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The 1728 Musin Rebellion

Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea

Andrew David Jackson

The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea provides the first comprehensive account in English of the Musin Rebellion, an attempt to overthrow King Yŏngjo (1694–1776; r. 1724–1776), and the largest rebellion of eighteenth-century Korea. The rebellion proved unsuccessful, but during three weeks of fighting the government lost control of over a dozen county seats and the rebels drew popular support from the inhabitants of three southern provinces. The revolt profoundly unsettled the early years of Yŏngjo's reign and had considerable influence on the subsequent course of factionalism. In this keenly reasoned study, Andrew David Jackson investigates the causes, development, suppression, legacy, and significance of the bloody Musin Rebellion.


The Musin Rebellion had its roots in the factional conflicts surrounding Yŏngjo's troubled succession to the throne. Jackson analyzes an aspect of the conflict previously neglected by researchers, namely how the rebels managed to create an armed rebellion. He argues that the rebellion should be understood in the context of other attempts on power by factional members that occurred over a hundred-year period leading up to 1728. By exploring the political and military context of the event, the book demonstrates that the Musin Rebellion was not driven by systemic breakdown, regionalism, or ideology, but was a failed attempt by political players to take control of the court. Central to the eruption of violence in 1728 was the intervention of key rebel plotters, several of whom were serving officials with access to state military resources. The book provides an in-depth view of factional politics in the Chosŏn court, and the final section deals with the rebel legacy, bringing to the fore issues about managing, forming, and directing the historical memory of the rebellion.

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Abiding by Sri Lanka

On Peace, Place, and Postcoloniality

Qadri Ismail

The lack of peace in Sri Lanka is commonly portrayed as a consequence of a violent, ethnonationalist conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. Viewed in this light, resolution could be attained through conflict management. But, as Qadri Ismail reveals, this is too simplistic an understanding and cannot produce lasting peace. 

Abiding by Sri Lanka examines how the disciplines of anthropology, history, and literature treat the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Anthropology, Ismail contends, approaches Sri Lanka as an object from an “outside” and western point of view. History, addressing the conflict from the “inside,” abides by the place and so promotes change that is nationalist and exclusive. Neither of these fields imagines an inclusive community. Literature, Ismail argues, can. 

With close readings of texts that “abide” by Sri Lanka, texts that have a commitment to it, Ismail demonstrates that the problems in Sri Lanka raise fundamental concerns for us all regarding the relationship between democracies and minorities. Recognizing the structural as well as political tendencies of representative democracies to suppress minorities, Ismail rethinks democracy by redefining the concept of the minority perspective, not as a subject-position of numerical insignificance, but as a conceptual space that opens up the possibility for distinction without domination and, ultimately, peace. 

Qadri Ismail is associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He has also been a journalist in Sri Lanka.

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Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood

The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy

Jamie Hubbard

In spite of the common view of Buddhism as nondogmatic and tolerant, the historical record preserves many examples of Buddhist thinkers and movements that were banned as heretical or subversive. The San-chieh (Three Levels) was a popular and influential Chinese Buddhist movement during the Sui and T’ang periods, counting powerful statesmen, imperial princes, and even an empress, Empress Wu, among its patrons. In spite, or perhaps precisely because, of its proximity to power, the San-chieh movement ran afoul of the authorities and its teachings and texts were officially proscribed numerous times over a several-hundred-year history. Because of these suppressions San-chieh texts were lost and little information about its teachings or history is available. The present work, the first English study of the San-chieh movement, uses manuscripts discovered at Tun-huang to examine the doctrine and institutional practices of this movement in the larger context of Mahayana doctrine and practice. By viewing San-chieh in the context of Mahayana Buddhism, Hubbard reveals it to be far from heretical and thereby raises important questions about orthodoxy and canon in Buddhism. He shows that many of the hallmark ideas and practices of Chinese Buddhism find an early and unique expression in the San-chieh texts.

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Academies and Society in Southern Sung China

Linda Walton

Academies belonged to a broad constellation of educational institutions that flourished in the Sung (960-1279), an era marked by profound changes in economy, technology, thought, and social and political order. This study, the first comprehensive look at the Sung academy movement, explains the phenomenon not only as a uh_product of intellectual changes, but also as part of broader social, economic, political, and cultural transformations taking place in Sung China. Academies and Society in Southern Sung China makes extensive use of commemorative inscriptions and other documentation on nearly 500 academies and thus provides a crucial historical perspective on the origins of this key institution.

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Accidental Activists

Victim Movements and Government Accountability in Japan and South Korea

by Celeste L. Arrington

Government wrongdoing or negligence harms people worldwide, but not all victims are equally effective at obtaining redress. In Accidental Activists, Celeste L. Arrington examines the interactive dynamics of the politics of redress to understand why not. Relatively powerless groups like redress claimants depend on support from political elites, active groups in society, the media, experts, lawyers, and the interested public to capture democratic policymakers' attention and sway their decisions. Focusing on when and how such third-party support matters, Arrington finds that elite allies may raise awareness about the victims’ cause or sponsor special legislation, but their activities also tend to deter the mobilization of fellow claimants and public sympathy. By contrast, claimants who gain elite allies only after the difficult and potentially risky process of mobilizing societal support tend to achieve more redress, which can include official inquiries, apologies, compensation, and structural reforms.

