- Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern
Years ago, I offered a group of first-year graduate students a seminar titled "Topics on East Asia." My intention was to ask the students of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean studies to free themselves from insular area study, which has dominated the scholarship of East Asia since 1945, and seek out common agendas among them. Despite my intention, it was a miserable disaster. The reasons, as I look back, are several. One, I organized the reading materials by nation-states (of Japan, Korea, and China). Two, students were eager to read only the materials of their own geographical interests. Third, as a scholar of modern Japan, I was hesitant to bring in the seminar the notion of Pan-Asianism, as it necessarily implies the ghost of Japan's imperialism, "the Greater East Asia Sphere." This was at a time when area studies and the concept of national history were already under attack. Still, I felt [End Page 402] that the task of deconstructing area studies for East Asia had a long way to go.
In his third major book, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern, Prasenjit Duara has beautifully accomplished this task. The book offers us a wholly original, path-breaking, and interdisciplinary approach to the geopolitical area of East Asia. Duara not only overthrows the old conception of Manchukuo as a Japanese puppet state (without, however, belittling Japan's imperial violence on China and its people), but also emphasizes the need to see Manchukuo as "a space of conversion and transformation of global discourses of national or civilizational authenticity" (p. 3). Hence, to speak of Manchukuo, we must integrate at least the three spatial levels: Manchukuo, East Asia, and the global system of nation-states. This also means that such concepts as history, culture, and modern, for which the nation is often considered to be a collective subject, do not have universal meanings. Instead, their meanings change both in time and over space, and if so, we need to approach them in terms of translation, circulation, and exchange of their meanings.
Apart from the introduction, in which Duara lays out the major themes of the book, the text consists of three parts, each consisting of a pair of chapters. Chapter 1 seeks to grasp nationalism as the global ideology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chapter 2 examines Manchuria as a place of Chinese, Japanese, and global imaginations, and introduces to the reader its contested historiographies. Part 2 focuses on the new civilizational discourse of Asianism, which the regimes in both Japan and China relied upon in their sovereignty claims of imperialist (for Japan) and anti-imperialist (for China) nationalism. Here, while chapter 3 focuses on the Chinese redemptive societies (that have been dismissed in Chinese historiography due to their association with Japanese imperialism), chapter 4 focuses on "women" who came to embody the Pan-Asian civilizational discourse for the East Asia modern. Part 3 focuses on "peopled places" in Manchuria inhabited by the northern tribes, and asks how the authenticity of such places came to serve a succession of regimes in both China and Japan. Chapter 5 examines how anthropologists of Japan and China "authenticated" northern tribes for their nationalist and imperialist causes, but in reality, alienated their everyday lives. The last chapter focuses on a piece of "native-place" literature, Shanding's Green Valley. Through the analysis of its structures, reconfiguration of historical imagery, and the politics of its reception, Duara goes to the core of the local/regional identity and nation-formation of China.
The above list of key issues, however, misses many other questions [End Page 403] that Duara raises throughout the book. Moreover, my list hardly reflects the depth of his arguments. For example, chapter 1 is by no means the history of the concept of nationalism. Duara treats it in its complicated relationship to imperialism in a competitive capitalist world from the late nineteenth century, leading us to understand nationalism not only...