Weekly Report 0902-Revised Research Proposal

Weekly Report 0902

Revised Research Proposal

Zhengyuan Ling


Topic: The Japanese Proto-Nationalism in the 1700s

Confucianism in the Development of Japanese Nationalism

Department: History

Advisor: Professor Eric C. Han


My research concentrates on Japanese proto-nationalism in the 18th century, when Japanese Confucian aristocrats and bureaucrats witnessed the barbarian usurpation of governance over civilized China. Confucianism in the Edo era (1603-1868 C.E.) advocated the superiority of Japan among other contemporaneous nations, which was conducive to Japanese proto-nationalism. The indigenous proto-nationalism and the western nation-state ideology, which was introduced exogenously by the end of the Edo period in the 1800s, blended to generate a system of nationalism with Japanese characteristics at the beginning of the 20th century. I would argue that Confucianism in Edo-era Japan contributed to Japanese proto-nationalism and later, modern nationalism, along with fascism and militarism as their offspring.

The Tokugawa Bakufu as the central government of Edo-era Japan and other dependent domains in the Tokugawa Lineage, who embraced Confucianism as the official political doctrine. Confucianism, as a symbol of Han-Chinese culture and entering Japan in the mid-1200s,  encouraged social stratification and hierarchical obedience. In the Edo era, Japan entered a period of peace constituted by the Tokugawa clan after a long-term turmoil of conflicts between warlords. The Bakufu attached importance to Confucianism’s political utilities, as the governance according to the Confucian doctrines enhanced centralized leadership and eliminated domestic dissidents. Though never submit to Ming-China or enter the Imperial Chinese Tributary System as a subject state, Edo-era Japan admired the economic prosperity and sophisticated culture of China under the rule of ethnic-Han leadership. As imported Chinese products symbolized the level of civilization and wealth and Confucian governing doctrines facilitated political administration; the Bakufu had been diligently and humbly acquiring trade goods and Confucian classics before Ming-China declined due to famine, bankruptcy, and rebellion. The Edo-era Japanese modestly accepted the status of yi (uncivilized) in the Confucian hua(civilized)-yi(civilized) relation, as they were eager to acquire knowledge and fortune from the origin of Confucianism.

Nevertheless, Japanese Confucian scholars like Hayashi Hoko and Yamaga Soko suggested that the huayi relation should be reversed. The Manchu invasion of Ming-China and the establishment of Qing Dynasty not only was a major event in the Chinese history, but also reshaped the worldview of Japanese intellectuals. The Japanese recognized Manchu people as nomadic barbarians and regarded the coronation of a Manchu Emperor over China as the collapse of the Han-Chinese civilization. Though Manchu governing China sinicized after a series of cultural assimilation, Japanese Confucian aristocrats and bureaucrats sentimentally believed that China at the time was ruled by barbarous nomads who obtained no respect of Confucian civilization. The Japanese Confucian scholars, who held positions in the Bakufu government and controlled the national ideology system, believed that the regime change in China was an opportunity to alleviate Japan’s status. Yamaga used the Japanese term chucho (equivalent to “China”, meaning the “central realm”. However in Yamaga’s context, “China” not only represented the regime in the geographical centre, but also symbolized the central core of East Asian cultural sphere.) to describe Japan in the 1700s. He believed that China under the nomadic rule should yield the title of chucho to Japan, as China was no longer qualified as a civilized state. On the other hand, Japan had never been ruled by aliens because of its strategic location and geographical characteristics; so Japan could preserve Confucianism, which marked Japan’s cultural superiority. Hayashi Hoko argued for the reversal of the huayi relation between China and Japan in the 1700s. Hayashi stated that the Ming Dynasty royalty fled and hid in countryside when nomads invaded and conquered. Han-Chinese as the majority population in China failed to mobilize and defend themselves but became the subjects of uncivilized barbarians. Therefore, Manchu-governed China degenerated from the core of civilization to a state of nomads. Meanwhile, Japan, which succeeded the whole system of Confucian doctrines and traditions, should fulfill the responsibility of a civilized state and serve as the core of the cultural sphere in East Asia. Yamaga and Hayashi’s arguments indicated that Edo-era Japan, as a Confucian state recognized by both Chinese and Japanese Confucian scholars, was superior to other Asian neighbors and held the obligation to moralize those societies that were less educated. Their indigenous proto-nationalist ideologies were published more than 100 years earlier than western nation-state doctrines arrived in Japan shortly before the Tokugawa Bakufu collapsed in 1868.

My research project argues that the emergence of Japanese proto-nationalism laid the ideological foundation for its systematic nationalism in the early 20th century. Modern Japanese nationalism was a hybration of indigenous proto-nationalism derived from Confucianism and western nation-state ideologies. Japanese nationalism was different from conventional civic nationalism, as it prohibited a society with equal rights but advocated a stratified hierarchy. However, nationalism in Japan did encourage the state to pursue national interest with all necessary means, including physical brutality against neighboring states. I would like to argue that Confucianism in Edo-era Japan generated national pride and a sense of superiority, which in later era facilitated authoritarianism and aggressiveness. The research project could examine the nature of Confucian ideologies being authoritarian, as this school of thoughts fundamentally demands obedience towards superiors and emphasizes the difference between stratified social classes, or even among different tiers of states in an international perspective.

My research applies the lens of cultural history to examine the development progress of the Japanese nationalism. It is a different approach than the “grand history” method that commonly utilized in social and political historical studies, as I studied how a school of thought facilitate the progress of social development. My primary documents consist works by Edo-era Japanese Confucian scholars, including Chucho Jijitsu by Yamaga Soko, and Kai Hentai by Hayashi Hoko. These two documents were written in archaic Chinese instead of modern Japanese. Therefore, I had been able to utilize by Chinese linguistic capacity in the analysis. My major secondary reference is Kiri Paramore’s Japanese Confucianism: a cultural history, which provides me with intuitions when I planned for my research project.

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