SENTIMENTAL IMPERIALISTS: The American Experience in East Asia by
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SENTIMENTAL IMPERIALISTS: The American Experience in East Asia

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Three Harvard-trained scholars have pooled their expertise--on China (Thomson), Japan (Perry), and the Philippines (Stanley)--in a spirited, probing appraisal of US-East Asian relations from the clipper ships to the Honda. They start with the initial American perception of East Asia--China's ""lack of dynamism,"" to the merchant-traders; its ""moral failings,"" in the eyes of the missionaries. And the reality: the stability and sense of superiority of the Confucian state. (When the foreigners were no longer willing to kowtow, ""something had to give."") They pose the big questions: not only ""Were the Americans imperialists?,"" but also, for one, why the radically different Chinese and Japanese responses to Western penetration? Their chapters are chapters in the ongoing give-and-take: the ""Yellow Peril,"" and the violent, embittering reaction to it (just when the US government ""was insistting on the right of American citizens to travel, trade, evangelize, and live securely in China"")--followed by a ""new mythology"" of Chinese promise and Japanese threat; the roots of turn-of-the-century American expansionism-in a felt need for foreign markets to relieve overproduction and, perhaps (""the returns are not yet in from the historiographical debate""), an equally strong need for ""something constructive to do with the new capacities that were producing such ambivalent results in [US] factories and cities."" (Hence, Admiral Mahan's advocacy of a global fleet and social critic Josiah Strong's advocacy of a global society: in both cases, survival--paradoxically--through remaking the world.) Their analyses are clear, yet subtle and provocative; they eschew strange, however-familiar names for a few imaginative, often-unfamiliar examples. They also bring fresh thinking to US involvement in the Philippines: the undeveloped state of Filipino society when the Spaniards came (by contrast with Chinese and Japanese civilization at the Western advent); the American collaboration with the Filipino elite--whereby ""the imperialism of suasion became a bulwark of class interest."" And they review, concisely and incisively, the US role in Korea and Vietnam. It's a balanced assessment that doesn't wobble; a quick education for the untutored and a stimulus for the informed. And, quite simply, the single most cogent treatment of the subject--for anyone.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row