Academic journal article Studies on Asia

The Dojinkai and the Promotion of Japanese Modernity in China, 1902-1937

Academic journal article Studies on Asia

The Dojinkai and the Promotion of Japanese Modernity in China, 1902-1937

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Japan's relations with the world were in transition at the turn of the twentieth century. Having in quick succession experienced the high of victory in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the shame of the Triple Intervention, in which Tokyo bowed to foreign pressure to restore Chinese territory, Japan then watched as Western powers divided China into spheres of influence in the Far Eastern Crisis of 1897-98. The Boxer Rebellion in 1900, however, allowed the Japanese an opportunity to enhance their position in the eyes of West when Japanese soldiers joined their Western counterparts in breaking the anti-foreign Boxers' siege in north China. After acquitting themselves well against the Boxers, Japan's status climbed even further with an alliance with Britain in 1902 and a victory over Russia in 1905. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century Japan had successfully joined the ranks of the Western powers.

In conjunction with this rise in Japan's international status was the evolving framework of Japanese Pan-Asianism. Moving away from calls for a union or alliance based on equality with their Asian neighbors, Japanese Pan-Asianists, in general, came to regard other Asian nations in the same light as the Western imperialists: as uncivilized countries that needed to be helped along the path to modernity. Unlike the Western imperialists, however, many Japanese believed that Japan, having recently modernized themselves and sharing historical cultural heritage with China, could mediate China's development as a modern nation. Rather than viewing China as an equal partner in their effort to stop Western encroachment, Japanese Pan-Asianists began advocating that Japan take the lead in saving China from its backwardness.

Despite professing this goal, Japanese Pan-Asianists often struggled to implement programs that offered tangible benefits to China's modernization. However, there was at least one Pan-Asianist organization that took an active and, in some instances, a beneficial role in aiding China: the Dojinkai ... (Association for Universal Benevolence). Founded in 1902, this association supported the advancement of medicine and medical science in China by establishing medical schools, clinics, and hospitals, as well as by exporting Japanese medical expertise and technology to the continent. Its members went beyond simple platitudes of a shared cultural heritage to convey to the Chinese a non-Western alternative path to reaching modernity, one which, while founded on Western scientific principles, was translated in a more accessible Asian cultural paradigm by the Japanese. The Dojinkai, in effect, attempted to harness ideological power of two competing notions, the societal benefits of a future looking modernity based on advanced medicine and science and a shared cultural heritage between China and Japan rooted in the past, to achieve its Pan-Asianist goal of a collectively stronger East Asia.

Until the establishment of the Dojinkai, the development of Western medicine in China had been frequently linked to Christian missionaries from the West. The Japanese, through the Dojinkai, provided the Chinese with a secular approach to medicine that advanced modernization without, they believed, threatening Chinese cultural heritage. In this way, the Dojinkai represents a concrete effort by Japanese Pan-Asianists at the turn of the century to effect change in China. Scholars have often maligned the Dojinkai, and Pan-Asianism in general, as an agent of Japanese imperialism owing to its activities on behalf of the Japanese army in China after the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. This article argues, however, that the Pan-Asianism that inspired the Dojinkai at the turn of the century was more complicated and nuanced than that which would later justify Japanese expansion and lead to the coopting of the Dojinkai itself as an imperial agent. In examining the organization's earlier activities prior to the 1930s, it becomes clear that the Dojinkai was not so much an agent of Japan's expansionism but a conduit for the promotion of the Japanese model of modernization in the making. …

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