Response to Chris Goto-Jones’ response

[Dear reader,

this text has not been checked by a native English speaker. In case of any confusion or strange English, please refer to the original French version. Comments are welcome (but will be filtered)]

I recently wrote a severe review of Chris Goto-Jones, Conjuring Asia. Magic, Orientalism, and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 2016) for the website

Two days ago I noticed that Goto-Jones wrote a response to my review: Because the website editor did not warn me about this addition, and because this response is almost 3000 words long while the publisher guideline imposed a cap of 1400 words to the review, I do not feel welcome to write back at, and I will answer here.

I will first summarize my criticism of the book, and then, for the mots interested and patient readers, answer to some details in Goto-Jones’ response. I cannot recommend the book because Goto-Jones has tried to write a historical study of a group of magicians, their practices and their relation with orientalism without trying to use all available evidence, without studying the reception of their spectacles, and without analyzing the material and social context of their performances. His topic required a multiplicity of point-of-views, but he focused on the writings of the performers. Such research premises, according to me, cannot lead to satisfactory results, to a good historical research.

I regret that Goto-Jones has not made much use of any library or archives digital collection. Worldwide small and larger institutions have made tremendous efforts to digitize newspapers and other documents. It has revolutionized historical research. Readers of Goto-Jones’ book would not know about the progress it has brought and the opportunity for discovering new sources it offers.

This response allows me to add another source left unexploited by Goto-Jones: pictures and images. There are 14 figures in his book, but these images are not discussed nor analyzed as a source material; they are just decorative images. (for my attempts at using images on this blog, see here and here, for instance)

All above criticism concerns the second part of the book; Goto-Jones is correct in his response that I was more interested in that part of the book than in its first, hence more disappointed by it. As for the first part of the book, my only criticism was that I found it unnecessary long for reaching the conclusion « magic = illusion + glamour ».

Goto-Jones blames me for “being slightly inattentive” and he rightly points out that this formula was not written by him. Allow me to quote the final paragraph of the first part of the book (p. 98):

In sum, as its base, good modern magic is the artistic and nonharmful performance of apparent counter-physical supernatural causation, resting on the honesty of its pretence amidst a shared complicity in the denial of that pretence. This is not a million miles from Sam Sharpe’s concise definition: magic = illusion + glamour.

I find it funny that Goto-Jones criticizes me for repeating his own rhetorics. The absence of quotation marks, and the strategic position of the phrase at the end of his chapter show that he made Sharpe’s words his own. Apparently in my review rather than writing « it [is] not rewarding to read more than 90 strenuous pages to reach the conclusion that ‘modern magic = illusion + glamour’ », for the sake of accuracy, I should have written « it [is] not rewarding to read more than 90 strenuous pages to reach the conclusion that “modern magic = illusion + glamour”, a conclusion already expressed more than 40 years ago by Sam Sharpe’ ».

Minor remarks
  1. According to me, Goto-Jones has not been entirely fair in his response to several passages of my review. I let the reader judge about this with this comparative table:
D’Hautcourt’s review Goto-Jones’ answer
The first part of the work consists of a long and repetitive attempt at offering a ‘theory of modern magic’, and this reviewer hopes that he will be forgiven for thinking it not rewarding to read more than 90 strenuous pages to reach the conclusion that ‘modern magic = illusion + glamour’. 20 pages should have been more than enough. Instead, he (=D’Hautcourt) glosses these chapters with the suggestion that my conclusion is that modern ‘magic = illusion + glamour’ (p. 98), noting that he finds this conclusion uninteresting.
It is possible that the review in Le Figaro was a paid advertisement in the guise of a critic but this French article, easily available on the French National Library’s website, Gallica,[i] proves beyond doubt that Soo presented himself successfully from the start as an authentic Chinese person, contrary to what Goto-Jones thinks. Quite correctly, D’Hautcourt then casts doubt on the reliability of the review that he found (noting that performers often placed their own paid reviews in newspapers to boster ticket sales), but then claims that this doubtful review ‘proves beyond doubt’ that Robinson’s performance was a success.
He writes that ‘Aside from the formal delegations, state-sanctioned troupes of performers left Japan in the 1860s’ (Goto-Jones misrepresents the results Frederik Schodt presented in his beautiful book Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2012). Nothing can be further from the truth: before the Meiji reform, the magician/ jugglers were hinin, members of a pariah class, and, for years, Japanese officials did their utmost to distance themselves and the official image of Japan from these migrant artists. Concretely, he asserts that ‘nothing can be further from the truth’ than my contention that Japanese magicians travelled to Europe and North America and performed there on formal occasions in the 1860s, hence representing ‘Japanese magic’ to Western audiences.

