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.

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List of Publications

Harvard East Asian Monograph Series

Class, Gender, and Revolution in China's Yangzi Delta Silk Industry

Robert Cliver
Red Silk is a history of China’s Yangzi Delta silk industry during the wars, crises, and revolutions of the mid-twentieth century. Based on extensive research in Chinese archives and focused on the 1950s, the book compares two very different groups of silk workers and their experiences in the revolution. Male silk weavers in Shanghai factories enjoyed close ties to the Communist party-state and benefited greatly from socialist policies after 1949. In contrast, workers in silk thread mills, or filatures, were mostly young women who lacked powerful organizations or ties to the revolutionary regime. For many filature workers, working conditions changed little after 1949; and politicized production campaigns added a new burden within the brutal and oppressive factory regime in place since the nineteenth century.Both groups of workers and their employers, had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Their actions—protests, petitions, bribery, tax evasion—compelled the party-state to adjust its policies, producing new challenges. The results, though initially positive for many, were ultimately disastrous. By the end of the 1950s there was widespread conflict and deprivation among silk workers, and, despite its impressive recovery under Communist rule, the industry faced a crisis worse than war and revolution.

Chinese Ways of Seeing and Open-Air Painting

Yi Gu
How did modern Chinese painters see landscape? Did they depict nature in the same way as premodern Chinese painters? What does the artistic perception of modern Chinese painters reveal about the relationship between artists and the nation-state? Could an understanding of modern Chinese landscape painting tell us something previously unknown about art, political change, and the epistemological and sensory regime?Yi Gu tackles these questions by focusing on the rise of open-air painting in modern China. Chinese artists almost never painted outdoors until the late 1910s, when the New Culture Movement prompted painters to embrace direct observation, linear perspective, and a conception of vision based on Cartesian optics. The new landscape practice brought with it unprecedented emphasis on perception and redefined artistic expertise. Central to the pursuit of open-air painting from the late 1910s right through to the early 1960s was a reinvigorated and ever-growing urgency to see suitably as a Chinese and to see the Chinese homeland correctly. Through its examination of this long-overlooked ocular turn, this book not only provides an innovative perspective from which to reflect on complicated global and local Chinese interactions, but also calls for rethinking the nature of visual modernity in China.

Unreal Houses: Character, Gender, and Genealogy in the Tale of Genji

Edith Sarra
The Tale of Genji (ca. 1008, by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu) is known for its sophisticated renderings of fictional characters’ minds and its critical perspectives on class and gender asymmetries in eleventh-century Japan. In Unreal Houses, Edith Sarra argues that in both form and content the Genji re-envisions the elite practice of polygynous marriage and the construction of mansions as expressions of familial power. She radically rethinks the Genji by focusing on the figure of the house—encompassing both fictionalized images of aristocratic mansions and representations of their inhabitants.How do key characters in the Tale of Genji “think” about houses? Through close readings of the Genji and other Heian narratives, Sarra elucidates the tale’s fabrication of the social, architectural, and affective spaces of polygyny, and shows how the figure of the house contributes to the structuring of narrative sequences and the expression of relational nuances among fictional characters. Combining literary analysis with the history of gender, marriage, and the built environment, this study opens new perspectives on the architectonics of the Genji and the feminine milieu that midwifed what some have called the world’s first novel..

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.For the online appendixes to the text, see https://doi.org/10.5287/bodleian:eXrJObgb8

Wings for the Rising Sun: A Transnational History of Japanese Aviation

Jürgen P. Melzer
The history of Japanese aviation offers countless stories of heroic achievements and dismal failures, passionate enthusiasm and sheer terror, brilliant ideas and fatally-flawed strategies.Former airline pilot turned academic Jürgen Melzer takes an innovative approach to navigate across this vast field. In Wings for the Rising Sun, he connects the intense drama of flight with a global history of international cooperation, competition, and conflict. He details how Japanese strategists, diplomats, and industrialists skillfully exploited a series of major geopolitical changes to expand Japanese airpower and develop an autonomous domestic industry. At the same time, the military and media orchestrated air shows, transcontinental goodwill flights, and press campaigns to stir popular aviation enthusiasm and draw the public into the national aviation project.Melzer also analyzes the French, British, German, and American impacts on Japan’s aviation. He reveals in unprecedented detail how Japanese aeronautical experts absorbed foreign technologies at breathtaking speed and how they designed and built boldly original flying machines that, in many aspects, surpassed those of their former mentors. Wings for the Rising Sun compellingly links Japan’s aeronautical advancement with the transnational flow of people and ideas, public mobilization, and international relations, offering a fresh perspective on modern Japanese history.

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

Margaret B. Wan
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.

Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan

Takeshi Watanabe
Telling stories: that sounds innocuous enough, but for the first chronicle in the Japanese vernacular, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes (Eiga monogatari), the health of its eleventh-century community was at stake. Flowering Tales is the first extensive literary study of this historical tale that covers about a hundred-fifty years of births, deaths, and happenings of late Heian society, a golden age of court literature. Takeshi Watanabe contends that the blossoming of tale literature, marked by The Tale of Genji, inspired what he describes as Eiga’s affective history: an exorcism of embittered spirits whose stories needed to be retold to ensure peace. Tracing narrative arcs of political marginalized personages, Watanabe shows how Eiga, adapting the discourse and strategies of The Tale of Genji, reconnected wayward ghosts into the community through figural genealogies that relied not on blood, but on literary resonances. These reverberations, highlighted through comparisons to contemporaneous accounts in courtiers’ journals, echo through shared details in funerary practices, lack of political support, and characterization. Flowering Tales reanimates these voices to trouble conceptions of history: how it ought to be recounted, who got to record it, and why remembering mattered.

Japan’s Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945–2019

Kenneth J. Ruoff
Twenty years ago Kenneth J. Ruoff authored The People’s Emperor, a classic study of the post-war Japanese monarchy through 1995. Now, with the ascension of a new emperor and the dawn of the Reiwa Era, Ruoff has produced an expanded and updated study of the monarchy’s role as a political, societal, and cultural institution in contemporary Japan. Many Japanese continue to define the nation’s identity through the imperial house, making it a window into Japan’s post-war history.Ruoff begins by examining the reform of the monarchy during the Occupation and then turns to its evolution since the Japanese regained the power to shape it. To understand the monarchy’s function in contemporary Japan, the author analyzes issues such as the role of individual emperors in shaping the institution; the intersection of the monarchy with politics; the emperor’s and the nation’s responsibility for the war; nationalistic movements in support of the monarchy; and the remaking of the once sacrosanct throne into a "people's imperial house" that is embedded in the postwar culture of democracy. Finally, Ruoff examines recent developments, including the abdication of Emperor Akihito and the heir crisis, which have brought to the forefront the fragility of the imperial line under the current legal system, leading to calls for reform.

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.

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

Diana Wei Lewis
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.

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