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Bibliographic Data: Gluck, Carol. Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Main Argument: Believing that "ideology is a process," Carol Gluck seeks to excavate the "ideological process" of what she calls the late Meiji period (1890 to 1912), attempting to prove in particular that at this point there was no such thing as the tennôsei (emperor system) ideology in place as such, as opposed to people like Maruyama Masao who usually saw the emperor system as having structured, iron-clad, all of modern Japan from 1867 to 1945.

Historiographical Engagement: Gluck has read much of the postwar scholarship on the debates that she examines, though it is questionable to what extent she represents it accurately. Mostly, she is arguing with Maruyama Masao, which is an old and honorable activity, and with Irokawa Daikichi.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples "The subject under consideration here is the interpretation of the political and social world as the articulate elite lived it--or imagined they lived it--in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Japan" (8). Gluck discusses her conception of "ideology"--derived from Geertz, Althusser, and Gramsci--and goes on to argue that, far from the lockstep image that postwar Japanese scholars portrayed, the local purveyors of ideology in the Meiji period were often unreliable. Moreover, the particular content of Japan's ideology is a consequence of the historical developments of the Meiji period and the history on which it built.

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Gluck reviews the landscape of "late Meiji" and the process by which, having made Japan, elites sought to make Japanese, as it were. She makes two central arguments: one, "that Japan was in its process of ideological formation a good deal less than unique," and that "the process of converting the Japanese into kokumin was as complicated and drawn out as turning peasants into Frechmen, Germans into a Germanic Volk, or immigrants into one-hundred percent Americans," and that, finally, "it is fair to say that the dominant ideology in imperial Japan imagined a nation that was more unified and a society that was more stable than those who lived within them knew to be the case" (39).

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Gluck examines the ceremony around the promulgation of the Constitution in 1889. Gluck paints a picture of the oligarchs racing throughout the 1880s and especially in 1889-90 to secure their rights against the anticipated tsunami of popular participation (never mind that the electorate in the 1890 election comprised less than 450,000 men) by passing laws at a frantic clip. She also argues that "the systematic exclusion of certain groups from political activity had the further result of implying that politics was in and of itself undesirable, even noxious" (53), which I really don't think is the correct causal relationship. She then goes on to define a dichotomy between the kan (officialdom, the bureaucracy) and the min (the people), which seems tendentious.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the image of the Meiji emperor in Meiji Japan, arguing that "in the popular iconography of the Meiji period two ubiquitous images gradually emerged as symbols of 'civilization:' the monarch and the locomotive. Both were associated with progress, even when that progress had its costs, and both contributed to the national and social integration that characterized the modern state" (101). Gluck argues that by the end of the Meiji period "all Japanese were conscious of the emperor's existence for the first time in Japanese history" and that he was "a regal and symbolic figure associated with the Meiji achievement of civilization" but that "the moral and religious constructions of the imperial office…appeared somewhat less prominently in the popular channels of social communication during the late Meiji period" (100). [I find this last questionable. See Atsuko Hirai's review in JAS.]

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at "morality and the nation" and in particular the promulgation of the Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890, finding that it was the result of multiple concerns that had become familiar to elites by then. She argues that the Rescript became the index of "civil morality" [sic] after its promulgation, functioning as a kind of threshold by which various statements could be declared acceptable, or not. She also argues that the interpretation of the Rescript remained "an arcanum of the ideologues" (155), which is highly questionable. In the end, she concludes that "this jointing of customary socio-moral traditions with the grandly imperious values of the state made of the new civil morality a bond both unremarkably familiar and relentlessly demanding at one and the same time" (156).

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the ideologies that were promulgated to the lower orders of Japanese society, particularly the rural people who persistently refused to stay down on the farm in consonance with calcified tradition. She also explicates the ideologies of individual success and striving that provided a counter-current to the official conception of the family-state anchored in the multigenerational agrarian ie, concluding that "the official social ideology coexisted with and was bled not only by political conflict and economic hardship, but also by a widely diffused ideology of individual success" (210). The ideologues, in response, "emphasized an ethos that reinforced deep values associated with the village and familial collectivities, and, by making individual striving officially suspect, managed to contain a good part of that striving within the bounds of the social group" (211-12).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the Meiji emperor's funeral and at the junshi suicide of General Nogi and his wife Shizuko on the same day. Gluck discusses the evolution of politics in the early Taisho period and then reaches a series of conclusions which I find unsupportable, to wit: that "parliamentary politics…had been publicly devalued"; that "however much the imperial ideology did to moralize the nation and depoliticize the state, what it did not do to change the relation between the ruler and the ruled was of equal significance" (245, emphasis original); and that these ideologies were accomplished together: "despite the differences of position and intention among the several ideological agents involved in the construal of modern politics, more often than not they shared an aversion to the partisan representation of partial interests associated with political parties" (246).

