Category Archives: Korea

UW Press Author Roundtable: David Fedman, Ian Miller, and Meng Zhang

Authors David Fedman, Seeds of Control, and Ian Miller, Fir and Empire, joined forthcoming author Meng Zhang, Timber and Forestry in Qing China, for a virtual roundtable about their books on Asian environmental history. Below is their conversation.

What topics in Asian environmental history deserve more attention?

Meng Zhang: This is based on my own interest, but I would like to see more works that take both the environmental and the economic seriously. Don’t get me wrong—environmental histories often have something to say about the economic, as the rapacious drive for profit and consumption is the most obvious perpetrator to be blamed. However, as more environmental scholars are beginning to caution us, we also need to be wary of a danger in elevating the morality of environmentalism to a degree that this discourse could play a similar role in justifying domination—domestically and internationally—as the previous discourse of modernization and development has done. Indeed, we already see a version of how this could play out in David’s wonderful account of how the Japanese Empire mobilized the rhetorical contrast between the Japanese “forest-love” thought and the Korean bare mountaintops. In both environmental and economic history, I hope to see more works that recognize the legitimacy of alternative interests and priorities and bridge the discursive gap between the two fields (rather than treating each other as a footnote).

David Fedman: Where to begin? To me, one of the most striking gaps in the field is geographic: namely, Southeast Asia. I’d love to see more work on the environmental histories of Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, and elsewhere. There are, of course, some great books already written about these places but not much work that crosses borders to connect Southeast Asia to the developmental politics of Japan, China, and South Korea. Another topic begging for analysis in my opinion is historical climatology: how different states and actors have tried to understand the variegated climates that define a unit as vast as China or the Japanese Empire.

Ian M. Miller: To me the biggest gaps in the record are the voices of peoples who lived in and used the forest in ways that were not central to the actions of large states and interregional markets. Asia is home to many so-called forest peoples—from Manchus and Ainus in the north to Hmong, Bataks, and many others in Southeast Asia, and the Adivasi or “scheduled tribes” of India. There has been plenty of anthropological work, especially on India and Southeast Asia, but historical work has yet to catch up. In particular, I would like to see more work done to disentangle these groups and their historical identities and livelihoods from the ways they were classified and controlled by colonial empires in the nineteenth century and nation-states in the twentieth.

What misconceptions about East Asian environmental history would you most like to see dispelled?

DF: For me, it’s the notion that Japan has historically lived in harmony with the landscapes, that contemporary reverence for cherry blossoms and forests is evidence of a unique national relationship with nature. Environmental historians of Japan have long taken aim at this discourse, but it dies hard, especially in the public eye.

What needs for timber in late imperial China prompted changes in forestry?

MZ: Construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing were the main sectors that consumed timber. If we think about the iconic architecture in the urban landscape of early modern China (and East Asia in general)—theaters, guild chambers, temples, ancestral halls, brothels, restaurants, teahouses—all were built with timber logs. The cover design of my book comes from a section of a famous eighteenth-century scroll painting, Prosperous Suzhou, also called Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age. As the title suggests, it depicts the lively urban scenes with people from all walks of life in the affluent Lower Yangzi metropole of Suzhou. The section used for my book cover shows two timber rafts floating into the city, supplementing the material bases of this prosperity. In response to such booming demand for timber generated by urbanization, commercialization, and population growth, an interregional trade structure developed over the course of several centuries and expanded to cover thousands of miles, straining natural forests but also motivating regenerative forestry in the remote interior hinterlands. My book has focused on timber production—woods that are big enough to be used for construction and worthwhile enough to be produced and transported across long distances. A big omission is firewood, whose production and consumption remained rather local; even with fuel shortages, high transportation costs meant that firewood had never become worthwhile to transport over very long distances to be used as fuel.

Meng and Ian, your two books examine Chinese forestry in different time periods and with a somewhat different geographical focus, but both suggest that Chinese forest management may have been superior to better-known European approaches. Can you say more about that? To what extent was forestry in late imperial China “sustainable”?

