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Political Science Nationalism

The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State

Japan and China

edited by Joshua A. Fogel

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Initial publish date
Oct 2004
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2004
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    $75.00 USD

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Japan and China did not begin to emerge as unified political entities until the nineteenth century. Yet scholars and politicians persistently refer to "Japan" and "China" in discussions of earlier periods, as if the modern nation-state had long been established in these regions. Joshua Fogel here brings together essays by eight renowned East Asian scholars to demonstrate why this oversight distorts our historical analysis and understanding of both countries. The nation-states of Japan and China developed much later and, indeed, far less uniformly than usually conveyed in popular myth and political culture. Moreover, the false depiction of an earlier national identity not only alters the factual record; it serves the contemporary engines of nationalist mythology and propaganda.
This interdisciplinary volume asks deceptively simple questions: When did "Japan" and "China" become Japan and China? When and why do inhabitants begin to define their identity and interests nationally rather than locally? Identifying the role of mitigating factors from disease and travel abroad to the subtleties of political language and aesthetic sensibility, the answers provided in these diverse and insightful essays are appropriately complex. By setting aside Western notions of the nation-state, the contributors approach each region on its own terms, while the thematic organization of the book provides a unique lens through which to view the challenges common to understanding both Japan and China. This highly readable collection will be important to scholars both inside and beyond the field of East Asian studies.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Joshua A. Fogel is Professor of History and East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author, most recently, of The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China, 1862-1945.

Excerpt: The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State: Japan and China (edited by Joshua A. Fogel)

