Reading: Tonio Andrade — Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West

Which is the one I’m ripping through at the expense of Women with Mustaches, Men without Beards, which I heard about on China Rhyming late last year – a blog that has been responsible for quite a bit of my book reading as Paul French’s meandering interests often suit mine.

Tonio Andrade’s Lost Colony is a bit of a gap-filler for me. Much of my reading on China has been mid- to late-Qing Dynasty, mostly in the 19th Century, dealing with the Opium Wars, or Republican Era, and despite knowing a little of the Ming Dynasty, it’s something of a blank – especially when related to Taiwan. Taiwan where I discovered southern Chinese cuisine was curiously laced with Portuguese herbs, and where acquaintances would announce their cultivated bonafides by declaring they were descended from Ming Dynasty migrants rather than the upstart Kuomintang rout.

I’m probably going to finish this book in the next couple of days. It’s one of those popular-scholarly works, nowhere near as dense as Afsaneh Najmabadi, more in keeping with, say, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, or The Canton Trade, though I think perhaps lighter than either. It suffers too a little from this strange populism that I’ve found in a couple of other authors, where references to specific, usually American, politics or current affairs turn up which might be comprehensible for someone who reads the news obsessively, but for others – particularly english speakers who aren’t American and don’t have an interest in Americocentricism – it comes across as odd and misplaced. I suspect though this has something to do with ‘appealing to the wider market’. It’s also got a quote on the dustcover from Jared Diamond, who has very recently been playing uncomfortably fast and loose with anthropology.

Anyway, another book, and one of several landing on me at the moment. I’ll read this one with a bit of distance, enjoyable as it is.