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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.2 (2004) 401-413

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Kirill Evgen´evich Cherevko, Zarozhdenie russko-iaponskikh otnoshenii XVII-XIX veka [The Beginnings of Russo-Japanese Relations in the 17th-19th Centuries]. Moscow: Nauka, 1999. 256 pp. ISBN 5-02-008592-8.
David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001. xv + 329 pp. ISBN 0-87580-276-1. $42.00.

Russia and Japan make a superb pair of contrasting great-power neighbors for a study of bilateral relations. As Russia for centuries has been the most "Asian" of Christian European powers, while Japan has proved to be the most structurally "Western" and adaptive of the East Asian states, so geographic asymmetries and developmental paradoxes condition fascination with their interaction. The same is true of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, which signaled Japan's advent as a great power in the modern state system and forced the imperial Russian court to accept constitutional reform. The continuing issue of sovereignty over the four southern Kurile Islands, moreover, gives present-day relevance to the entire history of Russo-Japanese relations.

Kirill Evgen´evich Cherevko, a former diplomat and, as of 1999, a member of the UN's International Academy of Information Processes and Technologies, as well as an established Russian historian and Japanologist, has produced a new, wide-ranging, and summary study of Russo-Japanese relations from their deep origins down to the 1890s. In his own words, "[this] research comprises such subjects of study as the history of Russia's foreign policy, ... international relations, ... diplomacy, ... Japan's foreign policy, and ... Oriental studies (partially our own Oriental studies), including scholarly and practical Japanese studies, as well as historical geography and the history of geography" (3). In contrast, the much younger Dutch/North American historian David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye has written, almost exclusively from the Russian standpoint, an intellectual and diplomatic history of the origins of the Russo-Japanese War. [End Page 401]

In terms of chronology, Schimmelpenninck starts where Cherevko leaves off, but the books could not be more different. Not that Cherevko lacks curiosity about the ideas and motivations behind specific policy initiatives. To the contrary, he presents them when he finds them; thus, four pertinent lines from an ode to Catherine II by Sumarokov precede his introduction (3):


For most of Cherevko's time frame, however, such sources are scantier, and his book is uneven: it chiefly summarizes his last period, 1856-95, precisely when Russian visions of empire and eastward expansion became more prominent. Schimmelpenninck's monograph masterfully presents those visions, but, lacking Cherevko's linguistic access to Japanese sources and works, gives a (perfectly justifiable) one-sided study. Cherevko, for his part, while focusing more on the Russian side than the Japanese, not only incorporates relevant Japanese scholarship and makes its findings and interpretations available to the Russian reader but also contributes to Japanese historiography. And he is certainly qualified to write Zarozhdenie. Among other things, he is one of the compilers of a crucial set of documents that relate to early Russo-Japanese relations and that he freely utilizes, often with direct citations.2

Perhaps the late George Lensen's classic, The Russian Push toward Japan,3 rather than Toward the Rising Sun, should serve as the point of departure for our examination of Zarozhdenie russko-iaponskikh otnoshenii. If so, then immediately the economics of publication come into play. In 1959, Princeton University Press allowed Professor Lensen a total of 570 pages, with 26 illustrations and 16 maps, whereas 40 years later, Nauka permitted Professor Cherevko less than half that number, and without pictures, maps, summary bibliography, or even an index.4 With this miserly allotment, Cherevko could not have attempted a comprehensive work, even had this been his intention, [End Page 402] but his book does contain some documents (including translations from the...


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