Weekly Report 1007-State of Field Synthesis

Zhengyuan Paul Ling

History 494

Professor Limoncelli


State of Field Essay

Interconnecting the study of Confucianism in Japan and that of Japanese Nationalism is a comparatively novel approach within the East Asian historical studies society. In this millennium, Kiri Paramore and his Japanese Confucianism revive and interact with the discussion of both topics, upon which historians paid much attention in the last century, after Japanese Empire’s capitulation. I observe that my research topic shares great commonality with researches conducted by scholars who study the intellectual history of the Tokugawa period, when Confucianism was prosperous and encouraged the emergence of proto-Nationalism as I argue.

Though Tokugawa intellectual historians all wrote and published their works in a particular periods between 1979 and 1992, when historical society started to recognize the Tokugawa period as a vital era that served as the foundation of Japanese modernization and before American audiences lost their interest in the Asian ally with the end of Cold War. I would like to pay particular attention to Samuel Yamashita’s categorization of Tokugawa intellectual historians, bcause his classification of writing notions and research methodologies accurately portrays this particular school of East Asian historical studies. The first among four interpretive community Yamashita proposed is what he refers as the “modernization” school, as scholars in this community have been preoccupied with Japan’s modernization and have offered impressive and canonical accounts of early modern and modern Japan (which is the Tokugawa period). The second scholarly community is associated with William Theodore de Bary, who recently passed away and had defined the concept of Japanese spirituality as dynamic traditions. Yamashita defines the third group as scholars who embrace the first or the second variety of the intellectual history and compose two approaches into the third interpretive community. Yamashita calls them the new intellectual historians. The last faction includes the postmodern theorists, whose analysis of primary resources from the Tokugawa period have been inspired by postmodern ideologies and theories in sociology or anthropology.

The “modernization” school of historians were armed with an implicitly comparative perspective in the postwar period. They drew audiences’ attention to Japanese analogues to the ideas and intellectual development in the West that are universally considered as “modern”. This branch of historians, including Bellah, Rubinger, Wakabayashi, and Nakai, were preoccupied with the incident of Meiji Restoration and subsequent modernization. They frequently took the retrospective approach and questioned which particular ideology or event contributed to the landmark incident of restoration. The intellectual history of the “modernization” school conventionally assumed the form of intellectual biographies of people who struggled against the constraints of archaic and conservative institutions and traditions.  Bellah and Rubinger found equivalents of the Protestant ethic, the first evidence of scientific inquiry, and what they called modern thought. Here their ideological affiliation to Max Weber is clear. As the work of Wakabayashi and Nakai reveals, their preferred subjects were intellectuals who were active in the big cities or castle towns and had political power or influence or who were intellectual innovators whose work affected bakufu or domain policy or had a broad impact.

The de Bary school was the combination of critical scholarly response to the previous faction, and arose in the 1970s and 1980s. The “modernization” scholars described Confucianism as monolithic and reactionary, and these definition was strongly opposed by de Bary. He argued that Confucian discourse was complex and its articulation was varied and intricate, and he further elaborated that Confucianism did serve as an instrument of allowing innovation and reform in Japan. Yamashita though de Bary and his students failed to explain the revision of Confucianism conducted by Japanese Confucian scholars. But the absence of answers to this question has been resolved in Paramore’s analysis of Confucianism as a representation of liberalism in Tokugawa Japan.

Reading the third and the last factions reading helps me resolve the issue raised by my colleague about the difference between urban and rural cultural representations in Tokugawa Japan. New intellectual historians, like Najita, Hatootunian, and Koschmann, analyzed cultural phenomenon in Osaka, which was considered as political and cultural periphery in the Tokugawa period. It appears to me as controversial that, though these scholars were suspicious about the meaning of study cultural history of Tokugawa Japan (precisely in the political and cultural center of the regime), they took the alternative of looking at periphery through the exact same methodologies. Najita concentrated on members of a merchant academy in Osaka; Harootunian looked kokugaku intellectuals who mainly from nonwarrior classes; and Koschmann’s Mito school activists included some farmers and Shinto priests. Though they argued that Japanese cultural and intellectual history should not only be viewed from the perspective of aristocrats and bureaucrats, they adopted identical methodologies of periodization and primary source examination in their approaches.

Paramore’s argument in Japanese Confucianism rejects the orientalist interpretation of Japan’s social and political modernization, upon which scholars in the “modernization” school excessively emphasize the impact of western technologies and ideologies. Paramore suggests that the form of presentation and interpretation of Confucianism in Japan had been mutative, and Confucianism had obtained different roles and performed different functions in Japan before the establishment of a genuinely democratic government after WWII. Paramore’s interpretation analyzes Confucianism as a system of official education and political bureaucracy introduced from the continent. Paramore recognizes Confucianism’s emphasis on both individual’s morality and state’s centripetence; therefore, he defines this philosophy as ambivalently “conciliatory”, as a school of philosophy taught in the official education system, and “coercive”, as a centralized bureaucratic mechanism. Paramore believes that, when the Japanese society adapted, or at some circumstances embraced, Confucianism, its characteristics led to Japan’s controversial national spirits: altering between either connotative or fanatic.

My first impression about Paramore’s stance in Yamashita’s categorization has been that he fits in the de Bary’s faction, as Paramore emphasizes the different thinkers and the way they used Confucianism at different points throughout the Tokugawa period. However, I reject my presumptuous perception as I recognize what de Bary aimed to demonstrate is more than showing the changing of Confucian tradition across time, but demonstrating the progressive, reformist tendencies inside Confucianism. I believe Paramore must have read Yamashita’ categorization and recognized the issue of the third faction new intellectual historians, before Paramore finished his argumentation on Japanese Confucianism.

I found Yamashita’s categorization fascinating. But I would rather define myself as one who integrates the modernization and the de Bary school. Because I believe Confucianism had persistently existed in Japan since Early Tokugawa era. But I think Confucianism had been redefined and modified by Japanese intellectuals at different times to serve certain interest; therefore, Confucianism in Japan had been supplemented by few exogenous elements.

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