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Reviewed by:
  • The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State: Japan and China
  • Shana J. Brown (bio)
Joshua A. Fogel , editor. The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State: Japan and China. Encounters with Asia, series editor Victor H. Mair. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. vi, 243 pp. Hardback $45.00, ISBN 0-8122-3820-6.

Despite the statist implications of the title, most of the contributions to this edited volume are concerned with something more intimate: the "mode of self-identification," as editor Joshua Fogel describes it, that enabled people to feel either Japanese or Chinese (p. 5). Only a revolution or two stood between the Tokugawa bakufu and Meiji Japan, and the Qing empire and the Republic of China, but a vast ocean of difference lies between Tokugawa and Qing identities, and feeling either Japanese or Chinese. But how do we measure and demonstrate a change in "how individuals see themselves" (p. 5)? We may know what it means, intuitively, to feel like a member of a nation-state, yet how can this be substantiated historically?

For Eiko Ikegami, the first contributor of the volume, the answer to modern Japanese self-identification lies in the Tokugawa-era obsession with aesthetic education. As her essay "The Emergence of Aesthetic Japan" explains, the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and poetry composition were not simply pleasant hobbies, but were signs of an emerging consensus regarding the "a sense of commonality among the Japanese people" (p. 11). The idea of Japanese culture transcended linguistic, cultural, and social distinctions across geographic regions, allowing escape from "a policy of strict status distinction and territorial segmentation" (p. 15). The social institutions that catered to this form of aesthetic cultivation, such as commercial publications and artistic societies, also facilitated a collective cultural identity. During the Meiji period, this common culture was taken for granted, constituting a significant point of departure for further affirmations of national identity.

Ikegami argues rather persuasively that this "process of socialization through aesthetic interests" (p. 24) was instrumental to the Meiji period's speedy modernization, as nation-state creation could rely on an existing sense of social cohesion. In "State-Making in Global Context: Japan in a World of Nation-States," Mark Ravina argues virtually the opposite. Rather than seeing self-identity come before the creation of the nation-state, both chronologically and ontologically, he argues that Meiji leaders supported institutions that encouraged Japanese self-identification in order to find legitimacy and support for the new nation-state. In creating a unified national system of weights and measures, currency, and a new constitution, conformity to world standards was the significant motivating force, rather than a set of indigenous cultural practices. Although Ravina rejects a simplistic [End Page 411] identification of "world standards" with "Western standards," it is clear that post- Opium War China no longer excited admiration, and thus it was the Western powers that provided the most significant models.

Indeed, it was precisely this question of which nations were "barbarian" and which were "civilized," David L. Howell argues, that motivated the Meiji regime to emphasize the development of schools, the military, and the state itself. As "Civilization and Enlightenment: Markers of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan" explains, the Meiji state did not seek wholesale Westernization as an end in itself, but instead was accommodating a Western discourse that equated "civilization" with the right to self-rule. In an age of expanding colonial empires, self-rule was not to be taken for granted, and Meiji leaders went to great lengths to adopt the trappings of Western modernity, including clothing, hairstyles, and norms of public deportment. Despite popular resistance, the state went to enormous lengths, via an expanding police system, to make sure that its citizens (and soon, its subjects in Hokkaidō, Okinawa, Korea, and Taiwan) did not slide backward into "barbarism," which many of them did simply by virtue of being dependent on the Japanese state. Indeed, such is the success of the Japanese nation-state, Luke S. Roberts argues in "Cultivating Non-National Understandings in Local History," that "local histories" almost always rely on an anachronistic definition of the unified nation. Indeed, any historical work that uses the term "Japanese women," in Roberts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 411-414
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-24
Open Access
No
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