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An Intellectual ‘Great Game’

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The Origins of American and East Asian Concepts of Modernity, 1860–1920

This essay studies the Japanese model and the origins of modernity in East Asia and the United States. Japanese innovations in the 1870s to 1890s impacted Chinese attempts at modernization in the initial decades of the 20th Century. This resulted in a strong connection between modern thinking and the rise of civic nationalism in East Asia and the United States. Asian intellectuals picked the most useful parts of Confucianism and combined them with Western ideas. Modern thinking among American intellectuals arose at about the same time as East Asian modernity but under very different conditions. Modern thinkers in East Asia, under intense external pressure from Western imperialism, were highly motivated and innovative in projecting forward a vision later carried out in a full-scale modernization. In the United States, however, the conditions of modernity arrived first. Incessant industrialization, urbanization, and immigration after the Civil War caused American modern thinkers to develop innovative new perspectives and approaches to meet these challenges. Successful Japanese modernization created an alternative to Western imperialism that appealed to any Asian country under threat or reality of Western hegemony.

Affiliations: 1: Hawai’i Pacific University,


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