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  • Russia and Its Northeast Asian Neighbors: China, Japan, and Korea, 1858–1945 ed. by Kimitaka Matsuzato
  • Ivan Sablin (bio)
Kimitaka Matsuzato (Ed.), Russia and Its Northeast Asian Neighbors: China, Japan, and Korea, 1858–1945 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017). 206 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-1-4985-3704-9.

This edited collection of comprehensive case studies explores the relations between the Russian Empire/Soviet Union and China, Japan, and Korea between the formal arrival of the Russian state in Northeast Asia after the Treaties of Aigun and Tianjin in 1858 and the radical reconfiguration of the regional political and economic landscape following the Japanese defeat in World War II and Soviet occupation of Manchuria and North Korea in 1945. The volume is edited by Kimitaka Matsuzato, a University of Tokyo professor specializing in the history and politics of Russia and Ukraine. As a leading Japanese and international expert in the field, Matsuzato has both the experience and expertise required to compile and edit such a collection.

The book consists of an introduction and ten chapters penned by scholars from Japan, Russia, Germany, and Hong Kong. In the introduction, Matsuzato outlines the main goal of the book, which is to inscribe Russia into the history of Northeast Asia as both "a decisive factor" and a participant of the interstate community since 1858 (P. vii). Matsuzato provides an overview of English and Japanese historiography on the subject, which is indeed insufficient in its discussion of the role played by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union in regional politics and economy. The authors of individual chapters include otherwise rarely discussed East Asian perspectives on Russia (such as the discourse of the Russian threat in Japan) in order to counterbalance the much more frequent European and Russian perspectives on East Asia within the recurring theme of contemporary "yellow peril" discourse. The Qing Empire is also discussed in the volume as an imperial formation with its own agency, rather than an object of foreign imperialisms and a victim thereof. The introduction claims that the volume departs from state-centered perspectives by focusing on the dynamics within imperial formations and exploring public opinion apart from official policies (P. xii).

Although the introduction rightfully points at numerous gaps in historiography, the book presents a collection of essays, which are different in their focus, period, genre, theoretical approaches, and methodology, rather than a coherent monograph-like collective endeavor. Most of the chapters deal with the Russian Empire and, in fact, almost [End Page 345] completely ignore Korea. The imperial formations in question – the Russian Empire/Soviet Union, the Japanese Empire, and the Qing Empire/Chinese Republic – appear somewhat static over the period, and there is hardly anything on the ruptures and their perception in the region. A chapter (or chapters) on regional roots and consequences of the revolutions in the Russian and Qing Empires (including Japanese interventions in Russia and China) would certainly have enhanced the book. Despite the inclusion of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in the title, there is hardly anything on the circulation of revolutionary ideas in general and the Communist International in particular in the volume. Because of this, there seems to be too much implied continuity between the respective monarchies and the troubled Soviet and Chinese republics in the region.

Despite these critical observations, the book presents an informative selection of empirical case studies based on obscure or hitherto unexplored archival materials. Thus, they are a valuable contribution to the fields of Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Eurasian, and East Asian histories. Furthermore, the volume connects Japanese, English, and Russian historiographies, which alone can be seen as a tremendous achievement given the separation of national histories and respective area studies in international scholarship. The attention to institutions, populations, and press, treated separately from governments, also makes the book a welcome addition to the scholarship of the region.

Following the introduction, the volume is divided chronologically, even though some essays overlap in their time frames. The chapter of Shinichi Fumoto (Niigata University), "Russia's Expansion to the Far East and Its Impact on Early Meiji Japan's Korea Policy," focuses on the consequences of Russian imperialism for Meiji decision making and, practically, the...