ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
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.

Myths and mythmakers )

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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Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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