An Intellectual ‘Great Game’

The Origins of American and East Asian Concepts of Modernity, 1860–1920

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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This essay studies the Japanese model and the origins of modernity in East Asia and the United States. Japanese innovations in the 1870s to 1890s impacted Chinese attempts at modernization in the initial decades of the 20th Century. This resulted in a strong connection between modern thinking and the rise of civic nationalism in East Asia and the United States. Asian intellectuals picked the most useful parts of Confucianism and combined them with Western ideas. Modern thinking among American intellectuals arose at about the same time as East Asian modernity but under very different conditions. Modern thinkers in East Asia, under intense external pressure from Western imperialism, were highly motivated and innovative in projecting forward a vision later carried out in a full-scale modernization. In the United States, however, the conditions of modernity arrived first. Incessant industrialization, urbanization, and immigration after the Civil War caused American modern thinkers to develop innovative new perspectives and approaches to meet these challenges. Successful Japanese modernization created an alternative to Western imperialism that appealed to any Asian country under threat or reality of Western hegemony.

An Intellectual ‘Great Game’

The Origins of American and East Asian Concepts of Modernity, 1860–1920

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations



Ibid. pp. 113 173–177.


Martin W. Lewis and Karen WigenThe Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press1997) 53.


Jon Thares DavidannCultural Diplomacy in United States Japanese Relations 1919–1941 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan2007) chapter 1; Jon Thares Davidann A World of Crisis and Progress: The American ymca in Japan 1890–1930 (Bethlehem pa: Lehigh University Press 1998) chapters 1 and 6; Edward W. Said Orientalism First Edition (New York: Vintage Books 1979) introduction.


Dorothy Ross“American Modernities, Past and Present,” American Historical Review 116 no. 3 (June 2011): 702.


BaylyThe Birth of the Modern World 1780–1914 p. 2; Michael Adas "Modernization Theory and the American Revival of Scientific and Technological Standards of Social Achievement and Human Worth" in Staging Growth p. 39.


Fukuzawa YukichiAn Outline of a Theory of Civilization (New York: Columbia University Press2009) 17 45.


FukuzawaThe Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi pp. 179 215.


 Quoted in CraigCivilization and Enlightenment p. 138.


PyleThe New Generation in Meiji Japan p. 29.


GluckJapan’s Modern Myths pp. 120–27.


Jung-Pang LoKang Yuwei: A Biography and a Symposium (Tucson: University Press of Arizona1967) 83–84.


 See Jung ChangEmpress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China (New York: Knopf2013).


ZarrowChina in War and Revolution pp. 23–29; Chan Wing-tsit “Kang Yuwei and the Confucian Doctrine of Humanity (Jen)” in Lo Kang Yuwei pp. 356–60.


ZarrowChina in War and Revolution pp. 62–63. For studies of Liang Qichao see Joseph Levenson Liang Chichao and the Mind of Modern China (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 1953) and Phillip C. Huang Liang Qichao and Modern Chinese Liberalism (Seattle: University of Washington Press 1972). Both intellectual historians show Liang attempting to shake China out of its traditions and introduce modernity to the nation. Levenson emphasizes Liang’s commitment to revitalizing China outside of Western imperialism by attempting to use the values of modern Western liberalism to do so. Huang argues that Liang was conflicted between his individual liberalism and his nationalist tendencies. Both works are somewhat dated.


HuangLiang Chichao and Modern Chinese Liberalism p. 47.


Louis MenandThe Metaphysical Club (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux2001) x. Jackson Lears’ review of Menand’s book confirms the important role of the American Civil War in destroying the intellectual foundations of American thought and delaying the rise of modernity to the late 19th and early 20th Century crises of urbanization industrialization and immigration. None of the book’s reviews took on a critique of Menand’s thesis. Jackson Lears Review of The Metaphysical ClubJournal of American History 89 no. 3 (December 2002): 1018.


 See Daniel OkrentLast Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (New York: Scribner2010).


MenandThe Metaphysical Club p. 378.


William JamesA Pluralistic Universe: Hibbert Lectures at Manchester College on the Present Situation in Philosophy (New York: Longmans, Green1909) 330–31.


Randolph Bourne“Twilight of Idols,” The Seven Arts11 (October 1917): 688–702.


John Dewey“Public Opinion,” The New RepublicMay 3 1922 p. 288.


John DeweyThe Child and the Curriculum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1902) 22–26; John P. Diggins The Rise and Fall of the American Left (New York: W.W. Norton 1992) 20–21. See also John P. Diggins The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1994).


Franz Boas“Human Faculty as Determined by Race,” Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science XLIII (1894): 306–308.


David W. NobleThe End of American History: Democracy Capitalism and the Metaphor of Two Worlds in Anglo-American Writing 1880–1945 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press1985) introduction.


 See C. Vann WoodwardThe Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press2002); Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1996); C. Vann Woodward Origins of the New South 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press 1971).


Jay MartinThe Education of John Dewey: A Biography (New York: Columbia University Press2002) 322.


Ibid. p. 2.


 See Richard Calichman (ed.)Overcoming Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan (New York: Columbia University Press2008).


Li ZhisuiThe Private Life of Chairman Mao (New York: Random House1994) 607.


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