Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan's Imperialism, 1895-1945

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Overview


In this major reassessment of Japanese imperialism in Asia, Mark Driscoll foregrounds the role of human life and labor. Drawing on subaltern postcolonial studies and Marxism, he directs critical attention to the peripheries, where figures including Chinese coolies, Japanese pimps, trafficked Japanese women, and Korean tenant farmers supplied the vital energy that drove Japan's empire. He identifies three phases of Japan's capitalist expansion, each powered by distinct modes of capturing and expropriating life and labor: biopolitics (1895–1914), neuropolitics (1920–32), and necropolitics (1935-45). During the first phase, Japanese elites harnessed the labor of marginalized subjects as Japan colonized Taiwan, Korea, and south Manchuria, and sent hustlers and sex workers into China to expand its market hegemony. Linking the deformed bodies laboring in the peripheries with the "erotic-grotesque" media in the metropole, Driscoll centers the second phase on commercial sexology, pornography, and detective stories in Tokyo to argue that by 1930, capitalism had colonized all aspects of human life: not just labor practices but also consumers’ attention and leisure time. Focusing on Japan's Manchukuo colony in the third phase, he shows what happens to the central figures of biopolitics as they are subsumed under necropolitical capitalism: coolies become forced laborers, pimps turn into state officials and authorized narcotraffickers, and sex workers become "comfort women". Driscoll concludes by discussing Chinese fiction written inside Manchukuo, describing the everyday violence unleashed by necropolitics.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] highly imaginative study. . . . By bringing the painful human cost of empire to the forefront in a way that few other scholars writing in English have, and linking those costs to larger economic structures and cultural phenomena, Driscoll has made a significant contribution to the growing field of Japanese colonial studies.”
- ERIK ESSELSTROM, American Historical Review

“A good book teaches you things you don’t know. A very good book does that and also changes the way you think about things in general. Mark Driscoll’s recent study, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque examines labor and social change in the days of the Japanese empire, and it is a very good book.” - Alexis Dudden, Monumental Nipponica

“[A] thought-provoking narrative of Japanese imperialism. . . . The book not only conceptualizes theoretical literatures of postcolonial studies and Marxism but also suggests concrete historical knowledge. I believe the book will attract readers not only in history but also comparative literature, cultural studies, psychology and philosophy.” - Sang Mi Park, Pacific Affairs

“[P]rovocatively argued and spiritedly written. . . . an audacious book. Bold, challenging, and refreshingly unrestrained by snooze-inducing generic conventions, Driscoll unapologetically shoves you into the muck of Japan’s modernity, breaches those vast colonial silences that ‘absorb all behavior, no matter how dirty, how animal it gets,’ and somehow makes the experience pleasurable. I can’t help but desire to be shoved further, past 1945, to trace vampiric revenants of the bio/neuro/necropolitical in postwar Japan. Perhaps there’s a sequel to be made.” - Gerald Figal, Journal of Japanese Studies

“Driscoll squarely confronts the real human costs of Japanese imperialism. He rightly demands that the problem of colonial labour be placed at the centre of abstract discussions of ‘resources,’ modernization, and late development. He also skillfully exposes the ‘ideological fantasy’ of Japan’s wartime leaders and the ways in which ‘civilizer/looter’ represented two sides of the same imperialist coin.” - Janis Mimura, Labour/Le Travail

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is a stupendous study of Japanese empire. While existing studies often revolve around the analysis of colonial institutions (such as the army, government, and market) and discourses of colonial modernity, Mark Driscoll takes us into a wholly different terrain of politics, bringing out of their historical coffins the ‘subaltern of the subaltern,’ from coolies, human traffickers, prostitutes, hustlers, and drug dealers to comfort women and suicidal soldiers.”—Hyun Ok Park, author of Two Dreams in One Bed: Empire, Social Life, and the Origins of the North Korean Revolution in Manchuria

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is not simply an informed account of Japan’s imperial adventure in Asia but also an original and thought-provoking rethinking of how we must proceed if we are to understand the dynamic relationship between the theoretically general and the historically concrete. One of the book’s principal effects is to liberate the discourse of postcolonialism from its dominant Anglo-Indian emphasis by grounding it in a different historical and imperial configuration.”—Harry D. Harootunian, author of The Empire’s New Clothes: Paradigm Lost, and Regained

