AAS 2016 Cambria Press Sinophone World Series Event

The AAS 2016 conference was one of our best conferences yet. It was great being right in the front of the exhibit hall and across from the AAS booth. We appreciated the compliments on our 8 ft long banners from both attendees and other exhibitors. Thanks to all who stopped by!

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Cambria Press AAS 2016 Book Exhibit Hall Banner 1

The Cambria booth had two banners–one for our Cambria Sinophone World Series Event and series, and the other for our latest books.

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Cambria Press AAS 2016 Book Exhibit Hall Banner 2

Thanks also to all who attended the Cambria Sinophone World Series Event! Speakers were:

Christopher Lupke Toni Tan Victor Mair Sinophone Asian Studies
Christopher Lupke (Washington State University; author of The Sinophone World Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien) with Toni Tan (Cambria Press director) and Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania; general editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series)
Christopher Lupke Victor Mair Sinophone Asian Studies Toni Tan Cambria
Christopher Lupke (Washington State University; author of The Sinophone World Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien) with Toni Tan (Cambria Press director), Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania; general editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series), and Minghui Hu (University of California Santa Cruz; coeditor, with Johan Elverskog of SMU, of Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600-1950)


Victor Mair Sinophone Christopher Lupke Hou Hsiao-hsien Toni Tan Cambria Press
AAS 2016 Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania; general editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series), Christopher Lupke (Washington State University; author of The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien) and Toni Tan (Cambria Press director)


Buddhist Baodingshan Karil Kucera
Karil Kucera (St. Olaf College; author of Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism)

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Essential Books in Asian Studies

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond

Cambria Press is pleased to announce a new publication Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond by Chia-rong Wu (Rhodes College). This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

This book will be launched at the upcoming 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Seattle.

The following are excerpts from the book.

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan

On zhiguai

Zhong Kui


“When it comes to zhiguai studies, numerous scholars have linked the ghostly presence with the critical concepts of the lost, the returning, and the strange in response to the traditional Chinese history, culture, and entertainment.As Judith T. Zeitlin argued, ‘A specter is always an image, culturally and historically constructed, and it therefore forces us to consider what it means to represent something in a given period and context.’ Zeitlin’s interpretation of ghostly figuration deftly points to clear senses of specific temporality and locality, both of which are crucial elements in defining and understanding a Sinophone phenomenon or product. The spectral representation in fiction and film goes beyond the common perception of the mundane world, thereby arousing feelings of horror towards the unknown and the uncanny. The hollowness represented by ghosts and spirits to a great extent consorts with the fear of death as well as the dark side of human nature.” (p. 9)

On ghost island literature 鬼島文學

ghost island Taiwan








“What is ghost island literature 鬼島文學? … ghost-island literature is not simply a subset of the traditional Chinese zhiguai genre with the presence of specters. With a unique historical timeline, it extends the scope of the strange in general along with the ghostly, the ghost-like, and the shadowy in postmodern scenarios. In the chapter entitled “Second Haunting” from The Monster That Is History (2004), David Der-wei Wang traced the literary images of monsters and ghosts in his visionary analysis of the historical and literary narratives from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. As Wang claimed, ‘The continued reappearance of ghosts” can be regarded as “a reminder of the incessant calamities of Chinese history.’ The ghost haunting is thus associated with the return of the repressed memories of the past.” (pp.24-25)

On Pai Hsien-yung

Pai Hsien-yung

“[T]he geographical and cultural dislocation problematizes one’s recognition of the present—this is seen by how Pai Hsien-yung’s ghostly Taipei characters are unable to let go of their reminiscence of the past. Put in another way, Pai’s Taipei characters serve as the historical silhouettes of the past. Their nostalgic memories overtake their present existence, not to mention their future prospects. Through literary writing, Pai re-creates an imagined homeland and provides himself with an emotional outlet for nostalgia. His characters’ reminiscence of China emerges as a sense of eternal loss and lack, thus making the transcendence of nostalgia impossible. In this sense, the reimagined China turns out to be an intangible cultural matrix, loaded with rosy pictures and haunting effects. Therefore, Pai’s mainland figures in Taipei serve as historical shadows who are attached to sensual emotions and memories as well as a simulacrum of the haunting history.” (p. 34)