MZ: We often think of the issue of sustainability as either/or, but it really is a gradation of degrees. It also has multiple dimensions: we hope a sustainable pace of resource use is also socially sustainable in that it does not involve the systematic deprivation of a group. From a pragmatic perspective, if the kind of environmental measures that we come up with today can prove to be sustainable, environmentally and socially, for a couple of centuries, I would consider us very able and lucky. The practices of regenerative forestry in late imperial southern China can be called sustainable in this sense: for several centuries, they were able to regenerate timber at a pace that satisfied market and state demands and substituted for natural growths; and the multiple players along the supply chain, from tenant planters and timberland owners to lumberjacks, rafters, brokers, merchants, bankers, consumers, and officials, despite their many conflicts and negotiations, ultimately all had a stake in ensuring the next round of saplings were grown in time.

The way in which private forestry was organized was mundane and ingenious at the same time. It wouldn’t shock any scholar who knows something about late imperial Chinese land tenure that the same contractual formats for rice paddies were used for timberlands. But out of these familiar contractual terms, abstract shares were created and claims on the trees changed hands as liquid financial instruments, liberating the landowners and planters from an excruciating wait for the trees to grow up. This shareholding practice in forestry was in line with (and even anticipated) the proportional liability shareholding structures that were widely used in Chinese business partnerships. If these financial practices sound surprisingly savvy for traditional forestry, one would be even more surprised to learn that they were found in the ethnically diverse, economically less affluent frontier regions of southwestern China. This holds some serious implications for how we think about effective forestry and the history of finance and business in a globally comparative framework. On a personal note, a historian’s happiness really comes from excavating these surprises.

IMM: I would not necessarily say that Chinese forest management was superior to European approaches, because this is ultimately comparing apples to oranges. Compared to European approaches, Chinese management developed in very different environmental conditions and focused on a different type of tree, the China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata). Some characteristics of the fir—including its incredibly rapid and straight growth and its suitability for a variety of purposes, from ships to buildings and chests—meant that management in China was easier. For example, China fir reaches marketable dimensions in twenty-five to fifty years, as opposed to the hundred-plus years needed for oak, which was the principal European shipbuilding tree.

Nonetheless, I would say that the Chinese forest system converged rather quickly to market-based solutions that eventually came to dominate in other places and largely did so without large state interventions that caused some problems in Europe. The Chinese forestry system also has a much longer track record—tree plantations have been cultivated in parts of southern China for close to a thousand years at this point, whereas the history of tree plantations in Europe only really goes back two hundred years. This speaks to a long-term ability to produce enough timber for most uses. Empires in China did tap their frontiers, including the southwest and Manchuria, to supplement the plantations of the interior, but there is also nothing comparable to this huge European quest for timber abroad in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

David, Japan is legendary for its history of forestry, also called “forest-love.” How do your new insights about Japanese forestry in Korea reshape that understanding?

DF: I think my book helps to show how much of this mythology about “forest-love” and reverence is an invented tradition, a process bound up with the rise of the nation-state during the Meiji period. Forest-love is not so much a timeless culture of stewardship as a discourse, one used to nurture emperor-worship and nationalism at home and justify woodland expropriation in colonial territories. This ideological project sat at the very foundation of Japan’s claims to greenification in Korea—and, one could argue, continue to animate more recent incursions into the forests of Southeast Asia.

How can your book inform global conversations around conservation as a tool of colonialism—“seeds of control”?

DF: My book underscores the simple but easily overlooked point that the greening of landscapes is not always a singularly good thing. Although we tend to positively associate greenification with notions of investment and renewal, reforestation can also operate as a tool of expropriation and exploitation. At a time when scientists and activists are calling for massive tree planting schemes to combat climate change, we’d be wise to think more critically about what this breakneck regeneration looks like on the ground for local residents, human and animal both.

What does the study of plantation forestry in particular offer to the study of Asia or environmental history writ large? We all seem to be writing about forest regeneration in one way or another, and I wonder if our collective works don’t offer new perspectives on what some are calling the “plantationocene.”

