Jinbō Kōtarō and Fernand Braudel: United Against Narrative Time

When reading Kevin Doak’s Dreams of Difference in week 9, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the Japan Romantic School and the French Annales School. In their novel approach to the study of history (informed by economics, sociology, and anthropology), the historians of the Annales School opened Western historiography to a wealth of new disciplines. Though ostensibly a literary group, the Japan Romanic School shared the same multi-disciplinary approach. Their reservations about modern Japan were articulated through a variety of mediums, including historical fiction, poetry, and aesthetics.

In particular, I’d like to draw a parallel between the work of Jinbō Kōtarō and Fernand Braudel, who independently confronted the dominance of narrative time in their respective societies. Jinbō understood that poetry was a “revolutionary epistemology… central to the romantic vision.” As “the voice of youth”, poetry “signified an artistic space in which the romantics could act on their revolutionary impulses.”1. To Jinbō, words possessed spiritual power and had the power to elucidate meaningful change (similar to the concept of kotodama mentioned during our readings on Japanese Nativism and Oomoto).

Kōtarō’s faith in poetry extended beyond mere literature. He felt poetry was the key to a new logic of spatiality. In his short essay titled “The Acquisition of New Time”, Jinbō suggests nothing less than the “supplanting of narrative history, the logic of developmental time, that lies at the center of modernity.” Like the rest of the Japan Romantic School, Jinbō felt that ancient space had to be defended against the dissociative effects of the modern world. A new conception of poetic time would be the newest weapon in their arsenal.

Braudel approached history from a similarly radical perspective. His groundbreaking history of the medieval France was one in which “the individual was subsumed by the environment”. Philip II was swallowed by the Mediterranean world, in an epic history whose heroes were not men but “grain and cereal crops, disease, technology, and transport, money, housing and clothing.”2 Braudel’s Annales schools aimed for nothing less than the “take-over of historical production: a rejection of narrative (histoire événeémentielle)”.3

With his rejection of the history of ‘great men’ and their crowning achievements, Braudel cut a bold course through the study of Western history. The introduction of ‘geologic time’ in its immense impersonality was a way to champion the everyman, and draw new fields of study into the historical discourse. Jinbō shared the same ambition with his suggestion of ‘poetic time’, which he felt could save the soul of Japan through the revival of ancient space. Both men would leave measurable impacts not just on their respective movements, but on the way we measure and memorialize the past itself.



Doak, Kevin Michael. Dreams of Difference: The Japan Romantic School and the Crisis of Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Hufton, Olwen. “Fernand Braudel.” Past & Present no. 112 (August 1986): 208-213.

  1. Kevin Michael Doak, Dreams of Difference: The Japan Romantic School and the Crisis of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994),28. []
  2. Olwen Hufton, “Fernand Braudel,” Past & Present no. 112 (August 1986): 209-211. []
  3. Ibid, 208. []

A New cultural movement for the west?

The conception of ‘westernisation’ is continually associated with the ideas of modernism, progressivism and liberalism. This dynamic has, and continues to, shape our historical and contemporary understanding, as the west symbolises a global benchmark for other peoples and societies. One of the more interesting points that seems to be downplayed in general western discourse is disillusionment with the west, a particularly interesting theme in this week’s reading: Confucian Renewals. Another fascinating notion was the conception of “easternisation” and its emphasis on Confucianism as a major component in establishing a reinvigorated western society with eastern influences. The concept of Confucianism and utopianism, or at least post-modernism, in conjunction with reconstructing western or global society shall form the basis of this discussion. The two specific readings I have chosen are, Qing Jiang’s Confucian constitutionalist order and Robert Neville’s Boston Confucianism, I believe highlight radically alternate perspectives on how to construct this new Confucian society from a western and globalist standpoint. Neville’s takes a liberal outlook illustrating how to integrate Confucian values while respecting the multicultural and cosmopolitan nature of the west. Jiang, on the other hand, has no time for such formalities and is quick to assert Confucianism’s dominance while still integrating notions of western democracy and liberalism.


