University of Pennsylvania Press

Encounters with Asia

Victor H. Mair, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Encounters with Asia

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The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History

By Thomas T. Allsen

From antiquity to the nineteenth century, the royal hunt was a vital component of the political cultures of the Middle East, India, Central Asia, and China. Besides marking elite status, royal hunts functioned as inspection tours and imperial progresses, a means of asserting kingly authority over the countryside. The hunt was, in fact, the "court out-of-doors," an open-air theater for displays of majesty, the entertainment of guests, and the bestowal of favor on subjects.

In the conduct of interstate relations, great hunts were used to train armies, show the flag, and send diplomatic signals. Wars sometimes began as hunts and ended as celebratory chases. Often understood as a kind of covert military training, the royal hunt was subject to the same strict discipline as that applied in war and was also a source of innovation in military organization and tactics.

Just as human subjects were to recognize royal power, so was the natural kingdom brought within the power structure by means of the royal hunt. Hunting parks were centers of botanical exchange, military depots, early conservation reserves, and important links in local ecologies. The mastery of the king over nature served an important purpose in official renderings: as a manifestation of his possession of heavenly good fortune he could tame the natural world and keep his kingdom safe from marauding threats, human or animal. The exchanges of hunting partners—cheetahs, elephants, and even birds—became diplomatic tools as well as serving to create an elite hunting culture that transcended political allegiances and ecological frontiers.

This sweeping comparative work ranges from ancient Egypt to India under the Raj. With a magisterial command of contemporary sources, literature, material culture, and archaeology, Thomas T. Allsen chronicles the vast range of traditions surrounding this fabled royal occupation.

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The Tongking Gulf Through History

Edited by Nola Cooke, Li Tana, and James A. Anderson

Since 2005, a series of significant developments has been unfolding in the area of the Tongking Gulf under the rubric of an ambitious project called "Two Corridors and One Rim." Proposed by Vietnam in 2004 and enthusiastically embraced by China, the project is designed to link their shared shores and hinterlands by superhighways and high-speed rail. An area that had seemed a backwater for two hundred years has suddenly become a dynamic engine of growth.

Yet how innovative are these developments? Drawing on fresh historical insights and recent archaeological research in northern Vietnam and southern China, The Tongking Gulf Through History reveals that this region has long been a center of cultural, political, and economic exchange. From a historical point of view, contributors argue, the Gulf of Tongking has come full circle. Inspired by the Braudelian vision that regionality arises from long-term human interactions, essays avoid state-centered approaches of nationalist histories to focus on local communities throughout the Gulf. In doing so, they reveal a complex pattern of interrelationships and geopolitical factors that has shaped the gulf region for over two millennia.

The first half of the volume covers the era from the Neolithic to the tenth century, when an independent state emerged from old Chinese Jiaozhi, or modern northern Vietnam; the second surveys the nine centuries that followed, in which only two states came to share the maritime shores of the Tongking Gulf. Together, the essays illuminate how millennia of recurring human interactions within this geographical space have created a regional ensemble with its own longstanding historical integrity and dynamics.

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The Writing on the Wall

How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity

By William C. Hannas

Students in Japan, China, and Korea are among the world's top performers on standardized math and science tests. The nations of East Asia are also leading manufacturers of consumer goods that incorporate scientific breakthroughs in telecommunications, optics, and transportation. Yet there is a startling phenomenon known throughout Asia as the "creativity problem." While East Asians are able to use science, they have not demonstrated the ability to invent radically new systems and paradigms that lead to new technologies. In fact, the legal and illegal transfer of technology from the West to the East is one of the most contentious international business issues. Yet Asians who study and work in the West and depend upon Western languages for their research are among the most creative and talented scientists, no less so than their Western counterparts.

William C. Hannas contends that this paradox emerges from the nature of East Asian writing systems, which are character-based rather than alphabetic. Character-based orthographies, according to the author, lack the abstract features of alphabetic writing that model the thought processes necessary for scientific creativity. When first learning to read, children who are immersed in a character-based culture are at a huge disadvantage because such writing systems do not cultivate the ability for abstract thought. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that points to the cognitive side-effects, the cultural importance of character-based writing makes the adoption of an alphabet unlikely in the near future.

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