Rule by Association: Japan in the Global Trans-Imperial Culture, 1868-1912


John L. Hennessey

PhD defended at: 

Linnaeus University


This dissertation argues that during the height of the New Imperialism during the latter half of the long nineteenth century, the various colonial powers around the world co-produced a “global trans-imperial culture” that was facilitated by a common knowledge infrastructure, including international congresses, trans-imperial scholarly exchange and expositions. Japan was an important member of this “colonial club” and was deeply engaged with evolving global colonial discourse and practice throughout this period. The dissertation has three interrelated aims. First, it applies new theories of inter-imperial exchange and cooperation to the Japanese Empire. Second, it works to dismantle persistent notions of Japan as a marginal latecomer to the community of imperial powers by demonstrating that Japan engaged with trans-imperially circulating discourses and practices from as early as 1868 and contributed to the development of the culture as a whole. Finally, it employs a series of case studies to illustrate how colonial knowledge was transferred across imperial boundaries: the transmission of American technologies of settler colonialism to Hokkaido in the 1870s, domestic and international debates over the “colonial” status of Taiwan around the turn of the twentieth century and the representation of Japan’s colonial territories at expositions in the 1910s. Throughout the dissertation, theories of colonial association, an anti-assimilationist approach to colonial administration that became popular in the late nineteenth century, serve as a kind of overarching case study that illuminates the consistency and “timeliness” of Japanese colonial discourse in the global trans-imperial culture. Although assimilation and association are frequently treated as unchanging traits of specific empires (with France and Japan typically identified as assimilationist and Britain and the Netherlands as associationist), this dissertation contends that shifts between assimilation and association happened concurrently in different empires around the world, providing important evidence of a common trans-imperial culture. It will demonstrate that Japanese colonial elites engaged with these ideas at the same time as their counterparts in Western empires, with Japan’s famous radical assimilation campaign coming only in the final years of its empire.