Dr Christopher Harding

Christopher Harding

Dr Christopher Harding is a cultural historian of modern Asia and its relationships with the West.

Christopher writes and broadcasts on topics ranging from religion and spirituality to politics, pop culture, and mental health.

Since being named one of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Thinkers in 2013, his broadcast work has included discussion and festival appearances, essays, a taster film, and extensive documentary work on BBC radio, including a four-part series on culture and mental health The Borders of Sanity, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service in 2016.

He has written for BBC History magazine, History Today, Aeon magazine, and the Telegraph, in addition to Japan’s premier national daily, the Asahi Shinbun.

In 2017, Christopher assisted with the BBC and British Museum collaborative project Living With the Gods, presented by former Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor.

Christopher is the author of a number of popular history books about Japan, including Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present (Allen Lane, November 2018).

Born in London, Christopher studied at the University of Oxford before living and working for a number of years in Japan. He now lectures in modern Indian and Japanese history, and in culture and mental health, at the University of Edinburgh.

Author photo: Felicity Millward


The Light of Asia: A History of Western Fascination with the East

Christopher Harding

The Light of Asia Christopher Harding cover

An ambitious global history of European and American encounters with China, Japan and India – stretching from Chicago to Calcutta, and from antiquity to the new millennium.

From the time of the ancient Greeks onwards, the West’s relationship with Asia consisted for the most part of outrageous tales of strange beasts and monsters, of silk and spices shipped over vast distances and an uneasy sense of unknowable empires fantastically far away. By the twentieth century much of Asia might have come under Western rule after centuries of warfare, but its intellectual, artistic and spiritual influence was fighting back.

The Light of Asia is a wonderfully varied and entertaining history of the many ways in which Asia has shaped European and North American culture over centuries of tangled, dynamic encounters, and the central importance of this vexed, often confused relationship.

From Marco Polo to manga, and from ancient spirituality to wellness trends today (such as mindfulness practices and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop). Asia has been both a source of genuine fascination and equally genuine failures of comprehension. China, India and Japan were all acknowledged to be both great civilizations and in crude ways seen as superseded by the West. This is a rich, involving story of misunderstandings and sincere connection, of inspiration and falsehood, of geniuses, adventurers and con men.

A ‘beautifully written, deeply absorbing and revelatory account…  a judicious, far-reaching exploration of how the discovery of Eastern beliefs, customs and mores helped to shape Western ideas as much as Western advancements were in turn been taken up in the East… elegant and entertaining’ ★★★★★

— Mick Brown, The Telegraph

‘I found his history fascinating. The book is a fine complement to Edward Said’s Orientalism, as Harding fills many of the gaps in Said’s famous thesis…. a very interesting book’

— Ian Burma, The Spectator

‘Harding writes with energy and insight, wearing a tremendous amount of learning lightly.’

— The FT

‘a book bubbling with critical energy, sharply observed insight and welcome touches of humour’

— The Tablet

The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives

Christopher Harding

The Japanese introduces readers to more than a millennium of Japanese history through vivid, interconnected pen portraits of 20 of Japan’s most fascinating and influential lives.

Who are the Japanese? This is a question that not just outsiders but the Japanese people themselves have struggled with. It is the challenge and the conundrum that lies at the heart of more than a millennium of recorded history in Japan. It is the question at the heart of this book.

As Japan enters a new phase of its long existence, with the dawning of the age of a new emperor, The Japanese sets out to tell the story so far. It does so not by way of a traditional blow-by-blow narrative, with battle after battle and leaders coming and going. Instead, it homes in on 20 powerfully influential figures who have since become woven into Japan’s national fabric. The result is a complete, accessible and clearly themed overview of Japanese history.

‘Skilled. ambitious and often brilliant […] Harding’s book is a marvellous read, full of startling information.’

— Waldemar Januszczak - The Sunday Times

‘A fresh and fascinating perspective… Harding is able to say something new about the history of Japan’

— Japan Times

Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present

Christopher Harding

Japan Story (published in the USA as A History of Modern Japan) is an extraordinarily rich cultural history of Japan from 1850 to the present. The book offers a brand new telling of modern Japanese history, exploring the ways the ways in which the nation has grappled with modernity, internationalism and its own cultural anxieties, and revising the traditional narratives of contemporary Japan as both a morality tale and an economic miracle.

In Chris’s absorbing account, we encounter writers of dramas, ghost stories and crime novels where modernity itself is the tragedy, the ghoul and the bad guy; surrealist and avant-garde artists sketching their escape; rebel kamikaze pilots and the put-upon urban poor; hypnotists and gangsters; men in desperate search of the eternal feminine and feminists in search of something more than state-sanctioned subservience; Buddhists without morals; Marxist terror groups; couches full to bursting with the psychological fall-out of breakneck modernization. These people all sprang from the soil of modern Japan, but their personalities and projects failed to fit. They were ‘dark blossoms’: both East-West hybrids and home-grown varieties that wreathed, probed and sometimes penetrated the new structures of mainstream Japan.

This dazzling and original book digs beneath the surface of a highly complex society, and confounds the particular image of Japan that its government likes to portray.

‘How much I admired it, what a lot I learned from it and, above all, how very much I enjoyed it… Masterly.’

— Neil MacGregor

‘Lucid and lyrical… delivered with his flair for storytelling… one of the best accounts I’ve ever read.’

— Alex Dudok de Wit, the Telegraph