Revolution of the Heart – a brief explanation of Lee’s framework for emotional construction.

Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of the Love in China 1900-1950, Haiyan Lee’s post-structural analysis of a seismic shift in the emotional life of Modern China, seeks to reconceptualise the cultural construction of emotion. Lee references an exhaustive list of writers from the first half of the twentieth century, aggregating these texts and in doing so identifying a series of common tropes, scenes, stock characters, themes, and philosophies. As a result she is able to trace discourses on emotion, or rather, the fundamental essence of what emotion is, from the late Qing to the revolution, to the May the Fourth Movement in the late 1910s, up until the CCPs consolidation of power. That said, Lee focuses most closely on the effect of Romanticism on Chinese culture, and therefore hems in quite narrowly on the May Fourth and New Culture movements. Through this analytical focus, Lee formulates a framework by which one can effectively understand the astounding complexities of a  ‘genealogy’ of emotional structures, by establishing three discrete ‘structures of feeling’, the confucian(native), enlightenment(western), and revolutionary(synthesis), and tracing points of emergence, appropriation, and interpretation between the three. This brief piece will attempt to familiarise the reader with the basics necessary to understand this framework. 

Historiographically Lee’s framework disrupts a highly binary way of perceiving the Confucian and Romanticist construction of emotion, in referencing this Lee borrows from Sulamith Potter’s anthropological studies of Rural China. While this binary is, (as Lee argues), inaccurate, it is important to understand before deconstruction Lee’s framework. The ‘west’, or more specifically romanticism emphasizes the human being as being fundamentally differentiated from animals through its capacity to feel emotion. This notion, that one should principally be considered a ‘thinking feeling being’, has permeated fully throughout western culture. In this romanticist conceptualisation of the self, one places an innate value on being open an honest with ones emotions, as well as on emotions themselves, they view the expression of feeling as the means by which relationships are ‘created and renewed’, they therefore have an innate distrust of those who are not able to convince of their openness about their inner lives, because they have made one’s ‘emotions’ the experience of one’s inner life, the central legitimizing basis of all social relationships and actions. Simply put, the confucian construction of emotion does not ground the basis for social action in emotion, rather, it emphasizes the importance of meeting series of meeting a series of social expectations. It is not that the confucian construction of emotion fails to acknowledge the existence of an emotional inner life, but rather that within this context the “culturally shared code of expression and conduct” in the words of Lee, “does not have to be consistent with inner feeling” (Lee, 2006 pg.2). In essence, emotion was not thought of as a fundamental aspect of social life, the notion of ‘sincerity’, or clarity of intention, was therefore reserved for the proper enactment of a social expectation rather than the act of ‘baring one’s soul’. 

In formulating her framework, Lee adopts the working assumption that discourses of sentiment, (i.e new conceptualizations of emotions and their legitimacy,) open the individual up to new experiences of inner life on the basis of these evolving expectations. This notion also grounds Raymond William’s concept of structures of feeling, which Lee relies on in her framework. The  structure of feeling  captures social consciousness as lived experience in process, or in solution, before it iprecipitated”  and  given  fixeforms. It is essentially a cultural re-working of Marx’s base-superstructure idea, that changes in one’s material circumstance and lived experiences precipitate larger cultural and political changes, and generally not vice-versa.

With this in mind one can reasonably assert that Lee’s framework supposes that in the lived experience of hundreds of thousands of literati the very way in which emotion was capable of being perceived changed fundamentally over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century. This change was gradually integrated into the prevailing literary genres, then into the social action of the May Fourth Movement, and finally it manifested politically in the form of the abolition of arranged marriage.  

Yamamoto Senji: A Sexual Educator for the Japanese People

Since the beggining of the Meiji period (1868-1912) sexuality in Japan has been a topic of extensive debate among Japanese government officials and reformers. In Sabine Frühstück’s book, Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan, rather than partake in the debate, Frühstück’s goal is to “[examine] radical changes in the perception and description as well as the colonization of sex and sexuality;” more specifically, her “analysis centers on the strategies employed in the colonization of sex in Japan,” moreover “the techniques at work in the conflicts and negotiations that aimed the creation of a normative Japanese sexuality.”1 In other words, rather than focusing on the consequences of the actors of sexual colonization, she examines the interactions and debates between those who wished to colonize sex. Of the many varying actors referred to throughout the book, most of their thoughts on sexuality can be categorized into two main groups: those who wanted to establish control of sexuality, and those who were devoted to finding the truth about sex.

In Frühstück’s analysis all the actors referenced in her book have the goal of creating “a normative Japanese sexuality;” however, this blog will argue that not all of the sexologists in her book wanted to ‘colonize’ sex.2 A few aimed to find the truth about sex in hopes to disseminate that information to the public and have the people create their own normative sexuality based on correct information. This blog will mainly focus on Yamamoto Senji, the first of these ‘sexologists of the people’.


Previous to Yamamoto’s first successful publishing in 1925, sexual education and sexual studies were aimed towards the eradication of venereal diseases that were crippling the Japanese army. These studies were somewhat scientific, but their goal was to educate people on the dangers of sex. Frühstück explains that Yamamoto “declared war on ‘ancient sexual knowledge.’”3 In other words, previous sexual education was focused on venereal diseases and sought to repress sexuality causing people to fear sex according to Yamamoto. To combat this ‘colonization’, Yamamoto argued for “purely scientific sexual education;” he looked for “those who ‘loved the truth’” in hopes to free sexuality through truthful sexual education.4 Additionally, Frühstück explains that Yamamoto’s goal was to create a “science for humankind,” to make “scientific knowledge comprehensible and accessible to the wider public.”5 Yamamoto’s work was incredibly influential. Other sex researches followed in his footsteps to “popularize the knowledge of sex.”6

In this light, Yamamoto Senji was not one of the actors whose goal was to “‘colonize’ the sex and the sexuality of the Japanese populace,” as originally stated by Frühstück. His goal was to educate the masses on the truth about sex and have the people decide what was socially acceptable.7 That being said, although Yamamoto Senji does not fit Frühstück’s original claim in her introduction, he is still an incredibly important actor in the history of the sexual colonization of Japan and Frühstück’s reference to him and his work is apt.


