Unlike most of the other volumes published by the Slavic Research Centre at Hokkaido University, this collection of essays is not the product of one of their remarkable international conferences, but instead showcases the work of Japanese scholars in ‘Empire Studies’. The five essays and K. Matsuzato’s lengthy introduction range widely, from French Algeria to the aftermath of WWII in East Asia, and only two can be said to deal with Central Eurasia stricto sensu. These are Yago Kazuhiko’s paper on “The Anatomy and Pathology of Empire: Three Balance Sheets of Russian and Soviet Banks” and Sugiyama Kiyohiko’s “The Qing Empire in the Central Eurasian Context: Its Structure of Rule as Seen from the Eight Banner System.” K. Yago’s article offers both new empirical material (drawn from rgae and French archives) and some broader conclusions about the nature of the ‘finance imperialism’ examined in the classic works of J. A. Hobson, Jean Bouvier and Cain & Hopkins. K. Yago examines the balance sheets of the Russo-Chinese Bank (which went bust when the Central Asian cotton bubble burst in 1904), its successor the Russo-Asiatic Bank (the largest bank in Tsarist Russia) and the Soviet-era Far Eastern Bank (established in 1934), all of which are reproduced in appendices. He identifies both continuities (the importance of activities in China, the existence of a ‘window’ branch in Western Europe) and important differences (the Soviet Dalibank had much stronger deposit holdings than its Tsarist predecessors, concentrated in its head office in Harbin rather than spread among various branches). Overall he concludes that historians of finance imperialism should pay more attention to short-term capital flows, and accept that much of the activity even of supposedly ‘Imperialist’ banks was driven by purely commercial rather than political concerns. K. Sugiyama’s paper is more a work of synthesis, drawing together the conclusions of recent Japanese research on the Qing dynasty, and advancing the thesis that in order to fully understand the banner system which was crucial to the hierarchies of the empire’s Manchu élite, we must relate it to Inner Eurasian nomadic military and bureaucratic traditions. He draws parallels between the relationship which existed between a Manchu military élite and a largely Chinese bureaucracy, and that between Turkic military rulers and their Persian-speaking administrative class in Mawara’ al-nahr and Iran. Perhaps inevitably in an article of such scope, there are some over-stretched analogies (the Manchus, for instance, used their own language for administrative documents at the highest level, something which was not true for Turkic or Mongol ruling dynasties in sedentary societies, who almost always used Persian). It is nevertheless valuable in giving an overview of recent Japanese scholarship on the Qing dynasty which would otherwise be inaccessible to western scholars.
Whilst all the papers in the volume make some comparisons across empires (something particularly true of Kudo Akihito’s excellent contribution on the plural, but unequal legal system of French Algeria, which comprehensively dismantles some cherished myths about the differences between British and French Imperialism), it is Matsuzato Kimitaka’s introduction which successfully draws together a very disparate set of papers and comes to some general conclusions on them. K. Matsuzato’s focus is on empires as regimes of legal difference, something which can be applied to both territories and populations, and which is a common thread he sees in British, French, Russian, Chinese and Japanese Imperialism. As he concludes, Japanese scholars of Empire are not isolated from international currents or re-inventing the wheel ― they are fully aware of and engaged with the work of Western, Chinese and Russian scholars on the subject. By offering some of the broader conclusions of their work in English, this volume goes some way to making that engagement mutual.