Narrating China, Ordering East Asia: The Discourse on Nation and Ethnicity in Imperial Japan

  • Kevin M. Doak Georgetown University


            Geography, like the nation, is very much a state of mind. Concepts of place and spatial relationships involve a web of imaginative acts and projections of interests and desires by those who are empowered with the representation of space. Cultural and geographical imaginations draw from and act on both the hard limits imposed by the presence of physical terrain and the past of earlier representations that we often call “tradition.” And yet, the power of geographical mapping lies not only in specific natural features, but also in the cultural and political resources of strategic representations.  As such, the imaginative construction and reconstruction of nations and regions are historical projects.  They draw from the events of their time, as well as the constantly changing discursive frameworks that are available to them, in order to present the image of a necessary relationship among contiguous political bodies.  What makes the process especially complicated and fascinating is that often regional mapping, such as the Japanese construction of a modern East Asia in the 20th century, is simultaneously imposed on national mapping, and changing concepts of the region are often interwoven with, and interdependent on, changing definitions of the nation. 

Author Biography

Kevin M. Doak, Georgetown University
 Kevin M. Doak is a Professor and Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Georgetown University. His PhD is from the University of Chicago. This article was originally published in Kai-wing Chow, Kevin M Doak, and Poshek Fu,eds., Constructing Nationhood in Modern East Asia (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001): pp. 85-113). Permission has been granted by the University Michigan Press to reprint this article here.