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Tani E. Barlow
Colonialism and modernity are indivisible features of the history of indus-
trial capitalism. That much has been clear since Marx pointed out the cru-
cial role colonialism played in the transformations of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, although the ways that Marx's own narratives cen-
tered Europe and personified European capitalism's emancipatory poten-
tial are not theoretically or empirically viable. Leninist and Maoist analy-
ses of imperialism have expanded thinking on the historical relationship
between colonial exploitation and modernity, as have anticolonial wars of
national liberation fought in the name of Lenin and Mao and scholarship
engaged in the politics of decolonization. All this is only to reestablish
three points: The first is that "modernity" must not be mistaken for a thing
in itself, for that sleight of hand obliterates the context of political econ-
omy. The second is that once modernity is construed to be prior to colo-
nialism, it becomes all too easy to assume, wrongly, the existence of an
originary and insurmountable temporal lag separating colonialism from
modernity. Thus, the third point is that the modernity of non-European
colonies is as indisputable as the colonial core of European modernity.
However, not much of this consensus on colonialism and the discourses
of modernity was admitted into East Asian area studies until very recently.
Looking from the inside out, academic scholarship and popular knowledge
about East Asia had remained almost unbearably static, constrained for
decades by, among other things, a naturalization of the knowledge field.
For years, the dominant wing of East Asian historiography maintained that
"China, Japan, and Korea" form one very long lived, very real, historically
very homogeneous, social-cultural totality. Knowledge about this natural-
ized region was transparent and descriptive, analogous to that of the bio-
logical sciences, and therefore it enforced the idea that the building blocks
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