IMM: This is a really interesting question. I had not heard plantationocene before, and it took me down a very interesting rabbit hole. My perspective on it is this relates to the ways that people have been talking about the anthropocene, which I think are flawed but useful conversation points. There is one definition of the anthropocene—massive human modification of the environment—that starts in deep antiquity. It goes something like this: humans have been modifying grasslands in intensive ways for something like five to ten thousand years, starting with the domestication of grains (which are grasses) and ruminant animals (which eat grasses). There is another definition of the anthropocene that starts with modernity. It goes something like this: humans have been causing indelible changes to biogeochemical cycles for one or two centuries—going back either to the layer of fallout from nuclear weapons in the 1940s and ’50s, or the first large-scale use of coal in the 1800s. Both of those are useful markers of large scale anthropogenic environmental change.

But there is another change point that we need to talk about, which is more or less the watershed of the early modern. Jason Moore has called this the capitolocene and thinks it is about the new ways that markets are interlinked coming out of the Middle Ages. Charles Mann has called it the homogenocene and ties it to Alfred Crossby’s work on the Columbian Exchange, in that 1492 was the first moment since deep prehistory when the American and Afro-Eurasian continents were closely linked and transferred species between them. These are both useful. But there is a third transition that ties them together: the historical moment when intensive human cultivation of things that we might call plantations begin to spread from farms (domesticated grasslands) to forests (domesticated woodlands). This plantationocene comes to a fever pitch in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with the spread of things like rubber, palm oil, coffee, and so on, but I think it begins with the types of plantations that the three of us are talking about in our books.


David Fedman is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and the author of Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea.

Ian M. Miller is assistant professor of history at St. John’s University and author of Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China.

Meng Zhang is assistant professor of history at Loyola Marymount University and author of Timber and Forestry in Qing China: Sustaining the Market.

Hyung-A Kim on “Korean Skilled Workers”

The Korean case of national development is an outstanding one. South Korea rose from one of the poorest countries in the world to the twelfth largest economy in terms of gross domestic product with innovative technology (innotech) development, which ranks globally in the top three countries. Although not entirely without its flaws and idiosyncrasies, Korea has indeed succeeded in a dual industrial and democratic revolution together with innotech development within just six decades since the mid-1960s, surviving several traumatic global financial crises, including the Asian financial crises in 1997 and 2008.

Some of Korea’s large family-owned conglomerates, or chaebŏls, in particular, have become the world’s preeminent manufacturing brands. Samsung Electronics’ smartphones, Hyundai Motors’ automobiles, Hyundai Heavy Industries’ shipbuilding, LG’s electronic home appliances, and various Korean telecommunication brands, not to mention K-pop and cosmetics, all boast global reputations and associated market power. Chaebŏls thus quite rightly feature in developmental literature on Korea.

Unlike the prominent chaebŏls, Korea’s highly disciplined and technologically savvy skilled workers are little known, other than for their union militancy that has branded them a “labor aristocracy” and an object of social criticism for their collective “selfishness.” Affiliated with the radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, king of unions in the country, the Korean skilled workers’ unions have in fact become one of the most powerful forces. They, in the eyes of the Korean public, pursue only power and vested-interests in the name of “progress” in Korea’s highly polarized society today.

Herein lies a new narrative that I tell in Korean Skilled Workers: Toward a Labor Aristocracy, a story that recounts not only their critical contribution to South Korea’s rapid development but also their controversial roles in Korea’s democratic working class movement and its current economic status in the world.

My book is the first comprehensive study of Korea’s first generation of skilled workers in the heavy and chemical industries (HCI) sector, tracing the intriguing transformation of the skilled workers’ collective image and character, which have dramatically changed over more than four decades since the early 1970s. This story involves their socio-political trajectory of dramatic transformation, tracking how they initially became patriotic and obedient “industrial warriors” of the Korean state-led HCI program since the 1970s, and then changed into self-proclaimed “Goliat warriors” during South Korea’s democratic transition from 1987 to the early 1990s.

