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Humanitarian Empire : : The Red Cross in Japan, 1877-1945


This dissertation presents a critical perspective on modern practices of humanitarianism by following histories of the imperial-era Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) from its inception in 1877 until the formal dissolution of the Japanese empire in 1945. In the decades after its founding the JRCS became the most prominent humanitarian institution in the Japanese empire and the largest national Red Cross society in the world, drawing its leaders from among the most powerful of the ruling elites as well as the imperial family. As an state-sanctioned voluntary organization for the relief of human suffering, the JRCS continuously promoted the philosophies and institutions of humanitarianism by applying them across a wide range of political, social, and economic spheres. I argue that the leadership of the JRCS in efforts to rescue the sufferers of war, natural disasters, and disease made it an exemplar of humanitarian imperialism, or the continuous expansion of political domination by state and non-state agencies which operated according to a logic of promoting the life, health and well being of ordinary people. JRCS humanitarian thought and activity formed a key element of the ideology and institutions of imperial rule through five key conceptual categories--nation, law, production, hygiene, and gender. Chapter one shows how humanitarianism became an important element of Japanese nationalism by tracing changes in the early historiography of the origins of the JRCS during the Satsuma Civil War of 1877. Chapter two looks at affinities between practices of international humanitarian law and imperialism through the writings of Ariga Nagao--JRCS director, battlefield lawyer, and scholar of public administrative law. Chapter three argues that the JRCS relied upon and bolstered capitalistic ideas of wealth production through the representation of capital, land, and labor as sources of profit. Chapter four narrates the entry of the JRCS into the field of hygiene education. Chapter five concludes the work by analyzing the figure of the Red Cross nursing woman in the constitution of imperial gender subjectivities

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