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Gluck examines "the language of ideology" and concludes that "the common ideological language that emerged in the course of the Meiji period was the result of a process of interaction among the different versions of state and society" and that it "gained hegemony because of its relative congruence with the experience of Meiji Japanese, many of whom shared the impulse to conserve the present that was felt so strongly by the older generations of ideologues" (275). Gluck also argues that "the plural postures associated with different moments of prewar Japanese history were simultaneously present in the dispersed ideological field of the late Meiji period," and that "the institutions, like the ideology, did not remain within the control of the ideologues who originated or manipulated them" (277).

Chapter 9: Argument, Sources, Examples In this brief epilogue, Gluck considers the fate of ideology in modern Japan, continuing her story from the Taisho period to the postwar, concluding that "the year 1945 thus saw the end of some of the ideological elements established in the Meiji period and the continuation of others" and that "contemporary ideology remains heir to the interpretations of the political and social world as the Meiji Japanese imagined they were living it" (286).

Critical assessment: It's very much the orthodoxy to dislike this book at Berkeley, and having finally read it, I can see why that is, and I agree. I have several major problems with this book, and I'm honestly not sure which is the biggest. Many of them are points in Atsuko Hirai's review of the book for the Journal of Asian Studies; the one she hammers on hardest is the fact that words mean things, and that Gluck consistently mistranslates terms in a way that is designed to shore up her argument rather than to accurately represent what her sources are saying. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is her repeated description of Meiji Japanese as "citizens"; they were not citizens, but subjects, and this is an important and meaningful distinction. (Another example is her persistent habit of defining the kokutai as "the continual ancestral tradition of the imperial house" [143].) Mistranslations of standard Japanese terms abound, making it impossible to trust her translations when she doesn't provide the keywords in brackets, and she also misrepresents debates in Japanese scholarship on a not-insignificant scale. I think her general assertions are mostly reasonably sound, although at the level at which they are so sound they are often either pabulum or tautologies.

The other glaring problem is the way that Gluck uncritically accepts the conservative viewpoints of her sources as the unmarked, correct position. Hirai pointed out in her review, and it's true enough, that the book makes no mention of socialism as a valid ideology, and pays no attention to the ideologies of colonialism and imperial expansion that were equally central to the history of the Meiji period. There is no mention of social change that is described as positive; it's all "social conflict," and the "distrust of politics" is omnipresent, leading to the interesting question of, Well, then who the hell was rioting in the streets for party government for 15 years? (Not coincidentally, Gluck devalues the urbanites who are the answer to that question entirely.)

I agree with Hirai that this book seems to be the last gasp of modernization theory, which is especially notable in Gluck's quest to, essentially, exonerate the Meiji oligarchs of any blame for what came after (which makes no sense, as they were the ones who started it), and in her total disregard for religion or for the quasi-religious way in which the emperor was presented and was regarded to and by the people in the Meiji period. It's not hard to miss this, if one thinks of "religion" solely in Western terms, but one should not be doing that at this level. And finally, her persistent mentions of "the ideologues" as a class has the odd effect of flattening quite a lot of varied people into one homogeneous group. The reality of Meiji was much more complicated, and much less clear-cut, than Gluck presents it here.

Further reading: Mikiso Hane, Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes; Roger Bowen, Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan; Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy; Helen Hardacre, Shinto and the State; Irwin Scheiner, Christian Converts and Social Protest in Meiji Japan; Irokawa Daikichi, The Culture of Meiji Japan

Meta notes: Words mean things.

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Date: 2014-01-21 00:17 (UTC)
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From: [personal profile] lnhammer
which is an old and honorable activity

*snrk*

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Andrea J. Horbinski

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