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Asia in Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching

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Henry D. Smith II on the “Five Myths about Early Modern Japan” is one students will read and find enlightening. Students will be receptive to the process of exposing stereotypes of Asian societies as being dictatorial, feudal, and isolated. Tokugawa Japan was more peaceful that it has been made out to be; Qing China, faced with manifold pressures in the nineteenth century, had an integrated social system, and Korea was not isolated, weak, and stagnant.

If one is still concerned about what could be included in Asia in world history thematically, the last section with eleven essays can settle many doubts. One does not have to be dogmatic in following all the themes, but the judicious use of some of the significant themes can produce a valuable framework.

While this last section briefly covers the entire history of significant countries and histories, it is also a useful section for valuable insights to help one maintain coherence and to stress continuity in Asian history. Familiar themes such as cultural borrowing, empire building, nationalism, and modernization are included. Misconceptions, such as those concerning Chinese history, are exposed, and one can use some of the major themes to develop a framework for comparative studies. In addition, the relationships between Japan and the United States, Asia and Latin America (countries and regions that have shared mutual histories and impacted each other), are topics offered in the book so readers can better understand these kinds of interrelationships.

In identifying the “texts, themes, and comparative concepts” (p. xi) on Asia, the authors of the fifty-seven articles and essays successfully offer their readers a wide selection of insights that could be included into Western and world history even as the scope and definition of these histories change. Terms such as “Asia,” “empire,” “culture and civilization,” and even “modernization” have to be defined succinctly. Student needs will also define what significant themes and insights will be integrated into Western and world history.

The book is intended to steer instructors in what could and should be included in teaching Asia in Western and world history. While the book is a guide, it is an indispensable resource for instructors, and college and university libraries.