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The State, Identity, and the National Question in China and Japan.

Suzanne Ogden, Northeastern University

This is a book in comparative political philosophy. It is richly comparative of the views of individual thinkers and political activists in the anarchist and socialist/communist movements of Japan and China on the issues surrounding the concepts of the state and national identity. In presenting these insights, Germaine Hoston goes far beyond an exegesis of the evolution of political thought in China and Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: she offers a treasure chest of insightful mini-biographies of these individuals. She is able to tease out the essence of each thinker, allowing us to see how the "thought" of important movements was produced both at the individual level and at the necessarily derivative level of the movements themselves. We are thereby introduced to the dilemmas these individuals confronted in trying to promote essentially European political thought in a non-European setting.

The author untangles the process by which the ideology of the anarchist and Marxist movements was changed through interaction with the conditions and culture of China and Japan. To set these movements in the proper framework, Hoston compares the existing values and cultures of Japan and China at the time the issue of the state and national identity arose. This is critical to understanding how Chinese and Japanese intellectual elites and activists - and their potential followers - evaluated the ideologies of anarchism and Marxism. For these ideologies not only challenged their respective traditional views of the state; they also challenged their perceived need for the state to assist in development rather than simply to "wither away" or be overthrown at a critical time in their history.

Hoston also uses a comparative approach to examine the contending ideologies of anarchism, anarcho-socialism, and Marxism that Japanese and Chinese individuals considered in their search for a philosophy to undergird revolutionary movements concerned both with development and "human liberation" for the individual, the individual as a member of a nation, and "the interests of humanity as a whole transcending national differences" (p. 6). As the bulk of her inquiry is addressed to the period between the two world wars, a period that begins with the energizing event of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, it is largely about Marxism in China and Japan.

An authority on Marxism in prewar Japan, Hoston poses the question of why the Japanese and Chinese responses to Marxism were so different despite sharing many cultural roots from Buddhism and Confucianism and, at least according to Marx, laboring under the same condition of an "asiatic mode of production," which necessarily led to "asiatic despotism." In unravelling the answers, Hoston examines the political thought or "consciousness" of leading revolutionary intellectuals, which she regards as essential for shaping revolutionary movements, and focuses on how they addressed the national question as of particular importance to the success of Marxism (China) and its failure (Japan). In doing so, she poses the critical question of how far these Asian revolutionaries could go in changing the form of Marxism in order to adapt it to local cultural sensitivities and local realities (such as, in the case of China, the nonexistence of a proletariat) and still call it "Marxism." She tackles head on the issue of how the "national question" posed by Marxism was interpreted and redefined in non-European contexts, contexts far different from those in which Marx discussed them. Her investigation exposes the dilemmas posed to Marxists in their efforts to reshape their societies on the basis not only of an alien ideology, but also one which at best was ignorant of, and at worst despised, their own civilizations' accomplishments. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution did little to redress this insensitivity, with the Comintern heavy-handedly insisting on its own strategies in both Japan and China, to the nearly complete destruction of Marxism in both.

In this context, Hoston follows the course of Marxism in Japan where, in response to the powerful hold of the concept of "kokutai," Japanese Marxists abandoned class conflict for "socialism in one country," or "national socialism," which was easily worked into fascism by the country's right-wing leaders. Thus, Japan's Marxists replaced class conflict with racial conflict in their effort to gain support within Japan yet sustain their Marxist credentials. For Chinese Marxists, the critical question was how to take a Western dogma that called for the destruction of the state and use it instead to strengthen the Chinese state through an appeal to national identity so that China could stand up to the imperialism of the Western states (and Japan).

To pull together these complex themes regarding anarchism and Marxism in Japan and China is an extraordinary feat of scholarship. Hoston combines a solid understanding of the intellectual roots of anarchism, socialism, and Marxism with a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge of Japanese and Chinese history. She relies primarily on Japanese and Chinese language sources, but she also uses French and Russian sources as well as the Marxist texts. Her ability to interweave the contrasting themes of the Chinese and Japanese experience is important, for their experiences were not just comparable but also contingent on each other, with many of the first Chinese revolutionaries being trained in Japan, and later, with the Japanese communist movement being profoundly influenced by the Chinese communist movement. Only the historian Akira Iriye has been able to handle the historical interaction of China and Japan at such a high level. And Hoston rivals the deceased historian Joseph Levenson in her command of the central cultural themes, political forces, and intellectual pacesetters in the history of modern political philosophy in China - and, in her case, Japan as well. Indeed, Hoston's work is truly "Levensonian" in its approach and accomplishments.
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Author:Ogden, Suzanne
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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