Neville is quick to detach Confucianism from politics, as he outlines that Confucianism has failed because of politcal context of the societies that implement Confucianism rather than Confucianism itself.[1] Therefore, implementing Confucian ideals in western society will not incite traditionalism or conservatism as Confucianism is so often accused of, especially from the feminist community.[2] On the contrary by adopting Confucianism and specifically its ideals surrounding civility and the practice of ritual, western society, according to Neville, will be greatly enhanced.[3] For Boston Confucians civility and ritual act as the founding fabric that can help solve many of the issues multiculturalism brings. For example, Boston Confucians have highlighted that, by committing to cultural diversity, there is a need in the West to create positive social rituals as a means to respect the social diversity.[4] However, although this has been acknowledged, Boston Confucianism has only offered a diagnosis and is yet to provide the cure. Additionally, the civility Confucianism offers needs to be adapted further as it is a conception of a mesocratic society needs to expand beyond the working world and appreciate the complexity and variety of modern social roles, from work to home.[5] This is something too that Boston Confucianism lacks any practical framework on.

Jiang, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach as he looks to incorporate western connotational liberalism and the Chinese regime into his new world Confucian society.[6] Jiang does want to achieve a western style of democracy, however this seems rather hollow when he quickly declares a hierarchical society based on the rule of a singular Confucian ancestor.[7] The ailments of Western society, democracy based on people’s legitimacy, that Jiang so vigorously wants to cure is stripped of all purpose with his autocratic replacement. He too then looks to offer a Confucian solution to a western issue but, as witnessed with the Boston Confucians, fails when the practicality of these ideas are analysed.

A recurring theme throughout this module has been to understand the discourse the follows when theoretical abstract ideas come into practice with the realities of world. Although, both the above ideas have not been implemented in the west or the east it is still interesting to debate how viable these ideas are and where their greatest pitfalls may lie, as Bell and Neville have done. However, as evidenced from all the weekly readings to date, the discourse that would follow from their implementation can never truly be realised until they have indeed clashed with reality.

[1] Robert C. Neville, ‘Boston Confucianism: Portable tradition in the late-modern world’ New York press: 2000, p. XXIII-XXIV
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid p. 10
[4] Ibid p. 16
[5] Ibid p. 17
[6] Qing Jiang, Daniel Bell, Ruiping Fan & Edmund Ryden, ‘A Confucian constitutional order: how China’s ancient past can shape its political future’ Princeton University Press, 2012, P. 3
[7] Ibid pp. 7-8

Kita Ikki – The Reorganization of Japan – The Three Pillars

Kita Ikki (北 一輝) was a Japanese author and thinker in the Taisho and early Showa era, commonly credited for being the father of the statist Japanese ultra-nationalism of the Showa era. In 1919 his text “The Reorganization of Japan” he expands upon the ideas to Limit on Private Wealth in his 1906 “Kokutairon and Pure Socialism” text. By introducing the system of the Three Pillars (Limits on private wealth, private property and private industry) he seeks to limit the inequality within Japanese society and build the fundamental economic policy to create harmony within Japanese society. He provides a step by step blueprint on how he implement such a policy from chapter II to IV. 

Firstly, a limit of private wealth up to 3,000,000¥ per family would be set.1. Adjusted by inflation this would roughly be the value of 20,000,000$ in 2019, thus it would still be possible for a family to amass a considerable amount of privately owned capital.2. The state would garnish the surplus amount of capital, land and business to manage it through a state-run bureau that would employ or secure the livelihood of all the citizens.3

Secondly, he would only put a limit on land ownership, but would give no guarantee of land ownership. Strangely Kita Ikki describes the right of land as a god given right to be a baseless assumption, but then explains the relation between tenant and landlord as natural will of god.

“The existence of landlords and tenants can be seen as the will of God and also as a necessary stage in the development of a society”3

Limits on land ownership was therefore not based on principle, but on necessity to maintain national unity through economic equality.  It would depend on a case by case basis if land outside of cities and farmland would be given by the state to new private owners or administered by a state company.4

Lastly would a ceiling of 10 000 000¥ be set on all private enterprise. Again equality was the goal, but in this chapter Kita Ikki rejects the fundamental ideas of socialism. Self interest was the core idea driving man according to Kita Ikki, the state served only to contain this within reasonable limits. Society would get the benefit from the individuals risk taking and its adaptability to satisfy public demand in ways the public system could not.5 Every nation had big capital managed by huge trusts or cartels, it would be better if the state assumed this function.  Seven ministries of Banks, Navigation, Mining, Agriculture, Industries, Commerce and Railways respectively would replace the current government bureaucracy.6 Wilson interprets that this was also intended as a specific attack on the great companies, most commonly refereed to as the Zaibatsu (financial clique, 財閥) that held considerable sway over the Japanese economy after the Meiji period.((George M. Wilson, Radical Nationalist in Japan: Kita Ikki, 1883-1937.,Sophia University, (Tokyo, 1970) p.70))

