井の中の蛙

11/12/2008

Another Disappointment

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:34 pm

I always get a little nervous when a world history textbook cites details about Japanese history which I’ve never heard of before. I’m still mostly enjoying teaching with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The World: A Global History, but I’m also still having some trouble with the Asian material.1 Imagine my surprise when I turned to the chapter on “Global Politics in the Twentieth Century” and it opened with this anecdote:

In the Manchuria of the 1920s and 1930s, the brothels in the city of Harbin were not merely, or even primarily, places of vice, but resembled clubs, where the regular clients became friends and met each other. The Russian journalist Aleksandr Pernikoff frequented Tayama’s, which was Japanese owned and flew the Japanese flag. At the time, Manchuria was part of the sovereign territory of China, but Tayama’s displayed signs of the gradually increasing level of Japanese infiltration. The Chinese government—run by the nationalist, republican party known as the Guomindang (gwoh-meen-dohng)— rightly suspected Japan of plotting to seize Manchuria, detach it from China, and turn it into part of the Japanese Empire.

Ron Loftus has an essay at his website which supports the brothel/secret agent contentions.2 I’m not terribly familiar with the literature on the secret societies and espionage, I admit, but my impression has been that the secret societies were a sideshow, more a symptom of the expansive nationalism of the early 20th century than a driving force.3 The text continues:
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  1. I’m also not entirely happy with the “one topic over the whole world for a century” structure in the 20th century. It worked OK in the earlier segments, but the 19th century was a gallop and the 20th is pedal-to-the-metal. Yikes. []
  2. The authorship of the essay is actually a bit unclear, and there is a bibliography, but no citations. The sources listed range from the fairly authoritative (Yuki Tanaka) to the very unfamiliar but with somewhat lurid titles. []
  3. In fairness, as a social historian, I’m naturally deeply suspicious of conspiracy theories, and prefer to look at long-term structural causes. []

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