I got into modern Japanese history after reading Pankaj Mishra s book from the ruins of empire and realizing that he had somehow decided to skip over the first Asian country to actually do what he thinks Afghani and company did, i.
e remade themselves and matched the West and of course, Afghani and company did not do what the Japanese managed to do Mishra, as usual, was not just selective, but also wrong This book dropped into view via Spatel on twitter, whose interest in it will become obvious once you read the book and Aizawa s caustic views about the Abrahamic religions and their role in the colonization of foreign lands Aizawa was an influential early voice in the Japanese effort to resist colonization and compete with the Western powers and this is a very interesting read I am not going to write a new review, I am shamelessly copying and pasting Sam Schulman s review here to save you a few clicks All credit for this review of course goes to Sam Schulman Sam Schulman s review is here I am reading only Wakabayashi s 145 page introduction to what is really an edition of Aizawa s New Theses , composed in classical Chinese by the Japanese Confucian scholar in 1825 I must say that this book has completely overturned my admittedly sketchy sense of the opening of Japan to the west, which I thought took place in 1858, and led to the Japanese being impressed by Western technology industrialization and catching up in a generation.
It is clear from Wakabayashi that this is not the case though it is believed by better educated minds than me Aizawa, a contemporary of James Mill, Schelling and Schopenhauer His importance is that a generation or 2 before Commodore Perry, and indeed before the technical military industrial power of the west had manifested itself, Aizawa recognized that the power of the West lay in its ideas, not in material wealth that would come somewhat later.
What were these ideals First of all, it s important to say that Japan resisted Western ideas for completely different reasons in the 18th and early 19th century The west was simply barbarian, and Japan s merit came from its excellence defined in terms of Confucian values Japan, not China, was, Japanese intellectuals thought, the true middle kingdom which means roughly moderate between north south, moderate between mob rule and tyranny a moderation which was measured by adherence to Confucious defined ideas of social and political hierarchy I m being crude here, of course, but let me give an example from Wakabayashi of how Japanese intellectuals persauded themselves that they were Chinese than the Chinese The Japanese argued that they had revered their one ruling dynasty from ancient times until today, whereas the old Middle Kingdom was characterized by constant turmoil, one dynasty overthrowing another at frequent intervals What the Japanese were claiming was not that their dynasty was legitimate, or holy, because of its antiquity and incumbency but that Japan itself, in revering one dynasty regardless of that dynasty s qualities or faults showed themselves to be middle loyal complete exponents of the Confucian virtue than the Chinese There was a lot of attention to hints that Confucious let drop as an old man that he might say the hell with it and go live with Eastern Barbarians overseas but that s not as important.
So if even China was not Confucian enough, imagine the contempt for the West But this to this contempt for barbarians Aizawa, and an earlier predecessor Jinsai a contemporary of John Milton and Dryden added crucial distinctions distinctions which Wakabayashi says paved the way for the entry of Japan into the world 35 years after Aizawa wrote Aizawa did in his generation to understand and find out about the nature of the West He taught that it was not enough to name call Westerners barbarians doing so had not saved China from invasion and, later, but still during Aiwaza s lifetime, defeat by the British in the Opium War By various means, most notably by interrogating Japanese nationals who had been washed overboard from Japanese ships and rescued by Russian, American and Dutch ships, spending months or years on board barbarian ships, and sometimes taken to nearby Russian Pacific ports to live, in some cases even to Europe He also interrogated Western sailors and officers who were washed ashore in his area of North east Japan it was only legal for foreign ships to call in Nagasaki, and that privilege was limited to Dutch ships He inferred much real information, as well as false information he thought, for example, that the Moguls still ruled much of India in the early 19th century He learned that the Dutch, the one European people for whom the Japanese had some respect, had become a 3rd class power in the far east replaced by the British, the French, the Russians and what he considered a satrapy of Britiain, the Americans That the Dutch had become unimportant was a blow there was a respected branch of learning in Japan called Dutch Studies The restoration of the Dutch East Indies, i.
e Indonesia, was an unmotivated gift of the Allies in the Congress of Vienna Most worrisome was Russia, which Aizawa inferred had been repulsed from its attempts to enter the European sphere of influence, and would henceforth concentrate its efforts in the far east Russia had already conquered what Japan considered its sphere of influence in Kamchatka and Manchuria, and would, Aizawa warned,now cast its eye on the island now called Hokkaido, but which the Japanese of that day regarded as a primitive and barbarian land, inhabited by the Evo now Ainu , and ruled by an originally Japanese pioneer dynasty which was thought to have gone native.