During this period, the first generation of Korean skilled workers in the HCI sector represented the democratic labor union movement and the solidarity movement of the Korean working class in their partnership with radical university students and intellectuals. The book then shows how they finally became a “labor aristocracy” by consolidating their collective status in Korea’s dual labor market as regular workers at large HCI firms. Since the 2000s, they have become a distinct class of a labor aristocracy in Korean society.

In this book I have challenged hitherto prevalent approaches to the study of the Korean case of development by analyzing the lived experience of Korea’s first generation of skilled workers, speaking directly to several dozens of skilled workers and many prominent leaders of the various skilled workers’ labor movements and unions, and corporate CEOs, among others, including academics, journalists, and labor experts. I analyzed newly declassified sources from Korea’s presidential and national archives, among other internal documents, as well as data on Korean workers’ views on the role of unions taken from surveys conducted in 1978, 1987, and 2005. I also conducted in-depth interviews during 2014 and 2015 to obtain up-to-date information on the individual situations and perspectives of HCI workers. This book alerts us to the need to rethink the conventional understanding of the East Asian model of development espoused by elite development theory (EDT) traditions.

This book is a must-read in coming to understand not only how necessary skilled workers are to enabling a nation’s development, but also how they as a newly emerged “labor aristocracy” need to move beyond collective selfishness, especially in this global era of labor market polarization between precarious workers and highly-paid regular workers in many developing and advanced countries throughout the world.


Hyung-A Kim is associate professor of Korean history and politics at the Australian National University. She is author of Korea’s Development under Park Chung Hee: Rapid Industrialization, 1961–1979. Her new book Korean Skilled Workers: Toward a Labor Aristocracy is available now.

New in Asian Studies for the Association for Asian Studies 2018 Annual Conference

From March 22-25, we will be attending the 2018 Association for Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Washington, DC.

Executive editor Lorri Hagman and advancement and grants manager Beth Fuget will be representing the Press at the conference. Come see us in the exhibit hall at booths 413 and 415, join us and NUS Press for a special book signing of Mediating Islam by Janet Steele, and follow along with the meeting on social media at #AAS2018.

We are thrilled to celebrate new and recent books across the range of our Asian Studies lists including volumes in our Global South Asia series, the Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies series, books in the Mellon-funded collaborative Modern Language Initiative (MLI), and recent book prize winners:

Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals” translated by Stephen Durrant, Wai-Yee Li, and David Schaberg is winner of the 2018 Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation (China and Inner Asia) from the Association for Asian Studies. Read an excerpt from the volumes on Scribd.

Book signing with Janet Steele:

Saturday, March 24 at 5:15 p.m.

Mediating Islam: Cosmopolitan Journalisms in Muslim Southeast Asia
By Janet Steele
Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies

Broadening an overly narrow definition of Islamic journalism, Janet Steele examines day-to-day reporting practices of Muslim professionals, from conservative scripturalists to pluralist cosmopolitans, at five exemplary news organizations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

New and Forthcoming in Asian Studies

The Art of Resistance: Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China
Shelley Drake Hawks
Art History Publication Initiative Books

The Art of Resistance surveys the lives of seven painters during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966– 1976), a time when they were considered counter- revolutionary and were forbidden to paint. Drawing on interviews with the artists and their families and on materials collected during her visits to China, Shelley Drake Hawks examines their painting styles, political outlooks, and life experiences.

Shanghai Sacred: The Religious Landscape of a Global City
By Benoit Vermander, Liz Hingley, and Liang Zhang
Forthcoming April 2018

Shanghai Sacred demonstrates how religions are lived, constructed, and thus inscribed into the social imaginary of the metropolis. Evocative photographs by Liz Hingley enrich and interact with the narrative, making the book an innovative contribution to religious visual ethnography.


Sexuality in China: Histories of Power and Pleasure
Edited by Howard Chiang
Forthcoming June 2018

Ranging from imperial times through the post-Mao era, chapters examine an array of topics, including polygamy, crimes of passion, homosexuality, and sex work. Collectively, they reconsider Western categorizations and explore Chinese understandings of sexuality and erotic orientation.