Introduction: The Teleology of the Nation-State
Joshua A. Fogel
It is a very common thing now-a-days to meet people who are going to "China," which can be reached by the Siberian railway in fourteen or fifteen days. This brings us at once to the question: What is meant by the term China?
—Herbert A. Giles (1911)At the very end of May 1862, fifty-one Japanese—or, more correctly, men from many different domains of the land we now call Japan—set sail together with a British crew of eleven and a few merchants from Nagasaki to the port of Shanghai. This voyage was the first officially sanctioned mission to China in over three hundred years and only the second outside of Japan since the loosening of the ban on travel several years earlier. It was also a trading mission, as the two countries still had no formal diplomatic ties. The fifty-one Japanese came from about fifteen different domains—in addition to several shogunal officials from Edo and a few Nagasaki officials responsible for trade. I have described this voyage elsewhere, but I would like to stress something that transpired over the course of their travels in Shanghai.
While the overall purpose of the mission to Shanghai was to get a glimpse of the future in which Japan would perforce be engaging in international trade and to see what a trading port looked like, each of the Japanese of samurai status came with private agendas closely linked to their domains' needs. Thus, for example, Godai Tomoatsu (1836-85) shipped out as a sailor and actually purchased a battleship surreptitiously for the Satsuma domainal navy to be used in its future conflict against the central government. Takasugi Shinsaku (1839-67), perhaps the most famous of the passengers, burned with hatred for the shogunate and was looking at every turn for some means of bringing advantage to his domain of Choshu.
As is well known, Shanghai in early June and July is unusually hot and humid. Lord Oliphant (1829-88) described it three years earlier as "the most unhealthy [port] to which our ships are sent, the sickness and mortality being greater here than even on the west coast of Africa." The year 1862 was no exception-it was unbearably muggy, and then of course there was no electricity and no running water. Poverty on a gigantic scale exacerbated in large part by the Taiping Rebellion (1851-65) had forced tens of thousands to seek shelter in the ill-equipped walled city of Shanghai. That year also witnessed a cholera epidemic that claimed many lives, including those of three of the Japanese while they were in port in Shanghai for six weeks.
Virtually all the Japanese travelers suffered from diarrhea on and off for much of the trip as well. This was generally believed to have been caused by the filthy water used to wash everything they ate. One voyager by the name of Hibino Teruhiro (1838-1912), a samurai from Takasu domain, only twenty-four years old at the time, found himself confined to his hotel room for much of the trip because of persistent dysentery. The scene borders on the pathetic—Hibino was in a second-floor room, baking in the heat and humidity and yet insisting on wearing his Japanese garb including the two requisite swords all day long, and constantly having to jump up and run downstairs and outside to get to the outhouse. It was humiliating, needless to say, and he moans frequently about it in his diary.
One thing he laments of considerable interest is that, because of his illness, he is useless to his "country." He uses the word kokka (nation, state), which might seem a sure marker that we could point to someone thinking of the nation-state, and maybe for the first time in Japanese history. Traveling abroad, an experience denied virtually all Japanese for centuries, meeting Japanese from many different domains in a way that would have been extremely difficult within Japan, where even domestic travel was tightly controlled, seeing a victimized and chaotic China with which he sympathized—all of these might have been conducive to the emergent sense of something larger than the many small domains of his native land. In addition, he waxes exuberant describing parts of Japan seen from shipboard en route to China—even barren fishing islands that only a few fishermen had ever seen before—and he seems to identify with these spaces. Lateral domain-to-domain ties, which as Eiko Ikegami points out in her essay the Tokugawa state sought to cut off as much as possible, were actually forged, in many cases for the first time, during this trip.
While this might seem a reasonable and indeed logical avenue of analysis, the essays that follow by Luke Roberts and Mark Ravina demonstrate that even this apparent usage of a "modern" term is not what it might appear to be. And, we impose our much later sense of the nation-state back on its prehistory by interpreting kokka in this way. It can also simply mean a domain, synonymous in Japanese with kuni (state) and han (domain). So, was Hibino lamenting his inability to serve his country Japan or his miniscule domain of Takasu? A closer look at the source in question unfortunately does not clear up this puzzle. The term can be translated either way. In fact, the distinction may have been without meaning to Hibino.
Nonetheless, even if this is not the Ur-text for the Japanese nation-state in a political sense, we are beginning to find some of the ingredients for the emergence of that concept—travel abroad and seeing the international scene of trade and imperialism played out in the microcosm of Shanghai, contact with Japanese from other domains on board ships and overseas, contacts that would facilitate a movement to topple the Tokugawa regime and eventually attempt to build something bigger and stronger in the face of Western expansionism. The lesson Shanghai most forcefully brought home to the Japanese who saw it in 1862 was that, if you fail to prepare for the Western assault, you could end up just as chaotic and out of control of your fate as China.
