Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts into History

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9780520077317: Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts into History

In this complex and absorbing study, Stefan Tanaka examines the way Japanese historians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries created the equivalent of an "Orient" for the newly constituted nation-state of Japan. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan faced the necessity of becoming modern while both avoiding a characterization as "Oriental" and maintaining its own identity. The concept of toyoshi (Oriental studies) made it possible to integrate the changes of the previous century - the decline of China, the arrival of the West with all its technical and cultural baggage, the issue of cultural identity - into a comprehensive ideological system. This system defined Japan's history and its place in the world. Unlike the West's "Orient," the term toyo assumed merely cultural difference, no inherent backwardness. The development of toyoshi thus authorized a particular Japanese view of Europe and Asia as well as Japan. It established modern Japan's equivalence with Europe, and also its distinction from and cultural, intellectual, and structural superiority over China.
Whereas other scholars depict the encounter between Japan and the West as a struggle between modernity and tradition, Tanaka argues that the Japanese were, in fact, attempting to use a variety of pasts - Chinese, Indian, and protohistoric Japanese - to construct an identity that was both modern and Asian.

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About the Author:

Stefan Tanaka is Associate Professor of History, University of California, San Diego.

Review:

"Fascinating. . . . Tanaka has provided a rich account of the ways in which Japanese historians adopted and adapted European ideas of progress and cultural identity in order to reformulate their ideological relationship to China. An impressive work of scholarship."--Talal Asad, "New School for Social Research

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