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Reviewed by:
  • Asia for the Asians: China in the Lives of Five Meiji Japanese by Paula S. Harrell
  • Douglas Howland (bio)
Asia for the Asians: China in the Lives of Five Meiji Japanese. By Paula S. Harrell. MerwinAsia, Portland, Maine, 2012. xi, 407 pages. $65.00, cloth; $35.00, paper.

Asia for the Asians is a carefully researched, deeply interesting, yet troubling monograph. Harrell presents in exquisite detail five engaging biographies of Japanese born between 1860 and 1875. As “the first children of the Meiji Restoration” (p. 314), the five shared an exposure to the modern education system, which began to refashion Japanese society as it created new opportunities for greater numbers of Japanese. In conjunction with Japan’s victory over China in 1895 and Chinese interest in Japan’s programs of Westernization, each of the five spent a part of his or her career in China, attempting to assist the modern development of Chinese society and government. Two should be familiar to readers of the history of Meiji Japan and late Qing China: Konoe Atsumaro, known for his promotion of [End Page 400] Japanese assistance with reform in China through the Tō-A Dōbunkai (East Asia Common Culture Association); and Ariga Nagao, founder of the Red Cross in Japan, international legal advisor to the Imperial Japanese Army, and constitutional advisor to the president of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai. The other three are perhaps less well known: Hattori Unokichi, a scholar of Chinese studies who organized the first teacher-training program at Beijing University; Kawahara Misako, an independent-minded educator and “new woman” of Meiji Japan who introduced a Japanese model of women’s education to China and Mongolia; and Kawashima Naniwa, something of a “China hand,” fluent in Chinese from his service as both an army interpreter in the first Sino-Japanese War and a colonial policeman in Taiwan, who then helped to organize a modern police force for Beijing. In juxtaposing these five figures, Harrell asks, “how did people really interact, and what difference did it make in their own lives, in public perceptions of China, and in Japan’s all-important foreign policy goal of exerting increased influence in China?” (p. 17).

Each of Harrell’s biographies is a masterful interweaving of the familiar and the new. She revisits Chinese and Japanese events through the eyes of her five subjects, creating unanticipated versions of what we thought we understood, seen now in unexpected perspectives, and intermixed with the personal experiences, interests, challenges, and viewpoints of her subjects. This is a history grounded in “individual lives” (p. 2), which she has tried to take “as the starting point and to hold back overarching judgments, waiting and watching instead to see what is revealed” (p. 331). Accordingly, Konoe Atsumaro’s biography returns us to the dramatic politics of the Chinese court in the wake of the failed reform movement of 1898, in order to witness an unpleasant exchange between cautious reformer Zhang Zhidong and Konoe regarding the presence of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao in Japan—international law, Konoe insists, prevents Japan from expelling these alleged political offenders. Or again, Harrell’s biography of Hattori Unokichi follows his successful appointment to China through a Japanese Ministry of Education scholarship, only to find him overwhelmed by the Boxer Rebellion upon his arrival. His work of training Chinese teachers would wait two years—and his sense of frustration never lifted.

Harrell’s narratives of Kawahara Misako and Kawashima Naniwa likewise lead us from the familiarity of Beijing and Shanghai to new places and histories: Kawahara left cosmopolitan Shanghai to develop a women’s school in Mongolia on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, and Kawashima, during his employment on behalf of the Beijing gendarmerie, established the contacts that would subsequently encourage his long support of an independent Manchuria-Mongolia after the 1911 revolution. Harrell skillfully links the five biographies into an account of China’s revolutionary shift from empire to republic and Japan’s equally revolutionary shift from modernizing [End Page 401] state to world power. In this respect, the book expands the breadth of our understanding of crucial historical changes that bridge the nineteenth and twentieth...


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pp. 400-402
Launched on MUSE
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