On  Chu T’ien-hsin


“Chu T’ien-hsin is one of those writers who brings into focus retrospection and introspection of Chinese diaspora and local identity in Taiwan. Chu questions the KMT rule and examines her cultural quandary; her Taipei characters are not insubstantial Chinese shadows … Chu’s “In Remembrance of My Buddies from the Military Compound” [Xiang wo juancun de xiongdi men 想我眷村的兄弟們; 1992) and The Old Capital are connected with a complex mechanism of cross-cultural memories in response to Chinese diaspora and Japanese colonialization. In addition, Chu’s lively and discursive narrative also portrays a spectral reflection of the social fabric and individual psyche.” (p. 36)

On Li Ang

Li Ang

“Like The Labyrinthine Garden, Li Ang’s “Bloody Sacrifice of the Makeup Face” is related  to the aftermath of the February 28 Incident. … Li Ang skillfully combines the historical shadows in the past and the tragic fire in the present so as to stress the victimization of the dead in and after the February 28 Incident. … Li Ang’s ghost-island narrative is brought to a higher level with her novel Visible Ghosts (Kandejian de gui 看得見的鬼; 2004), a recent notable endeavor in the category of ghost-island literature. This fictional work depicts Taiwan as an island of spectral history and recounts the correlation between historical trauma and ghost haunting through five female ghosts’ stories. As a creative writer, Li Ang skillfully connects the ghost-island narrative with the historical trauma of Taiwan.” (pp. 47, 48, 49)

On Giddens Ko

Giddens Ko

“Giddens Ko’s rise can also be attributed to the Taiwanese (young) readers’ liking for fantasy and adventure novels. In The Legend of Fate Hunters (Lie ming shi chuanqi 獵命師傳奇) series (2005–2013; twenty volumes in total), Ko introduces a supernatural practice of fate hunting that changes one’s character, energy, and power. … It is intriguing to note that Ko creates a fantastic world where Chinese fate hunters clash with vampires, and the battlegrounds include China, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and the United States. One may argue that the production and popularity of The Legend of Fate Hunters series coincides with the ‘place-based’ practices highlighted by scholars of Sinophone studies.” (pp.191-192)

On strange narratives and Chineseness


“Strange narratives can be both disturbing and intriguing. By making strange figures and spaces visible to readers, writers revisit historical trauma, engage with sociopolitics, and/or probe into the unknown and the uncanny state of human psyche. On a deeper level, strange narratives delve into profound twists on imaginary Chineseness and formulate revolutionary takes on varied cultural identities. An increasingly popular trend in the cultural and social imagining of Sinophone Taiwan and beyond, the strange narrative will continue to haunt for many years to come.” (p. 195)

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The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien

Cambria Press is pleased to announce a new publication The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Culture, Style, Voice, and Motion by Christopher Lupke (Washington State University). This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania) and the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series headed by John Clum (Duke University).

This book will be launched at the upcoming 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Seattle.

Hou Hsiao-hsien

The following are excerpts from the book.

Chapter 1: The Odyssey of Hou Hsiao-hsien
Hou Hsiao-hsien Cannes“The odyssey of Hou Hsiao-hsien, a director now in his late sixties, is an unfinished one. Audiences look forward to his constant interrogation of the boundaries of film representation, his wonderful creativity and courage, and his obsessive honing of signature techniques. … he made full use of his training and talent, as well as his collaborative relationships with such important intellectuals as Zhu Tianwen and Wu Nianzhen and technical geniuses such as Du Duzhi, Liao Qingsong, Li Pingbin, and Huang Wenying. When many filmmakers concede to the demands of global capitalistic aesthetics, Hou unwaveringly pursues his craft, disregarding the received viewing conventions of the film public and redefining them at the same time. His is a visionary art whereby he is as restless and uncomfortable as are many film aficionados.” (pp. 37-38)

Chapter 2: Zhu Tianwen and the Sotto Voce of Gendered Expression

“The influence of Zhu in the film production cannot be underestimated but is difficult to completely distill without resorting to detailed autobiographical and interview evidence about each and every film. For instance, one can tell from interviews of Hou and Zhu,  often conducted jointly, as well as various essays that Zhu Tianwen has written, that there has been a symbiotic, even synergistic, energy at work in their artistic and professional relationship.” (pp. 47-48)

Chapter 3: Comparing Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ozu Yasujirô

