Thought Crime

Ideology and State Power in Interwar Japan

Thought Crime

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: March 2019

Author: Max M. Ward

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Thought Crime Max M. Ward explores the Japanese state's efforts to suppress political radicalism in the 1920s and 1930s. Ward traces the evolution of an antiradical law called the Peace Preservation Law, from its initial application to suppress communism and anticolonial nationalism—what authorities deemed thought crime—to its expansion into an elaborate system to reform and ideologically convert thousands of thought criminals throughout the Japanese Empire. To enforce the law, the government enlisted a number of nonstate actors, who included monks, family members, and community leaders. Throughout, Ward illuminates the complex processes through which the law articulated imperial ideology and how this ideology was transformed and disseminated through the law's application over its twenty-year history. In so doing, he shows how the Peace Preservation Law provides a window into understanding how modern states develop ideological apparatuses to subject their respective populations.


"[Ward] has provided his readers with a well-written account of how between 1920 and the 1930s the Japanese nation endeavored to suppress political radicalism." — Augustine Adu Frimpong, African and Asian Studies

 "Thought Crime offers a lucid reflection on theories of power and the modern state while refusing to fetishize the particularities of the Japanese case." — David Ambaras, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Thought Crime sets itself apart from past studies of the Peace Preservation Law by developing a theory of imperial ideology that focuses on its effects on those in proximity to it: bureaucrats, thought criminals, and those who were mobilized to rehabilitate them." — John Person, Journal of Asian Studies

“Theoretically rigorous and reinvigorating . . .  a necessary intervention in reasserting the importance of state power, elucidating the fascist logic of the emperor system”

— Catherine Tsai, Journal of Asian Humanities

"Thought Crime is a thought-provoking, intelligent, and necessary book.… It is a must-read for serious students of modern Japanese political and intellectual history." — Jeremy A. Yellen, Journal of Japanese Studies

"Rigorous and creative explorations of the multiple modalities of state power are much needed in the study of the cultural and social history of modern Japan, and in that respect Thought Crime makes an invaluable contribution to the field." — Tomoko Seto, Monumenta Nipponica

“Ward is right that the phenomenon we call tenko is not uniquely Japanese. He has worked out the theoretical arguments of Foucault and Althusser in great detail and shown how they resonate with the Japanese case of tenko. Scholars may now be able to make the connection to other cases without going so deeply into the theoretical weeds.”

— Patricia G. Steinhoff, Japanese Studies

“No one in English or Japanese has written on the Peace Preservation Law with the conceptual sophistication that Max M. Ward brings to the topic. He deftly considers Japan's national body politic and the phenomenon of ideological conversion in their imbrications with the problems of sovereignty, the monarchy, colonialism, and national territory like nobody else. Thought Crime will be required reading for scholars and students of modern Japanese history.” — Takashi Fujitani, author of Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II

“Max M. Ward's illuminating new book examines the dynamics of left-right political conversions—tenko—during the era of Japanese fascism. Moving beyond the conventional focus on the individual as the site for moral responsibility and political repression, Ward directs our attention to the operations and logic of the imperial state. By examining the nexus of political ideology, state form, and security apparatus, Ward reenergizes debates about Japan's ‘emperor-system’ and injects new life into the practice of political history more broadly. A must read for scholars of interwar and wartime Japan.” — Louise Young, author of Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Max M. Ward is Associate Professor of History at Middlebury College and coeditor of Confronting Capital and Empire: Rethinking Kyoto School Philosophy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Policing Ideological Threats, Then and Now  ix
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction. The Ghost in the Machine: Emperor System Ideology and the Peace Preservation Law Apparatus  1
1. Kokutai and the Aporias of Imperial Sovereignty: The Passage of the Peace Preservation Law in 1925  21
2. Transcriptions of Power: Repression and Rehabilitation in the Early Peace Preservation Law Apparatus, 1925-1933  49
3. Apparatuses of Subjection: The Rehabilitation of Thought Criminals in the Early 1930s  77
4. Nurturing the Ideological Avowal: Toward the Codification of Tenko in 1936 123
5. The Ideology of Conversion: Tenko on the Eve of Total War  145
Epilogue. The Legacies of the Thought Rehabilitation System in Postwar Japan  179
Notes  185
Bibliography  261
Index  281
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0165-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0131-7
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