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Benjamin A. Elman's Speech in Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

The Great Reversal: The “Rise of Japan” and the “Fall of China” after 1895 as Historical Fables

 

(Benjamin A. Elman)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The “rise of Japan” and the “fall of China” in the late nineteenth century are story lines that dominated Sinology and Japanology in the twentieth century. In the first lecture, Benjamin Elman uesd a 2006 website controversy concerning Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 to indicate that in the twenty-first century we are entering new historical terrain vis-à-vis “modern” China and Japan. Wars and cultural history are inseparable. The competing/complementary narratives constructed by the victors and the losers of wars on the ground and at sea enshroud the past in a thick ideological fog. Seeing through the fog created by the "First" (or was it the "Second"? the "Third"?) Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 allows us to place Sino-Japanese cultural interactions before 1894 in a new light with less teleology and fewer blind spots. The Meiji “rise of Japan” as event and narrative empowered uniquely “modernist” critiques of the “decadence” of Chinese art, traditional Chinese history, and conveniently provided Chinese revolutionaries with a “failed China” in a post-war East Asian world.

 

(by Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies, Harvard University)

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