Ozu Yasujirô
“Notably, in spite of whatever uncanny resemblances may exist between the cinematic style of Ozu and Hou, especially in Hou’s works up until his 1989 classic A City of Sadness, Hou insists that he had never seen an Ozu film all the way through to that point and therefore could not have been influenced by him except perhaps in some general fashion that perhaps all intellectuals in Taiwan are influenced to one extent or another by, for lack of a better word, what one might call ‘the Japanese aesthetic.'” (pp. 78-79)

Chapter 4: The Muted Interstices of Testimony

“The dissection of these particular sequences [in A City of Sadness] leads to the conclusion that a large measure of the film’s import rests on the fact that just as political repression is a form of silencing, the silent witness Wenqing (Fourth Brother) enacts the very problem of communication which the February 28 Incident creates and the critics of A City of Sadness deplore. Therefore, it is not so much that Hou Hsiao-hsien has failed to put forth a film that adequately represents this historical truth, nor that he has acted on behalf of the Guomindang, wittingly or unwittingly, to present a politically suspect whitewash of the affair, but that his representation of the event contains within itself the seeds of its own skepticism. Hou’s film implies that a pristine recapitulation of the February 28 Incident is no longer accessible and in fact itself would serve to undermine the most important element of political repression: the silencing of contending voices.” (pp. 114-115)

Chapter 5: Time and Teleology in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Films of Quest and Disillusionment

Goodbye SouthDust in the Wind
“That his characters do not accomplish what they set out to, that they do not get to where they always seem to be going, that the spectator is left to puzzle over the apparently unfinished quality of his carefully wrought paeans to the quotidian is a responsibility that  Hou places on the spectator. Hou’s audiences are left to ponder the awful ennui of his characters and the curiously tentative conclusions of his films. … The circular logic of Hou’s film narratives illusively structured as teleological journeys echoes the feelings of vulnerability its inhabitants hold for Taiwan, an island entity with no official status as a nation, whose denizens have nowhere to which they can flee and no option of expanding its economy within its borders.” (p. 192)

Chapter 6: What is Said and Left Unsaid in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Period Adaptations

flowers of shanghaiMillennium Mambo
“Even for Hou Hsiao-hsien, Flowers of Shanghai (1998) is a film that presses the bounds of feature filmmaking. … Despite the fact that Hou Hsiao-hsien has said in an interview that Millennium Mambo is a contemporary version of Flowers of Shanghai, the latter does not even contain the narrative voiceover to guide the spectator as the former does.1 The audience is forced to puzzle over the meaning and implications of the film, an alienating experience even for Chinese and Taiwanese audiences due to its period setting. (p. 209)

The Assassin

“Watching Hou Hsiao-hsien’s most recent film The Assassin carefully and repeatedly, one comes to the initial conclusion that it is a plot stripped of all excess, an adumbration of the full story of what happened to the heroine Nie Yinniang and of the historical  circumstances surrounding the militarized province of Weibo where the film is set. While this is true, it is deceiving too because The Assassin is also a colossal reinterpretation of the original Tang-dynasty classical tale “Nie Yinniang,” and the film version and particularly the screenplay endow it with a cornucopia of newly created material that the authors drew both from historical research and from their imaginations.” (p.215)

See also Author Interview with Christopher Lupke.

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Author Interview with Christopher Lupke

Christopher Lupke’s latest book, The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien, will be released next week at the 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Seattle.

Professor Lupke is one of the few who has visited the set of Hou’s latest film, The Assassin (2015) and includes a discussion of it in his book. He will be at the Cambria Sinophone World Series event on Saturday evening in the Jefferson Room at the Sheraton Seattle. It will be a great time to learn more about his work and ask him questions about the book.

Hou Hsiao-hsien

In the meantime, we have a short interview with Professor Lupke about the book here to start things off.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
CL: “When I was in graduate school, I happened to see Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985). It totally blew me away. I watched a lot of Chinese films mainly to maintain my listening comprehension, but I was not particularly impressed. Hou’s film was spectacular and subtle at the same time. I immediately knew that Taiwan cinema had changed forever. A few years later, his film A City of Sadness (1989) sealed the deal. I have been fascinated by his work ever since and over a long period of time developed the material for The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Culture, Style, Voice and Motion.

