Jooyeon Hahm

Ph.D. Candidate


Modern Japan, Late Imperial & Modern China, Comparative Gender


Fred R. Dickinson (Advisor)
Ayako Kano
Siyen Fei
Ramya Sreenivasan


"Family Matters: Unwed Mothers and Illegitimate Children in the Japanese Empire, 1895–1945"

My dissertation, the study of unmarried mothers and out-of-wedlock children in the early twentieth century Japanese empire, examines the contingencies that have shaped legal discourses and social practices that privileged a certain model of family. In so doing, it also explores the possibilities that these individuals unfastened by pushing the limits of the accepted boundary. Their cases expose the dilemmas that the empire faced between appeasing the traditional ruling class and creating a support base enthusiastic about the state’s modernization project. The court served as a space where these predicaments manifested and agents of empire and colonial subjects appropriated, negotiated, and contested norms and ideals. This perspective tackles the intentionality of empire-building and centrality of assimilation in post-colonial narratives. It also challenges the top-down accounts of ideological subsumtion or patriarchal domination.

My dissertation casts light on the relations between the state and subjects as entrenched in a terrain of sentiments by elaborating on Ann Stoler’s theory of affective state in the East Asian context. I argue the Japanese empire pioneered and exceled in fashioning and harnessing emotional discourse. The construction and dissolution of family ties were such intimate matters that the new legal framework required components of moral persuasion and emotional appeal. Adroitly balancing between giri (social obligations) and ninjō (human feelings), the contradictory qualities that Ruth Benedict once described as unique to Japanese character, the colonizer penetrated the minds of the colonized. This imperial strategy was successful, because it capitalized on the universal human capacity for reasoned affect and affective judgment.


M.A., University of Pennsylvania (2014)
B.A., University of Pennsylvania (2012)

Research Interests

Family, Family Law, Marriage, Intimacy