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In the late nineteenth century the Japanese elite embarked on an aggressive, ambitious program of modernization known in the West as the "Meiji Restoration." In a remarkably short period of time, they transformed Japan: what was a thoroughly traditional, quasi-feudal welter of agricultural estates became a modern industrial nation-state. Since the inspiration for these reforms came from the West (the Japanese had seen what the Western Powers had done in China), the question of women's status had to be dealt with. How did the Japanese-men and women, elite and commoner-do it? In A Place in Public: Women's Rights in Meiji Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2010), Marnie Anderson attempts to answer this question. It's a fascinating story, and Marnie does a terrific job of telling it (despite, I should say, of working in a remarkably thin and difficult documentary environment). This book is essential reading for anyone interested in East Asian and Gender Studies.
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