chapter  12
4 Pages

Concluding remarks


One of the pleasures of reading recent monographs in international history, of which the studies included in this book are excellent examples, is to realize the long distance that historians have travelled in their quest for original insights and novel interpretive schemes. The study of East Asian international relations, which serves as a broad framework for most of the chapters, till recently focused on wars: the wars between China and Japan, between Russia and Japan, between Germany and Japan, the Second World War, and the Cold War. Origins of wars were the starting point, even the principal preoccupation, of many a volume, and alliances, wartime diplomacy, peace treaties, and the like provided the meat of the story. Periods between wars were understood as preludes to another war, or else conceptualized in terms of a search for a new balance of power. All such themes took the nation state as the key unit of analysis. International relations were considered to consist of interactions among nations, and their relations with one another, whether in peacetime diplomacy or in war, were minutely examined in archival sources. In such a situation, there was little beyond nation-centred themes and arguments in the depiction of international history. It is only during the past twenty years or so that historians have begun to go beyond such traditional frameworks. First, there has been a shift away from a preoccupation with wars, hot and cold, toward a concern with what may be termed non-geopolitical phenomena. For instance, instead of comprehending the history of the 1920s as an inter-war period, which assumes that another war was just around the corner, historians have turned their attention to such topics as the League of Nations’ efforts to promote cultural communication among nations, to provide for the relief of refugees, or to eradicate communicable diseases. Or, to take another example, post-1945 history has begun to be examined not in the usual framework of the Cold War, but in terms of other themes like decolonization and economic globalization. It is entirely possible to view the history of the second half of the century in the framework of globalization. In such a perspective, the Cold War would be relegated to a footnote, not the master narrative. Moreover, the Cold War-centric perspective privileges the superpowers and their military weapons, whereas these other topics pay attention to smaller countries as well as to the non-Western parts of the world. To move away from the Cold War framework, then, is also to overcome the conventional

understanding of modern history that privileges the West and to bring the East or the South their due. Second, related to the move away from the focus on international conflict is to stress international cooperation and interdependence. This can best be illustrated by studies that focus on economic integration, as exemplified by regional communities. Nations give up part of their sovereign rights to enter into customs unions, work out schemes for common-border enforcement of law and order, or otherwise develop shared policies. We may also note the growingly popular subfield of ‘borderlands history’, a study of those areas in the world that cannot be entirely identified with nations or national boundaries, such as the areas overlapping the United States and Mexico, the United States and Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and indeed most parts of the world in which national boundaries have never meant national identities. Such identities are less important than the sharing of life styles and destinies on all sides of boundaries. Regional history and borderlands history have thus come together to weaken the traditional preoccupation with national sovereignty. Third, many international (as well as national) historians now emphasize the roles played by non-state actors as makers of history. Instead of examining the modern past in terms of how governments and military forces behaved, historians have begun to trace the evolution of business enterprises, non-governmental organizations, religious institutions, and the like that are not interchangeable with states or confined within state boundaries. This stress on non-state actors has resulted in the popularity of transnational history, an inquiry into the past not in terms of states but of forces, movements, and interactions across national boundaries. Transnational phenomena such as migrations, diseases, environmental hazards, and the like cannot be studied within national frameworks. The recently published Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History contains over four hundred entries, not one of which is definable within traditional conceptions of national or international affairs.1 Moreover, the fact that these articles were contributed by 350 writers from twenty-five countries suggests the growing practice of transnational scholarly collaboration. That in turn ensures that historical writing that focuses only on one or two nations will no longer be adequate. Instead of endlessly discussing when and how decisions for war were made, for instance, transnational historians tend to pay equal, even greater, attention to how individuals and non-state actors met, thereby creating transnational moments as another reality besides that defined by states. Fourth, larger transnational entities such as religions, races, and civilizations have also claimed increasing scholarly attention. In part under the influence of social history and culture studies that gained influence during the 1970s and the 1980s, international historians also began to notice race, gender, ethnicity, civilization, and other non-national subjects as important components of world ‘realities’. Instead of focusing on domestic ‘sub-cultures’ consisting of microscopic, local phenomena, however, historians of international relations have, since the 1990s, been paying attention to global interracial, gender, or trans-civilizational interactions. Historians today appear much more interested in these other