Hou Hsiao-hsien scholarship is now voluminous. This is a testament to the compelling quality of his work. About ten years ago, I realized that if I wanted to say something definitive about his work, I should write a whole book. My basic goal has been to illustrate how his work is intricate on a formal level but still intimately tied to cultural, historical and political issues in Taiwan and East Asia. I knew I couldn’t be exhaustive, but I wanted to be comprehensive. And that’s what I set out to do.”

Q: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
CL: Readers can go to my book as a sort of one-stop for information on any and all of Hou’s feature length productions. I discuss them all to one extent or another. Secondly, on the chapters that feature very close analysis (Chapters 2 through 6), I provide detailed insight that can help unlock some of the mystery of this very intricate and idiosyncratic auteur filmmaker. His films require careful dissection, and that’s what I do. Third, for film lovers who don’t know Chinese, the last chapter is sixty pages of interviews I have translated from Chinese that heretofore has been inaccessible to people who just love Hou because he is a great director.
Finally, the first chapter sketches what I call the “odyssey” of Hou Hsiao-hsien – how he has changed (and not changed) over the past three and a half decades. I tried to say something about all of his feature films. Readers can utilize that chapter to get the big picture of Hou’s contribution. The book as a whole engages much of the secondary scholarship on Hou Hsiao-hsien in English and in Chinese. It is impossible to make reference to it all, because it has become an industry of its own. However, through my book readers will be able to identify many of the other scholars working on Hou Hsiao-hsien and others, and can use my book to track down this secondary scholarship, should they wish to do further study.

Q: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
CL: Hou Hsiao-hsien is one of those geniuses of the screen who, by virtue of the density of his work, will always be of interest to scholars and critics. He’s a classic. There will be no end to Hou Hsiao-hsien scholarship. Additional work needs to be done on the Chinese literary and discursive context that underlies his works. His work also will benefit from more scholarship in English by people who are fluent in not only in the Hoklo (Taiwanese) language but also in Hakka.

It also would be very interesting to pursue in more depth some of the formal aspects of Hou’s work such as set and costume design. It is such an important component of his production. There are now books in Chinese that discuss in further detail the construction of these things in films like The Assassin (2015) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998).

The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series (General Editor: Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania) and the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series (General Editor: John Clum, Duke University).

Read excerpts from The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Learn more about The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien and recommend it.


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Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950

Cambria Press is pleased to announce a new publication Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950 by Professors Minghui Hu (University of California Santa Cruz) and Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University) . This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

This book will be launched at the upcoming 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Seattle.

Cosmopolitanism China

The following are excerpts from the book.

Chapter 1: Introduction


“When Confucianism was vital, it was cosmopolitan…. But when China ceased to be the world and became a nation, or struggled to become one, Confucianism was provincial in that larger world that contained the Chinese nation.” – Joseph R. Levenson

“Levenson was clearly on to something important—this volume explores the implications and possibilities of his potent observation regarding China in relation to the growing scholarship on cosmopolitanism around the world.” – Minghu Ju and Johan Elverskog, pp. 1–2

Chapter 2: Making Manchus and Muslims7c055f6c314a75a379d4188997b0cbe4
“The vicissitudes of the Qing political climate intermittently permitted and forced Chinese Muslims to express their beliefs and collective identity as being not only unthreatening to Chinese culture and society, but, moreover, completely consonant with mainstream Confucian values. The resulting hybrid cultural, religious, and intellectual identity cultivated by the Han Kitab scholars parallels in many ways the multivalent imperial identity promoted by the Qing imperium. In the communal histories of the Manchus and Chinese Muslims, one can observe patterns of development that mirror those of other ethnoreligious communities throughout Chinese history.” —James Frankel, pp. 24–25

Chapter 3: Quotidian Cosmopolitanism in Qing Provincial GovernmentPortrait_of_the_Yongzheng_Emperor_in_Court_Dress
“The imperial responses to the 1723 floods revealed much about the assumptions and traditions of the court and province in river management. The Yongzheng emperor responded to the situation in Henan with a series of new appointments, bringing individuals of different backgrounds and expertise on board —a strategy that captured well the quotidian cosmopolitanism of  Qing rule in that it threw into relief the competing claims of universalism within a local context.” — R. Kent Guy, p. 58

