Caught in Between: The Japanese “Men of High Purpose” of the Nineteenth Century and Their Ambiguous Position Between Assassin and Terrorist.
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For a long time, the mid-nineteenth century Japanese shishi, or “men of high purpose,” have been considered terrorists for their violent campaign under the banner “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians.” As a result of a series of assassination plotted by the shishi in the 1860s, scholars often refer to them as terrorists without always providing a detailed assessment. Following the three criteria of historian Martin A. Miller (The Foundations of Modern Terrorism, 2013) in differentiating terrorism from other genres of political violence—“fear,” “violent entanglement,” and “contestation over state legitimacy”— this paper attempts to shed further light on our understanding of the shishi violence in Tokugawa Japan. This project investigates both individual shishi like Ōshio Heihachirō and Yoshida Shōin as well as collective shishi movement in the early 1860s. It pays special attention to both shishi and the state’s justification in using violence. This project also argues that the shishi cannot be collectively defined as either terrorists or non-terrorists. Although they appeared unified in fighting for the same political course, a deep investigation reveals some notable differences among them. For example, some shishi attacked foreigners, whereas others assassinated statespersons; some shishi chose violence as the last resort, while others preferred it over available peaceful means. Furthermore, the author argues that there existed a disjuncture between the overarching shishi ideology on top and individual shishi’s motives in practicing the terror and violence. All these variations complicate one’s understanding of shishi’s political identity.
DepartmentGraduate Liberal Studies
Subjectshishi, imperial loyalist, the 19th century Japan, Meiji Restoration, terrorism, political assassination
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Rights for Collection: Graduate Liberal Studies