Goto-Jones has misread what I wrote about Japan; I do not see how I can answer his criticism.

2. As Goto-Jones does not seem to understand why I am not happy with his quote of Schodts’s book, here is what he wrote (p. 271-272):

As it happens, Japan was fully aware that its image in the west was somewhat confused, after centuries of relative isolation. Hence, during the second half of the nineteenth century it engaged in a concerted effort to (re)build its national identity through cultural exchange. Aside from the formal delegations, state-sanctioned troups of performers left Japan in the 1860s. Perhaps the most famous of these were the Imperial Japanese Troupe, which set off east to the United States, and the japanese Troupe, which travelled west to Europe in 1867, followed [/272] by the Royal Tycoon Troupe, which headed into Asian and Oceania. [[18]]

[[footnote 18]] The story of the Imperial Japanese Troupe is recounted in great detail by Frederik Schodt, Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2012

The problem is that these performer troupes had no contact with Japanese public authorities. It is wrong to call them “state-sanctioned”. On the contrary, as Schodt has shown in his book, it had been very difficult for the first troupe’s members to obtain a passport to leave Japan, because Japanese public servants did not want them to , in their mind, “taint” Japan’s public image. The names “Imperial Troupe” or “Royal Troupe” were managers inventions, not a sign for public authorities’ support. Later in the 19th century, ambassadors and other Japanese public servants abroad will at all cost try to avoid any contact with Japanese entertainers.


Fortunino Matania, Japanese acrobats at the circus at Olympia

(English text follows)

Le site internet de Christie’s informe que, lors de la vente 5289 en octobre 2014, un lot de trois dessins de Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) réalisés lors du Royal Tournament de 1912 a été vendu pour £1,375.

L’un d’entre eux, malheureusement non reproduit, contrairement au “Call to Arms”, s’intitule “Japanese acrobats at the circus at Olympia”.

Si vous en savez plus sur cette oeuvre, n’hésitez pas à laisser un commentaire.


Sur l’artiste, un article de Wikipedia bien fait, je trouve: Wikipedia contributors, “Fortunino Matania,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (vu le 27 décembre 2015).

In October 2014, Christie’s sold three drawings by Fortunino Matania made at the Royal Naval and Military tournament at Olympia, 1912. One of them is called “Japanese acrobats at the circus at Olympia”. If you have any information on this, please, do not hesitate leaving a comment on this blog. Many thanks in advance.

How many Japanese acrobats in France?

One of the nagging problems of my research is assessing the numerical importance of the phenomenon I study. I have the impression that there were many Japanese acrobats and other circus artists active in France, but I do not have any figure to confirm my impression. By chance, I just found some information that might be relevant for this topic. In 1914, Japan declared war against Germany, which was quite unexpected. As a consequence, the German government gathered all Japanese residents in Germany and sent them to different camps, anticipating American policy after Pearl Harbor’s attack. According to Naraoka, as quoted by Matsunuma, most Japanese had time to flee from Germany, and only 126 people were kept prisoners. One fifth of them were circus artists.

It is difficult to assess how this figure compares with the usual proportion before 1914. One can imagine that circus artists did not have the means to quickly escape Germany and go to Japan, nor did they have good information channels through official circles to anticipate the official internment decision. On the other hand, one may consider that the itinerant life of circus artists prepared them to emergency situations and made it easy for them to leave any place in haste without being encumbered by luggage or other features of a sedentary life (bank accounts for instance).

All in all, the figure of 20% of Japanese residents in Germany being circus artists seems to be an interesting start for further consideration. Even if, in absolute terms, 20 to 30 individuals for the whole of Germany is not much, the high proportion made by these acrobats and jugglers and their public visibility are important features of Japanese presence in this country. I will have to compare circus histories in Germany and France to see if this proportion in Germany might correctly apply to France.