Chapter 4: From Specialized Methodologies to Cosmopolitan Vision450px-Lunyu
“All the basic labels used in the Sinophone world [to denote Qianjia scholarship] are actually misnomers […] Eighteenth-century High Qing scholarship must therefore not simply be characterized as kaojuxue 考據學 (textual methodologies) but rather as the rise of various specialized methodologies encompassed by a coherent cosmopolitan vision.” — Chang So-An and Minghui Hu, pp. 90, 110


Chapter 5: Toward a Buddhist Cosmopolitanism Gong Zizhen Memorial

“Gong Zizhen—famous for his New Text classical scholarship, his poetic oeuvre, and his advocacy for the establishment of the province of Xinjiang —was also a devout and erudite Buddhist. […] Given his ardent faith, paying tribute to Sakyamuni in extravagant terms such as [in Ti Fance] hardly sounds exceptional. Nonetheless, it was bold, even a bit cheeky, for a member of the highest stratum of literati society to so explicitly and categorically denigrate native sages in favor of foreigners. […] Gong displays a remarkably even-handed, largely neutral appraisal of China’s place among its neighbors, and an enthusiasm toward the cultivation of what could be loosely called a cosmopolitan sensibility. Key to the emergence of this approach was Gong’s eclectic tendency to cross various cultural and intellectual boundaries, as well as his oft-expressed disdain for ethnic or cultural provincialism.” — Stephen Roddy, pp. 121–123

Chapter 6: A Late Chosŏn Korean Polymath in the Cosmopolitan World of Qing ChinaKim_Jeong-hui
“The story of Kim Chŏng-hŭi provides a view into what can be understood as the East Asian Confucian cosmopolis. Korean translators, as well as their overseas Hokkien, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Siamese counterparts, played an essential role as go-betweens between China and the broader East Asian Confucian world.  [… These interactions] suggest that a loosely interconnected but very cosmopolitan East Asian sociocultural world of classical learning, literary writings, and political statecraft existed and was powered by the early modern East Asian commercial world during the ‘silver age.’”— Benjamin Elman, pp. 160, 180

Chapter 7: Cultural Solidarity in Troubled TimesN09124_featured_fig28
“Yu Yue used the word ‘people from faraway places’ (yuanren 遠人) to refer only to Europeans and their colonial (or in this case quite possibly enslaved) subjects. […] He often complained that the inventions brought to China by these distasteful, unsightly foreigners were either superfluous or unsettling, and often both. 187-188 [… However, later in life] While falling into a deep gloom over the violence that raged both within and outside of China (Yu Yue expressed a wish to end his life in several poems of 1900–1906), Yu also began in this period to speak of a shared humanity with those people of more distant lands, the so-called ‘yuanren’ that he had dismissed so disparagingly earlier in life.” — Stephen Roddy, pp. 189, 187-188, 201

Chapter 8: Did the Yellow Emperor Come from Babylonia?

“According to Albert Étienne Jean Baptiste Terrien de Lacouperie, Nakhunte (also romanized as Nai Hwangti) was the legendary Yellow Emperor in Chinese history, and the Bak tribes were derived from the first phonetic unit of Baixing 百姓 meaning the “peasants” or general population. Therefore, the Yellow Emperor—who was widely considered the symbolic beginning of Chinese civilization and the starting point of the Chinese imperial genealogy—actually came from Babylonia. The ancient Chinese were in fact Babylonians. Lacouperie’s argument later became known as Sino-Babylonianism (Xilaishuo). […] In 1903, when Sino-Babylonianism was first introduced to the Sinophone world, the anti-Manchu revolutionary elites in Shanghai and Tokyo took strong political positions in reaction to it. Although some initially supported the theory, when they realized that Sino-Babylonianism implied the foreign origins of Chinese civilization and thereby contradicted their political purpose in mobilizing an anti-Manchu revolution, they quickly shifted positions to oppose it.— Sun Jiang and Minghui Hu, pp. 221–222

Chapter 9: Why Culture? The Great War and Du Yaquan’s Civilizational DiscourseUnknown
“The prominent intellectuals of China’s new Republic identified culture as the primary cause of political change. This remarkable belief in how culture (wenhua) could alter the course of history resurfaced again in the 1960s; however, in the 1910s there were two distinct discourses on the issue. On the more politically moderate side of these debates was Du Yaquan (1873–1933), the editor of the flagship journal Eastern Miscellany (Dongfang zazhi) […] Du Yaquan strove to provide a cosmopolitan perspective in observing and conceiving the political and social problems of China.” — Wang Hui and Minghui Hu, pp. 265, 285

Learn more about the book and recommend it.

