Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History

Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History

Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History

Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History


This trailblazing study examines the history of narcotics in Japan to explain the development of global criteria for political legitimacy in nations and empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Japan underwent three distinct crises of sovereignty in its modern history: in the 1890s, during the interwar period, and in the 1950s. Each crisis provoked successively escalating crusades against opium and other drugs, in which moral entrepreneurs--bureaucrats, cultural producers, merchants, law enforcement, scientists, and doctors, among others--focused on drug use as a means of distinguishing between populations fit and unfit for self-rule. Moral Nation traces the instrumental role of ideologies about narcotics in the country's efforts to reestablish its legitimacy as a nation and empire.

As Kingsberg demonstrates, Japan's growing status as an Asian power and a "moral nation" expanded the notion of "civilization" from an exclusively Western value to a universal one. Scholars and students of Japanese history, Asian studies, world history, and global studies will gain an in-depth understanding of how Japan's experience with narcotics influenced global standards for sovereignty and shifted the aim of nation building, making it no longer a strictly political activity but also a moral obligation to society.


One winter day in 1934, an elegantly muffled, elderly Chinese gentleman entered a Japanese police station in Harbin, the northernmost major city in the two-year-old state of Manchukuo. in a gloved hand, he held the long, rusty shackles with which he had chained his son, who trailed behind “as if he were a slave.” With tears in his eyes, the father begged the assembled officers to lock up the youth. Laughing at the odd spectacle, the police shook their heads and hustled the pair outside into the snow. a moment later, the son broke free of his parent’s grasp, reentered the station, and pleaded for a month or so of jail time “as the sole means of curing him” of his addiction to narcotics.

The British reporter who described the scene could scarcely believe his eyes, professing amazement that “such a horrid thing [drug consumption] is being openly allowed in a country aspiring to a place among the civilized nations of the world.” By the time this incident took place, “civilization” had long functioned as the defining justification of nationhood. Initially determined by the great powers of Europe, the criteria of civilization embraced a litany of political, economic, and social customs, practices, and beliefs associated with the moving target of “modernity.” Civilization was also a moral condition, and challenges to the legitimacy of the state were moral attacks, implying deficiencies in the values of a national community.

Given its constantly evolving nature, civilization could never be achieved, even by its framers. Crises of legitimacy thus erupted frequently throughout the world during the era of nation building. the response to these convulsions often took . . .

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