Naraoka’s book seems also interesting for the individual stories it reveals. For instance, Matsunuma mentions in her review the story of a Japanese boy sold by his parents to circus people when he was 5 years old, going to Europe with a Trans-Siberian train, his hard life and multiple injuries and his illiteracy.


Miho Matsunuma, « Naraoka Shōchi 奈良岡聰智 « Hachigatsu no hōsei » o kiita Nihonjin. Daiichiji sekai taisen to Uemura Hisakiyo « Doitsu yūheiki » 「八月の砲声」を聞いた日本人 ― 第一次世界大戦と植村尚清 「ドイツ幽閉記」(Les Japonais qui entendirent tonner « les canons d’août » : la Première Guerre mondiale et le journal de captivité d’Uemura Hisakiyo) », Ebisu 51, 2014. URL :

(French version for this entry:

Yasuo Kuniyoshi and circus in Paris

This post is somewhat tangential to this blog, but there is little time left to visit Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Kuniyoshi (1889-1953) (国吉 康雄) was born in Okayama (Japan) and came to study English in America while he was still a teenager. He became interested in arts and settled in America where he became a painter. He went back to Japan only for a few family reunions, but he did not enjoy the atmosphere and was criticized for “not being Japanese anymore”. In America he was a victim of the racist policies of the day; his first wife, Katherine Schmidt, was stripped of her American citizenship when she married him in 1919.

In 1925 and 1928, Schmidt and Kuniyoshi visited and studied in Paris, where they had some artistic connections, like Pascin.

Kuniyoshi started getting interested in the circus and its atmosphere. The theme was inspirational to him many years after he left Paris (see, for instance, Somebody tore my poster [1943], Disturbing Dream [1948], Fish Kite [or Koinobori, 1950, used for the poster of the 2015 exhibition above]).

Here are two of his most famous or infamous paintings related to circus:

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (国吉 康雄) ([Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons), Strong Woman and Child (1925)

Circus Girl Resting (1925) © Estate of Yasuo Kuniyoshi/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

This last portrait became a topic of discussion after it was selected for a national American exhibition of modern art and President Truman declared (see Barnhisel for more information):

“If this is art, I’m a Hottentot”

I have not found any representation of Japanese circus artists by Kuniyoshi, but it is not a surprise. His interest for the milieu was for its general atmosphere, like Picasso, or, many years later, Botero.

Further readings

Weatherhead Initiative on Global History Fellowship

A toutes fins utiles, je recopie cette annonce, parue aujourd’hui sur la liste électronique H-Japan:

The Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH) at Harvard University identifies and supports outstanding scholars whose work responds to the growing interest in the encompassing study of global history. We seek to organize a community of scholars interested in the systematic scrutiny of developments that have unfolded across national, regional, and continental boundaries and who propose to analyze the interconnections—cultural, economic, ecological, political and demographic—among world societies. We encourage applicants from all over the world, and especially from outside Europe and North America, hoping to create a global conversation on global history.

WIGH Fellows are appointed for one year and are provided time, guidance, office space, and access to Harvard University facilities. They should be prepared to devote their entire time to productive scholarship and may undertake sustained projects of research or other original work. They will join a vibrant community of global history scholars at Harvard.

This fellowship is funded by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation.

The competition for these awards is open only to scholars with a PhD (or comparable professional school degree). If still pursuing the PhD, WIGH Fellows must receive their degree no later than May 2016. There is no limit on time since submission of the candidate’s degree; we are open to candidates at various stages of their careers. We expect that candidates will be able to submit samples of independent work (articles, papers, dissertation chapters) in support of their candidacies on request. The WIGH Fellowship is residential and Fellows are expected to live in the Cambridge/Boston area for the duration of their appointments unless traveling for pre-approved research purposes, and they are expected to participate in WIGH activities, including a bi-weekly seminar.

Fellows will receive an annual stipend of up to $50,000, according to fellows’ needs. Because we cannot always offer the amount requested, we urge applicants to apply for funding from other sources as well. Applications are welcome from qualified persons without regard to nationality, gender, or race.

How to Apply
Applications are due December 15, 2015. Letters of reference are due by January 8th, 2016.
Please visit our website ( to apply.

