ASIA FOR THE ASIANS: China in the Lives of Five Meiji Japanese, by Paula S. Harrell. Merwin Asia, 2012, 407 pp., $35 (paperback)

The radical makeover Japan prescribed itself in the course of the Meiji reforms, driven by entirely justified fear of Western domination, fundamentally changed conditions in East Asia. The threats of European and American encroachment prompted Japan to howl with the wolves, while China continued to believe in its time-tested cultural superiority.

While the Chinese tried to resist the imperialist powers, the Japanese joined them. They emulated Western institutions, technologies and habits, and, observing China's weakness, turned increasingly to the West. Japan's unexpected victory over China in 1895 could only strengthen the hands of those who considered Qing China a basket case and subscribed to the "Leaving Asia" ideology.