- Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia ed. by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock
Edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock. New York: Berghahn, 2014. ix + 306 pages + 32 b/w illustrations. $95.00.
This volume contributes to the field of Asian-German Studies by compiling essays that focus on East Asia (China and Japan) and German-speaking countries as cultural and political spaces that the editors call “fluid and beholden to exchange” (1). Divided into four thematic sections, each ordered chronologically, the essays analyze—primarily through film and literature—transnational connections that span what the editors call the “long twentieth century,” the late nineteenth century to the present.
The first section, “Japan and Germany in the Shadow of National Socialism,” treats representational strategies of state-sponsored media that helped change the meaning of Japan such that its role as an ally and friend of the Third Reich was legitimated. Ricky Law discusses the influence of newsreels in the formation of perceptions [End Page 145] of Japan in the interwar period, which he contrasts with shifts in the form and content of the newsreels under National Socialism. The interwar’s focus on Japan’s idols and festivals perpetuated stereotypes of Japan as ageless and arcane while throughout the 1930s Japan is increasingly portrayed as a modern, militaristic nation, reflecting “the new diplomatic reality” (26) after 1937. In Valerie Weinstein’s essay on Arnold Fanck’s Bergfilm, The Samurai’s Daughter, filmed in Japan in 1935, she wonders how this film could speak to both Japanese and German audiences given the conventional notion that the West and the East were polar opposites. How can we understand this film as a “transnational production with a transnational thematic, aesthetic, and ideological appeal?” (35). She argues that Fanck both mirrored and inverted the mountain film genre and was able to show Japan as both Germany’s double and its perfect opposite, mediating the clash between tradition and modernity and underscoring sympathies and affinities between Germans and Japanese (42). In the last essay of the section, Sarah Panzer details the historical context for a 1944 essay contest of the Deutsch Japanische Gesellschaft that originated in the Foreign Office and whose purpose it was to show the people’s (vs. the state’s) understanding of the German Japanese Alliance, its significance and purpose. Her study reveals recurring tropes and themes that gave meaning to the alliance, including Soldatenvölker, romanticized martiality, heroic death, and the link between Germanic knights and the Samurai.
Section Two of the volume is concerned with China and provides three different analyses of cultural connections between China and Germany, contextualized by the historical periods under discussion. They include the Weimar Republic, the GDR, and unified Germany. Weijia Li’s essay “Otherness in Solidarity” is based upon detailed historical research of the collaboration between Chinese and German left-wing activists in the Weimar Republic. In dialogue with German scholars of Chinese Studies, Li brings this understudied aspect of transcultural connection to light. Focusing on Anna Seghers, Li discusses the literature that emerged from the collaboration between Germans and Chinese and shows how it confronted the colonialist perception of East Asian cultures. Qinna Shen’s essay explores the bilateral history between the GDR and the PRC through the lens of the rarely screened DEFA documentaries on China. Her essay addresses the change in representations of the PRC from the 1950s through the 1980s, illustrating the fundamental relationship between ideology and Realpolitik. Martin Rosenstock analyzes a 2008 novel on the Boxer Rebellion (Yellow Wind by Gerhard Seyfried) in the context of current German representations of China. He asks how this fictionalized treatment relates to the connections between current German perceptions of China and efforts to craft a European identity.
Part III, “Negotiating Identity in Multicultural Germany,” contains biographical, literary, and cinematic treatments of cross/intercultural texts. Cynthia Walk contextualizes her essay on the actress Anna May Wong in the history of European colonialism and Western orientalism in the Weimar cinema, particularly with respect to the representation of interracial desire. Markus Hallensleben analyzes Yoko Tawada’s “The Bath” as an example of an...