The most original and, to me, striking aspect of Aizawa s analysis was this He did not fear Western technology, or wealth, or scientific achievement What he feared was the West s religion or use of religiousness Unlike Japan and China, for whom religion or spirituality was a highly refined experience available only to the elite, Christianity and Islam were mass phenonoma Western kings and emperors were unabashed and unsnobbish about declaring themselves Christians or Muslims, defenders of the faith, and used religion as a tool to Aizawa gasps unite the ruler and his officers with the masses they ruled For the Japanese who mattered, Shinto was a private and elite cult I gather and Aizawa and his fellow scholars were full of contempt for the stupid Japanese commoners they ruled, from whom Shinto was kept All the reason Aizawa feared and warned that Russians or English would be shameless about teaching their Christianity to the stupid commoners, who had no allegience to Japan and the Shogunate precisely because they were restricted from Japanese religion The result would be that Christianized Japanese would have no compunction about joining forces with the devout Russians or the hypocritcally devout English and fight against the Samurai The Japanese decision to exclude foreigners until Commander Perry and his steam powered naval fleet made it impossible to resist is usually painted as the failure of a medieval technology in the face of the industrial revolution Wakabayashi shows that the most forward thinking Japanese intellectuals wanted a policy of active exclusion of the West a policy called Jai in order to give Japan time to develop a Japanese social religious identity that would allow Japan to integrate stupid commoners with the Emperor, his Shogun governors and the all important bakufu the bureaucracy which administered everything in Japan, and like all bureaucracy was a deeply reactionary and recalcitrant force which preferred to divide not unite The fanatical Shintoism and Emperor cult that the US Navy confronted in WWII was not an ancient Japanese cultural artifact, but I infer a pretty artificial construction hastily put together by modern intellectuals influenced by the West I may add detail to this review, but this is the argument and a stunning argument it is What follows are quotations from Wakabayashi his translations Aizawa argued that the secret of Western strength lay in Christianity, a state cult that Western leaders proagated to cultivate voluntary allegience both in their own peoples and in those they colonized overseas He called it kokutai, the essence of a nation and by extesionm what is essential to make a people into a nation A novel use, previously the word s meant the nation s honor or dynastic prestige His words The only nation besides our own that is not yet befouled by either Islam or Christianity is the Manchu Ch ing empire Jinsai did not argue that the imperial line s longevity revealed the divine will, or that it was unique to Japan It just meant that Japan was adherent to Confucian pricniples and values embodying hierarchal status order of Middle Kingdom civilization better than China 27.
Maeno scolded Japan for not listening to Matteo Ricci s reform ideas In Europe, Italy ie the Vatican is sovereign in matters of moral transformation.
Responsibl for govt is delegrated to priest officials Cardinals of whom ether are 72 Maeno sad Christianity tenshukyo, the state religion of Holland and the teaching of Africa alall ahve the same aim to base edification and govt on this policy of welfare for widowers widows, orphas, suffering The natvives revere the Europeans as sage rulers shinsei Aizawa viewed Christianity as conquest without warfare Believed Japan needed to develop kokutai to acheive the kind of popular unity he beleived Christianity and govt it inspired had created in Western nations The shock and chagrin at the discovery that Christianity, rather than Confucian culture values, had won the allegience of most of the earth s inhabitants prompted him to conceive of the concpet of kokutai.
Aizawa thought Christians would take over Japan indirectly trhough Christian transformation 1st the Ezo tribes in the north and primitive tribes on islands to the south, then seduce the stupid commoners in Japan proper He likened Western barbarians to the great generals Chao Ch ung kuo Chu ko Liang, and Sun Tzu s dictums high praise.
The bakufu kept their subjects ignorent and weak by policies laid down by Ieyasu, policies which made it impossible to conscript commoners again as was done in antiquity Astute in its day, now made Japan vulnerable Western Learning informed Aizawa of these new thrreats Later thinkers Yokoi Shonan Ito Hirobumi in 1856 1888 realized need for state religion Former Xtianity combines govt and edification From sovereign on down to commoners all are true to its commandments Latter In europe, constitutional govt has had over 1000 years since its inception Not only are the peoople thoroughly familiar with it, religon serves as a linchpin for themseeped deeply into the people s hearts theiir hearts minds are united in this faith But in our country religions are very weak, non can serve as a linchpin Buddhism has few followers, Shinto is an elite cult Shots of some random pages a modern historian s description of the the rise of modern Japan, Marius Jansen s The Making of Modern Japan is good A review here written and detailed and included enough quotes from Japanese writings to give one a flavor of Japanese thinking and not just an outsider s version of it Samurai by John Man was fun, but you may need the overall picture first.
Aizawa Seishisai, a non samurai scholar and advisor to the rulers of the Mito domain, wrote the New Theses of 1825 in response to increasing domestic instability as well as encroaching foreign powers Secretly circulated among the elite after it was written, the Theses were finally published in the 1850s, making it an influential document for the Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians movement that preceded the Meiji Restoration of 1868 The Theses gained popularity again in 1930s Japan, but that s a story for another time, though very briefly touched upon by Wakabayashi in his forward Aizawa drew on his neo Confucian training to suggest a series of reforms that the shogunate bakufu should undertake to shore up its control of Japan and effectively repel foreign intrusions He proposed an increase in national defense, including the building of coastal fortresses, and a return of samurai to the land both suggestions in contradistinction to long standing tenets of shogunate rule, though offered in the service of solidifying the bakufu Aizawa was Confucian, but by the 19th century, knowledge from and of the West was circulating widely in Japan Wakabayashi s analysis deals with the way that this knowledge influenced Aizawa s Confucian thinking Particularly, Wakabayashi asserts that Aizawa understood Christianity in the West to be a type of state religion, which lead him to believe that the state and religion must be closely unified in Japan This idea is the basis of kokutai, or national essence, a term made popular by Aizawa and one that would remain prominent among Japanese nationalists into the 20th century Wakabayashi s explanations of the intellectual trends of 19th century are clearly elucidated, and would be useful in the classroom Finally, Aizawa also wrote a text called Some Call Me Disputatious, which I would like to suggest as a potential album title if any members of the Wu Tang Clan are reading this review.