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Crossing Empire's Edge: Foreign Ministry Police and Japanese Expansionism in Northeast Asia.

Crossing Empire's Edge: Foreign Ministry Police and Japanese Expansionism in Northeast Asia. By Erik Esselstrom. (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2008. Pp. xii, 233. $59.00.)

No scholarship has dealt extensively with the documents of the Japanese Foreign Ministry (Gaimush6) consular police, detailing their work within Japan's colonies and the periphery. In addressing this gap, the author of this study significantly complicates conventional understandings of the dynamics of Japanese expansionism.

As early as the 1880s, the Gaimush6 consular police functioned in Korea as a public security institution. Intended to safeguard Japanese citizens under the unequal treaty system in port cities, the consular police originally managed problems of health, social order, and crime. But their role and numbers grew, culminating in the assumption of all police power in Korea by 1910. The spread of consular police infrastructure in the treaty ports of China and in Manchuria from 1895 to 1919 followed this model with slight variations. Arguing that Taiwanese and Koreans--now considered Japanese subjects--and Japanese residents needed police protection, they extended their reach into mainland China and Manchuria despite the dubious legal standing of such activities. Through World War I, the government used the consular police as a "useful tool for expanding and protecting Japanese interests on the continent" (63).

This only intensified after 1919. As Korean and Chinese nationalism and international communism threatened Japanese domestic and foreign affairs, the Gaimush6 police began to play an essential role in bolstering the empire by rooting out dangerous elements at the imperial periphery. They surveilled and suppressed anti-Japanese movements in the treaty ports and in the Jiandao region of Manchuria. This continued in the mid-1920s despite attempts by Foreign Minister Shidehara to lower the profile of consular police by offering more jurisdictional duties to Chinese authorities. Amidst rising Chinese nationalism and increasing communist-led violence, Gaimush6 police leaders disagreed with Shidehara's policies and undercut his efforts. Indeed, by the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, when the consular police intensified their activities and fought alongside army units, they had long been supporting Japanese imperial goals.

By 1937, the Foreign Ministry police in northern China functioned fully as an expansionist arm of the empire extending beyond surveillance and espionage. After the start of the China War, the consular police embraced the construction of the "New Order in East Asia." While the army did the most explicit fighting, consular police followed up with intelligence gathering and forceful suppression among Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese. During the 1930s, evidence indicates that the consular police "often went to extremes of violence and intimidation," minimizing the differences between their activities from that of the military (146).

Erik Esselstrom's careful work provides further evidence that conventional binary disjunctions used to portray the history of Japanese expansionism culminating in World War II require significant revision. Foreign Ministry goals should not be contrasted too starkly with that of the military; Japanese foreign behavior should not be conceptualized apart from the complexities of domestic politics; civilian agency should not be overly separated from state expansionist tendencies; and the 1920s should not be seen as too discontinuous with the aggressive militarism of the 1930s. These findings make Esselstrom's work a significant and refreshing contribution.

Genzo Yamamoto

Wheaton College
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Author:Yamamoto, Genzo
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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