Don J. WyattAug 17, 2023
Slavery in East Asia
Cambridge University Press 2023
Today I talked to Don J. Wyatt about his book Slavery in East Asia (Cambridge UP, 2022).
In premodern China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, just as in the far less culturally cohesive countries composing the West of the Middle Ages, enslavement was an assumed condition of servitude warranting little examination, as the power and profits it afforded to the slaver made it a convention pursued unreflectively. Slavery in medieval East Asia shared with the West the commonplace assumption that nearly all humans were potential chattel, that once they had become owned beings, they could then be either sold or inherited. Yet, despite being representative of perhaps the most universalizable human practice of that age, slavery in medieval East Asia was also endowed with its own distinctive traits and traditions. Our awareness of these features of distinction contributes immeasurably to a more nuanced understanding of slavery as the ubiquitous and openly practiced institution that it once was and the now illicit and surreptitious one that it intractably remains.
Don J. Wyatt (Ph.D. Harvard University) is the John M. McCardell, Jr. Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont, USA, where he has taught history and philosophy since 1986. He specializes in the intellectual history of China, with research interests most currently focused on the intersections between identity and violence and the nexuses between ethnicity and slavery.
Dong Wang is collection editor of Asian Studies books at Lived Places Publishing (New York & the UK), H-Diplo review editor, incoming visiting fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, research associate at Harvard Fairbank Center (since 2002), a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, director of the Wellington Koo Institute for Modern China in World History (Germany & USA), and an elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.