MIT Visualizing Cultures

Throwing Off Asia – Lesson 05

“Old China, New Japan”

Note: this lesson shares the skill objectives of data analysis and categorization with lesson two, but with different content objectives. Teachers may want to choose one lesson or the other.

This lesson focuses on the “‘Old China, New Japan’” and “Symbolic ‘China’” sections of the Throwing Off Asia II Essay. In these sections, historian John Dower notes that woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) predictably represented China as “old” and Japan as “new.” This theme met propaganda goals of the Japanese war effort and helped create a “master narrative” of that war at home in Japan.
But what did “old China” and “new Japan” actually mean in these images—and, ultimately, in the popular consciousness molded by these images? What concrete images of obsolescence and innovation molded the Japanese popular and national imagination regarding those two countries? In this activity, students identify concrete images and details to flesh out the meaning of “old China” and “new Japan” at the turn of the 19th century in Japan.
In step five, alternative directions are provided. The high school procedure requires students to develop their own sets of categories for defining “old” China vs. “new” Japan. In the middle school procedure, students are provided with a set of categories to fill in.

National History Standards (Word doc)

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be better able to:
1. Recognize the Japanese hostility towards the country and culture of China that emerged during the course of the Sino-Japanese War and document underlying reasons for that hostility.
2. Consider how repeated messages in woodblock-print documentation of the war created or reinforced such attitudes in Japan.
3. Read visual texts for evidence and examples of a theme.
4. Categorize visual materials.
5. Develop a historical narrative using visual images.
6. Synthesize individual analyses through the creation of a PowerPoint presentation.

Time Required
Two class periods

Materials and preparation
Online access to Throwing Off Asia for all students
Handout 05-A (Word doc) or 05-B (Word doc) copied in advance for all students
Handout 05-C (Word doc) copied in advance for all students
“Old China, New Japan” (PowerPoint)

1. Set the context for this lesson by explaining to students that the two Japanese wars of the late-19th century were symbolic milestones on the road to becoming a modern nation on par with Western nations—even before Japan won them. Given what they know about Japan’s goals in the Meiji period, ask students why a war with China followed by a victorious war with Russia might be so important to Japan at this time. Specific questions to ask might include:
   •What were the goals of the Meiji government as embodied in the three slogans of the time? (See lesson three in this unit.)
   •Looking back over previous centuries, how had China positioned itself in Asia? What was China’s traditional relationship with her neighboring countries? What was Japan’s traditional relationship to China? 
   •For Japan, how did Russia present a different challenge than China at the end of the 1800s?
Lead students to an understanding that victory in a war with China, Japan’s neighbor and cultural tutor for centuries, would wrest a symbolic supremacy in Asia from the country that had established itself as the center of the Asian world. Once that milestone was achieved, Japan could look to war with a Western power; victory would mean symbolic and practical parity with Western nations.
2. If the class has not completed a previous lesson in this unit, take time to introduce woodblock prints of the period. Explain that woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (and, to a lesser extent, the Russo-Japanese War) were the primary news medium for presenting information on the war effort, battles, victories, and so on. In the Sino-Japanese War, photography was just beginning to be widely reproduced, and so woodblock prints, which could be mass produced and sold cheaply, served as picture tabloids might today. Photography can be manipulated by angle, frame, and airbrushing (and, now, Photoshop); woodblock prints were also subjective and the images were manipulated by the artist to present particular information and perspectives. Woodblock print artists of Japan’s late-19th and early-20th century wars conveyed through their visual documentaries a body of information and impressions that could not help but influence Japanese public perceptions of their own nation and the nations they were fighting.
3. Use an LCD projector and a live link to the Internet, or download several woodblock prints of Sino-Japanese War battles from Throwing Off Asia and show these to the class. Any images will work; the following may be used effectively:
   A: A Great Attack in Snow...
   B: Great Rear Attack by Our Second Army at Weihaiwei
   C: Picture of Our Forces Bringing About the Fall of Pyongyang
Show the images to the class as a whole and ask students to quickly jot down several adjectives and adverbs that come to mind when they see each image.
Review the three images as a class and ask students to share the descriptors that they recorded. At least some student descriptors should highlight the disorder and chaos of the battle scenes. Focus on this point.
It is not surprising that battle scenes should appear chaotic. In this lesson, students will look for patterns that indicate repeated messages within the depictions of battle chaos that artists conveyed to the audiences back home in Japan.
4. Divide the class into two groups. One group of students will focus on the patterns, images, and messages that emerge about the Japanese soldiers, and by extension Japan, in the wartime woodblock prints. The other group will focus on patterns, images, and messages that emerge about the Chinese soldiers and their country through the woodblock prints. Each group will ultimately create a photo essay that answers the appropriate question below. If the class is large, four groups may be used, with two groups focusing on Japan and two on China. If the teacher would like to take a more in-depth approach, the entire class may undertake the study of question A and then question B (below). 
   A: According to repeated themes and patterns of the woodblock prints and the Japanese artists who created them, what did it mean to be Japanese and “new” (modern)?

   B: According to repeated themes and patterns of the woodblock prints and the Japanese artists who created them, what did it mean to be Chinese and “old” (backward or obsolete)? 
5. To work towards their photo essay assignment, groups first need to identify patterns or categories in the woodblock prints.
Students will be working with a mini-database of woodblock prints: “‘Old China, New Japan’” (PowerPoint).
If the groups are unable to work online, the mini-database can be copied to disc for student use or printed so that each group has a full set of the 25 images with which to work.
Note: at the high school level, students will analyze the woodblock prints and develop their own categories; they will use Handout 05-A. At the middle school level, teachers may choose to work with Handout 05-B, which provides categories for the students. Procedures for each level are provided below.
High School
Distribute Handout 05-A to each student. The handout provides the directions for each group to identify a minimum of five categories that elucidate what it means to be “old” or “new,” as “read” in the woodblock prints. They then find several woodblock prints that illustrate these categories. Alert students that woodblock prints can legitimately be placed in more than one category.
Review the handout directions with students so they are clear about the group assignment. Allow class time to complete the handout assignment. Circulate among the groups to check for student understanding as they proceed through this assignment.
When groups have completed their analysis of the woodblock prints, they should each have a minimum of five patterns or categories of activities, characteristics, traits, behavior, etc., that exemplify what it meant to be “old” or “new” in the eyes of Japanese artists and in the context of late-19th-century Asia.
Middle School
Distribute Handout 05-B to each student. The handout is identical to Handout 05-A but provides categories on “new” Japan and “old” China rather than having students create categories through their own analysis. Review the handout directions with students so they are clear about the assignment and allow time to complete the work. Alert students that they may put an individual print in more than one category.
6. Students will now synthesize their analysis through a PowerPoint or print photo essay that answers one of the two questions presented in step #1. Distribute Handout 05-C or post the assignment instructions on the board or overhead projector.
   A: According to repeated themes and patterns of the woodblock prints and the Japanese artists who created them, what did it mean to be Japanese and “new” (modern)?

   B: According to repeated themes and patterns of the woodblock prints and the Japanese artists who created them, what did it mean to be Chinese and “old” (backward or obsolete)? Put another way, what was Japan throwing off, as symbolized by China?
Allow groups time to create their PowerPoint or print photo essays. Allow time for each group to present their project.

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