Book reviews –

Book reviews — Tenko: Ideology and Societal Integration in Pre-War Japan (Harvard Studies in Sociology) by Patricia G. Steinhoff

Neary, Ian

TENKO: Ideology and Societal Integration in Pre-War Japan. By Patricia C. Steinhoff: New York: Garland Publishing (Harvard Studies in Sociology). 1991. xix, 220 pp. US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 0-8240-2567-9.

IN JUNE 1933 Sano Manabu and Nabeyama Sadachika, two leaders of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), formally renounced their Communist affiliations and denounced the party. Their action was referred to by them and by the authorities as a tenko a “change of heart” or “defection” although no single English phrase or word conveys the full range of meaning of the Japanese. This started a landslide. Within a month over five hundred others, both those already convicted and those awaiting trial, had produced similar statements. Arrests and police harassment of the late 1920s and early 1930s seriously disrupted the party’s activities but it was the tenko, the defection of the bulk of the core activists, which meant that it was discredited by 1935 and unable to recommence activity until 1945.

In the mid 1960s Patricia Steinhoff was a postgraduate student in the Harvard Department of Social Relations where Parsonian functionalism was the dominant theoretical orientation. Intrigued by the problem of ideological commitment in prewar Japan, she sought to “understand how tenko had emerged as a mass response of submission to the Japanese state among just those people who had taken the riskiest and most profound stance of ideological opposition at a critical historical moment” (p. v). The result was a Ph.D. dissertation accepted in 1969 which, for a variety of reasons, has only just been published.

Despite all that has been published about Japan in the intervening years this book fills an important gap. Reflecting the circumstances in which it was produced, the work lies squarely within the functionalist tradition. However, unlike many analyses of the time it is not so suffused with the ideas and language of Parsonian sociology that the human experiences described are smothered by the methodology. Steinhoff is particularly impressive where she is describing the process of tenko, the circumstances in which the imprisoned activists were cajoled and persuaded to make statements explaining their rejection of communism and all its works. She makes extensive use of quotations from the writings of tenkosha and of insights suggested to her by the activists and officials in interviews carried out in the 1960s. Her classification of tenko into three types–common, political and spiritual–provides a framework for further detailed discussion of the experiences of those who went through the process. This is then balanced by a fascinating discussion of a few who resisted the pressures and inducements to abandon their ideas. While she is careful not to come to any grand conclusions from the small numbers of cases reviewed, she suggests that the main difference between those who succumbed to state pressure and those who did not was the strength of the personalities of the individuals. By 1935 not only had the JCP been destroyed but most of the left was in decline. The tenko process then became institutionalized so that both individuals and organizations came under pressure to proclaim their acceptance of nationalist ideas.

This work has already made an important contribution to our understanding of prewar Japan as an unpublished dissertation and in this new form it is now available for the use of our students and others. My only complaint is that given their recognition of the importance of this study, the publishers should have taken the trouble to add a proper index which would have greatly enhanced its value as a research tool.

Copyright University of British Columbia Spring 1994

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