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  • Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time
  • Kären Wigen
Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time. By Joshua A. Fogel (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2009) 206 pp. $35.00

In this slim volume (the three chapters of which fill just ninety-nine pages of text), Fogel offers to correct the usual emphasis on conflict in [End Page 496] Sino-Japanese relations by revisiting earlier centuries when ceremonial, cultural, and economic exchanges prevailed. His chief innovation is to probe the history of these interactions at three discrepant time-space scales. A long macro chapter opens the book by surveying nearly two millennia, proposing the notion of the Sinosphere as a way to grasp the geocultural space within which Sino-Japanese interactions unfolded from the first century c.e. to the nineteenth. A shorter micro chapter focuses on the year 1862, when a pair of go-betweens—one a ship (the Senzaimaru) and the other a Dutch merchant (Theodorus Kroes)—helped to re-open contact between the long-estranged Tokugawa and Qing regimes on the eve of the countries’ first modern treaty. The final chapter operates at an intermediate or meso scale, sketching the composition of the small Japanese expatriate community in Shanghai during the late nineteenth century.

Methodologically, this book represents translocal as much as transnational history. Although Sino-Japanese relations encompass a vast swath of space, about half of the action narrated in this book takes place in the coastal foreground, chiefly the Yangtze delta and the port of Nagasaki (as the author points out, Nagasaki is physically closer to Shanghai than it is to Tokyo). Likewise, Fogel’s instincts as a historian bring him back time and again to biography. Archival discoveries and colorful personalities are what evidently delight this irrepressible detail hound. Even his survey chapter all but bypasses headline events (barely mentioning the fateful aggressions of Kublai Khan or Hideyoshi, in particular) to dwell on lesser-known painters, poets, and priests who hazarded the maritime voyage between the two countries over the years. Among the rewards of this approach are lively vignettes of Japanese Sinophiles like Abe no Nakamaro, the “Japanese Matteo Ricci,” who mastered Chinese sufficiently to serve the Ming as governor-general of Annam.

Articulating the Sinosphere makes few concessions to the non-specialist; the book presumes a knowledgeable readership. It includes 100 pages of scholarly apparatus but no maps or timelines; its glossary gives Chinese characters but no English definitions; and comparisons to developments outside Asia are few and far between. Nor does Fogel offer a comprehensive entry into the English-language literature on his topic. The bibliography omits such classics as Ronald Toby’s State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan (Stanford, 1991) and Marius Jansen’s China in the Tokugawa World (Cambridge, Mass., 2000), as well as other important studies. Given that this book is part of an ongoing research project—and given Fogel’s impressive productivity—readers of this journal may prefer to wait for the more comprehensive work that will surely soon follow. [End Page 497]

Kären Wigen
Stanford University


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