“This book will be an essential touchstone for our understanding of twentieth-century imperialism, and of the transformation of labor under twentieth-century capitalism. Mark Driscoll’s elaboration of the notion of the biopolitical is the most imaginative and productive use of the concept that I have seen. His meticulous and wide-ranging research, drawing on Chinese and Korean sources as well as on his thorough mastery of Japanese archival and scholarly literature, not only makes a clear case for the specificity of the Japanese imperial project but offers crucial genealogical insights into the emergence of modern East Asian regimes of capital. Written with commitment, wit, and vision, it is also a great pleasure to read.”—Christopher Leigh Connery, author of The Empire of the Text: Writing and Authority in Early Imperial China

ERIK ESSELSTROM

“[A] highly imaginative study. . . . By bringing the painful human cost of empire to the forefront in a way that few other scholars writing in English have, and linking those costs to larger economic structures and cultural phenomena, Driscoll has made a significant contribution to the growing field of Japanese colonial studies.”
Sang Mi Park

“[A] thought-provoking narrative of Japanese imperialism. . . . The book not only conceptualizes theoretical literatures of postcolonial studies and Marxism but also suggests concrete historical knowledge. I believe the book will attract readers not only in history but also comparative literature, cultural studies, psychology and philosophy.”
Gerald Figal

“[P]rovocatively argued and spiritedly written. . . . an audacious book. Bold, challenging, and refreshingly unrestrained by snooze-inducing generic conventions, Driscoll unapologetically shoves you into the muck of Japan’s modernity, breaches those vast colonial silences that ‘absorb all behavior, no matter how dirty, how animal it gets,’ and somehow makes the experience pleasurable. I can’t help but desire to be shoved further, past 1945, to trace vampiric revenants of the bio/neuro/necropolitical in postwar Japan. Perhaps there’s a sequel to be made.”
Alexis Dudden

“A good book teaches you things you don’t know. A very good book does that and also changes the way you think about things in general. Mark Driscoll’s recent study, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque examines labor and social change in the days of the Japanese empire, and it is a very good book.”
Janis Mimura

“Driscoll squarely confronts the real human costs of Japanese imperialism. He rightly demands that the problem of colonial labour be placed at the centre of abstract discussions of ‘resources,’ modernization, and late development. He also skillfully exposes the ‘ideological fantasy’ of Japan’s wartime leaders and the ways in which ‘civilizer/looter’ represented two sides of the same imperialist coin.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822347613
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,279,701
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Driscoll is Associate Professor of Japanese and International Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the editor and translator of Katsuei Yuasa’s Kannani and Document of Flames: Two Japanese Colonial Novels, also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

ABSOLUTE EROTIC, ABSOLUTE GROTESQUE

THE LIVING, DEAD, AND UNDEAD IN JAPAN'S IMPERIALISM, 1895-1945
By Mark Driscoll

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4761-3


Chapter One

COOL(IE) JAPAN [The coolies'] one passion seemed to be patient, eternal toil. Nothing stopped them in their work. And in that manner they laid the foundation of economic and financial power.... The history of the development of Manchuria is the story of the Shantung Coolie, nothing more. ADACHI KINNOSUKE, MANCHURIA: A SURVEY

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. CECIL RHODES

Desire, combined with what North Chinese themselves called the "desperation pushing us into Manchuria" (chuang guandong), drove one of the largest movements of people in modern history. What Thomas Gottschang and Diana Lary (2000) call the "great migration" to northeastern China saw roughly twenty-five million people move there from the densely populated North China provinces of Shandong and Hebei from 1890 to 1940. Only the century-long emigration of fifty-two million people from Europe between 1840 and the 1930s was larger. To talk about migration initially in terms of desire is not to downplay the various forces that induce the desperately poor to sever themselves from home and enter a labor diaspora. In the case of the Shandong "coolies," even considering the relatively short several-hundred-mile move into neighboring northeastern China, it would be hard to underestimate the miserable conditions in which poor farmers, skilled workers, and itinerant laborers found themselves in the 1890s and early twentieth century.

After the Second Opium War, Euro-American powers imposed the "Open Door" policy of free trade with China, designed to provide easier access for their capitalists, hungry for market share of what had been, until the 1840s, the world's largest economy. This regime of unequal treaties laid the groundwork for the initial accumulation by dispossession of North China by England, the United States, Germany, and others. Northeast China was likewise forcefully inserted into the global economy, first by Russia and Britain and then by Japan.