Compare all of this to the story of Takezaki Suenaga (b. 1246), a warrior from Kyushu who participated in the defenses against the Mongol invasions of Japan almost six hundred years earlier in 1274 and 1281 and who commissioned the painting of the famous Mongol Scroll (Moko shurai ekotoba) which has just been published in an English translation in 2001. Foreign invasion and potential conquest might seem to provide an important ingredient for the emergence of national self-awareness. The scroll contains the narrative of Takezaki's journey to Kamakura, then the seat of the shogunal government, after the first Mongol invasion, in an effort to be rewarded for fighting in it. Along the way, Takezaki prays at various temples and shrines and meets many people, but he never once mentions "Japan." This would suggests that he had little or no consciousness that he had fought for his "country." Indeed, in his own mind, he may have seen himself as a mercenary. Clearly, much had changed by the mid-nineteenth century.
One other traveler on the 1862 voyage to China is worth mentioning in this context. A man by the name of Mine Kiyoshi traveled as an attendant to the trip's doctor. His account of the trip was only just published two or three years ago. Mine was a samurai from Omura, a small domain that traditionally bore responsibility for protecting neighboring Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to trade for the previous two centuries or more. He had studied astronomy, mathematics, and surveying techniques. Perhaps because he was a scientist, he was especially concerned with all the Japanese coming down with dysentery and the deaths from cholera. He points immediately to the filthy water, which must be treated before it can be consumed, and writes in his diary: "This is the gravest hardship for the men of our country (wagakuni) while resident" in Shanghai. Clearly, Mine is not thinking of Omura domain, nor is he thinking of "his country" in some vague, cultural sense. He is drawing a scientific conclusion. The heat of early summer in Shanghai, the foul water, and, as he put it, "the indescribable filth" of the city streets all worked together to produce a seriously deleterious environment which, he opines, must be attended to by "those who are in charge of the country" (meaning China), and the term he uses is kokka. While he does not employ the term to refer to the Japanese state, he does here interestingly for the Chinese state. He does this elsewhere as well, in a brush conversation-the traditional manner in which literate Chinese and Japanese (and Koreans, Vietnamese, and others in the larger Sinic sphere) communicated in written form, using literary Chinese, in the absence of a common spoken language-with a Chinese interlocutor, when he suggests that "the people who run this country (kokka) must store grain irrespective of whether there is order or disorder."
An even more poignant issue, already alluded to, that brought Japanese from different domains together in Shanghai and had them commiserating with one another was dying far from home. Aside from unfortunate fishermen who died as sea or abroad after being shipwrecked, dying overseas had not been a problem for the previous few centuries during which Japanese had not been allowed to travel beyond Japan's immediate waters. Not only did three Japanese die in Shanghai, but because of the heat their corpses had to be dealt with immediately. There was no surfeit of time to consider a variety of plans or how their cadavers might be transported back to Japan. They were eventually cremated and buried in a plot in the Pudong section of Shanghai, which no scholar has since been able to locate, but at the time the survivors were exceedingly anxious about their colleagues having died away from home. This seems to have transcended domainal differences, and it surely made every one of them reflect on his own mortality (especially, as he rushed to and from the outhouse).
In short, I might tentatively suggest that we have a small group of people who are mostly acting locally (that is for local, domainal interests back home) but thinking or at least beginning to think proto-nationally. Of course, we cannot fix a day on which the modern nation-states of China and Japan commenced; the process is not like that of a coronation or founding ceremony of a dynasty or shogunate. The political process probably took years and certain people, based on class and locale, probably acquired this sense before—even long before—others.
Let us move one decade later. Kume Kunitake (1839-1931), the great historian of a century ago, as a lad was charged with writing up the chronicle of the Iwakura Mission's travels through Europe and America, 1871-73—that massive text which has just appeared in a magnificent English translation. In 1921, fifty years after the mission began in 1871, Kume recalled that it only dawned on him years later that some of the things he was witnessing in the West had no counterparts in East Asia. They had "society"—one of those things he pointed to a half century later—while we in Japan and China, he argued, only had a series of relationships but no genuine social ties. Whether this is true or not, Kume seems to have come to the realization of it much earlier than most Japanese.
Also, the sense of a larger political entity, something that transcended the small feudal domains—call it "Japan" or, as Eiko Ikegami puts it so elegantly, "a space called Japan"—probably emerged within different social groups at different times. In addition, something we could call "cultural Japan" also undoubtedly has a separate history that was related tangentially to the vector of its political career. That is, a cultural or literary conception of Japan was probably shared by certain sectors of the elite long before a political one emerged. This is strikingly so in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but probably also in the latter half of the Heian period much earlier. Most though not all the essays in this volume focus on the idea of the nation-state—the political realm—but we should not forget that the cultural realm was not necessarily in complete synchronicity with it.