Jessica Barnard, Program Coordinator
Phone: +011 (617) 495-8923

Looking for Toyosaku Saito’s woodcuts

According to Helen Merritt, Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975 (1995), p. 130, Toyosaku Saito (斎藤豊作) (1880 – 1951) made some woodcuts “including acrobats and juggler” at the beginning of Taisho era. I am interested in these images because this Japanese painter studied and worked in France, where he came back, married and  settled after 1919.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find and locate these woodcuts, and I would be very grateful for any help.


Franco-Asian Connections and Intersections through Popular Culture

A toutes fins utiles, je recopie un extrait de la lettre électronique H-Japan:

Call for Papers
September 30, 2015
United States
Subject Fields:
Cultural History / Studies, Asian History / Studies

Asian pop music, comics, drama, film, graphic novels; these cultural products are increasingly present transnationally signaling new currents of popular culture and underscoring the interconnected nature of our globalizing world. Within the pan-Asian context, the concepts of “familiar difference” and of a collective Asian identity have catalyzed the fame of East/Southeast Asian singers and TV series (Iwabuchi, Recentering 15). In Western societies, the “culturally odorless” quality of mass-produced Japanese comics and animation film has facilitated their dissemination and reception (Iwabuchi, Recentering 27). Transnational media has therefore notably impacted both Asian and Western consumers. Yet modern technologies have siphoned Asian popular culture off to publics beyond the original targeted populations. Social and digital media in particular have facilitated access to these cultural products by minimizing potential economic and geographic divides. At the postcolonial Franco-Asian crossroads, where “Franco” encompasses the Hexagon yet also communities that self-identify as French-speaking, fans from non-Asian non-Western societies have been posting about and liking K-pop and Korean drama celebrities.

A(n) (re)examination of the origins and impact of popular culture will therefore unveil the unprecedented implications of soft (cultural) power. What forms of cross-cultural exoticism or familiarity have been attracting new viewership? How might these findings pertaining to media globalization push us to reassess the notion of cultural imperialism? And how could this new knowledge encourage (de)constructive dialogue and a self-(re)examination that calls for an inclusive de-centralized outlook on the implicated societies? This panel seeks to explore these significant yet minimally addressed questions in order to better understand the impetus behind and influence of the changing tides of cultural flows that are pervading the Franco-Asian world.

This panel welcomes papers that examine Franco-Asian connections and intersections through popular culture (e.g, pop music, TV series, film, comics, graphic novels). “Franco” can encompass the Hexagon and also comprise communities that self-identify as French-speaking. Possible themes can include but are not limited to: media globalization, cultural flows/imperialism, and soft (cultural) power.

Please submit abstracts via the NeMLA website:

Contact Info:

Assistant Professor of French

Saint Anselm College

Contact Email:

Japanese Wongs and Chinese Ohayo

Trio Ohayo was a trio active in France during the thirties. As is obvious from their name, they always presented themselves as a Japanese troupe, and journalists reviewed their acts as such, sometimes commenting that they were successfully mixing old Japanese traditions with modern European athleticism.

However, sometimes, confusion occurred as in this article from Comoedia (March 4, 1933):
Comoedia (Paris. 1907)
Comoedia (Paris. 1907)

At the present stage of my research, this is the only mistake I found concerning the Ohayo Trio, and it can easily be attributed to lazy journalism.

Here is a photo of the Trio Ohayo, from a circus program:

One cannot stop noticing that one of the acrobats does have Caucasian features, showing that ethnic or national definitions were fluid in the circus professional milieu and in the spectators gaze.

Let’s turn our attention to the Wongs. They were a family troupe of acrobats active in the thirties in France, and it seems very probable that they were the same circus artists who went to work in North America after the Second world War (see the French version of this blog entry for the evidence). Again, their name and our documentation show that they were Chinese, but, at this stage of our research, for their first appearance in France, they were called « Troupe japonaise Wong » in advertisements posted in newspapers. In this case, no mistake, but a conscious decision by circus managers.

The misrepresentation  seems to have been corrected quickly, but I wonder what came to the minds of the circus manager and the members of the troupe. For the moment I have no answer to my question.

Both anecdotes presented here show how racial, national and ethnic definitions can be transitory and fluid, intentionally or not, for honorable reasons or because of voluntary misrepresentation.

