WEAI Author Q&A: Reto Hofmann’s “The Fascist Effect”

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We are pleased to announce a new title in the Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute book series: The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy: 1915-1952published by Cornell University Press. The book’s author is Reto Hofmann, who currently teaches at Monash University. In this book, Professor Hofmann uncovers the ideological links that tied Japan to Italy in the interwar period, drawing on extensive materials from Japanese and Italian archives to shed light on the formation of fascist history and practice in Japan and beyond. Moving between personal experiences, diplomatic and cultural relations, and geopolitical considerations, Professor Hofmann shows that interwar Japan found in fascism a resource to develop a new order at a time of capitalist crisis.

We thank Professor Hofmann for taking the time to discuss his book with us. Please read the following Q&A to learn more about the research and questions that drove the project. 

How did you become interested in the topic of the transnational exchange between Japanese thinkers and Italian fascists? What questions drove your research?

It was the result of a more or less coincidental meeting of Italy and Japan on Australian soil while I was an undergraduate. I had focused on Italian history but a creeping interest in Japan led to a thesis on diplomatic relations between Rome and Tokyo in the late 1930s. Interest in high politics subsided, not so the desire to study Japan through Italy. My familiarity with Italian fascism made me see fascist ramifications throughout prewar Japan. Existing histories of fascism in Japan, though, barely noticed the commonalities. Did contemporary Japanese notice them, I wondered. They did. Some basic research revealed a vast debate on fascism in general and Italian fascism in particular, from the 1920s to the end of the war. The question, then, was to examine how Japanese, ideologues, politicians, educators, and writers wove fascism into their political anxieties and aspirations. If, as I argue, fascism was simultaneously national and global, what was the effect of the encounter of fascisms?

What kinds of archives and sources did you consult in your research? Did you encounter any challenges in researching this subject?

Over the thirty years covered in this book, the debates on fascism unfolded on all kinds of levels—not just politics, but also mass culture, literature, philosophy, and international relations. This spectrum meant that I had to familiarize myself with a broad range of texts housed in libraries and archives in different countries. In my experience, Japanese government archives can be navigated effectively once one overcomes their bureaucratic quirks and aura. But the attempt to trace the relations that certain individuals entertained with Italians also meant conducting research in Italian archives. While one could hope for no archive that is more scenic or eccentric than that of Gabriele D’Annunzio overlooking Lake Garda, or more charming than a Neapolitan palazzo, or more evocative for this topic than the fascist architecture of the Archivio Centrale dello Stato in Rome, archives and libraries in Italy were often underfunded, messy, or simply closed.

Could you provide an example or two of ways in which Italian fascist ideas were transmitted (and possibly adapted) in Japanese intellectual and political circles? What made those ideas powerful in the interwar period in Japan?

Fascism was both national and global—and the relationship between the two was complex. In the 1930s we notice fascist movements, ideas, and regimes a bit everywhere, all of which emerged in relative independence from one another. I say “relative” because to the extent that fascism responded directly to the crisis of liberal capitalism, often trying to prop up liberal institutions of power, it emerged organically in different national contexts. But, as the book shows, Italian Fascism (capital “F”) played a globalized, ready-made role, presenting a set of motifs, aesthetics, and strategies that travelled around the world. As the globalized Italian version of fascism encountered other fascisms all kinds of things happened. In Japan, for example, we see attempts to appropriate selectively certain aspects of Italian Fascism. Shimoi Harukichi did precisely that, redeploying the Fascist narrative of heroism and its aesthetics of sacrifice in a Japanese patriotic register. Later, in the early 1930s, when Japanese fascism had come into its own, thinkers and activists negated Italian Fascism, but not so much in the sense of disavowing it as in trying to supersede it. Recognizing these entanglements and clashes of fascism means to move away from a straightforward notion of fascist influence and reception; we can focus on the limits and contradictions of fascism, explaining why it is that we often see fascism without recognizing it.

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What findings surprised you most in the course of your research?

The gradual removal of fascism from the history and memory of twentieth-century Japan, and its demotion to a marginal problem the country faced in the 1930s. This view, consolidated after the war, jars with the sense so many Japanese had until defeat in World War II, namely that fascism was a problem of the present in which they were deeply involved. There was a consciousness that Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany were linked—for good or bad, that depended on the point of view.

