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Max Ward
President and Fellows of Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT 05753-6004)

Fellowships for Advanced Social Science Research on Japan
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$25,200 (approved)
$25,200 (awarded)

Grant period:
3/1/2016 – 8/31/2016

Ideological Conversion and Thought Reform in Interwar Japan

Research and writing leading to publication of a book on the Japanese state’s efforts to reform political criminals in the 1930s.

My project explores the prewar Japanese state’s efforts to reform political criminals in the 1930s. In the existent literature, the suppression of political activists in the Japanese empire and their subsequent rehabilitation has been explained as a smooth process in which the imperial state skillfully used nationalist sentiments to induce activists to "ideologically convert." However, my research reveals the contingent way this conversion policy was deployed across Japan’s empire and how it was wrought with ambiguity. For officials attempting to “convert” ex-communists into imperial subjects, it was unclear what constituted Japan’s imperial essence and thus how one should properly reform as a loyal subject. This problem was most explicit in Japan’s colonies, where anti-colonial activists were urged to express loyalty to a uniquely Japanese emperor. To this end, my project engages with current debates about the nature of the prewar Japanese state and its colonial project.