This hybrid of Capitalism and strict State Socialism would theoretically enable a certain financial stability and limit the excess of social inequality that currently plagued Japan. It has never to this day been implemented to such an extent as Kita Ikki suggests. The coups with Kita Ikki’s backing failed. But while the justification for national harmonization in preparation for war has fallen by the wayside, today the economic ideas of Kita Ikki survived his own lifetime. Wilson points out that the Americans would implement sweeping land reform with a remarkable resemblance to Kita Ikki’s ideas, as well as break up the Zaibatsu after the war. ((James L. McClain, Japan, A modern history, W.W. Norton, (New York, London, 2001) p. 543))7 Even today, in South Korea, the Chaebol still presents the social and economic challenges that larger corporations pose to equality within a state. The Three Pillars could perhaps provide an economic model to base reform on.

With it being written in 1919, the “The Reorganization of Japan” presents a remarkably modern and progressive economic solution that aims to achieve a moderate solution between the two extremes of the economic spectrum. It must however be mentioned that I have neglected to bring attention to the darker side of the Reorganization. The methods that would be used to implement the reform were extreme. A three year long martial law would be declare and the seizure of all excess capital, property and holdings would be accomplished by the use of the Army Reservist Association. Those that resisted the reorganization would be given the death penalty as traitors.  The present rule of law and government would be absolved during the reorganization and thus legal protection would be void to the citizens of Japan.3 While radical, these ideas were not uncommon among Japanese nationalist and among great writers of the 20th century like Lenin in the chaotic aftermath of the Great War, the need for imminent action appeared more necessary than ever.


McClain James L. , Japan, A modern history, W.W. Norton, (New York, London, 2001)
Tankha, Brij,  Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006)
Wilson, George M., Radical Nationalist in Japan: Kita Ikki, 1883-1937.,Sophia University, (Tokyo, 1970)



  1. Brij Tankha, Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006) p. 177 []
  2. George M. Wilson, Radical Nationalist in Japan: Kita Ikki, 1883-1937.,Sophia University, (Tokyo, 1970) p.71
    I ran the JPY to USD Wilson provided againts with the USD to NOK historical averages of the bank of Norway exchange in 1920.  Then adjusted for CPI to modern times. Public US and Japanese online financial archives on exchange rates unfortunately only date back to 1974 []
  3. Brij Tankha, Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006) p. 178 [] [] []
  4. Brij Tankha, Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006) p. 182 []
  5. Brij Tankha, Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006) p. 184 []
  6. Brij Tankha, Kita Ikki and the Making of Modern Japan: A Vision of a Modern Empire, (Kent, 2006) p. 189 []
  7. George M. Wilson, Radical Nationalist in Japan: Kita Ikki, 1883-1937.,Sophia University, (Tokyo, 1970) p.70 []

Action and Pain: Nichiren and the Bodhisattvas

In Japan during the 13th Century a new form of Buddhism began to emerge. Led by a single man, this new form of Buddhism would, at first, seem inconsequential, yet centuries later would appear to have great impact upon the world. This, of course, is Nichiren Buddhism. Founded by the monk Nichiren (1222-1282), this sect of Buddhism is dedicated to a text known as the Lotus Sutra, through which Nichiren and his followers believed enlightenment lay.1 The focus of this piece is not the concepts of the Lotus Sutra, but rather the forms of the Bodhisattva’s from which Nichiren took personal inspiration from and on whose ways he based his teachings and lifestyle around: the Bodhisattva of Superb Action and the Bodhisattva Ever-Abused, as well as how his successors and students model themselves after such examples.2

Nichiren was inspired by both of these figures. For the former, Nichiren was attracted to the man’s actions and stalwart pioneering of Buddhism and propagating the Perfect Truth.3 For the later, Nichiren was attracted to the suffering that the Bodhisattvas underwent due to his beliefs. Through this, Nichiren crafted his own beliefs in Buddhism – one must never waver in their faith and must suffer abuses of some nature – whether they be physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or verbal – in order to truly understand the words of the Lotus Sutra and be able to properly spread the teachings of Buddha.3 In fact, Nichiren himself often believed himself to be reincarnations of the two Bodhisattva’s, and often tried to perceive his own suffering through them.3 This belief was due to Nichiren’s actions: he spoke out against the established sects of the time as well as being rather outspoken against the rulers of Japan who had become patrons of these “heretical” sects.4 These actions caused Nichiren to be arrested – where he was supposedly saved from execution by a bolt of lightning from the heavens – and eventually he was banished to an island in the Sea of Japan.5 But this did not deter Nichiren, who continued to write and convey his faith to his followers and students in hopes they would follow in the footsteps of the Bodhisattvas and his own.4  