  1. Frühstück, Sabine, Colonizing Sex: Sexologoy and Social Control in Modern Japan, (Los Angeles, 2003), pp. 1-2 []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid., p. 85 []
  4. Ibid., pp. 86-87 []
  5. Ibid., pp. 94-95 []
  6. Ibid., p. 97 []
  7. Ibid., p. 1 []

Kagawa Toyohiko and Kōtoku Shūsui: A Comparison of Socialist Thought in Japan

The overarching backdrop of Leftist political movement in the early 1900s in Japan provided a rich tapestry of different political ideas. The two movements that lend themselves most effectively to contrast is the Anarchist Movement, represented here by Kōtoku Shūsui and Uchiyama Gudō, and the Cooperative Socialist movement, by Kagawa Toyohiko. It is important to note that these figures represented a unique form of each ideology that drew on western intellectual sources but found ways to adapt these ideas to the context of their time and place. At times, the ideas that each side drew on had great similarities. However, the philosophical foundations that each side drew on were significantly different, creating ample space for analysis and comparison.

Firstly, a fundamental difference between the two ideologies was their attitude towards the rate of socio-political change. Kagawa saw slow structural change as the best way to bring about progress for Japanese society and later mankind. Regarding change, Kagawa drew on Fabian and Guild Socialism as inspiration on how to enact change. The namesake of this type of Socialism, Fabian, is a reference to the General Quintus Fabius, who was famous for avoiding pitched battles against the Carthaginians, instead opting to target weaknesses methodically and gradually. Thus, the attitudes that Kagawa held towards the Capitalist system were similar to this and considered “Gradualist” in nature. He promoted a slow, methodical approach towards dismantling what he saw as socially untenable capitalist practices and derided rapid destabilising action. [1] 

Alternatively, Anarchism promoted violent revolt, strikes and acts of political assassination, referred to as ‘direct action’, to bring about radical political change. “Direct action” was the hallmark of the Japanese Anarchist movement and was seen as the most egalitarian and organic form of social change. Kōtoku Shūsui, a key member in the Japanese Anarchist movement, promoted worker’s strikes and promoted his cause through Heimin, an Anarchist Newspaper. He was also later involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor, his family and key ministerial figures, which eventually resulted in his arrest and later execution in 1911. [2]

On the ground level, figures such as Uchiyama Gudō urged members of the sangha to be armed at all times (“The hand that holds the rosary should also hold a bomb”). [3] Indeed, the Anarchist method of direct action provides more impact in terms of galvanising a political movement. However, the threat it posed to government institutions and the legitimacy of the Emperor meant that it was more likely to be suppressed.

The intellectual foundation underpinning Anarchist thought for figures such as Kōtoku Shūsui and Uchiyama Gudō seemed to stem more from socialist egalitarianism and Anarcho-syndicalism rather than Nihilism. This is demonstrated by the ties that Kōtoku had to Peter Kropotkin, who famously advocated for a societal system based on mutual aid in The Conquest for Bread. [4] This brand of Anarchism, which advocated for direct action without the underpinning philosophy Nihilism, is interesting. The justifications for violence and direct action i.e. the willingness to die for a cause, would not be based on the notion of “negation of all” but rather tied to the simpler revolutionary ideal that martyring for a cause was to enact change. The reasons behind promoting direct action were tied more to the idea that fighting and dying for the Anarchist cause was accessible to all, and not limited by any profession, position or age. [5]

In contrast, Kagawa Toyohiko, the main proponent of the Cooperative movement, was obtusely against the prospect of violent revolution due to several reasons. His first objection was simply that people would die, as a result of violent actions in itself, and the disruption of food production that followed. Kagawa critiqued prior violent movements such as the French and Russian Revolutions to highlight what he saw as political short-sightedness and needless death. [6] Based on his ‘seven elements of economic value’, violent overthrow of an existing government would only solve at most two of out of seven elements and would even be counterproductive to reaching the goals of the other five. In essence, the destabilising effects of a violent revolution did not appeal to Kagawa, as he viewed it as being more harm than good. Kagawa is ultimately viewed as a utopian pacifist that sought to create a world order that benefitted all consumers. [7] Thus, his views on violence generally were negative, and he attempted to find alternative ways to reform politics and society that were more consistent with his Pacifist ideal.

What is interesting is that despite the fundamental differences in the two approaches to socio-political reform, there are some striking similarities in the two movements. Although it is evident that the core beliefs on the Anarchist and Cooperative sides were very different, the concept of mutual love and cooperation is something that both movements shared.
Kropotkin’s concept of mutual aid that Kōtoku envisioned for society was very similar to the ideas that Kagawa had for structuring his cooperatives. [8] Drawing inspiration from Kōtoku, Uchiyama Gudō’s concept of a society based on the Buddhist Sangha, or temple community, also had strong features of the kind of utopian cooperative that Kagawa envisioned. [9] Although Gudō’s Sangha based community was not fundamentally based off a Cooperative framework existing within a capitalist one, it nonetheless highlights that the concept of mutual care and development are present in both philosophies. 

