ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Young, Louise. Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Main Argument: Young argues that in the 1930s, Manchuria moved from the periphery of the Japanese imperial consciousness to the forefront, as Japanese constructed a new kind of empire in the northeast from the top down and from the bottom up, as shown in three areas: military conquest, economic development, and mass migration. Young concludes that the evolving relationship between imperialism and modernity resulted in a formation that she calls "total empire."

Historiographical Engagement: Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths (although Young's conclusions are diametrically opposite from Gluck's)

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples Young argues that "total empire" arose from the ongoing social development of imperialist societies, coupled with the continuing global expansion of industrial capitalism, meant that metropolis and colonies were now more economically integrated, and also that they saw the rise of a new "social imperialism," in which social conflict in the metropole was projected onto the colonies. In this sense "total empire" is analogous to "total war" because "it was made on the home front. It entailed the mass and multidimensional mobilization of domestic society: cultural, military, political, and economic" (13). Empire was thus overdetermined, because so many components of society were in favor of imperialism; indeed, "their synergy or concatenation is what gave total imperialism its peculiar force" (ibid). Moreover (although not quite as clearly as James Hevia does in English Lessons, it has to be said), Young focuses on the transformations that Manchukuo wrought in Japan, and how those transformations then enabled further escalation in Manchukuo itself. She reads many sources from pop culture because "for the vast majority of Japanese, the ideas and symbols of popular culture, provided the primary medium through which they would experience Manchukuo," which Young looks at as a historical construction and as a process (17).

Japan's empire in Manchukuo was quintessentially modern. )

Critical assessment:
I really like this book, and in generally I think it very much deserves its place as a landmark in the field. On the theme of "everyone wants a different book out of the book you write," for my tastes, I would have liked to see more extended comparisons with other contemporary empires, and I would also, frankly, have liked to see more engagement with theory. I did have some quibbles with her idiosyncratic use of terminology, such as her setting up a dichotomy between "empire" and "metropolis" when the more usual dichotomy is "metropole" and "colony," because together they constitute the "empire."

It almost wouldn't have occurred to me to think of this as cultural history, I suppose because I have absorbed the prejudice that "cultural history" is about "soft" and "non-weighty" things, unlike imperialism, which is inherently Weighty and Important. This book is an excellent example of what cultural history can do, and it saddens me that there is a turn away from cultural history currently happening in the field.

As to the meat of Young's conclusions, I think they are substantially very correct, or at least, she gets all the relevant players in the room and accounted for in a way that other books (such as Carol Gluck's Japan's Modern Myths) mostly fail to do. I can very much believe that there was a ratcheting effect going on in the interplay between public opinion as expressed in the mass media, policy and policy-makers, and society that welded and then sanctified the imperialist consensus in Japan in the 1930s. I also think her impatience with the Marxist (kôzaha, to be specific) argument that Japan remained "semi-feudal" and that Manchukuo was not a modern empire is entirely correct. Manchukuo was ultra-modern, not just in its technology but in its imperialism, which is one of the reasons I continue to find it very interesting.

As for Manchukuo, I found myself thinking that a good essay question on this book would be, "Who was least deluded in Manchukuo?" (Answer: the oppressed Chinese peasants and coolies, about whom Young says sadly little.) I do wish Young had a better flair for irony and/or a greater sense of humor--there are so many bizarre and surreal things in this book, perhaps best exemplified by shills for the puppet state arguing that Pu Yi, notable opium addict and thief of Chinese cultural heritage objects in his flight from the Forbidden City, was a "sage king" who exemplified the "kingly way" (ôdô) by which Manchukuo would be governed. Young is in general more tolerant of self-serving imperialist delusions than I would be, but she does skewer them methodically nonetheless.

Further reading: Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque; Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity; Andrew E. Barshay, The Gods Left First; Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction

Meta notes: It's the economy, stupid.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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