The 55th GJS SeminarThe Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities: The Japanese Red Cross Society and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Date and time: October 26, 2018 (Fri.), 5:00-6:00PM
Venue: Lobby (1F), Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia,

The University of Tokyo

Speaker: Michiko Suzuki, PhD Candidate, Department of History SOAS, University of London
Language: English

Abstract:The emergence of the Red Cross movement in modern Japan offers a significant revision to the historical narrative of imperial state-building and local community survival. Scholarship to date portrays the Red Cross as a Christian-based charity organisation, inseparable from its origins in mid-19th century European imperialism without sufficient scrutiny of the significant contributions of Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations that co-emerged across the world. In Japan, the Red Cross movement did not emerge from a Christian mission. Instead, from a grassroots movement, the nascent Japanese Red Cross co-emerged alongside the burgeoning empire. Ordinary people developed and initiated the Red Cross movement as a form of mutual aid for their community’s survival amidst the political turmoil brought about by the fall of the Tokugawa Regime and the drastic reform of the Meiji Restoration. The primary sector of industry declined. Rural Japan suffered from poverty, epidemic diseases, famine and natural disasters. On the other hand, the Red Cross movement in Japan also attracted the support of the Imperial Family as well as the Meiji government to create what was at a top-down movement serving a wartime state. They legitimised the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) in the country. As a result, local charity for social welfare services and natural disaster relief operations became nationwide and international. Their grassroots movement evolved into a global humanitarian movement, alongside the Japanese Empire, resulting in the formation in 1919 of the League of Red Cross Societies (LORCS), currently the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). This presentation will set the stage by looking at how the Japanese Red Cross movement created the notion of ‘humanitarianism (jindō: 人道)’, literally meaning ‘the way of humanity’ in Japanese and will examine the extent to which Japanese humanitarian ideology imposed the discourse of the evolution of the modern global humanitarian movement within both local and global contexts.

Organizer: The Global Japan Studies Network (GJS)
Co-organizer: Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA)
Contact: gjs[at]