Another notable similarity between the Anarchist and Cooperative is the anti-war outlook that Kagawa and Kōtoku shared. Kōtoku’s perspective was more focused on the ruinous impacts of Nationalism and Imperialism and thus leaned more towards a political criticism of war. In “Monster of the 20th Century”, Kōtoku references the egalitarian socialism of the French Revolution as being the ideal form of government and that many other European nations had perverted the French ideal of Socialism to suit their own Nationalistic needs. [10] In the Japanese context, he pointed towards the encroachment of military figures such as Yamagata Aritomo upon the trajectory of Japanese politics and foreign policy, as a gravely dangerous development that would put Japan on a Nationalistic track. [11] Kōtoku’s criticisms were fundamentally political and ideological in nature, something that Kagawa’s anti-war outlook lacked. Kagawa makes limited reference to the ideologies of Imperialism and Nationalism and instead opted to make Capitalist economic practices and systems his target of critique. Kagawa criticised Nationalism and Capitalism for moving the focus of national development away from food production and welfare, and instead towards the production of war materiel. This criticism was rooted less in an intellectual critique of Nationalism and Capitalism and employed a practical approach citing the diversion of resources as harmful to the people. [12]

The more practically driven ideas that Kagawa proposed were more palatable to the government at the time, and he was never quite suppressed or sanctioned by them. Ironically, he was removed from the Kansai labour movement, which he led, for not being radical enough. [13] He continued to advocate for his form of Cooperative Globalism after the Second World War and died in 1960 from a heart condition. On the other hand, the political and drastic nature of Kōtoku’s ideas were perceived as dangerous and he was eventually hanged for his involvement in the High Treason Incident in 1910. [14]

The way that the thought of Kōtoku Shūsui and Kagawa Toyohiko converges and diverges is a fascinating aspect of early 20th Century Japanese Socialist movements. Despite the differences in methodology and practice, the ultimate motivation for both figures was to enact positive change for Japan and the world. The movements that they represented provides valuable insight into alternate realities that may have existed if they had succeeded. Nonetheless, both Kōtoku and Kagawa’s ideas can still be relevant in today’s world in how they critique structures of power, politics and society.

[1] Bickle, George, Utopianism and Social Planning in the Thought of Kagawa Toyohiko, Monumenta Nipponica, 1970, No. 3/4, pp. 447-453 

[2] Tsuzuki, Chushichi, Kotoku, Osugi and Japanese Anarchism, Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies , 1966, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 37

[3] Rambelli, Fabio, Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudō, Hawaii Distributed Press, 2014, pp. 30

[4] Tsuzuki, Chushichi, Kotoku, Osugi and Japanese Anarchism, 1966, pp. 37

[5] Ibid, pp. 31

[6] Kagawa, Toyohiko, Brotherhood Economics, Harper Brothers (Kindle Edition), 1936, Loc. 700

[7] Ibid, Loc. 720

[8] Tierney, Robert Thomas, Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kōtoku Shūsui and Japan’s First Anti-Imperialist Movement, California Scholarship Online, 2016, pp13

[9] Rambelli, Fabio, Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudō, 2014,  pp. 42

[10] Tierney, Robert Thomas, Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kōtoku Shūsui and Japan’s First Anti-Imperialist Movement, 2016, pp. 22

[11] Ibid, pp. 24

[12] Kagawa, Toyohiko, Brotherhood Economics, 1936, Loc. 1589

[13] Bickle, George, Utopianism and Social Planning in the Thought of Kagawa Toyohiko, 1970, pp. 448

[14]  Tsuzuki, Chushichi, Kotoku, Osugi and Japanese Anarchism, 1966, pp. 35

A “Warped” Christianity, reconsidering the Taiping’s as interpreters of the Biblical Text – Taiping Rebellion – 19th Century China – Intellectual History – Theology – Globalisation

Many Chinese writers dismiss the relative importance of Christianity in producing the Taiping ethic, which spread like wildfire in Southern China through the middle of the 19th century, it was adopted so quickly and deeply by so many, that the result was the bloodiest known pre-industrial conflict in history. The Taipings, now often depicted as a proto-communist cult, which constituted a ‘warped’ vision of Christanity are often the subject of the ‘no true scotsman’. Taiping theology is dismissed as not really being Christian, Carl S. Kilcourse, and other contemporary historians have recently challenged this narrative, rather than a bastardisation of Christianity, they perceive it as a highly original form of Early Chinese Christian theology, which is best understood on its own terms, In this brief piece, we will engage in a brief rebuttal of the claim that the Taipings were in any way ‘innately unchristian’.