Petite annonce bibliographique

Voici une information postée hier sur la liste électronique H-Japan, qui intéressera peut-être les lecteurs de ce blog:

Member Publications: New Books on Race, Ethnicity and Racism in Early Modern, Modern, and Contemporary Japan [discussion]

Apologies for cross-posting

Dear List members,
Please allow me to draw your attention to the following publications:
New Books on Race, Ethnicity and Racism in Early Modern, Modern, and Contemporary Japan
Rotem Kowner
From White to Yellow (vol. I): The Japanese in European Racial Thought, 1300-1735 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, December 2014).

Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (editors)
Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. II): Interactions, Nationalism, Gender and Lineage (Brill, May 2015).

Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (editors)
Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. I): Western and Eastern Constructions (Brill, paperback edition, September 2014).



From White to Yellow (vol. I): The Japanese in European Racial Thought, 1300-1735 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014, 706 pp.) ISBN-10: 0773544550; ISBN-13: 978-0773544550

Rotem Kowner (author)

From White to Yellow (vol. I): The Japanese in European Racial Thought, 1300-1735

When Europeans first landed in Japan they encountered people they perceived as white-skinned and highly civilized, but these impressions did not endure. Gradually the Europeans’ positive impressions faded away and Japanese were seen as yellow-skinned and relatively inferior. Accounting for this dramatic transformation, I examine of the evolution of European interpretations of the Japanese and the emergence of discourses about race in early modern Europe. Transcending the conventional focus on Africans and Jews within the rise of modern racism, I seek to demonstrate that the invention of race did not emerge in a vacuum in eighteenth-century Europe, but rather was a direct product of earlier discourses of the “Other.” All in all, I contend that the racial discourse on the Japanese, alongside the Chinese, played a major role in the rise of the modern concept of race. While challenging Europe’s self-possession and sense of centrality, the discourse delayed the eventual consolidation of a hierarchical worldview in which Europeans stood immutably at the apex. Drawing from a vast array of primary sources, I also attempted to trace the racial roots of the modern clash between Japan and the West.

For further details:

Table of contents


PHASE I – SPECULATION: Pre-Encounter Knowledge of the Japanese (1300-1543)
1 The Emergence of “Cipangu” and Its Precursory Ethnography
2 The “Cipanguese” at the Opening of the Age of Discovery

PHASE II – OBSERVATION: A Burgeoning Discourse of Initial Encounters (1543-1640)
3 Initial Observations of the Japanese
4 The Japanese Position in Contemporary Hierarchies
5 Concrete Mirrors of a New Human Order
6 “Race” and Its Cognitive Limits during the Phase of Observation

PHASE III – RECONSIDERATION: Antecedents of a Mature Discourse (1640-1735)
7 Dutch Reappraisal of the Japanese Body and Origins
8 Power, Status, and the Japanese Position in the Global Order
9 In Search of a New Taxonomy: Botany, Medicine, and the Japanese
10 “Race” and Its Perceptual Limits during the Phase of Reconsideration

Conclusion: The Discourse of Race in Early Modern Europe and the Japanese Case
Amazon sites:…


Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. II): Interactions, Nationalism, Gender and Lineage (Brill, 2015; 674 pp). ISBN-10: 9004292926; ISBN-13: 978-9004292925

Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (editors)

Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. II): Interactions, Nationalism, Gender and Lineage

In this sequel to the volume, Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions, we examine in depth interactions between Western racial constructions of East Asians and local constructions of race and their outcomes in modern times. Focusing on China, Japan and the two Koreas, we also analyze the close ties between race, racism and nationalism, as well as the links race has had with gender and lineage in the region. Written by some of the field’s leading authorities, our 23-chapter volume offers a sweeping overview and analysis of racial constructions and racism in modern and contemporary East Asia that is seemingly unsurpassed in previous scholarship.

