Category Archives: Book Review

Reinventing China: A Critique

zhuqing li

Written by Randeep Purewall

In Reinventing China, Zhuqing Li looks at how Chinese nationals, educated and professionally employed in the United States, return to make their mark on their homeland. The five cases profiled by Zhuqing Li include environmentalist Liao Xiaoyi, sexologist, Li Yinhe and telecommunications CEO, Chen Datong.

Reinventing China is an illuminating look into a generation which began seizing opportunities after China’s opening up in 1978. It’s also a fascinating window on how this generation is changing China from the ground up.

Liao creates green neighbourhoods in Beijing. Li fights to legalize same-sex marriage in China. Chen Datong takes on Apple, Samsung and Motorola by making smart phones in China accessible and affordable. And three female business partners, Wang Yi, Luo Ming and Ning Aidong, find a library bringing a new kind of children’s literature to China.

As engrossing as it reads, Reinventing China tries to make China fit into a narrative palatable to the West: the West is changing China through the Chinese. But are all Western-educated returnees to China forces for change? Is all such change positive? And why do so many Chinese choose not to return to their home country (like the author herself)?

The returnees in Reinventing China also come from some of the wealthier and more privileged social classes. They enjoy good connections. They include well known personalities like Li who is recognized internationally for her activism on GLBT issues and Liao who was named TIME “Hero of the Environment” in 2009. How representative are they for the rest of China’s returnees?

Zhuqing Li also positions her cases alongside a history of Chinese returnees including Sun Yat Sen. Sun was a political revolutionary set on changing the existing order. The individuals here are not interested in changing the order. And where they seek to effect social change, like Li on same-sex marriage legislation, they work with the Chinese Communist Party.

China will keep changing, no doubt. Zhuqing Li shows how China is changing at a micro-level even if it’s not being reinvented.

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Book Review – Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten

title-rajmohan-gandhi

Written by Randeep Singh

Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten (Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi: 2013).

Gandhi’s Punjab surveys the history of the region from the decline of the great Mughals to the invasions of Afghan rulers and Nadir Shah to the reign of Ranjit Singh and the British Raj to the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947. The book is engaging, commendable for its scope and brings to the foreground figures like Adina Beg Khan, Ganga Ram and Fazl-i-Hussain who are otherwise passed over in Indian histories on the region.

From the outset, Gandhi underlines the importance of understanding a common Punjabi identity (‘Punjabiyat’) through centuries of foreign invasion and colonial rule. Unfortunately, his history, coloured by colonial and nationalist historiography, produce a distorted picture of the Punjabi.

In categorizing Punjabis before the 19th century as either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, Gandhi replicates the colonial-era practice of classifying Punjabis (and Indians at large) solely by their religious identity forgetting that Punjabis before the colonial era typically defined themselves by their clan, village and caste. Such a categorization overlooks the diversity amongst and overlap between Punjabis and the extent to which they cooperated with one another across religious lines as under Adina Beg Khan, Ranjit Singh or in the Punjab’s Unionist Party.

Gandhi’s chapters on independence and partition moreover largely follow the contours of the Indian nationalist narrative. He adopts a critical tone towards the Muslim League in the making of the Partition without questioning in the same breadth the politics of the Indian National Congress and the British. Such a filtering of history is unlikely to advance understanding between Punjabis of India and Pakistan.

All this despite Gandhi’s reminder to us throughout of  a Punjabiyat symbolized by Farid, Waris Shah, Amrita Pritam and Shiv Kumar. His own history could have contributed greatly to that Punjabiyat and to Punjab studies. One can only hope that Gandhi’s Punjab will inspire more balanced histories on the region in the years ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, History, India, Pakistan, Punjabi