Many western writings attempt to deconstruct Taiping Theology based on the assumption that it is a “misunderstanding” of some “true” scriptural message. Samuel Moffett, for instance, argues that it is a bastardization of “Liang Fa’s Good Words to Admonish the Age (1832) .The issue with Moffet’s assumption is that it assumes both Liang Fa’s Good Words and any perception of the gospel built on the frame of belief it establishes must innately be a perversion of the text. The notion that the Taiping synthesis must rest on some misunderstanding of the text, rather than a localized interpretation, has been a fundamental aspect of the western scholarship of Taiping ideology -((Kilcourse, 2016, pg.3)).The development of this misconception arises partially out of continual reaffirmation of the racism and imperialist attitudes of the missionaries who established the first scholarship on the taiping rebellion in the nineteenth century. Such missionaries originally saw the Taipings as vehicles for the christianisation of China but quickly grew discontent, and judged their beliefs incompatible with their respective doctrine’s. Their judgement of the Taiping Theology arose out of the notion that converts could only be judged as Christians if they accepted the “pure” truths of orthodoxy, and relied on the guidance of the missionary community, in essence, they saw it as impossible to accept the word of Christ and reject the West as the two were perceived as inseparable. Nicolas Standaert calls this “an a-priori expectation  that  a ‘successful’ trans- mission is a transmission  which keeps the cultural element  in its ‘pure’ form”1

This perception of Taiping theology, as fundamentally un-christian and “grievously marred with error” in the words of one nineteenth century missionary, also arose out of a fundamental misapprehension of the process of meaningful substantive transformation that a text undergoes when it is translated into another language and therefore encounters an entirely new worldview2. If one were a fan of postmodernist thought, they might characterise it as an encounter with an entirely new set of binaries against which meaning is created, with the potential of thereby creating an entirely new synthesis of meaning even through an excellent translation of the text. Beyond issues of direct translation, one must also consider the effect of both Hong and his followers various encounters with Chinese Christian literature, which innately implies an encounter with a myriad of unique metaphorical imagery, literary styles, local folk traditions, metaphysical reference points, all of which had a significant influence on the collective consciousness of the taiping ethic, or in other words, how most people within the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom understood their place in the universe. To deem Hong’s antagonism towards protestant ‘orthodoxy’, or  the scriptural deviations of the Chinese bible from the King James bible or some other English bible, as so severe as to distance it completely from the word of christ, is to dismiss out of hand a reciprocal and constantly evolving relationship between the Judeo-Christian worldview and a series of local and national perceptions which add, rather than subtract to their understanding of the biblical text. If authors such as Samual Moffet are to be taken at their word, that these linguistic and cultural transformations amount to a dilution of a substantively purer religious outlook, than they should logically apply the same outlook that any translation from the original aramaic as a distortion of the true gospel, to European understandings of the biblical texts as well. Under this paradigm, the King James Bible (an English translation from Latin) and the Latin Vulgate (Greek to Latin), are both perversions of the word of God. 


Kilcourse, C. S. (2016). Taiping theology: The localization of Christianity in China, 1843-1864.    Palgrave MacMillan.

  1. Kilcourse, 2016, pg.4 []
  2. Kilcourse, 2016, pg.2 []

Japanese Science Fiction: Concerns for the Future of Foreign Relations

The history of Japanese foreign relations is certainly a unique one; for 214 years from 1639 to 1853 Japan instated Sakoku (‘closed country’) policy which limited foreign interaction and trade to almost nothing. Today, Japan’s standing as an economic superpower would infer otherwise; however, Daisuke Kikuchi writes that today, foreigner discrimination has forced the Japanese government to take legal action.1 With this in mind, this blog will look Robert Matthew’s Japanese Science Fiction: A View of Changing Society to see how Japanese science fiction writers feel about the possible future of Japanese foreign relations.

Before diving into the numerous stories referred to in Matthew’s book, it is important to understand how science fiction is valuable as more than a genre of entertainment.            Matthew states that “the object of his book is to examine the Japanese mind as revealed in science fiction.”2 He explains that during the Meiji era (1868-1912), “character novels of the period reflected the difficulties encountered by Japanese individuals, […] and served as a vehicle for expression.”3 Just as fiction writing based on the present can be a way for the author to express their opinion on their current period, science fiction can reflect a writer’s prediction of the future based on the current socio-political situation of their time. With this in mind, Japanese science fiction can be used to analyze many different Japanese concerns of the Future. For this blog, I will be focusing on how foreign relations are depicted in the stories in Matthew’s book. More specifically, I will be looking at stories where there are themes of the protagonists interacting with anything ‘foreign.’ With many diverse stories, the way in which this theme is presented differs often, I have chosen three different stories where this theme appears in varying ways.

The first story I have chosen is ‘The Mirror’ by Hoshi Shin’ichi. The story concerns a childless married couple who are both under intense psychological pressure from their work.  The husband eventually receives instructions from his Spanish pen friend for what seems to be a satanic ritual. He follows the instructions and from a mirror comes a devil which he captures. It is described in an interesting way: “Its face is miserable and its look pathetic. When its captor asks it to perform some trick for him it replies it cannot and simply begs to be let go.”4 The couple begin abusing and torturing the devil, and because of its immortality this torture does not kill it. Over time the couple relieve the stress from their social lives onto the devil in the form of violence and cruelty. As more stress is relieved, the couple are able to perform better in their jobs and both get promoted. From the promotions, there is more work, and more stress, and their violent actions towards the devil become increasingly cruel. Eventually, the wife moves a mirror which reopens a doorway to where the devil came from and it escapes. With no scapegoat to pass their anger onto their stress builds up and they eventually end up killing each other.

At first glance, it may not seem like this story concerns foreign relations; however, the Spanish pen friend and the devil are foreign to Japan and are main elements of the story. Two main critiques of foreign interaction are made in this story. First, the devil’s description as “pathetic” is a satire of Christianity. According to Jeffrey Russel, in Christianity the devil is the personification of evil.5 Given this, the author is belittling the foreign concept of evil, making it nothing more than a “pathetic” creature, seen as nothing more than a source of stress relief for a Japanese couple. Second, the Spanish pen friend was the one to supply the couple with the means of summoning the devil. It was a foreign entity who indirectly brought harm upon the family. Thus, it is the foreign relations which caused an otherwise harmless Japanese couple to turn to murder. Another concern reflected by this story is the fear of foreign dependence. In the case of ‘The Mirror’, the devil was supplied by the Spaniard; it improved the couple’s quality of life, but they ended up dependent on the devil for their success. This dependence eventually became their downfall. This story was written in 1971, right in the middle of Japan’s economic ‘miracle’ for which they depended on the West for borrowed technology for their economy growth. This story is a reference to Japan’s fear of dependence on the West for their prosperity.

