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The Meiji Revolution: 100 and 150 Years Later (Nikolai Konrad and the Paradoxes of His “Progress”)

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Using the example of the article “The Centenary of the Japanese Revolution” (1968) by the outstanding Japanologist Nikolai Konrad, the author examines his understanding of the “Meiji Revolution”. Holding on, by and large, to the Marxist views on history, Nikolai Konrad turned out to be surprisingly close to “bourgeois” historians in understanding the Meiji Revolution. The “bourgeois” and Soviet historians (including Konrad himself), who were in conflict relations, consistently qualified the Meiji Revolution as a “progressive” (positive) event that introduced Japan to the “world” (i.e., Western and the only one possible) civilization. Marxist and “bourgeois” thinkers differed in their assessment of the future (whether or not communism was the highest stage of progress), but their view of the Japanese past showed amazing unanimity. The keenness on the theory of progress was so allembracing that Nikolai Konrad’s assessments of specific historical phenomena of the Tokugawa period demonstrate outright error and bias. None of the “advanced” European countries could boast of such a long-lasting social peace as that which we observe in the Tokugawa period, which, however, did not prevent Konrad (as well as other Western historians) from branding the Tokugawa rule as “reactionary” and “stagnant”. 

About the Author

A. N. Meshcheryakov
Institute of Classic East and Antiquity of Higher School of Economics of the HSE University
Russian Federation

Meshcheryakov Alexander Nikolaevich – Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Senior researcher, 

21/4, building 3, Staraya Basmannaya street, Moscow, 105066


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2. Konrad, N. (Transl. and preface). (1921). Ise Monogatari. Vsemirnaya literatura. (In Russian).

3. Konrad, N. (1974). The Centenary of the Japanese Revolution. In Konrad, N. Selected Works (pp. 188–199). Moscow: Nauka. (In Russian).

4. The Orient. (1935). The first collection. Literature of China and Japan. Academia. (In Russian).


For citations:

Meshcheryakov A.N. The Meiji Revolution: 100 and 150 Years Later (Nikolai Konrad and the Paradoxes of His “Progress”). Russian Japanology Review. 2022;5(2):85-94.

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