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

A teenaged Meiji Emperor with foreign representatives at the end of the Boshin War, 1868-1870. This was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court.

A teenaged Meiji Emperor with foreign representatives at the end of the Boshin War, 1868-1870. This was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court.

From Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, lecture on the “rise of Japan” and the “fall of China” in the late nineteenth century.

Professor Benjamin Elman will talk about 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. 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.

Article featured image:
The Russo – Japanese war between 1904 and 1905.
It was the first major military victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European nation. Russia’s defeat was a shock in the West and across the Far East. Image from nnegotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905.