ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Duara, Prasenjit. Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asia Modern. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Main Argument: Duara's interest, and main argument, is that "because it was such a transparently constructed entity in a contested region, Manchukuo provides a window into the modern processes of nation making, state building, and identity formation. … The blueprints, materials, technologies, techniques, and problems encountered in the construction of Manchukuo reveal the ways nation-makers sought to found the sovereignty of the nation-state in a discourse of cultural authenticity" (2).

Historiographical Engagement: Duara reads Chinese (he is in fact a historian of China by trade), so he has read a lot of the Chinese work on Manchukuo, as well as all the major works in English on empire in China and Japan in the period; my impression is that his Japanese is weaker, with the result that he seems to mostly stick to that language for primary sources.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Duara is concerned with three levels of discourse: the global, the local, and the national, and he argues that "the East Asia modern is a regional mediation of the global circulation of the practices and discourses of the modern," and that "the process of dissemination hardly develops on a level or open field, but through historically specific expressions of power, namely imperialism and a system of unequal states" (2-3). He sees Manchukuo as a hybrid of Japanese and Chinese modernity, in some ways: "the distinctive ways of demarcating and representing the spheres of modernity and tradition, state and society, nation and self in Manchukuo not only reflected processes in the two societies, but drew form cultural resources circulating between them. … Manchukuo reveals the lineaments of a regional understanding of how older formations are culturally constructed as sovereign nations in East Asia" (2, emphasis original).

The East Asia modern )

Critical assessment: When I left undergrad this was probably my favorite work of scholarship, and I was somewhat thrown when I got to Berkeley to find that a lot of people cast a lot of shade on it. I can see those criticisms, particularly the one that the book is not really so much about Manchukuo as Manchukuo is a frame to hang some rather interesting and still, I think, fundamentally correct historical and political theory onto--but on the other hand, rereading this book, there are a lot of historical facts here that didn't stick in my brain the first time around. Certainly there are more facts about daily life in Manchukuo then Louise Young managed to provide.

I read this book in my final class with my wonderful undergraduate advisor Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak, who is a political scientist, and undoubtedly some of my love for the book comes from that experience--it was an excellent and innovative class. But I still think that what Duara does here is interesting and valuable; I suspect that some of the shade cast on it results from the fact that many historians, at least those here at Berkeley, seem to fear and loathe theory, and Duara here is making theory. (Don't get me started on the terrible diagrams, because they really are terrible.) But I still think that if one is willing to take the book on its own terms, it is excellent overall.

Further reading: Louise Young, Japan's Total Empire; Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque; Miriam Kingsberg, Moral Nation; Yoshihisa Matsusaka, The Making of Japanese Manchuria; Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases

Meta notes: I underlined way too many things in books when I was an undergrad.

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ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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