This theme of fear of foreign dependence is a recurring one in Matthew’s book. In some of these stories the concern of dependence is obvious, such as in ‘The American Wall’ by Komatsu Sakyo. The main plotline of the story is “the USA is completely cut off from the rest of the world,” no one can leave or enter, and all trade with the outside world has been stopped.6 Matthew explains that “‘The American Wall’ reflects Japan’s economic dependence on the USA.”7 This theme of negativity towards foreign affairs is also seen in Hoshi’s ‘The flower of prosperity’. To briefly summarize, the Earth makes contact with a prosperous planet called Meel. It has no forms of armaments or weapons, it is described as “a small, peaceful planet, free of trouble, and its inhabitants live a life of ease.”8 They send a seed to Earth as a gift to indicate their willingness to engage in trade. The seed grows into a beautiful tree which produces breathtaking flowers, and after some debate, the humans grow the tree in large numbers. Eventually, the tree grows out of control, devastating agriculture around the world. As a result, the humans turn to Meel for an answer. This is another example of Japanese fear of dependence; in Matthew’s words “it may be seen a poignant reminder of Japan’s vulnerability and fragility as a trading nation.”9

Given the above, science fiction has been proven to be more than a genre of entertainment. It has proven its usefulness as a means for authors to convey their concerns of the future. Equally, it is a tool for readers to analyze these concerns to identify the conditions which fueled the predictions written about. This is evident of our analysis of three Japanese science fiction stories in Matthew’s book whose main topics regarded Japanese foreign relations. The main fear discussed in these short stories was the anxiety of dependence on the West, specifically the US. The plotlines of these stories reflected Japan’s dependence on the West for their economic growth of the sixties and seventies, and the worry of what would happen if the West’s help ever stopped.

  1. Kikuchi Daisuke, ‘Tackling signs in Japan that you’re not welcome’, The Japan Times, June 4, 2017, <> [accessed November 29, 2020] []
  2. Matthew Robert, Japanese Science Fiction: A View of Changing Society, (Abingdon, 1989), p. 3 []
  3. Ibid., p.7 []
  4. Ibid., p. 142 []
  5. Russell, Jeffrey Burton, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, (Ithaca, 1987), p. Preface []
  6. Matthew, Japanese Science Fiction, p. 222 []
  7. Ibid., p. 223 []
  8. Ibid., pp.74-75 []
  9. Ibid., p. 75 []

Does Christopher Ives defence of Buddhism undermine Japanese nationalism?

After the Meiji government rose to power, State Shinto was implemented and was declared the national religion by the government. However, prior to the Meiji era, Buddhism had been the dominant religion in Japan and was seen in both the political and social strata’s. Therefore, when the Meiji government rose to prominence, there was a shift in the religious landscape. Shinto was brought to the forefront and was exploited and used as the basis for nationalism. This is a considerable change from the Tokugawa shogunate years because Shinto and Buddhism shared a close relationship and the Meiji government effectively split the two up.


Christopher Ives, in his article The Mobilization of Doctrine: Buddhists Contributions to Imperial Ideology in Modern Japan, explores the reason behind why Buddhists needed to defend their position in Japanese society. This need to defend their position in society is directly related to the elevation of Shinto. When Shinto was raised, every effort was made to facilitate its separate it from Buddhism. This was done due to the need for a pure Japanese ideology without the taint of foreign influence. Therefore, Buddhism was ousted from its original place in society. Buddhist’s felt the need to re-affirm their position as an important religion in society. Ives points out that the main reason for the separation of Shinto and Buddhism was because Buddhism clashed with the national essence of Japan (Kokutai). The article is split into separate sections that outline the defense of Buddhism. The multiple sections can be separated into three broader sections, the first being the Historical interpretation, secondly the similar values shared by both Buddhism and Shinto and thirdly the overlap between Buddhism and Confucianism. By trying to defend Buddhism, it almost seems as if Ives is trying to compare the make the two equal to one another. This thread undermines the original intent of the separation of the two. If the original intent is undermined, then the foundation of the Meiji era’s nationalism is no longer pure and was built on a false narrative.


This post argues that the second general section which links Buddhism and Shinto together by their shared values is the most critical in the overall article. The section is made up of three sections, Buddhism as a defender of the Japanese spirit, Buddhism similarities with Imperial ideology and its similarities with Japanese spirits. The broad consensus of these three sections is that Buddhism advocated the same values that Shinto did. Buddhism emphasizes central worship of figure, its advocacy for loyalty to ruler and country. These values were precisely what Shinto was advocating as well. By making this link, Ives is equating Buddhism to Shinto. However, by doing this, Ives is, in a way undermining the Kokutai movement and nationalism in Japan.


Nationalism in Japan set its foundation in Shinto. It drew from the strong values and Shrine Shinto in order to provide a base for an ethnic nationalism that would spur Japan on in imperialism. In a way, it can be argued the rise of imperialism is linked with the rise of Shinto. Therefore, by trying to equate Buddhism with Shinto Ives is directly undermining the foundation of imperial Japan, because the point of separating the two was to create a pure ethnic Japan that could rise up and take a dominant role in the Sino-sphere.


