Theses Doctoral

The Middlemen of Modernity: Local Elites and Agricultural Development in Meiji Japan

Craig, Christopher Robin Jamie

This dissertation is a close study of a rice-producing region in the northeastern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi from 1890 to1912, centered on the leadership of local elites over agricultural development, social order, and political management of the countryside during a period of revolutionary change. In the context of fundamental transformations to the state, economy, and society, landlords and local officials assumed positions as intermediaries between village society and the prefectural and national governments, becoming the "middlemen of modernity" for rural Japan. Along with the celebrated projects of industrialization and the modernization of the military, agricultural development occupied a place of importance in the plans of the Meiji state (1868 to 1912), but it failed to attract the same commitment of government finances. With official intervention in farming improvement and rural villages limited to moral exhortations, it was local elites, not the national government, who assumed responsibility for the countryside. Miyagi provided a fertile ground for their activities, demonstrating the heightened need for improvement that came with the climactic and economic challenges endemic in northeastern Japan. The character of Miyagi leaders evolved over time, with changes to the rural economy in the 1870s, the local government system in the 1880s, and official interest in the organization of local society at the turn of the century pushing old elites out and drawing in new figures in their places. Unchanged, however, was the role of local actors as the principal architects of rural development. They set the course of agricultural improvement, determined its character, and linked farming in new ways with the central government. The processes of change often proved disruptive in village society, rekindling old conflicts and igniting new rivalries as different actors fought over the allocation of the costs and profits of expanded production. In the end, though, elites oversaw a transformation of farming and agricultural villages that was complete by the early years of the twentieth century.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Gluck, Carol
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 19, 2014