For further details:
Table of contents

[*] chapters relevant to Japan


[*] 1 Introduction: The Synthesis of Foreign and Indigenous Constructions of Race in Modern East Asia and Its Actual Operation
Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel

2 East Asians in the Linnaean Taxonomy: Sources and Implications of a Racial Image
Rotem Kowner and Christina Skott
3 Constructing Racial Theories on East Asians as a Transnational “Western” Enterprise, 1750–1850
Walter Demel
[*] 4 The ‘Races’ of East Asia in Nineteenth-Century European Encyclopaedias
Georg Lehner
[*] 5 The Racial Image of the Japanese in the Western Press Published in Japan, 1861–1881
Olavi K. Fält

6 The Propagation of Racial Thought in Nineteenth-Century China
Daniel Barth
[*] 7 Learning from the South: Japan’s Racial Construction of Southern Chinese, 1895–1941
Huei-Ying Kuo
[*] 8 “The Great Question of the World Today”: Britain, the Dominions, East Asian Immigration and the Threat of Race War, 1905–1911
Antony Best
[*] 9 “Uplifting the Weak and Degenerated Races of East Asia”: American and Indigenous Views of Sport and Body in Early Twentieth-Century East Asia
Stefan Hübner
[*] 10 Racism under Negotiation: The Japanese Race in the Nazi-German Perspective
Gerhard Krebs
[*] 11 Discourses of Race and Racism in Modern Korea, 1890s–1945
Vladimir Tikhonov
12 The United States Arrives: Racialization and Racism in Post-1945 South Korea
Nadia Y. Kim
13 A Post-Communist Coexistence in Northeast Asia? Mutual Racial Attitudes among Russians and Indigenous Peoples of Siberia
David C. Lewis

14 Nationalism and Internationalism: Sino-American Racial Perceptions of the Korean War
Lü Xun
15 Gangtai Patriotic Songs and Racialized Chinese Nationalism
Yinghong Cheng
[*] 16 Japanese as Both a “Race” and a “Non-Race”: The Politics of Jinshu and Minzoku and the Depoliticization of Japaneseness
Yuko Kawai
[*] 17 Ethnic Nationalism in Postwar Japan: Nihonjinron and Its Racial Facets
Rotem Kowner and Harumi Befu
18 Ethnic Nationalism and Internationalism in the North Korean Worldview
Tatiana Gabroussenko

19 In the Name of the Master: Race, Nationalism and Masculinity in Chinese Martial Arts Cinema
Kai-man Chang
[*] 20 Sexualized Racism, Gender and Nationalism: The Case of Japan’s Sexual Enslavement of Korean “Comfort Women”
Bang-soon L. Yoon
[*] 21 “The Guilt Feeling That You Exist”: War, Racism and Indisch-Japanese Identity Formation
Aya Ezawa
22 ‘The “Amerasian” Knot: Transpacific Crossings of “GI Babies” from Korea to the United States
W. Taejin Hwang

23 The Essence and Mechanisms of Race and Racism in Modern East Asia
Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel
Amazon site:
Now in paperback edition!
Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. I): Western and Eastern Constructions (Brill, 2014; 618 pp.)  ISBN-10: 9004285504;ISBN-13: 978-9004285507

Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (editors)


Race and Racism in Modern East Asia (vol. I): Western and Eastern Constructions (paperback)

In Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions we juxtapose Western racial constructions of East Asians with constructions of race and their outcomes in modern East Asia. It is the first endeavor to explicitly and coherently link constructions of race and racism in both regions. These constructions have not only played a decisive role in shaping the relations between the West and East Asia since the mid nineteenth century, but also exert substantial influence on current relations and mutual images in both the East-West nexus and East Asia. Written by some of the field’s leading authorities, this 21-chapter volume offers an analysis of these constructions, their evolution and their interrelations.

For further details:

Table of contents


[*] 1 Introduction: Modern East Asia and the Rise of Racial Thought: Possible Links, Unique Features, and Unsettled Issues
Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel

[*] 2 Early Modern European Divisions of Mankind and East Asians, 1500-1750
Walter Demel and Rotem Kowner
[*] 3 How the “Mongoloid Race” Came into Being: Late Eighteenth-Century Constructions of East Asians in Europe
Walter Demel
[*] 4 Between Contempt and Fear: Western Racial Constructions of East Asians since 1800
Rotem Kowner
[*] 5 “A Very Great Gulf”: Late Victorian British Diplomacy and Race in East Asia
T.G. Otte
[*] 6 Pan-Mongolians at Twilight: East Asia and Race in Russian Modernism, 1890-1921
Susanna Soojung Lim
[*] 7 National Identity and Race in Post-Revolutionary Russia: Pil’niak’s Travelogues from Japan and China
Alexander Bukh
8 Class, Race, Floating Signifier: American Media Imagine the Chinese, 1870-1900
Lenore Metrick-Chen
9 Racism for Beginners: Constructions of Chinese in Twentieth Century Belgian Comics
Idesbald Goddeeris
10 Race, Imperialism, and Reconstructing Selves: Late Nineteenth Century Korea in European Travel Literature
Huajeong Seok
[*] 11 Race, Culture and the Reaction to the Japanese Victory of 1905 in the English-Speaking World
Philip Towle