As mentioned above Nichiren encouraged his students to imitate the Bodhisattvas’ ideals of perseverance and self-sacrifice, as he believed that every student should be ready to give their life for the cause.6 One of his students, Nichije (1250-?), helped Nichiren in writing down the elder man’s teachings, and even following him in his exile, thus living some form of suffering (abuse).6 Nichije also followed the ideals of the Bodhisattva of Superb Action by going on missions throughout Japan (Hokkaido) and eventually making his way to Siberia to spread the teachings of Nichiren.6

Another student of Nichiren’s teachings, Nisshin (1407-1488), operated out of Kyushu before making his way to Kyoto.6 While in Kyoto Nisshin spoke out against the shogun in his acts as a street-corner evangelist.6 He openly challenged the shogun to prosecute the other Buddhist sects and pledge his loyalty and faith to the Lotus Sutra.6 Because of this, Nisshin was thrown in jail and tortured by the shogun’s men in order to cease and desist.6 When he did not, a pot was jammed over his head so as to keep him from talking, thus giving him the name ”pot-wearer” (nabe-kaburi).6 As such, Nisshin lived his life by way of both Bodhisattvas – with his work in Kyushu and Kyoto being signs of Superb Action and his imprisonment, torture, and head accessory being a source of Ever-Abused.6  

The final notable follower of Nichiren and the Lotus Sutra was Nichio (1565-1630).7 Nichio was uncompromising as he led a sect of Nichiren Buddhism – called the Fuju-fuse.7 Nichio was so outspoken and uncompromising that when the Buddhist sects were called by Hideyoshi Toyotomi for a festival of celebration, Nichio refused to allow the Fuju-fuse to attend.7 Later, when the shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa unified Japan, Nichio again refused to send the Fuju-fuse for a celebration.7 Due to this, Tokugawa exiled Nichio and began to persecute the Fuju-fuse, though the group was able to survive to the 20th Century.7 In this way, Nichio was able to imitate the lifestyle of the Bodhisattvas of Ever-Abused. ((Ibid, p.295))

To reiterate, Nichiren and his followers believed that one of the best ways to achieve enlightenment and successfully spread the word of the Lotus Sutra was to follow in the paths of the Bodhisattvas of Ever-Abused and Superb Action. Nichiren and those who believed in the Lotus Sutra were able to follow these paths, as detailed above.  

  1. Bary, William Theodore De, Sources of Japanese Tradition: Vol. 1: From Earliest Times to 1600 (Columbia University Press, 2002), p.292 []
  2. Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, p.293 []
  3. Ibid, p.293 [] [] []
  4. Ibid, pp.293-294 [] []
  5. Ibid. p.294 []
  6. Ibid, pp.294-295 [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  7. Ibid, p.295 [] [] [] [] []

Fuxing fei fugu: Reviving the Past with Updates

During the early 1900s the revival of Chinese traditions was becoming a heated issue for the various political and insurgent groups. One of these traditions – which came under fire from the various groups – was Confucianism. The resurgence of Confucius beliefs was talked about and exploited by all participants of the political spectrum: conservatives, progressives, liberals, communists, and fascists alike all vied to have their personally views of Confucian principles heard – or more accurately they all warred to have their modified Confucian ideals implemented into society in a way that would benefit their goals for China. One of the most prevalent political leaders of the time was Sun Yat-Sen, a powerful and charismatic man who gained quite the following after his death, with his views being explored and exploited by many who had followed him1. The goal of this post is to explore the thoughts that Sun Yat-Sen held about Confucian ideals in modifying them to fit with a more modern society, as well as the views of others about Confucianism in China during the early 1900s2 

Sun Yat-Sen’s interest in defending and adapting Confucianism first became apparent when he decided to speak and write in protest of the New Culture Movement3. Said movement was a group of students who attacked ethics and institutions associated with the then failing Chinese dynastic system while also promoting science and democracy as the basis for a new national culture3. This eventually led to a total repudiation of Confucianism, and other hegemonic traditions, with members, associates, and allies of the New Culture Movement declaring them to be ‘backward’ and ‘superstitious’, as well as against the ‘spirit of modernity’4. This is not the only group that spoke out against such traditions, the May Fourth Movement being another of the primary groups involved in anti-traditionalist movements3.  In response to this, Sun Yat-Sen – among others – began to speak out against the New Culture. Movement and other like it.  

