In This Review

In Transit: The Formation of the Colonial East Asian Cultural Sphere (World of East Asia)
In Transit: The Formation of the Colonial East Asian Cultural Sphere (World of East Asia)
By Faye Yuan Kleeman
University of Hawaii Press, 2014, 295 pp

The short-lived Japanese empire (1895–1945) espoused a confused and contested ideology. One of its strands was assimilationist: Koreans, Taiwanese, and others were supposed to act as imperial subjects and, in some parts of the empire, were encouraged to accept Japanese names, language, culture, and even marriage partners. But the project was also racist, and many Japanese treated other Asians as inferior. The diverse ways in which both Japanese and colonial subjects navigated these contradictions have rarely been explored in English. Although Kleeman’s book is sometimes disjointed, it helps open up this interesting subject by examining the lives of a number of women who crossed boundaries for personal or professional reasons. Her subjects include Japanese aristocrats who married into Manchu or Korean royal families, fiction writers who romanticized colonial encounters, and actors and dancers who became exotic superstars. More people cooperated with the Japanese colonial project than most Asians today acknowledge or realize. But after World War II, many of these boundary crossers were rejected by their own societies, as anti-Japanese sentiments drove the reassertion of exclusively national identities.