Living Sharia: Law and Practice in Malaysia
By Timothy P. Daniels
Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies

This book traces the contested implementation of Islamic family and criminal laws and sharia economics to provide cultural frameworks for understanding sharia among Muslims and non-Muslims.


Down with Traitors: Justice and Nationalism in Wartime China
By Yun Xia

Down with Traitors reveals how the hanjian were punished in both legal and extralegal ways and how the anti-hanjian campaigns captured the national crisis, political struggle, roaring nationalism, and social tension of China’s eventful decades from the 1930s through the 1950s.


Medicine and Memory in Tibet: Amchi Physicians in an Age of Reform
By Theresia Hofer
Studies on Ethnic Groups in China

Medicine and Memory in Tibet examines medical revivalism on the geographic and sociopolitical margins both of China and of Tibet’s medical establishment in Lhasa, exploring the work of medical practitioners, or amchi, and of Medical Houses in the west-central region of Tsang.


Slapping the Table in Amazement: A Ming Dynasty Story Collection
By Ling Mengchu
Translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang
Introduction by Robert E. Hegel

Slapping the Table in Amazement is the unabridged English translation of the famous story collection Pai’an jingqi by Ling Mengchu (1580-1644), originally published in 1628. It includes translations of verse and prologue stories as well as marginal and interlinear comments.


Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan
By Jakobina K. Arch
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books

Drawing on a wide range of sources, from whaling ledgers to recipe books and gravestones for fetal whales, Jakobina Arch traces how the images of whales and byproducts of commercial whaling were woven into the lives of people throughout Japan.


Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea
By Juhn Y. Ahn
Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
Forthcoming June 2018

Two issues central to the transition from the Kory to the Choson dynasty in fourteenth-century Korea were social differences in ruling elites and the decline of Buddhism, which had been the state religion. In this revisionist history, Juhn Ahn challenges the long-accepted Confucian critique that Buddhism had become so powerful and corrupt that the state had to suppress it.

New and Forthcoming from Modern Language Initiative Books

Transforming Monkey: Adaptation and Representation of a Chinese Epic
By Hongmei Sun

At the intersection of Chinese studies, Asian American studies, film studies, and translation and adaptation studies, Transforming Monkey provides a renewed understanding of the Monkey King character as a rebel and trickster, and demonstrates his impact on the Chinese self-conception of national identity as he travels through time and across borders.


Forming the Early Chinese Court: Rituals, Spaces, Roles
By Luke Habberstad

Forming the Early Chinese Court builds on new directions in comparative studies of royal courts in the ancient world to present a pioneering study of early Chinese court culture. Rejecting divides between literary, political, and administrative texts, Luke Habberstad examines sources from the Qin, Western Han, and Xin periods (221 BCE-23 CE) for insights into court society and ritual, rank, the development of the bureaucracy, and the role of the emperor.


Many Faces of Mulian: The Precious Scrolls of Late Imperial China
By Rostislav Berezkin

In exploring the evolution of the Mulian story, Rostislav Berezkin illuminates changes in the literary and religious characteristics of the baojuan (precious scrolls) genre as a type of performance literature that had its foundations in multiple literary traditions.

New and Forthcoming from the Global South Asia series

High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration
By Amy Bhatt
Forthcoming May 2018

In this revealing ethnography, Amy Bhatt shines a spotlight on Indian IT migrants and their struggles to navigate career paths, citizenship, and belonging as they move between South Asia and the United States.


Making New Nepal: From Student Activists to Mainstream Politics
By Amanda Thérèse Snellinger

Based on extensive ethnographic research between 2003 and 2015, Making New Nepal provides a snapshot of an activist generation’s political coming-of-age during a decade of civil war and ongoing democratic street protests.


