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Iwanami Lecture Series, World History, vol.17 Kindai Asia no Dotai (The Dynamics of History in Modern Asia – The Nineteeth Century)


YOSHIZAWA Seiichiro and HAYASHI Kayoko (Responsible Editors)


318 pages, A5 format, hardcover




July 28, 2022



Published by

Iwanami Shoten

Japanese Page

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The history of modern Asia is fraught by clichéd descriptions, such as the conservative attitude of old dynasties, stagnant social conditions, the military superiority of Western powers, the colonization of Asia, and the assumption that Japan was the only nation in Asia with an enterprising spirit and the first to achieve modernization. However, this perspective overlooks the dynamism of Asian history. Volume 17 of Iwanami Koza, Sekai Rekishi (Iwanami Lecture Series, World History), the editorial board of which I have joined, entitled “The Dynamics of History in Modern Asia,” attempts a new historical picture underpinned by recent academic trends.
The newly published Iwanami Lecture Series, World History comprises 24 volumes, and is the third series to be published. The first series was published between 1969 and 1971, and the second was edited and published at the end of the twentieth century. Each series discusses world history for a wide audience based on the then extant research. In this third series, we approach world history from a new perspective in light of current research trends and the increasingly turbulent global state of affairs since the beginning of the twentieth-first century.
Professor Hayashi Kayoko, a specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire, and I were responsible for editing the 17th volume of the third series on Asia in the nineteenth century. In this volume, we dispel the stereotype of modern Asia as stagnant and backward, and present a vivid picture of Asian history in motion. In eleven chapters and five columns, we emphasize the importance of understanding the struggles and suffering of Asian people at the time. Each author offers an impressive account of the historical changes experienced by various modern Asian societies.
The general introduction, which I authored, makes four key points: (a) The dynasties that existed in various regions in the first half of the nineteenth century were not inept and stagnant but were marked by serious reform movements; (b) Asian governments and merchants gained economic benefits under the free-trade philosophy set forth by the British; (c) new religious revelations appeared throughout Asia and sought to provide spiritual salvation for people at a time of great social, economic, and political flux; and (d) the rapid advancement of military technological innovation in the West from about the mid-nineteenth century helped transform Asian nations through new military knowledge. These aspects allow us to represent each region of nineteenth century Asia as characterized by its own unique historical dynamics. We also highlight the phenomenon of contemporaneous commonality throughout Asia.

We consider this work of literature to be one of the first challenges in academia to present an overview of nineteenth century Asia. It is a modest endeavor to show that Japan’s nineteenth century experience of “trial-and-error national building” has much in common with other parts of Asia.

(Written by YOSHIZAWA Seiichiro, Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology / 2023)

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Iwanami Lecture Series, World History (all volumes)

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