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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Event date: 
Monday, 15 March, 2021 - 18:00


East Asian Traders and Multiethnic Kings: Uncovering a Lost History of Japan (1350-1569)

This lecture traces the history of the Ōuchi, an immigrant family from western Japan, and explores how they amassed power and influence from the fourteenth through the mid-sixteenth centuries. The Ōuchi family were kings in all but name who oversaw extensive trade with the continent, while their city of Yamaguchi functioned as an important regional entrepôt. They established an ethnic identity, claiming descent from Korean kings, and these assertions helped facilitate close ties with Korea.  Under their rule, the political and economic core of Japan migrated from the capital to the western tip of Honshu during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although this region suffered eclipse in the aftermath of the Ōuchi collapse.

Thomas Conlan, Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University explores how processes such as warfare, or ritual performance, determined the politics, ideals, and social matrix of Japan from the tenth through the sixteenth centuries. Majoring in Japanese and History at the University of Michigan, he attended graduate school at Stanford University. He first taught at Bowdoin College before moving to Princeton University.

Professor Conlan’s first published work, In Little Need of Divine Intervention: Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, introduced new sources about the Mongol Invasions. In this work, he argued that the Japanese defenders were capable of fighting the Mongol invaders to a standstill. His next monograph, State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan,  based on his Ph.D. dissertation, revealed how warfare transformed the social, political, and intellectual matrix of fourteenth-century Japan. He then wrote a general history of the samurai, entitled Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior, 1200-1877. In his latest recent book, From Sovereign to Symbol: An Age of Ritual Determinism in Fourteenth Century Japan, he analyzed the nature of political thought in medieval Japan. Currently Professor Conlan is exploring the role of religion and politics in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and argues that the Ōuchi, a daimyo of western Japan, were the central figures of their age.

Recently, Conlan has explored how prophecies influenced historical narratives of the Onin War (1467-77) in an article entitled:
The ‘Ōnin War’ as Fulfillment of Prophecy. The Journal of Japanese Studies 46.1 (Winter 2020), pp. 31-60.