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-Yenching Institute Monograph Series

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

Poul Andersen
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.

Feeling the Past in Seventeenth-Century China

Xiaoqiao Ling
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.

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.

Ethnic Chrysalis: China’s Orochen People and the Legacy of Qing Borderland Administration

Loretta E. Kim
Ethnic Chrysalis is the first book in English to cover the early modern history of the Orochen, an ethnic group that has for centuries inhabited areas now belonging to the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. The Qing dynasty (1644–1911) was a formative period for Orochen identity, and its actions preserved the Orochen as a separate ethnic group. While incorporating the Orochen into the imperial political domain through military conscription and compulsory resource extraction, the Qing government created two Orochen subgroups that experienced disparate levels of social and economic autonomy. The use of “Orochen” as an official modifier by Qing officials forms an early layer of the chrysalis that embodies various senses of ethnic identity for people who have been identified, or self‐identified, as Orochen. Since the Qing, the Orochen have continued to cherish the perception that their Qing‐period ancestors were key players in the defense and economy of northeast China. Tracing the evolution of Qing policies toward the Orochen along the Chinese–Russian borderland, Loretta Kim examines how the impact of political organization in one era can endure in a group’s social and cultural values.

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.

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.

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.

The Halberd at Red Cliff: Jian’an and the Three Kingdoms

The turn of the third century CE—known as the Jian’an era or Three Kingdoms period—holds double significance for the Chinese cultural tradition. Its writings laid the foundation of classical poetry and literary criticism. Its historical personages and events have also inspired works of poetry, fiction, drama, film, and art throughout Chinese history, including Internet fantasy literature today. There is a vast body of secondary literature on these two subjects individually, but very little on their interface.The image of the Jian’an era, with its feasting, drinking, heroism, and literary panache, as well as intense male friendship, was to return time and again in the romanticized narrative of the Three Kingdoms. How did Jian’an bifurcate into two distinct nostalgias, one of which was the first paradigmatic embodiment of wen (literary graces, cultural patterning), and the other of wu (heroic martial virtue)? How did these largely segregated nostalgias negotiate with one another? And how is the predominantly male world of the Three Kingdoms appropriated by young women in contemporary China? The Halberd at Red Cliff investigates how these associations were closely related in their complex origins and then came to be divergent in their later metamorphoses.

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