How would you like your book to affect or complicate people’s understanding of the history of Japan and the history of fascism?

The evidence presented in this book reveals the multiple levels of engagement with fascism in Japan; it also shows that the ideological production and political praxis in interwar Japan was intertwined with those in Italy and Germany. In other words, Japan played a part in the global history of fascism. As far as fascism is concerned, the lesson from Japan is that it can be more open-ended than we previously assumed. There is a whole literature on fascism that relies on models and definitions taken from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. But if we look at the debates in Japan we understand that the goal of fascism was to restore social and political order and that there was no scripted way to doing so. Japanese tried out a variety of fascist strategies, some of which resembled those in Europe, others didn’t.

 

 

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WEAI Author Q&A: Shellen Wu’s “Empires of Coal”

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We are pleased to announce a new title in the Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute book series: Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860-1920published by Stanford University Press. The book’s author is Shellen Xiao Wu, an assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. In this study about the international battle over control of China’s coal reserves, Professor Wu argues that the changes specific to the late Qing were part of global trends in the nineteenth century, when the rise of science and industrialization destabilized global systems and caused widespread unrest and the toppling of ruling regimes around the world.

We thank Professor Wu for taking the time to discuss her book with us. Please read the following Q&A to learn more about the research and questions that drove the project. 

What first drew you to the topic of Western interests in China’s coal reserves?

I first read the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen’s writings years ago and found them fascinating. Here’s a Prussian aristocrat traveling extensively in China right after the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s with his Indian tea (he didn’t like Chinese tea, thought it too weak) and American whiskey and writing down all his impressions, as well as long reports on mineral deposits in the interior to send to the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce. His expeditions took place at a time when very few Westerners went beyond the legation quarters of Beijing. Richthofen eventually coined the term “silk road” and correctly hypothesized the origin of loess in the North China Plains, the two things for which he is most known for today.  He also wrote a lot about coal in China.

I made the connection between Richthofen and the turning point in Western interest in Chinese coal, and realized that he was pivotal to a changing perception of China by the late nineteenth century. We know the expression “not for all the tea in China.” Richthofen and his writings led many in the West to see China not just as a source of luxury goods like tea and silks, but also as a place with vast reserves of coal. This shift in view in turn led to a Great Race between European and American companies and Chinese interests to be the first to develop these mineral reserves and reap the profits.

What kinds of sources and archives did you consult in researching this study? Did you encounter any challenges in researching this topic?

I used a number of archives and published documents, including the Number One Historical Archives in Beijing, the Hubei Provincial Archives, eight volumes of Qing documents related to mining published by Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and the German Foreign Ministry Archives. It turns out that the Germans kept extensive documentation of expats in China and records of German engineers who worked at one of the earliest iron foundries and modern coalmines established in China. Everyone, the Germans, the British, and Qing officials, were keenly aware of the importance of coal to the process of industrialization.

Doing these kinds of new global histories requires language skills and a lot of travel. Research for the book took me to three continents, Europe, the US, and Asia, and turned up massive amounts of materials. The very abundance of archival and published document sources turned into the main challenge. Mining engineers’ reports don’t make for the most exciting reading. It was a very unwieldy process to weed through all this material and distill it into a 200 -page monograph.

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During your research, did any of your findings surprise you or change the way you thought about the history of China—or about the history of the West–during this era?

We take for granted now that we live in an age of globalization, but it’s quite surprising how much ground people covered in the nineteenth century. Europeans and Americans traveled extensively in China before the railroads were built; at a slightly later period, Chinese students and Qing officials traveled abroad to Europe and North America. Far from one sided, everyone was observing and studying everyone else and people were open minded in a way that I don’t think many of us are even today.

How are the global trends detailed in your book relevant for our contemporary times? 