Mobilizing Krishna’s World: The Writings of Prince Savant Singh of Kishangarh
By Heidi R. M. Pauwels

Through an examination of Savant Singh’s life and works, Heidi Pauwels explores the circulation of ideas and culture in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries in north India, revealing how Singh mobilized soldiers but also used myths, songs, and stories about saints in order to cope with his personal and political crisis.


The Rebirth of Bodh Gaya: Buddhism and the Making of a World Heritage Site
By David Geary

This study of Buddhism’s most famous pilgrimage site examines the modern revival of Buddhism in India, the colonial and postcolonial dynamics surrounding archaeological heritage and sacred space, and the role of tourism and urban development in India.


Banaras Reconstructed: Architecture and Sacred Space in a Hindu Holy City
By Madhuri Desai

Desai examines the confluences, as well as the tensions, that have shaped this complex and remarkable city. In so doing, she raises issues central to historical as well as contemporary Indian identity and delves into larger questions about religious urban environments in South Asia.



Displaying Time: The Many Temporalities of the Festival of India

By Rebecca M. Brown

Using extensive archival research and interviews with artists, curators, diplomats, and visitors, Brown analyzes a selection of museum shows that were part of the Festival of India to unfurl new exhibitionary modes: the time of transformation, of interruption, of potential and the future, as well as the contemporary and the now.

Now Available in Paperback

Association for Asian Studies Conference Preview

From March 16-19, we will be attending the 2017 Association for Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Toronto, Canada.

Executive editor Lorri Hagman and advancement and grants manager Beth Fuget will be representing the press at the meeting. Come see us in the exhibit hall at booth 409 and follow along with the meeting on social media at #AAS2017.

We are thrilled to celebrate the debut of a number of new and recent titles across the range of our Asian Studies titles including offerings in our Classics of Chinese Thought translation series, the Global South Asia series, the Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies series, books in the Mellon-funded collaborative Modern Language Initiative (MLI), and these recent book prize winners:

The Emotions of Justice by Jisoo M. Kim is winner of the 2017 James B. Palais Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.


Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China
by Antje Richter was awarded an honorable mention for the 2016 Kayden Book Award in literary studies.

New and Recent Books

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Read an excerpt from Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals”

Forthcoming from the Global South Asia series

Banaras Reconstructed: Architecture and Sacred Space in a Hindu Holy City
By Madhuri Desai
Forthcoming May 2017

Desai examines the confluences, as well as the tensions, that have shaped this complex and remarkable city. In so doing, she raises issues central to historical as well as contemporary
Indian identity and delves into larger questions about religious urban environments in South Asia.


Displaying Time: The Many Temporalities of the Festival of India

By Rebecca M. Brown
Forthcoming June 2017

Using extensive archival research and interviews with artists, curators, diplomats, and visitors, Brown analyzes a selection of museum shows that were part of the Festival of India to unfurl new exhibitionary modes: the time of transformation, of interruption, of potential and the future, as well as the contemporary and the now.

Now Available in Paperback

The Association for Asian Studies in Seattle

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is the world’s largest organization focusing on research on and teaching about Asia. Its annual conference, attended by over three thousand members, is our most important opportunity to recruit new book projects and make our new publications in Asian studies available to scholars. This year, AAS will meet in Seattle for the first time, from March 31 through April 3, at the Washington State Convention Center.

AAS’s members are academics and other professionals whose work involves East, South, Northeast, and Southeast Asia, and whose expertise spans across disciplines—history, anthropology, and literary studies, to name just a few. At the hundreds of themed panels scattered across several days, they will give oral presentations on their current research. Our acquisitions editors scan the program to identify topics that could be developed into books, and arrange in advance to meet with potential new authors and to follow up with authors whose manuscripts already are in development. A popular feature of the conference is the exhibit hall, in which dozens of book publishers introduce new titles published in the last year, as well as feature backlist highlights.

In addition to lining up the usual dozens of meetings with authors, other scholars, and publishing partners, this year our Seattle-based staff will have the opportunity to meet the many University of Washington Press authors attending the meeting. Come see us at booth 310-312! We will also celebrate several recent prize winners: Continue reading