The creation of modern Japanese science fiction through utopian fiction and the Second World War


Today, East Asian, and especially Japanese, science fiction and popular culture is immensely popular in the West. As Bolton, Scicery-Ronay Jr., and Tatsumi point out, this wave of science fiction from Japan was reliant on newer forms of communication, like television, video games, etc., while also being prominent in more traditional forms such as books.1 However, the cultural explosion happening in post-war Japan did not happen in isolation. According to Yoriko Moichi, Japanese utopian (and dystopian) literature is heavily influenced by Western utopian literature introduced after the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent opening up of Japan.2 Moreover, the modernisation and industrialisation happening in Japan both after the Meiji Restoration and after the war also impacted the post-war boom of science fiction. Lastly, the horrors of the Pacific War itself also helped to cement more dystopian and moralising science fiction at the forefront of the post-war movement, which then resulted in the initial popularisation of Japanese science fiction in the West.


Yoroki argues that the bleak science fiction created right after the war was dystopian because the war made a utopian society impossible to imagine, and that the futuristic and industrial science fiction literature of this period was ‘a little light weight’.3 This may be so, but the science fiction that was created as a direct result of the war did not only appear in traditional literature but also in the newer ones, thus resulting in a post-war dystopian culture which proved to be immensely influential. The most obvious example of such a post-war work of science fiction is the 1954 film Gojira, or Godzilla, King of Monsters!, which opened the floodgates for the subsequent popularisation of Japanese science fiction in the rest of the world. There is little doubt that Gojira is a representation of the horrors endured by the Japanese towards the end of the war. The monster is even awakened from his sleep by American nuclear testing in the pacific, alluding strongly to wartime America and its nuclear bombs. The film is also a strong critique of U.S.-Japanese post-war relations where Japan is being coerced by, and also collaborating with, the monster from the sea.4


The massive popularity of dystopian science fiction in new mediums in the years after the war thus led more of it, and more of it being exported to other parts of the world. With the technological and economic advancement of Japan in the 1970s and 80s the genre evolved into a more futuristic one, but there was still a strong dystopian element to it, as can be seen in famous an influential works such as Akira (1982/1988) and many others.5 Today, the world of Japanese-inspired science fiction is, of course, not always dark and dystopian, but much of it – and maybe the best of it –have strong dystopian elements. Thus, the utopian literature popularised in Japan after the Meiji restoration in conjunction with the horrors of the war and subsequent introspection in Japan created an initially distinctive, and highly influential genre of science fiction which has subsequently been hugely popular across the world on a plethora of different media.

  1. Bolton, Christopher, Csicery-Ronay Jr., Istvan and Tatsumi, Takayuki, Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (Minneapolis, 2007), p. vii. []
  2. Moichi, Yoriko, ‘Japanese Utopian Literature from the 1870s to the Present and the Influence of Western Utopianism’ Utopian Studies 10, (1999), pp. 90-91. []
  3. Ibid., p. 95. []
  4. Igarashi, Yoshikuni, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton, 2000), pp. 115-118. []
  5. Bolton, Scicery-Ronay Jr., and Tatsumi, p. ix. []

‘Devoted wives and wise mothers’: The irony of Kita Ikki’s suffrage reform in relation to Choson Korea and Qing China

In 1919 Kita Ikki, in response to an apparent national crisis ‘unparalleled’ in Japan’s history, proposed a series of reforms for which he believed could propel Japan to leadership in the Asian continent, thereby expunging the toxins of western imperialism that threatened the culture and livelihood of the Asian nations[1]. Universal suffrage was one such reform, declared by Kita as an ‘innate right of the people’, necessary to protect the Japanese people against subjugation by an oppressive ruling class[2].

However, paradoxically, Kita proclaimed that “women will not have the right to participate in politics”, because Japanese women have “continued to be devoted wives and wise mothers” who have looked down upon politics as a realm of verbal warfare and violence not suited to their natural aptitudes[3]. This trope of the ‘devoted wife and wise mother’ evokes a particular irony with regards to Kita’s attempt at reform, most notably because it was an idea embodied within the societies of Choson Korea and Qing China, which were dynasties both subject to foreign humiliation: a scenario that Kita’s reform steadfastly desired to avoid.

For example, in Choson Korea, women were denied access to the civil service and public life more generally[4]. A woman’s role was conceived as participating in the moral education of her children, and more importantly, in creating a stable order at home, which was considered the sine qua non of female virtue[5]. In addition, any attempt to transcend this repressive order, such as through education, was generally chastised, and perceived as an ominous sign of misfortune within the family[6]. Furthermore, in Qing China, a chastity cult flourished that idolized this idea of the ‘devoted wife and wise mother’. Absolute fidelity to one’s husband, refusal to remarry after the death of one’s husband and even committing suicide after his death were behaviours considered central to the idea of the perfect woman[7]. In addition, women were denied access to public life, meaning they could not participate in the political sphere or even gain an education equivalent to their male counterparts[8].