Arrington draws on her extensive fieldwork to illustrate these dynamics through comparisons of the parallel Japanese and South Korean movements of victims of harsh leprosy control policies, blood products tainted by hepatitis C, and North Korean abductions. Her book thereby highlights how citizens in Northeast Asia—a region grappling with how to address Japan’s past wrongs—are leveraging similar processes to hold their own governments accountable for more recent harms. Accidental Activists also reveals the growing power of litigation to promote policy change and greater accountability from decision makers.

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Acting the Right Part

Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China

Xiaomei Chen

Acting the Right Part is a cultural history of huaju (modern Chinese drama) from 1966 to 1996. Xiaomei Chen situates her study both in the context of Chinese literary and cultural history and in the context of comparative drama and theater, cultural studies, and critical issues relevant to national theater worldwide. Following a discussion of the marginality of modern Chinese drama in relation to other genres, periods, and cultures, early chapters focus on the dynamic relationship between theater and revolution. Chosen during the Cultural Revolution as the exclusive artistic vehicle to promote proletariat art, "model theater" raises important questions about the complex relationships between women, memory, nation/state, revolution, and visual culture. Throughout this study, Chen argues that dramatic norms inform both theatrical performance and everyday political behavior in contemporary China.

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Administering the Colonizer

Manchuria’s Russians under Chinese Rule, 1918-29

Blaine R. Chiasson

Harbin of the 1920s was viewed by Westerners as a world turned upside down. The Chinese government had taken over administration of the Russian-founded Chinese Eastern Railway concession, and its large Russian population. This account of the decade-long multi-ethnic and multinational administrative experiment in North Manchuria reveals that China not only created policies to promote Chinese sovereignty but also instituted measures to protect the Russian minority. This multi-faceted book is a historical examination of how an ethnic, cultural, and racial majority coexisted with a minority of a different culture and race. It restores to history the multiple national influences that have shaped northern China and Chinese nationalism.

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Admonitions on Governing the People

Manual for All Administrators

Yagyong Chong

This is the first English translation of one of Korea’s most celebrated historical works, a pre-modern classic so well known to Koreans that it has inspired contemporary literature and television. Written in 1821 by Chong Yagyong (Tasan), Admonitions on Governing the People (Mongmin simso) is a detailed manual for district magistrates on how to govern better. In encyclopedic fashion, Chong Yagyong addresses the administration, social and economic life, criminal justice, the military, and the Confucian ritual system. He provides examples of past corrupt officials and discusses topics of the day such as famine relief and social welfare. A general call for overhauling the Korean ruling system, the book also makes the radical proposition that the purpose of government is to serve the interests of the people. This long-awaited translation opens a new window on early-nineteenth century Korea and makes available to a wide audience a work whose main concerns simultaneously transcend national and cultural boundaries.

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The Aesthetics of Strangeness

Eccentricity and Madness in Early Modern Japan

W. Puck Brecher

Eccentric artists are “the vagaries of humanity” that inhabit the deviant underside of Japanese society: This was the conclusion drawn by pre–World War II commentators on most early modern Japanese artists. Postwar scholarship, as it searched for evidence of Japan’s modern roots, concluded the opposite: The eccentric, mad, and strange are moral exemplars, paragons of virtue, and shining hallmarks of modern consciousness. In recent years, the pendulum has swung again, this time in favor of viewing these oddballs as failures and dropouts without lasting cultural significance. This work corrects the disciplinary (and exclusionary) nature of such interpretations by reconsidering the sudden and dramatic emergence of aesthetic eccentricity during the Edo period (1600–1868). It explains how, throughout the period, eccentricity (ki) and madness (kyo) developed and proliferated as subcultural aesthetics. By excavating several generations of early modern Japan’s eccentric artists, it demonstrates that individualism and strangeness carried considerable moral and cultural value. Indeed, Edo society fetishized various marginal personae—the recluse, the loser, the depraved, the outsider, the saint, the mad genius—as local heroes and paragons of moral virtue. This book concludes that a confluence of intellectual, aesthetic, and social conditions enabled multiple concurrent heterodoxies to crystallize around strangeness as a prominent cultural force in Japanese society.

A study of impressive historical and disciplinary breadth, The Aesthetics of Strangeness also makes extensive use of primary sources, many previously overlooked in existing English scholarship. Its coverage of the entire Edo period and engagement with both Chinese and native Japanese traditions reinterprets Edo-period tastes and perceptions of normalcy. By wedding art history to intellectual history, literature, aesthetics, and cultural practice, W. Puck Brecher strives for a broadly interdisciplinary perspective on this topic. Readers will discover that the individuals that form the backbone of his study lend credence to a new interpretation of Edo-period culture: a growing valuation of eccentricity within artistic and intellectual circles that exerted indelible impacts on mainstream society. The Aesthetics of Strangeness demystifies this emergent paradigm by illuminating the conditions and tensions under which certain rubrics of strangeness— ki and kyo particularly—were appointed as aesthetic criteria. Its revision of early modern Japanese culture constitutes an important contribution to the field.

W. Puck Brecher is assistant professor of Japanese at Washington State University.

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An Affair with Korea

by Vincent S. R. Brandt

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