Cover of Wombs of Empire by Sujin Lee
Wombs of Empire
Population Discourses and Biopolitics in Modern Japan
Sujin Lee


October 2023
258 pages.
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Hardcover now $55.00 (50% off)
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636392
Paperback ISBN: 9781503637009
Ebook ISBN: 9781503637016

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Japan's contemporary struggle with low fertility rates is a well-known issue, as are the country's efforts to bolster their population in order to address attendant socioeconomic challenges. However, though this anxiety about and discourse around population is thought of as relatively recent phenomenon, government and medical intervention in reproduction and fertility are hardly new in Japan. The "population problem (jinko mondai)" became a buzzword in the country over a century ago, in the 1910s, with a growing call among Japanese social scientists and social reformers to solve what were seen as existential demographic issues.

In this book, Sujin Lee traces the trajectory of population discourses in interwar and wartime Japan, and positions them as critical sites where competing visions of modernity came into tension. Lee destabilizes the essentialized notions of motherhood and population by dissecting gender norms, modern knowledge, and government practices, each of which played a crucial role in valorizing, regulating, and mobilizing women's maternal bodies and responsibilities in the name of population governance. Bringing a feminist perspective and Foucauldian theory to bear on the history of Japan's wartime scientific fascism, Lee shows how anxieties over demographics have undergirded justifications for ethnonationalism and racism, colonialism and imperialism, and gender segregation for much of Japan's modern history.

About the author

Sujin Lee is Assistant Professor of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria

"The pronatalist slogan, Umeyo! Fuyaseyo! (Give birth! Grow [the Nation]!), was ubiquitous during the heyday of Japanese imperialism, and the targeted population of 100 million was reached a half century later in 1970. Today, Japan has one of the fastest aging and shrinking populations among post-industrial countries, and the postwar democratic state can no longer exercise autocratic control over citizens' reproductive lives. Through her careful analysis of early 20th century birth-control 'research societies' and their discursive matrices, Lee complicates the socio-political construction of marriage, motherhood, and modernity in Japan that continues to shape the intersecting discourses of demography today in Japan."

—Jennifer Robertson, University of Michigan

"Sujin Lee's Wombs of Empire provides a brilliant analysis of interwar and wartime Japan's biopolitics with a focus on the discourse on birth-control and its pivotal role in the problematization of population. Deftly interweaving a Foucauldian analysis and the intricacies of modern Japanese history,Lee illuminates the centrality of biopolitics for Japan's modernity or modernity at large. A tour de force."

—Katsuya Hirano, University of California, Los Angeles

"Wombs of Empire is a compelling and rigorous study of the politics of population control offering a multi-scalar analysis that traverses discourses of gendered and racialized sexual practices, linking individualized morality and hygiene to national population control through eugenics policies and the criminalization of birth control. With erudition and eloquence, Sujin Lee forwards an illuminating and fascinating analysis of Japanese biopolitics within a transnational context which spans debates ranging from neo-Malthusianism, leftist birth control movements, eugenic feminism and calls for proletarian birth strikes."

—Setsu Shigematsu, University of California, Riverside