I detail in my book the process of industrialization and the creation of a new mindset necessary for China’s switch to a coal based economy at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. It was apparent to officials, intellectuals, and writers then that if they didn’t seize control of Chinese mineral resources, they might lose it to the acquisitive expansion of Western imperialism. Today we are living with the consequences of that transition. The intensive exploitation of coal and other natural resources to fuel the Chinese economy has resulted in extensive environmental damage. Even studies conducted by the Chinese government show that up to 20% of the farmland in the country to be dangerously polluted, much of it from heavy metals and the run-off from ecologically damaging mining practices. The global trends begun during the period covered in book are extremely important to understanding these contemporary problems.

How would you like your book to affect people’s understanding about China’s history?

I’ve always found China to be similar to the US in that it’s a very big country and a place where it’s very easy to focus exclusively on local and, at a stretch, national concerns. My book is part of a growing movement taking place in Sinology. More and more of us are examining the various connections both within and beyond China’s borders, as part of particular global turns in history. I would like my book to help open up the horizons of people’s understanding of Chinese history and to see China in the context of global changes in the way we use and exploit natural resources to produce the energy that makes modern life possible.

May 1 Event: “Thailand Update Conference: ” Photos and Audio

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Photographs and audio are now available from the May 1, 2015 conference “Thailand Update: One Year After the May 2014 Coup: Where is Thailand Heading?” Organized by Duncan McCargo, Senior Research Affiliate at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and Professor of Political Science at the University of Leeds, the all-day conference featured presentations by a number of prominent panelists: Tyrell Haberkorn, Fellow in Political and Social Change, Australian National University; Napat Jatusripitak, Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota; Pinkaew Laungaramsri, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; Joseph Liow, Senior Fellow, Center for East Asia Policy Studies; Lee Kuan Yew, Chair in Southeast Asia Studies, Brookings Institution; Frank Munger, Professor of Law; Co-Chair, Law and Society Program, New York Law School; Sudarat Musikawong, Associate Professor of Sociology, Siena College; Pitch Pongsawat, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University; and Kriangsak Teerakowitkajorn, Ph.D. Student and Teaching Assistant, Syracuse University.

The panelists discussed the prospects for Thailand after the coup, and what the future may hold for the Southeast Asian nation.

For audio of the event (split into four sections) on iTunes, please click here.

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May 1 Event: “Collecting and Presenting Tibetan Material Culture in the West:” Photos and Audio

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Photographs and audio are now available from the May 1, 2015 event “Collecting and Presenting Tibetan Material Culture in the West.”  The final event of WEAI’s 2014-2015 “Museums and Material Culture: East Asia” series, the presentation featured lectures by Melissa Kerin of Washington and Lee University and Dominique Townsend of the Rubin Museum of Art.  Their talk was moderated by Gray Tuttle, Leila Hadley Luce Associate Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University.

For audio of the event on iTunes, please click here.

 

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April 22 Event: “Human Rights Under Xi Jinping: Is There Room for Optimism?” Photos and Audio

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Photographs and audio are now available from the April 22, 2015 event “Human Rights Under Xi Jinping: Is There Room for Optimism?” The event featured a lecture by Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch.  Her talk was moderated by Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University.

During the event Dr. Richardson talked about the current situation of human rights in China and possible future outcomes resulting from the present Chinese leadership. Professor Nathan and she also discussed careers in the field of human rights.

For audio of the event on iTunes, please click here.

 

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April 1 Event: “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy:” Photos and Audio

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Photographs and audio are now available from the April 1, 2015 event “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy.” The event featured a lecture by Michael Pillsbury, Director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute.  His talk was moderated by Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University.

During the event, Dr. Pillsbury, who earned his Ph.D. from Columbia, talked about his new book The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, published by Henry Holt. He also discussed his background as an adviser about China to several presidential administrations, from the Nixon presidency to the Obama presidency.

For audio of the event on iTunes, please click here.

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March 26 Event: “Constructing Godzilla in Mid-Twentieth Century Japan and America:” Photos and Audio

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Photographs and audio are now available from the March 26, 2015 event “Constructing Godzilla in Mid-Twentieth Century Japan and America.” The event featured a lecture by Yoshiko Ikeda, Associate Professor, College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University and Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, and was moderated by Gregory Pflugfelder, Associate Professor of Japanese History, Columbia University.

For audio of the event on iTunes, please click here.

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