Dr 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’s first book is 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.

Books

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

Christopher Harding

Japan Story 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.

All eyes will be on Japan in the coming years with the abdication of Emperor Akihito in 2019 and the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. 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

The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives

Christopher Harding

Timed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics in Summer 2020, 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.

Beginning with Japan’s legendary shaman queen, Himiko, who communed with the gods for the sake of her nascent nation, the book runs right up the present day with Sadako Ogata, Japan’s star diplomat, who grew up during the ‘dark valley’ period of mid-twentieth-century militarism and war but whose career with the United Nations Refugee Agency reveals a country striving to reinvent itself as peaceable, internationalist and a responsible player in the still-dangerous neighbourhood of East Asia.. Along the way we meet the builder of a great city, a fearsome woman warrior, a global adventurer, a merciless military commander, the creators of classic theatre, satire, and art, and radically differing ideas about who ‘the Japanese’ should become in a highly competitive and often hostile modern world.

 

The Japanese will be published by Allen Lane in Summer 2020

Eastern Promise: The Western Search for Meaning in Asia

Christopher Harding

Eastern Promise explores the lives of some of the most influential spiritual seekers, the criticisms they faced both in Asia and at home, and the lasting impact on Western culture.

From the late 1700s to the present day, many Westerners have sought answers to spiritual questions in Asia: a part of the world that has often appeared more truthful, more deeply alive, than the West. Eastern Promise tells the story of these hopeful – and still ongoing – Western explorations. It homes in on a handful of the most interesting and influential spiritual seekers: exploring the dreams and dilemmas that propelled them out to Asia, the ideas that won them over, their struggles along the way, and wider impact of it all back home.

Eastern Promise will be published by Allen Lane