Cosmopolitanism in China


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AAS 2016 Seattle: Cambria Sinophone World Series Event

Cambria Press will be holding its annual Cambria Sinophone World Series event at the AAS conference on Satuday (April 2, 2016) at 7:30 p.m. in the Jefferson Room (4th floor in the Union Street Tower) at the Sheraton Seattle. All are welcome to this event.

AAS 2016 Asian Studies

Dr. Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania) will be discussing the series and introducing the new books.


Dr. Mair will speak on behalf of Dr. Wilt Idema (Harvard University) and Dr. Chia-rong Wu (Rhodes College) about their books, The Immortal Maiden Equal to Heaven and Other Precious Scrolls from Western Gansu and Supernatural Sinophone and Beyond respectively.

Wilt Idema author Cambria Press book publication baojuan precious scrolls China SinologistSupernatural Sinophone Taiwan

Dr. Christopher Lupke (Washington State University) will be present to discuss his book, The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien, which will make its highly anticipated debut at the conference.

Hou Hsiao-hsien

Another long-awaited book that will be released at the conference is Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600-1950 by Minghui Hu and Johan Elverskog. Both will be present to talk about their book.

Cosmopolitanism China

In addition, Dr. Karil Kucera (St. Olaf College) will be there to speak about her book (also being released at the AAS), Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism: Visualizing Enlightenment at Baodingshan from the 12th to 21st Centuries. Her book features 159 color images as well as an innovative online component that takes readers through Baodingshan.


Finally, it is a great honor to have Colonel Thomas Drohan who will discuss his book, A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia.

East Asia Warfare Strategy

This is the first book in the new series, Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS), headed by general editor Dr. Geoffrey R. H. Burn.

Conflict and Security

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United States Engagement in the Asia Pacific: Perspectives from Asia

Professors Yoichiro Sato and Tan See Seng’s recent book, United States Engagement in the Asia Pacific: Perspectives from Asia, has been praised by Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rector of Tembusu College, National University of Singapore, as being “an important book about an important subject.”


The following is an interview with Dr. Sato and Dr. Tan on some key questions which they cover in their book.

Why is it important for the US to consider these Asian perspectives on the pivot to Asia?
Sato & Tan: The Obama administration’s “Rebalance to Asia” strategy is more multilateral than any previous Asia strategy by the U.S. government. Not only U.S. relations with key allies, such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea, call for close consultations, but also the growing U.S. partnerships with new regional partners must be framed within the comfort zones of these partners.

Similarly, why is it important for China to do the same?
Sato & Tan: Asian countries are carefully observing progression of the U.S.-China relations. As the Obama administration carefully crafts a mix of economic and diplomatic engagement of and military deterrence against China, China’s reactions to this U.S. strategy shape Asian countries’ perceptions of China and their positioning of themselves in the emerging regional order.

Your book compares Cold War and post‐Cold War containment policies. Please tell us briefly what this comparative analysis revealed.
Sato & Tan: Geopolitical instincts of the United States as a major maritime power do play a role in the U.S. strategy through the two periods. At the same time, much closer U.S. economic interdependence with the whole of East Asia including China today necessitates that the United States balances its military security interests with economic interests for its own sake and for the sake of its regional allies and partners.

The book also discussed changes in China’s foreign policy. Could you please elaborate?
Sato & Tan:
China today is much more confident than two decades ago when its reformed economy was in an early stage of integration with East Asia and the United States. Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of keeping low foreign policy profile while focusing on export-led economic growth through continuous access to the U.S. market has been replaced by more assertive foreign policy as seen in the ongoing confrontations in the South China Sea.

Could you please tell us briefly what are some important points that we should take away from each of the country’s perspectives? Let’s start with Japan.
Sato & Tan: Japan, as the prime military ally of the United States and a major historical rival of China, is capable of asserting most influence upon the emerging U.S. strategy. Assuring U.S. commitment to the bilateral alliance is clearly Japan’s motivation for upgrading its own growing sharing of collective defense responsibilities.