* * * * *
Can we point to a comparable event, the emergence of a semblance of the nation-state, in China? Perhaps, as Peter Perdue suggests in his essay, that event has yet to happen. As both he and Pamela Crossley argue in different ways, China did not come (if it did at all) to nationhood from feudalism but from transnational empire. China had long had certain features of the nation-state, such as standard weights and measures and standard currency across vast distances. Despite the structure of empire, how did individuals see themselves? When did "being Chinese" becoming a primary, or even secondary, mode of self-identification?
In Japan it was the Meiji state that created in top-down fashion the structures and infrastructures, mostly imported, of the nation-state—a standardized national education system, a national Diet, a national taxation system, train lines linking numerous localities, and countless other institutions. About a generation later, by the turn of the last century, we find Chinese going in large numbers to study in Japanese schools—to learn about the modern world through the recent experiences of their neighbor and former cultural kin. They were sponsored by the Qing dynasty in most instances, for it too planned to modernize itself into something resembling a nation-state.
Initially, these students organized themselves by the provinces from which they had come for a number of reasons: they were sent to Japan in this fashion by the late Qing government with a superintendent from each province overseeing them; they had difficult dialect differences to overcome; and the first generation of overseas Chinese students in Japan provided the necessary support structure for each other along provincial lines. Their first journals published in Japan—even the most radical ones—often bore the name of the region from which they hailed. Within a few years time, though, these regional groupings began to break down. This place called "China"—for the first time viewed from the outside—began to have a meaning for them, probably at least in part because the Japanese identified it as a unity, that is China as opposed to the continent of the Qing dynasty.
Every dynasty—Han or non-Han—throughout imperial Chinese history had worked desperately, if unconsciously, to erase any conceptual distinction between their dynastic regime and China the great land mass. Needless to say, no dynasty had plans for its eventual demise, as all planned to continue forever. Toward the end of the Qing dynasty, this distinction resurfaced for a number of reasons, and it was thrown into relief by living abroad, when China was that immense thing over there. Also, an awareness of the Japanese gaze, played an important role, for the Japanese who ridiculed the Chinese male students for their bizarre hairstyle (the queue or pigtail) ridiculed them all equally as "Chinese." There was also the infamous Osaka Exhibition of 1903, coinciding with the high tide of Chinese study in Japan, in which Chinese women with bound feet were one of the exhibits of precivilized customs; the angry Chinese response in Japan transcended province-specific bounds.
It is highly significant that all the revolutionary groups of the late Qing—the Xing-Zhonghui in Guangdong, the Guangfuhui in Zhejiang and Jiangsu, and the Huaxinghui in Hunan and Hubei—were all regionally based, but the united group bringing them together, the Tongmenghui, was founded in Yokohama in 1905, and its leader, Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), had not set foot in China for a decade at that point in time.
Although most scholars are fully aware of the fact that China and Japan were not modern nation-states until relatively late in their histories, we still blithely speak and write about Han-dynasty China or even Zhou China, as well as Muromachi Japan, let alone Jomon Japan—without losing a second of sleep. And, virtually all historians refer without even a sense of irony to prehistoric China or Japan.
As a historian, literary scholar, or social scientist, one needs concepts to try to explain what one studies, concepts that assuredly were not used by people in the times and places of the past that one is studying. We must be extremely cautious, though, that concepts which almost always derive from our own arsenal of experience—such as religion, culture, art, government, authority, and the like—do not actually serve to distort the history we are examining. This issue afflicts many outside the East Asian studies fold. Surely, every Europeanist has read or knows the argument of Eugen Weber's pathbreaking study Peasants into Frenchmen, and then goes on to speak of medieval France or fourteenth-century France.
As Luke Roberts and Peter Perdue make clear, in their respective essays on early modern Japan and China in this volume, this conflation of the national story on the local does great harm to the historical record. But, it does more as well. It serves the interests of the contemporary nation-state that is only too happy to invent its own "ancient" past and use it to continue to retain control over how the local stories may be told. This sort of anachronism is the handmaiden of the nation-state discourse, and its staying power is fierce.
* * * * *
The essays in this volume grew out of a conference held in February 2002, sponsored by the Andrew J. Mellon Foundation, which funded for a number of years a program in East Asian studies at the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. At that time, there were, in addition to the eight presenters, eight discussants who helped immeasurably to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation: Paul Schalow, Joan Judge, Martin Collcutt, Susan Naquin, Gerald Figal, Ruth Rogaski, Lillian M. Li, and Michal Biran. To them, to the faculty and staff of the School of Historical Studies, and to the Institute's Director Phillip Griffiths, I wish to acknowledge my gratitude.

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