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Title: National Subjects, International Selves: Feminist Self-fashioning in Meiji Japan and Nineteenth Century Colonial India
Authors: Hulyalkar, Asmita
Keywords: Meiji period
Women's Question
Indian feminism
Japanese feminism
Pandita Ramabai
Tsuda Umeko
Issue Date: 30-Apr-2007
Abstract: ?National Subjects, International Selves: Feminist Self-fashioning in Meiji Japan and Colonial India,? is a historical and literary-critical inquiry into the complex relationships that Asian women in the 19C forged across the North-South divide. I argue that when such women overstepped the bounds of nation to embrace a larger sisterhood, they placed themselves in an anomalous position with regard to the nation-state?as citizen-subjects and as feminists. In particular, I examine the work of Japanese feminist and educator Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929) in conjunction with that of the Indian feminist Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) for both of whom an engagement with the task of female education and social reform at home became possible through the emotional and material support provided by their American counterparts. Reading Ramabai?s The High-caste Hindu Woman (1888) together with Japanese Girls and Women (1891) co-authored by Tsuda and her American friend Alice Bacon I focus on the logic of the triadic encounter between Tsuda, Ramabai and the American women who espoused their cause. I analyse these two texts in terms of the key paradox underlying the Japanese understanding of their own Asianness: while they sought to identify with the ?civilised? West the Japanese at the same time could not but recognize cultural affinities with India and thereby ?Asia.? In the dissertation, my historical-semantic survey of the emergence of ?Asia? in the Japanese imaginary in this period is offset by an examination of 19C constructions of ?ideal? womanhood that sought to locate woman within the nation. Here I describe Tsuda?s uncomfortable relation to her country and its language because of her early life in America; I suggest that Tsuda?s commitment to the cause of international sisterhood had the paradoxical effect of making her acquiesce to the Meiji?s state?s project for a modern ?Japanese? woman. Finally, my examination of Tsuda?s voluminous correspondence with her American mother as framed in ?ba Minako?s biography and translation of these letters seeks to draw attention to the fact that both ?Asian? and ?Japanese? continued to be reinscribed in this period, most effectively through discourses extolling the so-called uniqueness of the Japanese language.
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