Other Free Encyclopedias » Science Encyclopedia » Science & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clock » Modernity - East Asia - Civilization And Enlightenment: Meiji Japan (1868–1912), Belated Enlightenment: China (1880s–1920s), Urban Cosmopolitan Modernity (1920s–1930s)

Modernity - East Asia - Civilization And Enlightenment: Meiji Japan (1868–1912)

fukuzawa deluge sort sōseki

The Meiji Restoration set the stage for the first major bid of modernization. The driving force behind the program was the determination to secure fukoky kȳohei—rich country, strong army. But Meiji culture contained other aspirations as well. The most popular catchwords of the early Meiji years—bunmei kaika, "civilization and enlightenment"—were significantly different. The most forceful crusader for them was the prolific writer Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901), who coined the term bunmei itself. His books Seiȳo Jij̄o (1866–1870; Conditions in the West, 3 vols.) and Bunmeiron no gairyaku (1876; Outline of a theory of civilization) sold numerous copies. According to Fukuzawa, "civilization can be defined as that which advances man's knowledge and virtue" with an open future; presently, Japan was only "semideveloped" (hankai), compared to Europe and the United States, a condition that defined the task in hand. Contrasting East and West, he wrote that "there must be some fundamental difference in the education of the Western and Eastern peoples. In the education of the East, so often saturated with Confucian teaching, I find two points lacking: that is to say, the lack of studies in 'number and reason' [science] in material culture, and the lack of the idea of independence in the spiritual culture" (The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi).

Fukuzawa's original teaching, influenced by John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), emphasized the values of personal independence and a disciplined but free individuality as bases for a modern society, and the need for public diversity of viewpoints. However his commitment to enlighten the "uncivilized" led him to embrace policies of Japanese imperial expansion that followed European and American examples. Coining the term datsua nȳūo (de-Asianization and joining Europe), he said that "our country cannot afford to wait for the enlightenment of our neighbors and to co-operate in building Asia up. Rather, we should leave their ranks to join the camp of the civilized countries of the West" ("Datsua ron," 1885, On de-Asianization). By the end of his life, Fukuzawa had abandoned his earlier support for "people's rights" and expressed boundless enthusiasm at Japan's military victory over China.

In 1886, the twenty-three-year-old Tokutomi Soh̄o (1863–1957) published his hugely successful Sh̄orai no Nihon (The future Japan). Announcing that "the democratic trend is the world trend," the book conveyed a new and more intense sense of the pace of modernity and the ceaseless transformations it would require of his countrymen. "The future of reform is reform, but what sort of reform will it be? What sort of reform should it be? After the deluge comes the deluge. But what sort of deluge will it be? What sort of deluge should it be? Time flies faster than electricity." Looking forward to a more industrial and mercantile version of modernity, inspired by John Bright (1811–1889) and Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), he argued that Japan's vocation was to emerge from "a natural commercial nation" to become "an industrial country; and as a natural consequence … a democratic country."

Tokutomi had few doubts of the ability of his cohort to make the necessary changes, claiming confidently in his journal Kokumin no tomo (Friends of the nation) the next year: "The old men of the past are gradually making way for the young men of the New Japan. Oriental phenomena are on their way out; Occidental phenomena are beginning. The period of destruction is at an end and the age of building is soon to start." This was the age of the utopian political novels, too, with plots set in future times as in Shin Nippon (1886; New Japan, by Ozaki Yukio, 1859–1954) and Setch̄ubai (1886; Plum blossoms in snow, by Suchiro Tetch̄o, 1849–1896) finding an enthusiastic reception. Such enthusiasm easily turned to nationalism, as it did in Tokutomi's case, once the Sino-Japanese war started in 1894. Thereafter, he remained an ardent supporter of the ultranationalist cause.

By the end of the Meiji period, to the cancellation of liberal political stirrings, on one side, as reforming intellectuals were absorbed into the ideology of a militarized state, corresponded on the other side the distress of lonely individuals, unanchored in the new society, as a central experience in the arts. The foremost novelist of the period, Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916), gave striking expression to this theme in his fiction, rejecting naturalist conventions. Sōseki had little confidence in the results of Japanese modernization. Scornful of both Western imitation and nationalist swagger, he told himself in 1902: "People say that Japan was awakened thirty years ago, but it was awakened by a fire bell and jumped out of bed. It was not a genuine awakening but a totally confused one. Japan has tried to absorb Western culture in a hurry and as a result has not had time to digest it" (Sōseki's diary, 16 March 1902). He feared the worst from this force-fed diet. In his essay Gendai Nihon no kaika (1912; The enlightenment of modern Japan), Sōseki predicted:

If by dint of physical and mental exertions, and ignoring all the difficulties and sufferings of our precipitous advance, we succeed in covering in half the time it took the more prosperous Westerners to arrive at the same stage of specialization, the consequences will indeed be serious. We will be able to boast of a fantastic acquisition of knowledge, and will inevitably suffer a nervous collapse from which there will be no recovery.

Modernity - East Asia - Belated Enlightenment: China (1880s–1920s) [next]

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