By no means was Kita Ikki’s vision for a new political and social order for Japan as repressive as those exhibited above. For example, Kita believed that boys and girls should have the right to same education and work prospects (excluding politics), but also that the rights of women within marriages should be protected, such as by outlawing adultery and prostitution[9]. However, the significant factor that links these three phenomena is their veneration of the ‘devoted wife, wise mother’ type of woman. All three social orders exclude women from the political process and stress the importance of such concepts as chastity and devotion to one’s husband. The great irony here is that Kita Ikki was attempting to reform Japan into a progressive and modern state, capable of repelling western imperialism. Yet, Choson Korea and Qing China were relics of the past, and states that were subject to great amounts of foreign interference and humiliation (as Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910 and China suffered at the hands of the both the west and Japan in the Opium wars and the Sino-Japanese War of 1895). By invoking the idea of a ‘devoted wife, wise mother’ Kita appealed to an image that was indicative of more backward societies, antithetical to the image of Japan that he was trying to create. His logic here appears self-defeating, as not only does the exclusion of women from politics negate the notion of ‘universal’ suffrage, but the veneration of such a trope as ‘devoted wife, wise mother’ subverts the more progressive elements of his reform such as equal education, as it emphasizes a woman’s supposed proclivity to the domestic sphere.


[1] Ikki, Kita, ‘An Outline for the Reorganization of Japan’, in Wm. Theodore De Bary, Carol Gluck and Arthur Tiedemann (eds), Sources of Japanese Tradition 1600 to 2000 (New York, 2005), p.961

[2] Ibid., p.964

[3] Ibid., p.964-965

[4] Martina Deuchler, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Choson Korea’, in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan Piggott (eds), Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), p.152.

[5] Ibid., p.153

[6] Ibid., p.153

[7] Fangqin Du and Susan Mann, ‘Competing Claims on Womanly Virtue in Late Imperial China’ in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan Piggott (eds), Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), p.220.

[8] Yi-Tsi Feuerweker, ‘Women as Writers in the 1920s and 1930s’ in Margery Wolf, Roxanne Witke and Emily Martin (eds), Women in Chinese Society (Stanford, 1975), p.144.

[9] Ikki, Kita, ‘People’s Right to a Livelihood’ in Brij Tanka (ed), Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A vision of Empire, (Kent, 2006), pp.197-203.



Deuchler, Martina, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Choson Korea’, in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan Piggott (eds), Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), pp.142-170.

Du, Fangqing and Mann, Susan,  ‘Competing Claims on Womanly Virtue in Late Imperial China’ in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan Piggott (eds), Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), pp.219-249.

Feuerweker, Yi-Tsi, ‘Women as Writers in the 1920s and 1930s’ in Margery Wolf, Roxanne Witke and Emily Martin (eds), Women in Chinese Society (Stanford, 1975), pp.143-169.

Kita, Ikki, ‘An Outline for the Reorganization of Japan’, in Wm. Theodore De Bary, Carol Gluck and Arthur Tiedemann (eds), Sources of Japanese Tradition 1600 to 2000 (New York, 2005), pp.960-967.

Kita, Ikki, ‘People’s Right to a Livelihood’ in Brij Tanka (ed), Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A vision of Empire, (Kent, 2006), pp.196-207.

Epistemology, Ontology and Nothingness: The Kyoto’s School’s Ideas on 無

The Kyoto School (京都学派) of Japanese philosophers provides a fascinating insight into the combination of 20th Century German and Buddhist philosophy. The combination of Western philosophical analytical frameworks and unique East Asian perspectives, gave rise to ideas on the self, existence, and experience (phenomenology), that had never before been seen.

The Kyoto School’s efforts to understand the Buddhist concept of “Nothingness” (無) contrasted with Heideggerian understandings of ‘being’ is a good example of how fundamental assumptions in Western Philosophy are difficult to apply to certain concepts. [1] Nishida’s efforts to “topologise nothingness” portrays how his understanding of both Buddhism and Western thought on “self” produced a unique philosophical position. The Buddhist idea of Nothingness, in Nishida’s view, is a ‘place’ where subjectivity and objectivity are part of a whole, and where knowing and experiencing exists together. Hence, Nishida contextualised Nothingness in Western Philosophical terms as a “meontology” or “mu-ontology”, a category of analysis that does not quite fall into traditional categories in philosophy. Although the term “mu-ontology” has been used to describe Nishida’s thought, I believe that the way he describes the phenomena of self and the world around self suggests a breakdown of the traditional barriers between epistemology and ontology. [2] 

Brett W. Davis discusses this idea in terms of the separation of epistemology and ontology. However, it seems almost counterproductive to do so when understanding Nothingness. Nishida’s referral to Nothingness as a “place” bashō (場所), despite explicitly denying this separation, suggests that the idea falls into the realm of Ontology more so than Epistemology. [3] Despite this, by examining the practice of meditation as a path to enlightenment, we can better understand what Nishida is attempting to do in his philosophy.

Zen practices of meditation as a means of achieving enlightenment, discuss Nothingness as both an experiential and phenomenological process, guided by an internalised understanding of the Dharma. This suggests that in Buddhist thought, epistemology and ontology are not separated. To reach a state of Nothingness, a practitioner must simultaneously understand the Dharma (epistemological) and change their view of the world around them (ontological). That is to say, that, to know something, also changes one’s perception of the world and vice versa. The continual process of combining the two allows one to reach such a stage in their path to Enlightenment. [4] Thus, Nishida’s attempt to form an understanding of Nothingness by finding an alternate philosophical perspective that integrates a fundamental split in Western Philosophy is enormously impressive. This is because Nishida’s concept of combining epistemology and ontology are rare in philosophical discussions now.

