Forbidden City: The Book
Coming out soon (and on sale now) is the definitive book on the Forbidden City by the luxury publisher Assouline.
I had a hand in this, having been commissioned to write a 4,000-word introduction, in which I talk about how the Forbidden City has returned to the center of Chinese culture. In the past it was the epicenter of the Chinese political and spiritual world; now it is a centerpiece of government efforts to revive traditional culture as part of a poltiical project to increase legitimacy. I focus my essay on Wang Jun, a former reporter and historian of Beijing. His book City Record (城記, which I reviewed for the NYRB in 2011) is a landmark in efforts to preserve the old city and he now works as a researcher for the Palace Museum.
Another fun part of the project was helping the publisher track down rare photos. I spent a couple of days in the museum's archives going through books and photo collections. Later I helped write the cutlines and made sure that everything was as accurate as possible. It was a lot of fun and made me realize how much I like writing about Beijing--and how little, really, is translated into English on the topic.
This book is pricey (nearly $1,000) but it is a fabulously beautifully crafted tome in line with the publisher's other works. I think it's a bit more than a coffee table book--at least, don't spill coffee on it!