The areas in China being buffeted by these political and economic pressures had, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), suffered droughts in 233 of those years and floods in 245 of them. Environmental and geopolitical catastrophes like these impelled some Japanese elites to foreground what Wendy Brown calls, in a somewhat different context, the "states of injury" of hapless Chinese (Brown 1995). However, as Brown warns, hegemonic power is working whenever states of injury are enumerated. The injurious state of Chinese coolies at the hands of brutal Euro-American colonizers and gunboat imperialists was played up by Japanese imperialists intent on showing how, as Asians, their own treatment of Chinese labor was necessarily brotherly and humane. The civilizing missionary positions taken by Japanese colonizers were proclaimed with the confidence that a racial unity with Chinese and shared cultural history with China would mystify the fact that coolie labor-waged much lower than it was sold-single-handedly produced value in Japanese-controlled and colonized Northeast China.

Japanese colonialists also justified the move to continental Asia as a selfless desire to civilize. They pointed to their tentacle-like railroad system-first laid down on top of an incipient Russian base in 1905 and continually expanded until the end of the Second World War-and the discounted fourth-class passage that seasonal Chinese workers occasionally received to usher them to multiple labor sites as Japanese imperialism's emblem of a modernizing system. This emblem, of course, was also a symptom of capital's need for cheap labor. For the new railroads were Japan's imperial response to the problem identified by Foucault as specific to both capitalism's formal subsumption and to biopolitics: the problem of population. Railroads answered the question of the population with the fixed capital to "attach workers firmly to the production apparatus, to settle them or move them where it needs them to be-in short, to constitute them as a labor force" (Foucault 1997, 34).

To extend only slightly the epigraph from the journalist Adachi, the history of the de- and repossession of Northeast China by Japan's imperialism is the story of the Chinese coolie, nothing more. Japanese dreams of empire in Asia built on the backs of cheap coolie labor surfaced even before the consolidation of its modern nation-state in 1868. In London in 1862 the Satsuma diplomat Godai Tomoatsu was reported to have "asked about the possibility of using Chinese and Indian laborers under Japanese direction to establish an East Asian center of industrial economic power" (Jansen 1965, 59-60). This wish was fulfilled immediately after the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War was signed in New Hampshire on 5 September 1905. Thereafter, Tokutomi Soho, Natsume Soseki, and other imperialists saw Japan's imperial future in the Manchurian present embodied in the reserve army of coolie labor. Soseki was initially disconcerted by the sheer number of "filthy" coolies he saw when he first landed at Dalian Harbor in September 1909, describing them as "a surging multitude ... buzzing and swarming like angry wasps" (2002, 39). The famous novelist was invited to visit Japan's new colony by his school friend Nakamura Zeko, the second president of the South Manchurian Railway Company. However, by the end of his trip through Manchuria he came away with a glowing report of the capacity for coolies to slave tirelessly for Japanese capitalist concerns, never complaining even among themselves, "as silent as people who had lost their tongues" (65). Their willingness to work robotically "from morning to evening without pause" led Soseki to conclude his travelogue to East Asia, written for the bourgeois readers of the Asahi newspaper, "Chinese coolies are superb workers ... moreover, they are utterly compliant" (66; translation modified).

Sent on a fact-finding mission in 1923 to document the extent of Japan's colonial provenance on mainland China, the journalist Adachi Kinnosuke twice marvels in his chronicle at the surging multitude-what he racially others as the "black tide"-of coolies laboring tirelessly for capitalist enterprises in Manchuria. He first narrates how Northeast China was "conquered" by illegal coolie migrants from neighboring Shandong province in the nineteenth century. Although the Qing first tried to ban and then to restrict migration into their home region of the Northeast until 1878 to protect cultural homogeneity, rich landlords secretly encouraged destitute coolies to work their land. Adachi explains, "Native Manchurians who owned the land liked the Chinese workmen to come into Manchuria. Why? For just one all-sufficient reason: they could turn over the farm lands to the Chinese and enjoy their simple life by the sweat of somebody else's brow" (1925, 42).

