Eric Han: Japan’s Nationality Law and Immigration Restrictions of 1899

Legislating Japanese Identity between China and the West

This past Friday, IAS Speaker Series welcomed Professor Eric Han from the College of William and Mary’s History Department to present on Japan’s immigration policies of the late 19th century. Japan’s relations with China, Korea and Western powers were central points in these policies, which in turn acted in the historical formation of Japanese identity. Questions were taken after the lecture from student and faculty attendees. Posits ranged from speculation of actual immigrant numbers during this time period to the idea of “citizenship” as a Western concept in contrast to an encompassing notion of nationalism.  

Han pointed out the shift from Japan as a putative, multiethnic empire (from 1895) to a monoethnic nation state (from 1945 onwards). This formation in identity is undoubtedly owed to tighter immigration policies since Japan based national legislation on jus sanguinis, or citizenship by blood. Over this period of transformation, Japan saw revolutionary changes in its governing structure, taxation, conscription army, new investments, the first Asian constitution, national elections, and the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation. Ultimately, the passing of the Nationality Law of 1899 and the Immigration Ordinance of 1899 were created, affecting both Western and Chinese foreigners to arguably lesser and greater degrees (respectively). 

Key applications for discourse on immigration include today's granting of local voting rights to non-citizens (instanced by governments in Europe), responses to mobility of people across borders, and the globalist movement that the world has seen for the past several decades. The laws of 1899 continue to be important as they evidence policy’s power to shape demographics and social reality, through the “common sense notion” of a country’s identity.