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  • Ottomans Imagining Japan: East, Middle East, and Non-Western Modernity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Renée Worringer
  • Raja Adal
Ottomans Imagining Japan: East, Middle East, and Non-Western Modernity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Renée Worringer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 372 pages. $100.

In Ottomans Imagining Japan, Renée Worringer gives us an overview of multiple Ottoman discourses about Japan. This work is less comparable to that of Cemil Aydin, whose writings on the Ottoman Empire and Japan are comparative and transnational, than to Alain Roussillon’s study of Egyptian travelers to Japan, which is a study of Egyptian discourses about Japan.1 [End Page 159] Worringer is not a specialist of Japan, but the depth of her archival research in Ottoman sources and the multiplicity of voices that she excavates makes this book of considerable interest to scholars and students interested in a novel perspective on Ottoman modernity and on empire.

After an introduction and a second chapter that sets the stage by giving an overview of European historicism, which plagued both Ottomans and Japanese, a third chapter turns to the story of the Tatar Muslim Abdürreşid İbrahim, a longtime resident of Japan whose sympathetic portrayal of Japanese modernization and hopes for converting Japanese to Islam introduced many Ottoman and Arab audiences to Japan. If the Ottoman population was clearly enthused by such representations of Japan, the Ottoman government had a much more ambivalent experience with its Japanese counterpart. Both the Ottoman and Japanese states had signed unequal treaties with European powers and both were seeking to renegotiate them, but whereas the Ottoman government tried to do so by seeking an equal treaty with Japan that could become a new precedent with which to claim equality with European powers, the Japanese government was interested in establishing a very different precedent. It sought to affirm its superiority over the Ottoman state by demanding capitulatory privileges of its own, much like it did with China, as a way to convince European powers that it deserved a place in the exclusive club of imperial powers. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters describe various Ottoman discourses about Japan. Whereas the Ottoman state emphasized the morality, nationalism, and industry of the Japanese, the Young Turks politicized Japan, emphasizing its constitution and popular representation in support of their demands to the Ottoman sultan. An eighth chapter turns to Egypt, where the direct experience of British colonialism made the population even more enthusiastic towards Japan, even as the Egyptian state remained neutral. Whether in Egypt or in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, however, Japan was a discursive device that “came to mean whatever one wanted it to mean” (p. 252). The significance of Worringer’s book is in its thorough overview of what various groups wanted this “Japan” to mean.

Running throughout this book is the riddle of how Ottomans and Egyptians could be so critical of European imperialism yet so accepting of Japanese imperialism in Korea, China, and elsewhere in Asia. Worringer’s response is that the attraction of the Japanese model of modernity was so great that it easily overrode any concerns about the plight of peoples in Japan’s colonial possessions: “Proximity to and direct experience of the Japanese ascent to power determined the rate and intensity with which a nation became disillusioned with the Japanese model …” (p. 10). Enthusiasm about Japan could also be read, however, as a testament to Japanese propaganda, whose echoes can be heard in sources throughout this book, such as when Mustafa Kamil’s National Party newspaper al-Liwa’ described Japanese colonialism of Korea as a guarantee of Korean independence (p. 257). Only further research on Ottoman perceptions of Korea and China will more fully reveal how Japanese pan-Asian discourses were able to drown the voices of Korean and Chinese anticolonial activists. If, however, it was not the success of Japanese propaganda but, as Worringer argues, the nature of anti-imperialism that made it more concerned with the imperialism that was nearby than with the imperialism that was afar, then the implications for the study of colonialism and empire still need to be...


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pp. 159-160
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