categories which, when combined with transnational phenomena such as climate change and the fate of endangered species, produce fascinating new perspectives in international history. All such historiographic developments seem to be related to, and promoted by, the recent vogue of world history and global history. Reflecting the awareness that it makes little sense to examine in close detail what happens within a country without relating it to the rest of the world, historians have been embracing these larger frameworks with increasing enthusiasm. World history as a genre has, of course, been around for a long time. William McNeill and other world historians had, since the 1960s, devoted their intellectual energies to examining such phenomena as diseases, demographic trends, money flows, and even crime (such as drug trafficking and piracy) as worldwide phenomena that cannot be separated from any discussion of national or international history. For a long time theirs had been a lonely endeavour, but in the 1990s other historians – Bruce Mazlish, Raymond Grew, Patrick Manning, Gerry Bentley, Christopher Bayly, to name but a few – joined the pioneering scholars and began to teach and write their versions of world history. World historians and global historians have been exploring movements that establish connections among nations and regions, as well as making comparisons across nations and regions. It is not surprising that, as a culmination of all these developments, globalization – economic, social, cultural – has emerged as a new conceptual scheme within which to trace historical developments, especially in the last two centuries. Many of the chapters in this volume fit admirably into one or more of these scholarly trends. To state the obvious first, the book is a product of transnational collaboration. British and Japanese historians have been undertaking scholarly cooperation for over thirty years, in the process broadening not only their respective intellectual horizons but also those of scholars from other countries. It may also be noted that while many of the chapters deal with the bilateral (BritishJapanese) relationship, which is a very traditional framework of analysis, that relationship is put in many perspectives – regional, international, transnational, global – that go far toward enriching our understanding of the past. To specify some of the valuable and fresh insights offered by the chapters, Antony Best gives an important analysis of the racial and cultural foundations – or rather, lack thereof – of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Robert Bickers provides a systematic analysis of a vital institution that has tended to be neglected in studies of Asian international affairs: China’s Imperial Customs Administration. The article shows how an institution established in China but initially controlled by British officials eventually grew more transnational, with the addition of Japanese and other nationals to its staff. Several articles offer new readings of Japan’s foreign affairs before the Second World War. Harumi Goto-Shibata’s study of Japan’s role in the League of Nations’ Opium Advisory Committee (OAC) throws light on a little understood aspect of the nation’s relationship with the League. Although it is customary to consider that relationship as having come to an end when Japan withdrew from the League in 1933, the author shows that the nation remained quite active

at the OAC. Our understanding of Japan in world affairs during the 1930s would have to take such information into consideration. That decade has also been studied in terms of the Japanese ideology of pan-Asianism, but Masataka Matsuura makes an important contribution by introducing the roles played by Indians in Japan. On the other hand, Hans van de Ven’s excellent chapter on the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities in 1937 refers to an essay by an Indian scholar who noted that ‘while Indian nationalists would welcome anything weakening the British, most had been appalled’ by the bombings. Whatever moral authority Japan may have enjoyed in the rest of Asia would seem to have evaporated after 1937. By referring to Japan’s ‘nauseating hypocrisy’, Anthony Eden may have been pointing to the restoration, to some extent any way, of British prestige in Asia as the other side of the coin of Japanese barbarism. British-Japanese relations, as even such an episode reveals, were quite central to the Asian regional order. Most studies of Asian-Pacific international relations have focused on just one player, in particular examined as an aspect of the imperial history of Britain, Japan, or the United States, but some of the chapters in this book point to the importance of the bilateral British-Japanese connection as a major component, even key, to regional order. The Anglo-Japanese relationship, as Joseph Maiolo’s excellent discussion of the naval treaties shows, played such a role during the 1920s and the 1930s. But other chapters extend the perspective to the post-1945 years. While Britain tends to disappear or be slighted in most accounts of the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the chapters by Tomoki Kuniyoshi and Peter Lowe show that Britain was very much present even at such U.S.-dominated scenes as the San Francisco peace conference and the formation of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, in both of which, as these authors demonstrate, London and Washington were more often in disagreement than acting in unison within the Cold War framework. The final two chapters in the book, studies of British-Japanese economic relations by Shigeru Akita and Nicholas White, round out the picture of postwar BritishJapanese relations. These chapters note the complementarity (Akita) as well as competition (White) between the two economies, but, despite their different emphases, the authors help us understand the transition from prewar economic nationalism to postwar globalization. In sum, then, the chapters in the book invite us to overcome our preoccupation with conventional themes (war, cold war, imperialism) and broaden our understanding, first, by noting multiple dimensions (economic, ideological, medical) of the Asian regional order, second, by taking the bilateral BritishJapanese relations to the level of global and transnational frameworks, and, third, by conceptualizing a new chronology of world history of which the various episodes depicted here will form integral parts.