Weekly Report 1028-Revised Proposal

Weekly Report 1028


Research Topic: Confucianism in the Development of Japanese Nationalism

Advisor: Professor Eric Han

My Honors research project concentrates on Confucianism in pre-modern Japan since the eighteenth century and its role in the development of Japanese nationalism. Confucianism in Edo-era Japan (1603-1868 C.E.) conduced the notion of Japanese proto-nationalism by advocating the superiority of Japan among other contemporaneous regimes. Confucianism in the nineteenth-century Japan served as the instrument that introduced western nation-state ideology. Western terminology facilitates the transition from indigenous proto-nationalism to an intellectual system of nationalism with Japanese characteristics at the eve of the twentieth century.

My research project argued that Japanese proto-nationalism laid the intellectual foundation for the systematic nationalism in the early-twentieth century. Japanese nationalism was a hybrid of indigenous Confucianism-derived proto-nationalism and western nation-state ideology. The orientalist approach of Asian history emphasizes the civilized West’s contribution to Asian modernization. Scholars with such assumption conclude that Japanese nationalism and subsequent imperialism are mimic of western counterparts, as these theories were introduced to Japan after its nineteenth-century westernization. But it was neither fascism nor Nazism, but the principle of civic nationalism introduced to Japan in the mid-nineteenth century. Japanese nationalism was different from civic nationalism, as it prohibited an equal society but advocated a stratified hierarchy. However, nationalism in Japan did encourage the regime 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 would 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. Kiri Paramore’s Japanese Confucianism: a Cultural History inspired my research. Paramore’s argument rejects the orientalist interpretation of Japan’s social and political modernization, upon which certain scholars excessively emphasize the impact of western technologies and ideologies. Paramore noticed the indigenous factors that led towards Japanese nationalism rather than the western-centric account. Paramore further suggested that the form of presentation and interpretation of Confucianism in Japan had been mutative, and Confucianism obtained different roles and performed different functions in Japan before the militaristic regime collapsed.

My primary documents consist works by Edo-era Japanese Confucian scholars, including Chucho Jijitsu by Yamaga Soko, Benmei and Bendo by Ogyu Sorai, and Kai Hentai by Hayashi Hoko. These two documents were written in archaic Chinese instead of modern Japanese, representing Confucianism’s prestige in Edo-era Japan. Hayashi Gaho along with his son Hoko, gave a historic account of the Manchu invasion of Ming-China and the collapse of Han-Chinese regime on the continent. The main gist of Hayashi’s argument is that the resistance force of the Ming regime, which had been the political and intellectual superior state, beseeched Tokugawa Japan’s military intervention in the incident. Hayashi emphasized the dynastical change in China and Han-Chinese’s inability of preserving their political regime, economic prosperity, and intellectual products, indicating the degeneration of the Chinese civilization and thus the Japanese dominance of the cultural sphere. Ogyu raised a particular notion of “mei (ming)” (“name” in English) in both writings, as he emphasized the function of “mei” to justify actions and believes. Ogyu believed that justification through “mei” would consolidate morality to facilitate a harmonious society. Another important notion Ogyu raised was that the “do (dao)” (“way” in English) was created by sages/princes (junzi), who were superior to commoners. He referred to fundamentalist Confucianism of sage kings’ rule, and rejected Neo-Confucians’ interpretation of naturalistically existed “do” in the universe. As a believer of classical Confucianism, Ogyu Sorai reiterated the importance of stratified social hierarchy; he argued that the sages who created “do” were fundamentally different from the commoners, and they ought to govern the less educated public with privilege. Same notion could be extended to the international circumstance, while civilized nations held the responsibility to nurture the less civilized communities. Ogyu suggested that, the leader of country should well justify the political principles and implement the “do” of ancient sages with the “mei”, in order to maintain the centripetal piety and hierarchical obedience. Yamaga Soko shared the same interest with Hayashi of constructing political and social ideology from historical narrations. Yamaga drew his argument from the Manchu invasion of China as well, and he argued that the similar incidents, which resulted in dynastic change and barbarian occupation had occurred previously to China, never happen to Japan. Because Japan as a divinely blessed nation-state (not through the Westphalian notion) acquired geographical advantage, economic affluence, and intellectual treasure. Yamaga’s argument marked the early emergence of Japanese national superiority against other neighboring states in Asia.

I plan to chronologically divide my project into three chapters, each covering an era of a century. The first chapter will discuss Confucianism in the Edo-era Japan. Originally, the Edo-era Japanese modestly accepted the status of yi (uncivilized) in the Confucian hua (civilized)-yi (uncivilized) relation, as they were eager to acquire knowledge and fortune from mainland China, the origin of Confucianism. Nevertheless, Japanese scholars like Hayashi Hoko and Yamaga Soko suggested that the ­hua-yi relation should be reversed, as “nomadic” Manchus conquered China and established their regime over the collapsed Chinese civilization. This reverse of hua-yi dichotomy was what I believe the origin of Japanese proto-nationalism. The second chapter will examine the work of Ogyu Sorai, who facilitated the modification and reiteration of Confucianism. Ogyu laid the theological foundation for the coalescence of indigenous proto-nationalism and western ideology. The final chapter will concentrate on Japan at the eve of modernization. Confucianism served not only the origin of the primitive sense of national superiority, but also the instruments to introduce western technologies and ideologies. These items include constitutional monarchy, imperialist colonialism, and capitalist economy, which contemporaneous Japanese believe can help Japan’s modernization. The project will conclude with the transformation of Japanese proto-nationalism into the more symbolic form of imperial statism in the twentieth century.

My research project argues that Japanese proto-nationalism started as Japanese Confucian scholars witnessed the reverse of the Hua-Yi dichotomy in the early-eighteenth century; and through the modification and reinterpretation of doctrines, Confucianism facilitated the transformation and consolidation of Japanese nationalism, which in the twentieth century constituted Japanese imperialist militarism. I would like to extend my project into the contemporary politics. If it is the consensus that Confucianism advocates a stratified society with hierarchical obedience, and this doctrine generates national pride and embraces the centralized leadership; then Confucianism, as a model of political institution or an instrument of social mobilization, is authoritarian in nature. My project helps explains the Confucian elements in the contemporary state propaganda, as the Chinese government reiterates Confucian doctrines as parts of its administrative policies.

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