The "pull" elements of the labor market needs of the capitalist and landlord class were matched with "push" factors enumerated by Adachi in terms borrowed from Japanese colonial discourse of the early twentieth century. Although an ensemble of environmental, geopolitical, and economic causes were often invoked to explain the social chaos impacting North China as the Qing dynasty imploded, the overriding cause identified by Japanese colonizers for poor Chinese migrants coming to Manchuria was raciological: Chinese are genetically programmed for slave-like work. Reassuring his readers that there was nothing mysterious about the historical fact of Manchuria's being "conquered" and "colonized" initially by coolies, Adachi hypothesizes coolly, "No race known to history has ever beaten the Chinese in patience and persistence of striving for the thing their hearts desired" (1925, 42). This essentialist explanation of the coolie's desire for the kinds of labor that no other race of people would do was self-evident, "as simple as it is apparent" (44).

It was the ability of the Chinese coolie to live on cheap, coarse food-such food as is given to cattle in other lands.... Not only that but thriving on it. Even to this very day the physique, the power of physical endurance, of the Chinese coolie is the eternal wonder of the Japanese. Beside the Chinese coolie the Japanese workmen are pale and puny. With the sensational rise in living expenses in the Far East in recent years, I found, last year, the coolies in Manchuria were living on seven cents a day. (44)

Adachi strips coolie labor of all demands and nearly all human needs. The only thing that remains is "their one passion-patient, eternal toil. Nothing stopped them in their work" (44). With the Chinese willing to dine on cattle fodder and dog food, there was no reason for Japanese capitalists to pay them any more than the going rate for animal shelter and feed; they needed just enough to socially reproduce their labor so as to guarantee another long day of expropriating surplus. By 1860 Marx was using the term "Chinese wages" (1977, 749) as a code for the miserable remuneration tossed at the most oppressed class of workers in the world. Many Japanese capitalists thought to themselves, Why pay Chinese more, when there are no coolie demands for higher wages and no manifest coolie needs other than that of living for work? Given this population racism toward Chinese coolies, the proper response for Japanese colonizers appeared to be a fortunate convergence of capital and biopolitics: provide conditions that would expand Chinese life by guaranteeing arduous work. So Japan's colonial territory in the Guandong Lease and South Manchuria was turned into a massive composite of job fair, debtor's prison, and labor camp.

Japan's Manchuria

The signifiers "Manchuria" in English and "Manshu" in Japanese are part of a colonial discourse designating these terms as unrelated to China's territorial sovereignty. Until the communist victory in 1949, the area was called in Chinese Dongsansheng, the Three Eastern Provinces. It is referenced in contemporary Mandarin simply as Dongbei, or the Northeast. The region was in the midst of political and economic reform when Japan defeated Russia and obtained the latter's lease on the southern part of the Liaodong Peninsula in 1905. Along with the Guandong Leased Territories, totaling 3,462 square kilometers, Japan claimed a narrow strip of land containing the Russian-built South Manchurian Railway and the profitable Fushun coal mine. The area that came to be called the South Manchurian Railway Zone was only 260 square kilometers, while the line itself had a total length of 1,105 kilometers. In addition, Japan obtained rights from the Qing government to establish Japanese settlements in four major Manchurian cities. In 1906 the Qing allowed a Japanese consulate general to be established in Manchuria's capital city, Fengtian (Mukden), and smaller ones in Changchun, Kirin, Andong, Yingkou, and Xinmintun (Sakatani 1980). Although deterritorializing energy in the form of Japanese traffickers and sex workers had come to the area beginning in the 1870s, followed the next decade by small groups of soshi solders of fortune, the victory over China in 1895 allowed many Japanese imperialists a chance to develop a taste for this part of China, and their devouring began in earnest in 1905. The agency that came to direct these hungry incorporations was the South Manchurian Railway Company (SMR).

