China in the Tokugawa World by Jansen, Marius B.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS | 01 March 2000
Paperback | 160 pages
This book challenges the traditional notion that Japan was an isolated nation cut off from the outside world and its influence in the early modern era. This familiar story of seclusion, argues master historian Marius B. Jansen, results from viewing the period solely in terms of Japan's ties with the West, at the expense of its relationship with closer Asian neighbours. Taking as his focus the port of Nagasaki and its thriving trade with China in the 16th century through the 19th centuries, Jansen not only corrects this misperception but offers an important analysis of the impact of the China trade on Japan's cultural, economic, and political life. Creating a vivid portrait of a city that lived on and for foreign trade, the author details Nagasaki's pivotal role in importing luxury goods for a growing Japanese market whose elite wanted more of everything that ships from China could bring. Silk, sugar, and ginseng were among the cargoes brought to Nagasaki as well as books that, by the late Tokugawa period, signaled the dangers of Western expansionism.
The junks from China brought people as well as goods, and the author provides clear evidence of the influence of Chinese expatriates and visitors on Japanese religion, law and art. Japan's intellectuals prided themselves on their full participation in the cultural milieu of the continental mainland, and for them China represented an ideal land of sages and tranquility. But gradually China came to represent, instead, a metaphor for the "Other", as Japan's quest for a national identity intensified. Among the Japanese, a new image of their nation was beginning to emerge: a Japan superior to Asia in general and to China in particular.