What about Taiwan?
Sato & Tan:Taiwan’s satisfaction with its de facto (not de jure) independence needs symbolic U.S. commitment. “Balancing” of China’s threats with more tangible U.S. commitment may inadvertently trigger a more classical security dilemma for Taiwan, inviting aggressive PRC reactions.

Now what about Korea and DPRK?
Sato & Tan:
North Korean threat is an opportunity for the United States to enhance trilateral cooperation with Japan and South Korea, while not pointing a finger at China as a common enemy. China also sees the North Korean problem as an opportunity to win a diplomatic credit as a “responsible stakeholder” in regional security management. However, North Korea with its own internal difficulties at the time of leadership transition has not responded to the U.S. “Rebalance.” South Korea with its historical grievances against Japan has also been extremely cautious to sign up to the U.S.-proposed trilateralization.

Let’s move to the southeast now. What about Singapore?
Sato & Tan: The chapter on Singapore argues that Singapore has long viewed and continues to view the US as the “indispensable power” whose post-World War II role as the strategic guarantor and balancer in the Asia-Pacific remains as crucial, not least in the face of China’s rising power and influence. To that end, Singapore has pursued robust relations with the US short of a formal alliance. That said, the rebalancing strategy adopted the Obama administration, which Singapore welcomes, has complicated the latter’s ties with China.


And Vietnam?
Sato & Tan:
As the Vietnam chapter has detailed, Vietnam’s vexing dispute with China in the South China Sea (SCS) is complicating their long and complex ties. While the positive direction Vietnam-US ties is taking has its own logic and imperative, there is no question Hanoi’s SCS dispute with Beijing has driven Hanoi and Washington closer together. But this doesn’t necessarily mean Vietnam has chosen the US over China.

Now please tell us about Vietnam’s neighbor, Myanmar.
Sato & Tan: Under President Thein Sein, Myanmar, in the eyes of many, has evolved from a pariah state to a country seeking to liberalize, albeit fitfully. Its relations with the US have vastly improved. Like its CLV counterparts, Myanmar remains highly reliant on China economically, but of late has shown an incipient willingness to diversify. Its future ties with the US will be defined by how Myanmar handles its domestic political transition, its intra-ethnic conflicts, and its relations with China.


You also discuss India and Australia. Let’s talk about India first.
Sato & Tan: As the India chapter shows, Delhi’s positive relationship with Washington, underscored by their nuclear deal, should not be taken to mean India is bandwagoning with the US against China. Despite Mr. Modi’s radical credentials, he has surprised many with his deft diplomacy including strong engagement with the US. While India makes no bones about regarding China as a peer competitor, it nonetheless prefers to maintain strategic autonomy.

Now what about Australia?
Sato & Tan:
The Australia chapter reviewed the ongoing debate within Australian strategic circles regarding Canberra’s longstanding strategic dependence on the US, on one hand, and its economic cum diplomatic engagement with Asia on the other. Although Australia remains a key security ally of the US, the emergence of China as Australia’s top trading partner has led many to question the wisdom of continued reliance on the US, which could potentially lead Australia into an “entrapment trap.”

What are some general points you hope your readers take away?
Sato & Tan: Despite questions over the ability, resolve and even ethical behavior of the US as a global power, its importance to the Asia-Pacific cannot be denied.  China’s power and influence have elicited mixed reactions from its regional neighbors over its strategic ambition and assertive behavior. While US balancing has complicated things for Asian countries especially their relations with China, they’ve largely welcomed it, whether as a way to politically balance against China or to hedge against the big powers.


What words of advice would you give to the new president of the United States in 2016 regarding the US strategy towards Asia?
Sato & Tan: The US should continue to engage Asia in ways that contribute to the region’s stability, prosperity and security. It will likely have to accomplish this through accommodating China’s ambition and interests whilst encouraging the latter, with the aid of a strong normative and institutional framework, to behave responsibly.

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Yoichiro Sato is a professor at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and is the director of the Democracy Promotion Center.

Tan See Seng is the deputy director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, the founding head of the Centre for Multilateralism Studies, and Professor of International Relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

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United States Engagement in the Asia Pacific: Perspectives from Asia
Yoichiro Sato and See Seng Tan
9781604979046 · 410pp. · Buy this book from Amazon
Recommend it to your library for purchase.

This book will be on display at the 2016 ISA conference in Atlanta and the AAS conference in Seattle.