The SMR was created in November 1906 by the Emperor Meiji's decree for the purpose of managing the coal mines and railroads won from Russia. Its corporate offices were in the new warm water port of Dalian, then under construction. Two months earlier Japan's Guandong government general (Kanto totokufu) was set up to exercise juridical and civilian control over the colonial territories and railway zones, working in tandem with Japan's Guandong army, which was responsible for security in the leased territories, railway zones, and consular areas. The SMR was also a vital source of colonial power. Despite the fact that it was established as a commercial enterprise with shareholders, the SMR immediately began to operate as a de facto ministry of colonial affairs in the Guandong Lease. While its official directive focused on the need to bring the universal, and purportedly neutral, gifts of capitalist development and modern civilization to the region, its real mission, as Matsusaka Y. T. argues, "was nothing less than the colonization of Northeast China" (2001, 4). Indeed, the SMR's founders, including its first president, Goto Shinpei, explicitly invoked Britain's East India Company as their model (Ando 1965, 33-35). Such colonial enterprises operated "not as mere businesses," Goto argued when the SMR charter was being drawn up, but as entities that "represented the state and accordingly exercised a measure of the sovereign power of the state" (Matsusaka 2001, 91). Goto was effectively saying that the SMR should follow the precedent he established when he led Japan's colonizing enterprise in Taiwan.

Biopoliticians on Drugs

Goto was a polyglot and a doctor who studied hygiene and immunology in Germany for eighteen months in 1890 and 1891, receiving his medical degree in Munich. As the result of his published article on the importance of quarantining soldiers returning from war (together with incessant letter writing to officials offering scientific answers for the health and immunological problems of the day), he was given an appointment in the army's Health Bureau. There, Japan's first modern immunologist directed a quarantine system for soldiers returning from the war with China in May and June 1895 (Tsurumi Y. 1937, vol. 1, 694-96; Mikuriya 2004, 104). The success of Goto's program led to his appointment at the Home Ministry, where one of his major proposals urged the Foreign Ministry not to outlaw opium in Taiwan-despite a majority in favor of doing just that-but to regulate its use and profit from the monopoly Japanese would enjoy as the only wholesale dealers. Furthermore, they could extract money by requiring Chinese retailers and opium den proprietors to pay taxes and fees to the Japanese. Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi was convinced, and in February 1896 he ordered the Taiwan governor general to implement Goto's policy (Goto S. 1911, 58-59; Liu 1983, 74-75).

In 1897 Goto set up the Bureau of Opium in Taiwan to monopolize importation, production, and sales of the drug. His plan was to fix the price so high that, together with the custom duty on British opium, it would generate 2.4 million yen annually-the same amount as the total tax revenue obtained by Japanese colonizers for 1897 (Matsushita 1926, 38). In 1898 and 1899 government opium revenues constituted a whopping 46 percent and 42 percent of all revenues of the Taiwan colonial government (Liu 1983, 185). During the first few years, when colonial administrators were under immense pressure to release Japanese domestic taxpayers from the burden of colonization, opium was the commodity that answered this demand. Some Japanese elites, frustrated by the unexpectedly high costs of colonization in the first years, had even called for selling Taiwan to France. I don't think it's stretching the point to suggest that there might not have been any Japanese colonization without this commitment to drug dealing. Although it fell gradually as a percentage of total revenue, the opium revenues increased every year until 1918, when they peaked at over eight million yen. During the First World War opium still made up 16 percent of total revenue. After 1905 some of the huge profits came from the export of opium to Manchuria, where Japanese wholesalers began to compete legally (after two decades of black market dealing) with Chinese for the profitable opium market there. Coolie laborers would be among their loyal customers. Goto confessed to the sensitivity surrounding Japan's drug dealing in 1914, when, referring to the opium profits, he conceded, "[The] measures used to attain rapid financial independence were expedients that could have caused us acute embarrassment if discovered by foreigners" (1921, 50).

(Continues...)



Excerpted from ABSOLUTE EROTIC, ABSOLUTE GROTESQUE by Mark Driscoll Copyright © 2010 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface....................ix
Acknowledgments....................xvii
Abbreviations....................xxi
Introduction....................1
1. Cool(ie) Japan....................25
2. Peripheral Pimps....................57
3. Empire in Hysterics....................81
4. Stubborn Farmers and Grotesqued Korea....................101
Intertext I. A Korean is being beaten; I, a Japanese colonizer, am being beaten....................119
5. All That's Solid Melts into Modern Girls and Boys....................135
6. Revolutionary Pornography and the Declining Rate of Pleasure....................161
Intertext II. Neuropolitics Sprouts Fangs....................203
7. The Opiate of the (Chinese) People....................227
8. Japanese Lessons....................263
Conclusion: Bare Labor and the Empire of the Living Dead....................295
Notes....................315
Bibliography....................327
Index....................345
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