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History Kenmu: Go–Daigo's Revolution

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The short-lived Kenmu regime (1333–1336) of Japanese Emperor Go-Daigo is often seen as an inevitably doomed, revanchist attempt to shore up the old aristocratic order. But far from resisting change, Andrew Edmund Goble here forcefully argues, the flamboyant Go-Daigo and his iconoclastic associates were among the competitors seeking to overcome the old order and renegotiate its structure and ethos. Their ultimate defeat did not automatically spell failure; rather, the revolutionary nature of their enterprise decisively moved Japan into its medieval age.

By birth, education, and circumstances, Go-Daigo should have been a weak, fatalistic bit player. Instead, this student of Chinese political theory was a bold actor with unprecedented knowledge of the various regions of Japan, who forced situations to his own benefit and led a rebellion that overthrew the Kamakura bakufu. Kenmu: Go-Daigo's Revolution tells his extraordinary personal story vividly, reexamines original sources to discover the real nature of the Kenmu polity, and sets both within the broader backdrop of social, economic, and intellectual change at a dynamic moment in Japanese history.


"Andrew Edmund Goble has written an impressive study of a key event in medieval Japanese history… This is not an episode of merely antiquarian interest. In prewar Japan, Go-Daigo was glorified as a precursor of the Meiji emperor, and unorthodox interpretations of his achievements were risky. Today…his role as an instigator of a major political tradition makes him an object of scholarly debate… Goble bases his analysis on a careful reading of an extraordinarily wide range of sources, both primary and secondary… Japanese scholarship, which is apt to be quite narrowly focused, is skillfully placed in a larger analytical framework… Any reader of Goble's book will come away with a new appreciation for this uncommonly vigorous emperor… Goble has put Go-Daigo in a new light as a man who, along with his policies, deserves to be taken seriously."Robert Borgen, American Historical Review

"In the true historian's spirit of questioning traditional opinion, Andrew Goble has undertaken to clear Go-Daigo's name, particularly as a politician. He investigates his background, political manoeuvrings, method of winning allies, struggle against the Hojo, early administrative policies, and overall goals. He also explores how and why Takauji got the better of him. Goble's research is solid and his style is highly readable. His methodology, endnotes, and bibliography are impeccable… In short, the book is of lasting value to the field of Japanese medieval studies… Should one read this book? Yes, definitely. Its analysis of primary sources alone is a monument of erudition, the theme is pioneering, and the style…is riveting… It is, above all, a good read."Carl Steenstrup, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"Edmund Goble returns to the feudal period to develop a scholarly reinterpretation of a critical time in Japanese history. Was the role of Emperor Go-Daigo important in moving Japan on to a more advanced nation-state? By demonstrating the fissiparous state of Japan at that time, Goble helps to illuminate the dual problems of emperor and state in recent times. Andrew Goble argues that the Kenmu regime, as interpreted by the Emperor Go-Daigo, who ruled from 1318–1339, despite apparently failing, led Japan into another age. From this perspective, the remarkable thing about Japan in the modern period, is its success, especially since 1945, in transforming the Emperor's role into that of a constitutional monarch, in a modern democratic government."Olive Checkland, Japan Society Proceedings

About the Author

Andrew Edmund Goble is Associate Professor of History at the University of Oregon.

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Andrew Edmund Goble
Harvard East Asian Monographs
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52.50 USD

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