The Ideology of Conversion: Tenko as Imperial State Ideology in Late-1930s Japan (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: The Ideology of Conversion: Tenko as Imperial State Ideology in Late-1930s Japan
Abstract: In the historiography of modern Japan, the term tenko (“ideological conversion”) has come to symbolize the vexed decade of the 1930s. From the mass defections of Japanese Communist Party members earlier in the decade, to the rightward shift of public intellectuals in support of Japan’s invasion of China after 1937, tenko signifies the suppression of political opposition and the active mobilization of society for total war. Analyzing this phenomenon in the 1950s, Tsurumi Shunsuke defined tenko as “a change of thought under the coercion of state power.” Many subsequent studies have reinforced this definition, approaching tenko as when the state exerted pressure in order to have an individual change his/her ideas.
However, we must ask: while the state was clearly trying to eradicate communism and other “dangerous ideas,” what did it offer in their place? How did state officials understand the process of “ideological conversion” and its significance beyond anti-communism? Ultimately, are not the state and its modes of coercion not also ideological? My paper explores how, starting in 1936, justice officials invested tenko with ideological importance as they campaigned in support of the new conversion policy. I will reveal how, in a series of journal articles, symposia and public exhibitions, “ideological conversion” inflected tropes of imperial state ideology and consequently became an ideology in its own right.
Author: Max Ward
Location: East Asian Studies Workshop, Kyoto University
Between Repression and Rehabilitation: Reforming Political Criminals in 1930s Japan (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Between Repression and Rehabilitation: Reforming Political Criminals in 1930s Japan
Abstract: Between 1925 and 1945, the Japanese imperial state utilized an anti-radical law called the Peace Preservation Law (Chianijiho) to arrest tens of thousands of people across the empire for what the law defined as threatening Japan’s “national polity,” or kokutai. Initially used against suspected communists and anti-colonial activists, by the mid-1930s the law was applied to anyone perceived to be challenging imperial orthodoxy, including religious groups, leftist scholars and defense lawyers. While officials were expanding the repressive application of the law, however, they were also developing policies to rehabilitate those they had arrested. Indeed, by the mid-1930s, a policy called “ideological conversion” (tenko) had become the cornerstone of the Peace Preservation Law, in which thousands of detainees were ostensibly rehabilitated as loyal and productive subjects of the emperor.
This talk explores the unique configuration of repression and rehabilitation in the interwar Japanese Peace Preservation Law. I will focus on a small Tokyo-based parolee support group, the Imperial Renovation Society (Teikoku koshinkai), and how it developed many of the protocols that came to comprise the state’s campaign to rehabilitate political criminals as loyal imperial subjects.
Author: Max Ward
Location: International and Global Studies Colloquium, Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, Middlebury College
Bad Faith: Buddhism and the Rehabilitation of Political Criminals in 1930s Japan (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Bad Faith: Buddhism and the Rehabilitation of Political Criminals in 1930s Japan
Abstract: Over its twenty-year history, the Peace Preservation Law (1925-1945) was used to arrest thousands of political radicals throughout the Japanese empire for purportedly intending to alter Japan’s imperial national polity, or kokutai. State officials saw such intentions as resulting from the infiltration of dangerous foreign ideas such as communism into the Japanese Empire. Consequently they deemed political radicalism “thought crime” (shisohan). Although the law was initially used to suppress thought crime, by the mid-1930s it had developed into an apparatus to reform and “ideologically convert” (tenko) thought criminals into loyal and productive imperial subjects. In this effort, Buddhist prison chaplains assisted incarcerated political criminals with discarding their dangerous thought, thus infusing “ideological conversion” with tropes of Buddhist salvation and spiritual self-negation.
In this paper I draw upon Jean-Paul Satre's notion of "bad faith" in order to explore the use of Buddhism in the Justice Ministry’s efforts to reform political criminals in interwar Japan. I will focus on the writings of Kobayashi Morito and other ex-communists who narrated their “ideological conversion” as a process of self-negation and Buddhist salvation, which culminated in their re-identification with the imperial kokutai. While many of these converts continued to work for social welfare and reform into the late-1930s, they did so, they explained, not from political conviction but as selfless acts for others.
Author: Max Ward
Location: Asian Studies Conference Japan, International Christian University Tokyo Japan
Ideological Conversion and Revolutionary Restorationism in 1930s Japan (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Ideological Conversion and Revolutionary Restorationism in 1930s Japan
Abstract: In the mid-1930s, hundreds of incarcerated members of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) publicly renounced the party and communist internationalism – a phenomenon that came to be known as “ideological conversion,” or tenko. While some tenkosha (converts) attributed their decision to leave the JCP to a general exhaustion with political activism and a desire to return to their families, many others regarded defection as a chance to reflect upon problems of communist praxis and to rechannel their revolutionary commitments into the idioms of imperial restoration. A passionate debate ensued from 1933 to 1936 among activist tenkosha over the nature of revolutionary restorationism, a debate that this paper argues expressed the ideological paradoxes of fascism.
This paper explores the writings of Nakamura Yoshiaki, Sano Manabu, Nabeyama Sadachika and other ex-communists who saw their individual experiences of ideological conversion as the first step towards the total transformation of Japan, East Asia and the world order. Although different in many ways, these tenkosha struggled to theorize an anti-capitalist, revolutionary transformation of Japan as the redemption and recuperation of a national-essence, one that would enable Japan to liberate East Asia from the yoke of Western imperialism. The more radical their revolutionary proposals became, the deeper they anchored this vision into the mythic prehistory of the imperial past.
Author: Max Ward
Location: Association of Asian Studies Conferience, Seattle WA