Christopher Harding is a cultural historian of modern Asia and its relationships with the West. He writes and broadcasts on topics ranging from religion and spirituality to politics, pop culture, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. Since being named one of BBC Radio 3’s ‘New Generation Thinkers’ in 2013, his broadcast work has included discussion and festival appearances, essays, a taster film, and a BBC radio documentary on ‘Freud in Asia’. He has written for BBC History Magazine, History Today, Aeon Magazine, and The Telegraph, in addition to Japan’s premier national daily, the Asahi Shinbun. Christopher also makes short educational films in collaboration with the Massolit project.
Born in London, Christopher studied at the University of Oxford before living and working for a number of years in Japan. He now lectures in modern Indian and Japanese history at the University of Edinburgh. His personal website is www.christopher-harding.com and he tweets as @drchrisharding.
Dark Blossom: Resistance and Distress in Japan's Epic Twentieth Century
UK & Commonwealth rights: Penguin Press
Simplified Chinese rights: Sichuan
All other rights available
The story of Japan’s epic twentieth century is often told as a morality tale. A rising power overreaches itself, is crushed, and rises again as Asia’s first economic giant. The cast is well known: state-builders, imperialists and warmongers eventually give way to a peaceful supremacy fashioned from high technology, the sweat of pliant salarymen, and a ‘soft power’ of tourism, cherry blossoms, anime and cutesy pop.
But this story is now out of date. Japan’s ‘economic miracle’ is long gone and its government seeks to meet China’s rise by editing pacifism out of its constitution. Social problems and rates of mental illness are on the rise and the country faces a demographic time bomb with an ageing population, low birthrate, and deep-rooted opposition to immigration. Japan-watchers talk of pessimism and precariousness as defining themes of the country’s twenty-first century. Commentators are tempted to ask ‘what went wrong?’ But that would be to seek the next chapter in a narrative that never did Japan justice in the first place.
Dark Blossom offers instead a brand new telling of Japan’s twentieth century story, this time through the eyes of people who always had their doubts about modernity – who greeted it not with the confidence and grasping ambition of Japan’s familiar modernizers and nationalists, but with resistance, conflict, distress.
We encounter writers of dramas, ghost stories and crime novels where modernity itself is the tragedy, the ghoul and the bad guy; surrealist and avant-garde artists sketching their escape; rebel kamikaze pilots and the put-upon urban poor; hypnotists and gangsters; men in desperate search of the eternal feminine and feminists in search of something more than state-sanctioned subservience; Buddhists without morals; Marxist terror groups; couches full to bursting with the psychological fallout of breakneck modernization. These people all sprang from the soil of modern Japan, but their personalities and projects failed to fit. They were ‘dark blossoms’: both East-West hybrids and homegrown varieties that wreathed, probed and sometimes penetrated the new masonry and mortar of mainstream Japan.
Dark Blossom spans Japan’s extraordinary ‘long twentieth century’, beginning with its unprecedented late nineteenth-century opening up to the West and finishing at Fukushima, with a final section seeking to process the story and bring it up to the present day. Space is given to the traditional account of modern Japan, for readers new to the country and also to make use of the natural dramatic arc it provides of political rise (1880s to 1941) and fall (1942 to 1945), rise (1945 to 1980s) and lapse into deep uncertainty (1990s to the present). But the narrative is powered primarily by personal stories of creative struggle with Japan’s modernity, told in a way designed to be faithful to and revelatory of their times and also to resonate with contemporary readers who find themselves living through comparable experiences. Some of our protagonists appear only once while others recur, helping to knit the story together. Some are heroes, others are villains; all are ‘dark’ in the sense of meeting modernity with deep disquiet and powerful criticism.