The Center for East Asian Studies Hosts the Midwest Japan Seminar

Fri, February 13, 2009

Dr. Gates' research centers around Japanese Foreign Minister Uchida Yasuya, who headed the Japanese foreign ministry during parts of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. The paper presented at the conference was primarily focused on a discussion of Uchida's positions on the theory of Pan-Asianism as well as the policies he interacted with and shaped. One of the issues at stake is the difficulty in clearly defining and or categorizing Pan-Asianism. Gates suggested there are two underlying concepts that help to define Pan-Asianism: first that there is a cohesive culturally, geographically or racially defined "Asia," and second that the West is an imperialistic threat to this entity so much so that the Asian nations should band together to face that threat. The position of Japan as the leader of this collective is reflected in a number of interpretations, although it became apparent during the discussion that there is no clear cut definition that applies in all discussions of Pan-Asianism.

Gates' analysis of Uchida suggested that, through a close examination of his early memoirs and a discussion of a novel he wrote notes for (but never completed), Uchida could be viewed in a Pan-Asianist light. Uchida was very concerned about the threat of the West, and often discussed the need to band together with China (in particular) in order to face that threat. However, during the lively and spirited discussion, much of the conversation centered around Uchida's pragmatic perspective, his intense loyalty to Japan, and the possibility that some of his more Pan-Asianist policies and perspectives were developed out of a sense of pragmatic statesmanship, rather than a fiercely rabid ideological stance.

Dr. Sokolsky's paper arose out of her new research into Taiwanese women writers who wrote in Japanese during Japan's rule of Taiwan. Her paper focused primarily on an analysis of writer Yang Qianhe's short story "Hana saku kisetsu" (The Season when Flowers Bloom), that appeared in an anthology of colonial Taiwanese literature titled Nihon tochiki Taiwan bungaku: Taiwanjin sakka sakuhinshu (Taiwan literature during Japan's Rule: A collection of works by Taiwan writers). Yang, as a woman growing up in Japan-controlled Taiwan had access to a level of education women of previous generations did not. She attended Taihoku joshi koto gakuin (Taipe's Women's College), a two-year finishing school, an "elite and hybrid space of culture" where both Taiwanese and Japanese young women were educated. She was also one of three female reporters working for the Japanese run Taiwan nichi nichi shinpo (Taiwan Daily News) in the early 1940s.

Sokoslky's reading of Yang's coming-of-age story about a young woman graduating from college who fears she will no longer remain in touch with her fellow female students is glossed by Yang's memoir, written in the latter years of her life. The story itself has a number of interesting elements, including opening with a quote from French author Andre Maurois' 1939 The Art of Living (L'Art de vie), a discussion of the colonial make up of the narrator's graduating class, and a constant discussion, on the part of the narrator, of the pull between marriage and "knowing herself." Sokoslky suggested that although "Hana saku kisetsu" is not overtly political, the unrest of the times, Yang's unique position as a woman who was educated under the auspices of a colonial power, a newspaper woman, and her admitted awareness of the political climate all demand a more nuanced reading of the short story. The vigorous discussion centered around possible nuances to Sokoslky's reading of Yang's short story and the implications of women's narratives. Sokoslky concluded by delineated her future avenues of research, which include plans to find other stories by Taiwanese women writing in Japanese.

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