and concepts from the vast Chinese intellectual tradition to build a singular way of knowing. Moreover, her study of Shen provides insights into the complex dynamics in play at the dawn of the age of Neo-Confucianism and urges readers towards a deeper appreciation of the diversity in Chinese thinking.

Harvard University's Asia-Related Resources