12 A Certain Whiteness of Being: Chinese Perceptions of Self by the Beginning of European Contact
Don J. Wyatt
13 Racial Discourse and Utopian Visions in Nineteenth Century China
Sufen Sophia Lai
14 The Discourse of Race in Twentieth-Century China
Frank Dikötter
15 Racist South Korea? Diverse but not Tolerant of Diversity
Gi-Wook Shin
[*] 16 Skin Color Melancholy in Modern Japan: Male Elites’ Racial Experiences Abroad, 1880s-1950s
Ayu Majima
[*] 17 Anatomically Speaking: The Kubo Incident and the Paradox of Race in Colonial Korea
Hoi-eun Kim
[*] 18 Who Classified Whom, and for What Purpose? The “Japanese” in Northeast China in the Age of Empire
Mariko Asano Tamanoi
[*] 19 Race and International Law in Japan’s New Order in East Asia, 1938-1945
Urs Matthias Zachmann
[*] 20 East Asia’s “Melting-Pot”: Reevaluating Race Relations in Japan’s Colonial Empire
Yukiko Koshiro
[*] 21 Categorical Confusion: President Obama as a Case Study of Racialized Practices in Contemporary Japan
Christine R. Yano
Amazon site:

Marthe and Juliette Vesque’s Diary

If Gallica is our most important access to information about Japanese acrobats and their imitators in France, there are other electronic resources, and I will introduce some of them on this blog.

Today I would like to present the Vesque sisters. As there is an excellent article on them on Circopedia, I will be quick. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Vesque sisters were regulars at circus spectacles, and they meticulously recorded what they saw and what they heard with paintings and an extensive diary.

This diary has been digitized and is searchable online. Its index is very precise, it allows finding individual artists and circus acts by names. Open search is also possible. It is a truly remarkable resource, and we can be grateful for it.

One hopes that the drawings will follow the same electronic publishing process.

This diary is precious because it gives unique information that the Vesque sisters collected through their long and exceptional familiarity with the circus milieu.

Here is, from 1924, an example of information about accidents and group mentality (for the French original, see the French version of this post):

“As people keep on setting up a cage, we keep on talking. “Do you know the crazy woman?” asks L.C. After our negative answer, he tells us an incredible story, that, I think, he wrote about, with altered names, in a short story in the magazine Candide. It is about a tightrope walker. She appears only seconds before her act, and she always arrives surrounded by her Japanese colleagues. In the backstage, they constantly watch over her, and nobody else talks to her. One day, she found herself alone, and she was seen collecting horse shit with her bare hands. She was crazy! … Without much thinking, I let the name Andos come out of my lips. “Yes, that’s her”, Legrand answers, and he tells us that he never dared asking any question about her situation. Did she become crazy after an accident? We will never know. In this milieu there are so many incredible stories, so many unspeakable events. These artists always try to confuse people who approach them; they are inclined to fanciness.”

Takengei and Dezomeshiki

When I mention that I do research on Japanese acrobats, people’s first reaction is surprise, because, at first view, there is no sign anymore of this tradition in Japan, in contrast for instance to Chinese circus. Then, my Japanese interlocutors don’t fail mentioning Dezomeshiki, the New Year parade when firemen display their skills, and do some acrobatics on bamboo ladders. Their performance is always featured in newspapers in the beginning of January (see my post below for some images)

There is in Japan another less known event featuring acrobatic performances, the Takengei festival in Nagasaki, in October. Here is what you can read about it on Wikipedia:

Takengei (竹ン芸) is a Japanese autumn festival. It is organized in the Wakamiya-InariJinja shrine in Nagasaki City. Since 2003, it is officially registered as part of Japan’s Folk Intangible Patrimony.[1]

Takengei is an annual two-day event organized on October 14 and 15. Two 10 meters high bamboo poles are erected inside the sanctuary; they are called “male bamboo” (男竹) and “female bamboo” (女竹). Accompanied by traditional drums, flutes and shamisen, two people in white garb and with a fox mask climb up the poles and declare to each other their love at the top of the bamboos. They also accomplish some kind of acrobatic performance.

