Spectres & Souls

Vignettes, moments and meditations on
China and America, 1861-2021

For every plain there is a slope, 無平不陂,
For every going there is a return. 無往不復。

Hexagram XI, I Ching
周易 泰掛繫辭

We quoted this line from the I Ching in ‘On Heritage 遺’, an essay composed as the formal rationale underpinning China Heritage, an e-journal launched on 1 January 2017. This pithy maxim is well-known in the Chinese tradition and it serves well as an epigram for China Heritage Annual 2021, the full title of which is Spectres & Souls: vignettes, moments and meditations on China and America, 1861-2021

In the 2021 issue of China Heritage Annual, the chapters of which will appear throughout the year, and possibly into 2022, we posit that many of the spectres and shades, as well as the enlivening souls and lofty inspirations, that assert themselves both in China and the United States in 2021 may present an even more compelling aspect when considered in the context of the 160-year period starting in 1861. In November that year, the successful Xinyou Coup 辛酉政變 at the court of the Manchu-Qing dynasty that had ruled China for two centuries ushered in a short-lived period of rapid reform, one that, in many respects continues to this day, even as it falters.

In February 1861, seven slave-owning states broke with the Union that had been established under the Constitution of 1787 resulting in a four-year civil war. The successful conclusion of that war saved the Union, but the failure of the subsequent era of Reconstruction had profound ramifications for the state of that union, and the United States of America generally.

The successes and failures of that era are, in January 2021, more relevant than they have been for 160 years as a new president appealed to ‘the better angels’ of the nation, echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln who, in his first inaugural address, delivered at The Capitol in Washington on 4 March 1861, declared:

‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’

In 2021, there are even some who believe that the ‘better angels’ both of America and of China may usher in a period of concord, if not amity. Readers of China Heritage will, however, be familiar with our view that simplistic yearnings for positivism ignore both human nature and human history.


Spectres & Souls does not presume to offer a new or alternative history to the bilateral relationship between China (that is, the Qing Empire, the Republic of China and the People’s Republic) and the United States of America. Rather it is hoped that its chapters will, by evoking the varying shades of the past in the context of historical incident and inflection points, as well as in the form of analogies, aspirations and failures, help cast some light on some uncanny parallels in the history of the two places, while also distinguishing their glaring, and ever-increasing differences. Some of the chapters will offer accounts in which such similarities and contrasts are noted; others shall juxtapose ideas and personalities in an attempt to articulate an argument that militates against the dogma of exceptionalism that is willfully, and exhaustingly, promoted on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. I would note that we do so from a considerable physical remove — this journal is produced in rural New Zealand — as well as from a perspective granted by what Stefan Zweig called ‘the invisible republic of the spirit’.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
18 January 2021

Spectres & Souls

Vignettes, moments and meditations on
China and America, 1861-2021



In late 2020, we published an extended preamble to Spectres & Souls in the form of four interconnected chapters:


An Introduction in Three Parts:


‘Over One Hundred Years’
(essays on the centenary of the
Chinese Communist Party
in China Heritage Annual 2021)

Also in Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium:

China Heritage Annual & Its Predecessors

China Heritage Annual is a series produced by China Heritage, the online home of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology 白水書院. Along with the China Heritage Journal it is a successor to China Heritage Quarterly, an e-publication produced under the aegis of the China Heritage Project from 2005 to 2012. Aspects of the Annual also overlap with the initial volumes in the China Story Yearbook series (see below).

Over the years, China Heritage Quarterly published issues focussed on a number of cities, their history, politics and culture: BeijingShanghaiTianjin and Hangzhou/ West Lake. The inaugural issue of China Heritage Annual was devoted to the city of Nanking.

China Heritage Annual was launched at the 2017 Shanghai International Literary Festival at M on the Bund on 14 March 2017.


China Heritage Annual:

China Story Yearbook:

China Heritage Quarterly (select issues):