Hirota Masaki And The Limits Of The Nation: An Annotated Excerpt From Bunmei Kaikai To MinshÛ Ishiki

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This annotated translation of an excerpt by Hirota Masaki makes available in English Hirota's discussion, in Bunmei kaika to minshû ishiki (Civilization and enlightenment and the people's consciousness), of the development of the people's political subjectivity during Japan's transformation from bakuhan bureaucracy to modern imperial state. The translation is preceded by a brief translator's introduction, which places Hirota's work into its historiographical context and directs the reader's attention to key points in the excerpt. In this excerpt, one of Hirota's primary concerns is the role that non-elites themselves played in the construction of the new polity. He argues that, far from being a monolithic entity, the village communities (which comprised the large majority of Japan's population at the time) were composed of three different social strata, each with its own distinctive relation to bunmei kaika. For Hirota, the interactions among these different layers of society were instrumental in shaping the character of, and the tensions within, the modern Japanese nation. In the first half of the excerpt, Hirota analyzes the ruling class's motivations for creating a national polity, and examines the uneasy combination of Enlightenment and Emperor ideologies that underpinned the kaika policies used to control the populace and harness its energies in service of the state. In the second half of the excerpt, Hirota examines the political subjectivities that were slowly beginning to emerge under the tumultuous political and social conditions of the late-Tokugawa and early-Meiji eras. He shows how these conditions, combined with the civilizational logic of the kaika policies, empowered some groups and disempowered others; and how the process of nation-building led to new forms of "degradation and discrimination" for the lower social strata. The result, he argues, was ultimately a "homogeneous nation" that, to this day, remains self-alienated and unequal.

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Hirota Masaki; bunmei kaika; minshûshi; peoples history school


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Sakai, Naoki

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de Bary, Brett
Koschmann, Julien Victor
Seth, Suman

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East Asian Literature

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M.A., East Asian Literature

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Master of Arts

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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