restricted access Chapter 3. Fisheries Build Up the Nation: Maritime Environmental Encounters between Japan and China
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56 3 Fisheries Build Up the Nation Maritime Environmental Encounters between Japan and China Micah Muscolino Oceans and China’s Modernity Between 1898 and 1906, China’s political elites and thousands of Chinese students who spent time studying abroad enthusiastically appropriated intellectual currents originating from Japan. This chapter focuses on a lesser-known aspect of these international currents: the environmental dimensions of Japan’s role in the formation of Chinese modernity. The influence of modern Japanese conceptions of the sea and its resources can be traced to Meiji times (1868–1912), when Chinese students in Japan gained exposure to the discipline of fisheries management. Whereas fear and ambiguity characterized premodern Japanese perceptions of the ocean, during the Meiji period, as William Tsutsui demonstrated in chapter 1, Western-educated Japanese writers reimagined the ocean as the foundation for Japan’s drive to join the world’s imperialist powers.1 Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Japanese fisheries management discourse was inspired by a scientific and social Darwinian worldview pervasive in Meiji Japan, centered on the idea that national survival necessitated extending control over the ocean and exploiting it as efficiently as possible.2 After returning to China following their studies in Japan, Japanese-trained Chinese fisheries experts applied this understanding of the marine environment to their own country’s fisheries. Echoing their Japanese counterparts, Chinese reformers invoked fisheries management to uphold the nation’s sovereignty against looming foreign threats. Even if the nation was at the center of this environmental discourse, the scale of dissemination was transnational, encompassing Japan, China, and the wider world. Akira Iriye has shown that between 1868 and roughly 1919, Chinese and Japanese elites shared a determination to make their countries militarily strong.3 These ambitions fit with a “power-centered” world dominated by European Fisheries Build Up the Nation 57 nations that became Great Powers by amassing armaments and colonies.4 Since military strength came from powerful armed forces as well as overseas spheres of influence, this definition of geopolitical power was “interchangeable with imperialism .”5 In modern Japan and China, these geopolitical imperatives gave rise to a distinctive understanding of the marine environment. Philip Steinberg proposes that in the age of industrial capitalism, the ocean was constructed as an “other” in opposition to the land. The ocean was cast as a “non-territory” that resisted rational planning and existed as an empty “force field” outside the territory of nation-states. In this formulation, the ocean was not a place in which social power was exerted, but a perpetually “empty” space across which powerwasprojected.6 However,Steinberg’sviewoftheoceanasaspaceoutsidesociety fits poorly with representations of the marine environment in early ­ twentieth-­ century Japan and China. In a power-centered world order, fisheries management became a tool with which the nation augmented wealth and power by exerting territorial control over parts of the ocean and rationally developing their resources. Rather than a void existing outside of society or the nation, the ocean appeared as a set of developable places that sovereign states could dominate and harness using modern science and technology. Fisheries management was a rational, modernist body of knowledge about the environment that enabled the nation to build up its geopolitical power at the expense of others. This radical simplification of nature in the name of rational control and management was not limited to oceans, but it also applied to mines, agriculture, and other environmental engineering projects.7 Even as Japan served as the principal conduit through which modern fisheries management entered China, it also constituted an alarming threat to China’s marine fisheries, as Chinese experts discovered. To Chinese fisheries experts, the danger came from Japan’s mechanized fishing fleet, which moved into waters off China’s coast in the 1910s and 1920s. To block Japanese competition for marine resources off the China coast, reforms pursued in China during the Republican period (1911–1949) drew on techniques that facilitated modern Japan’s fisheries expansion. Chinese nationalism, in short, appropriated environmental ideas from the Japanese Empire and redeployed them in opposition to it. These exchanges complicate any opposition between nationalist and imperialist modes of interaction with the environment. This competitive drive to exploit the marine environment and attain geopolitical power—whether in the name of empire or nation— had severe consequences. Ocean and Nation in Meiji Japan Throughout the Meiji period, Japanese elites regularly visited international exhibitions in Europe and America and eventually held such spectacles in Japan.8 Micah Muscolino 58 To Japanese participants, such “self-indulgent...


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