Returning to original Buddhist texts, the classical description of Nothingness taken from the Heart Sutra describes it as a state where the dualities of existence and non-existence become one, and the “self” exists without attachments (5 Aggregates, or Skhanda). [5] In this case, the Heart Sutra describes Nothingness not necessarily as a “place” as Nishida describes it, but rather as a state of being. Perhaps Nishida’s attempts to reconcile the subjective and objective, are an effort to rationalise Nothingness both as a state of being and also a “place”. By saying that there is no distinction between what exists in the mind and what exists in reality, one can rationalise Nothingness as a “place”. This perplexing idea that appears to be diametrically opposed, is later re-examined by Hajime Tanabe in Hegelian terms; by treating existence and non-existence through a dialectical thought process. [6]

Tanabe criticised Nishida’s understanding of Nothingness as an unmoving “place” that merely exists at a point in time and space. His application of the Hegelian dialectic created a more dynamic understanding of nothingness as a “moment of absolute negation”. This understanding of Nothingness seems more similar to the experiential descriptions that exist in the Heart Sutra. [7] Rather than seeing Nothingness as a state that is reached and maintained, Tanabe’s conceptualisation of it as consistent existence and non-existence resonates more accurately with the Heart Sutra. Indeed, Tanabe’s criticisms did go on to influence the way Nishida considered his original ideas. Towards the later stages of Nishida’s thought, he began to see Nothingness less as a “place” and more as a continual dialectic process.

With all of this considered, there is a distinct possibility that I may have misunderstood Nishida and Tanabe’s ideas on Nothingness. The ideas discussed by the Kyoto school are very difficult to grasp and are questions that perplex even experienced practitioners of Zen. That being said, I believe that it is beneficial to genuinely reflect on the efforts that the scholars of the Kyoto School have made to apply different philosophical perspectives to existing thought. Figures such as Nishida and Tanabe amongst the other Kyoto School philosophers have made a serious effort to apply what they have learnt from Western philosophy to a central idea in Zen Buddhism. I would hope that their work receives more attention and generates greater dialogue in the years to come.

[1] Davis, Brett W., The Kyoto School,, 2019, Introduction

[2] Ibid, Section 3

[3] Ibid, Section 3.3

[4] Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism, 1998, pp 175-176

[5] The Heart Sutra

[6] Davis, Brett W., The Kyoto School,, 2019, Section 3.4

[7] Ibid, Section 3.3

The Unique Nature of Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Examining Similarities and Differences Between East and West

Yan Xishan’s pamphlet, “How to Prevent Warfare and Establish the Foundations of World Unity” is a fascinating document that discusses the ideology of Cosmopolitanism combined with Chinese concepts of Da-Tong (大同), and Socialist thought. An ideological system that can be succinctly described as Chinese Socialist Cosmopolitanism. [1]

In terms of time, the general intellectual trend was leaning towards Cosmopolitanism during this period. With the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, ideas of global governance and unity were being discussed. However, the place that this pamphlet arose from is surprising.

Despite, Western political and ideological concepts such as Republicanism, Democracy and Welfare introduced through Sun Yat-Sen’s (孫中山) declaration of the Three Peoples Principles in 1905, being well known and popular throughout China. These concepts were mostly constrained in a national context. To embrace, and indeed expound the concept of Cosmopolitanism as Datong was incredibly far-sighted on Yan Shixan’s part.

Several intellectual strains come to mind when considering Yan’s ideas. The first is that of Kantian Cosmopolitanism, especially his work ‘Towards Perpetual Peace’. This is in specific regard to the “Recognition of the equality of man without discrimination of race, colour, belief, country” as highlighted in the pamphlet. Yan invokes, whether with or without intent, Kant’s concept of ‘Cosmopolitan Law’ which suggests a universal law that incorporates states and individuals globally. [2] The concept of Datong has a similar concept to that of Kant’s Cosmopolitanism but instead utilizing a “right” based legalistic approach to Cosmopolitanism, emphasizes an ethical and moral social grounding for it. This points to the motivations for actions promoting global harmony and cooperation being grounded not in the rational thought of individuals forming society, but rather moral cultivation and development.

The second intellectual strain that Yan considers when elucidating his concept of Cosmopolitanism, is that of the Doctrine of the Golden Mean (also known as Aristotelian Virtue Ethics). This idea is derived from Western Philosophical traditions from Ancient Greek Philosophy. [3] Despite this, to view Yan’s understanding of the Golden Mean as one that was simply borrowed from Greek Philosophy would be to assume that similar concepts in Chinese philosophy do not exist. The concept of Zhongyong (中庸) taken from Neo-Confucian Scholars such as Zi Si (子思) is also commonly referred to as the Doctrine of the Mean. Indeed, Aristotle never really expanded his concept of the Golden mean to encapsulate ‘trespasses’ taken by one person against another. [4] His concept was more concerned with individual ethical behaviour with the fundamental basis of his theory being Ethical Egoism. Yan, on the other hand, seems to interpret ‘Unity of Contradiction’ as a Golden Mean between individuals, something that is more evocative of Zi Si’s understanding of the Golden Mean.

Considering the origin of intellectual ideas is incredibly important especially when discussing ideas originating from East Asian sources. Due to the vast majority of our educational upbringing, it is often assumed that the intellectual origins of ideas are taken from notable Western thinkers. Yan Xishan’s ideas on Cosmopolitanism highlights the similarities in intellectual ideas between Western and Eastern thought while allowing us to examine the differences at their core.

[1] Yan, Xishan. How to Prevent Warfare and Establish Foundation of World Unity, pamphlet, pp1-41

[2]Brown, Wallace Brown, Grounding Cosmopolitanism: From Kant to the Idea of Cosmopolitan Constitution, Book, 2009, pp31-54

[3]Hursthouse, Rosalind, Virtue Ethics,, 2016

[4] Boi, Peter K., Neo-Confucianism in History, Harvard University Asia Center, 2008