At the end, the fox at the top of the male bamboo throws around some small rice cakes (mochi), pulls out of a pocket in his garb a chicken and lets it fly to the ground. Eventually both foxes go down the poles with a spectacular slide.

The festival has been organized in Wakamiya-Inari-Jinja since 1896; earlier, another shrine in Nagasaki City used to host the festival.


  1. (Japanese) The Agency for Cultural Affairs, Cultural Heritage Online: 竹ン芸 たけんげい (no date).

Retrieved from “

For some videos, please see below the French version for this blog entry.

Watching the videos, we understand better old French newspaper articles, and we clearly see how spectacular and dangerous acrobatics performances could be. The videos and the history of the festival also allow to raise the question of the transformation Japanese performances had to go through to be appreciated in Europe and America. Does the Takengei festival offer a “pure” unadulterated version of the spectacle offered by Japanese acrobats around 1867, before orientalism and japonisme influence ? I also find remarkable the light and dramatic plays made possible by the white garb of the acrobats during the night festival. They probably contrast with the exotic and colorful cloth that were an often appreciated feature of Japanese acrobats in France.

(I had no qualm to quote in extenso the Wikipedia entry because I wrote most of it. As a professor of French in Japan, I designed some exercises using this electronic free encyclopedia, an under-appreciated and often maligned tool for educators.)

(I am happy to mention the comics blog Vee’s Dumping Ground by Violaine Briat. It is thanks to her drawings that I discovered the festival. Serendipity can help scholars to go out of Google’s tracks.)

(See B. E. Thornbury, The Cultural Properties Protection Law and Japan’s Folk Performing Arts, Asian Folklore Studies 53, 1994, p. 211-225 for some background on Japan’s Folk Intangible Patrimony)



Le Farfale or Butterflys is a wonderful Italian short silent film made in 1907.

(For more information, see Arte’s website, in French or German)

I do not know if it was ever shown in France.

It can be divided in three parts:

  1. Japanese juggler women and a Japanese magician display their talent; they are all Caucasians dressed in Japanese garb. The set is also Japanese with a tori, pines, lantern and the Fuji mountain in the background
  2. A fantasy scene that could have been shot by Melies
  3. A serpentine dance (or Louise Fuller dance): butterflies come to haunt the magician who had cut the wings of one of them before killing it.


If the scenes might seem unconnected and the Japanese setting and costumes seem artificial, they are actually tied by the theme of the butterfly.

Japanese jugglers were famous for juggling with paper made butterflies and a fan.
Les hommes-phénomènes : force, agilité, adresse : hercules, coureurs, sauteurs, nageurs, plongeurs, gymnastes, équilibristes, disloqués, jongleurs, avaleurs de sabres, tireurs / par Guyot-Daubès
Les hommes-phénomènes : force, agilité, adresse : hercules, coureurs, sauteurs, nageurs, plongeurs, gymnastes, équilibristes, disloqués, jongleurs, avaleurs de sabres, tireurs / par Guyot-Daubès

When Chocolat meets the Kiriki

Scholars and scientists are often asked how they started a project and what triggered their research. For the topic of this blog, I can bring a straightforward answer.

First I read a review of Noiriel’s book, Chocolat in the daily newspaper Le Monde. It rose my curiosity, and I bought the book. I enjoyed it so much that I could not stop reading before reaching its end.

I was fascinated by its use of electronic resources, particularly the digitalized collection of the national Library in France. And as a male Caucasian living in Japan, that is as a privileged immigrant encountering sometimes curious situations, I became interested in the distinction Noiriel offered to do between prejudices and systemic racism.

Then I remembered having read in newspapers about a short silent film, Kiriki, acrobates japonais.

Logically I submitted a query at the Gallica website with this phrase; its results were many and surprising, and I decided to explore further the situation of Japanese acrobats in France.



Les Kiriki – Acrobates japonais