East Asia: A New History
"Provides a comprehensive history of the Near East while also incorporating the most recent scholarship. Ancient China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Readers interested in learning about the history and development of East Asia." (text taken from Amazon)
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Informative and Balanced
Rhoads Murphey has achieved an excellent balance between providing the background information necessary to understand the flow of Japanese History since the Tokugawa unification and an insightful analysis of how those events eventually led to the radical nationalism and militarism of the 20th century.
Murphey develops the reasons for Japanese nationalism and unity back to the Kyoto Edo highway and the spread of culture that flowed from the required residence in the capital of all high officials and their families. This policy, predating yet mirroring the practice of the slightly later French King Louis XIV shows how despite its geographic isolation, Japan was finding solutions to common problems that were evident elsewhere in the world at the time.
Murphey further shows how the samurai tradition naturally flowed into a modern military one due to the needs of Japan during their period of radical social upheaval. The transition of the samurai class from warrior to businessmen was not without difficulty, but was remarkably rapid and smooth given the massive adjustment required of the class. The samurai emphasis on education prepared them well to make this transition at a crucial point in Japan's movement towards modernization.
Murphey further does a splendid job showing the reasons for Japan's road to conquest in first Japan, then China, and then regionally - eventually ending in the war with the United States. That the Japanese government was driven by renegade commanders in the field who took matters into their own hands, particularly in Manchuria and greater China, helps explain how a nominally democratic country could have behaved so recklessly and with such speed and boldness.
Rhaods Murphey is to be commended for a careful scholarly treatment of an important subject in the field of East Asian history.