A disappointment

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:26 pm

I’ve been enjoying the textbook I’m using for World History this fall: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The World: A History. It covers the entire world in every chapter, and emphasizes ecological and cultural issues which I’ve been trying to slip into my World courses for ages. For the most part, I’m finding it excellent: readable1 , very up-to-date, balanced.

I’m having one conceptual problem with it: the chapters cover a relatively narrow slice of time, in world historical terms, and are topical. Fine: you have to have some organization, and I’m tired of “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Asia.” But the divisions hew more closely to Western conceptions of “era” or “epoch” so that Asian history feels choppy. A little more foreshadowing to indicate that individuals/topics are going to come up again in later chapters would be a blessing, particularly with dynasties like the Ottomans and Ming which last a long time.

And then there’s the eternal problem: eventually, every textbook gets something wrong in your field. From the chapter “States and Societies: Political and Social Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”:

  1. He even manages some humor now and then. Discussing the patriarchal social system in early modern Europe he writes, “Widowhood remained the best option for women who wanted freedom and influence. The most remarkable feature of this situation, which might have tempted wives to murder, is that so many husbands survived it.” (p. 643) []


Asian History Carnival Pt II is Up

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:27 pm

Leanne Ogasawara has posted Pt II of the 21st Asian History Carnival at her Tang Dynasty Times.

Although she complains that the blogosphere is in a depression after the Olympics, she presents a number of informative posts from out of the way (to me, at least) venues, including a significant series from Hong Kong.

By the way, Tang Dynasty Times is well worth following. Leanne, among other topics, follows the seasons as expressed in Japanese culture. The Autumn Moon, for instance, is an evocative run down on the Mid Autumn Festival.


The Crazy Guy for Prime Minister, Please

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:28 am

OK, admittedly I am supremely unqualified to write a post about the current prime ministerial vacancy in Japan. I’m a historian who works on the 16th century, not an expert in contemporary politics. And many people have their eyes fixed on the Palin-Biden-Clinton-McCain-Obama slugfest. But this story–Manga-obsessed, Stanford- and SOAS-educated, former Olympic skeetshooter, cement CEO, Catholic, and regular conservative crazy talker Aso Taro is front runner for the job of Prime Minister–is just too interesting to pass by.

Will the man who made Doraemon Japan’s cultural ambassador be king? Too may politicians have entered the race to be sure at this point, but he is at the head of the pack, having previously aimed for the office three times without success and this time apparently claiming the right mix of experience, LDP credentials, and public popularity. Tobias Harris says Aso isn’t the right man for the job, if such a figure even exists, but it seems quite likely that he will end up landing the post (in elections to be held in October or November) according to recent coverage in Japanese newspapers.

Some commentators see recent public discomfort with LDP leadership as a sign that a major political reallignment is imminent, but it just seems hard to imagine. Are the times a-changin’, or will Aso return the government to stability? More importantly, will manga become required reading on unversity entrance exams?


Migration, Nationalism, Empire

Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s recent Japan Focus article, “Migrants, Subjects, Citizens: Comparative Perspectives on Nationality in the Prewar Japanese Empire” is an ambitious attempt to integrate identity, legal and strategic issues related to the problem of citizenship in the context of migrations within and between empires.1 The primary comparative material is to British examples, and students of “empire” as a category will find both familiar and new material to work with. Japan itself had such complicated migratory patterns that it really is a whole class of “comparative” study in itself. Morris-Suzuki pretty much covers the whole gamut: Japanese emigration to Hawai’i, N. America, S. America and Asia; Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese migration under Japanese imperium to places within Japan and within the empire.2

What makes the article particularly interesting, aside from the valiant attempt to clarify the various legal contortions of Imperial citizenship3 , is that it parallels some of the arguments I made in January (and June) — that Japanese attitudes towards emigration and immigration are structured by nationalistic and imperialistic narratives which obscure important aspects and which lay the foundation for current problems with immigrant assimilation. Morris-Suzuki is taking a more legal and strategic approach, noting the various places in which the end of Japan’s Empire left former colonial subjects stranded without citizenship, and the political and diplomatic problems, some of which are still unresolved, and seemingly unresolvable.

Some of these problems clearly should have been solved by the US and allies after WWII: full repatriation of Korean subjects in the Japanese home islands, Sakhalin and Manchuria, for example, would have been entirely appropriate. Or would it? Part of me thinks that the diversity represented by Koreans in Japan should have been a good thing for leavening, a bit, Japan’s self-definition as homogenous, but clearly, if it was supposed to accomplish something with regard to multi-cultural understanding, it’s a gloriously failed experiment. The paper almost invites counter-factual speculation: if the lines had been drawn differently, would there have been a significantly different result? Could Japan, in the early 20th century, have developed a version of Imperial Nationalism which wasn’t racialist, or a citizenship system which wasn’t patriarchal and instrumentalist?4

  1. It also contains a citation to one of my own publications, which is always fun, but it’s on a minor point, and her main discussion of material related to my article comes from other sources. Oh, well. []
  2. She does talk about the integration of Okinawans to some extent, but leaves out their anomalous status after WWII. Not a complaint or a criticism, though it does raise fascinating questions. There’s just not enough room in the world to cover everything. []
  3. and in this regard, Japan’s koseki family registration system seems to be arguably simpler and more reasonable than several of the British attempts to both authorize and limit the mobility of colonial subjects []
  4. there was an article in one of my regular journals recently — AHR, JAS, JJS — which argued that Japan’s Imperium forced it to adopt a more flexible definition of multicultural national identity, but I can’t remember which one and the move has obliterated any organization I had in my journals. I wasn’t terribly convinced at the time, and a large part of my reservation had to do specifically with what Morris-Suzuki highlights: the rhetoric of integration was one-sided and the legal status of colonial subjects was never considered a subject for rectification. []

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