In his 1924 lectures “Three Principles of the People” (Sanminzhuyi) Sun Yat-Sen vocally rebutted the anti-Confucians and expanded upon his views of Confucianism in the present5. In this, he states that Confucian ideals and Confucianism as a whole is compatible with many of the wonders of the technological age, a dream which Sun was extremely enthusiastic about5.  Much of Sun’s writing and speeches in these lectures involve the relation of Confucianism and the machine age5, with his going into detail as to how Confucianism solidifies the cultural nature that is integral to Chinese history5. He also explains how those who attack Confucianism – the New Culture Movement and even Sun’s Communist allies – were attempting to destroy the cultural cohesion that bound the Chinese people together5. Sun’s writing on the topic garnered much attention from his allies in the GMD, such as Dai Jitao, as well as young up-and-comers like Chen Lifu and He Zhonghan, all of whom jumped on the literary and political bandwagon of attacking their much hated Communist rivals through the values of Confucianism6. However, Sun never directly attacked the Communist, merely writing about their anti-Confucian ideals in a passive aggressive style, never outright attacking them through his writing, as such methods would destabilize the United Front6. 

However, Sun’s thoughts were not just on criticizing the anti-Confucian organizations, but also about developing and changing Confucianism to match the modern world. His personal viewpoint on the matter was how Confucianism would tie into and increase the national unity and pride of the Chinese7. During this time the Chinese people were divided, constantly pulled in multiple directions by various political parties, not to mention the actions of foreign nations, such as the Japanese invasions and their various religious expenditures. As such many prominent Chinese political groups encouraged citizens to adopt their manufactured concepts of national unity, which would be born from a sense of national culture and history7. For Sun Yat-Sen, Confucianism fit this bill perfectly. As such, he encouraged citizens to help in efforts to recover China’s “native morality”, which would help the people overthrow the yoke of imperialism and help to reestablish China as a dominate player on the world’s stage7. As presented by Sun, native morals were closely interlinked with Confucian ideals and precepts like filial piety7. Sun believed that such ideas should be reawakened and transmuted to the basis of national unity, with loyalty and unity for the state overriding the old beliefs of loyalty and unity for the emperor7. Thus, Sun Yat-Sen’s ideal of Confucianism was one that, for lack of a better word, was” updated” to suit the purpose of Chinese society as the time.  

In conclusion, Sun Yat-Sen’s ideals for the revival of Confucianism revolved around a core idea of national unity, one that ran contrary to the ideals of the many other groups of political activists during the early 1900s.  

  1. Clinton, Maggie, Revolutionary Nativism: Fascism and Culture in China, 1925-1937, 71  []
  2. Clinton, Revolutionary Nativism, p.72  []
  3. Ibid, p.67  [] [] []
  4. Ibid, p.68 []
  5. Ibid, p.72 [] [] [] [] []
  6. Ibid, p.72-73 [] []
  7. Ibid, p.73-74 [] [] [] [] []

Shimomura Torataro (下村 寅太郎) – The Course of Overcoming Modernity

Shimomura Torataro (1902-1995) was one of the representatives of the Kyoto School at the Overcoming Modernity summit. He submitted an article prior to the meeting on what he saw as the answer to overcoming modernity. He had as a second-generation representative of the Kyoto School studied under Nishida Kitaro and Tanabe Haijme.1 In his essay “The Course of Overcoming Modernity” the focus is on the soul or the spirit and how to interpret it in contrast to the new machines is key to understanding modernity.

“Modernity” grew out of Europe and it has since become an integral part of Japan as it has in Europe. Thus “Modernity is to overcome ourselves”2 . The Japanese can not overcome modernity by rejecting Europe. Only by negating themselves as can they negate modernity. The spirit is the key to the self, but modernity has changed it.

Shimomura sees modernity as the creator of the external machine civilization.3 Shimomura describes the renaissances as the opposite of the medieval period. The renaissance is not a destruction of a unity between spirit and nature, because there never was a true unity.  The development of the external nature has its roots in the ideas negated by force during the medieval period. It is merely a continuation of the same kinds of slavery to labour that man has been restricted to since the beginning of time.  Ultimately this slavery is rooted in the spirit. But machines have fundamentally changed the dynamic between spirit and the physical as its only advancing the external physical “civilization, not the internal spiritual “culture”. While the “old soul” has only been internal, the new “spirit” must be external. Modern science has redefined the understanding of the body as a machine and it requires a new spirit to be found with new interpretive methods that can aligned with this new physical reality. This must be done with a new theology.

Thus, the spiritual imbalance in modernity as Shimomura sees it is not rooted in a corruption of past beliefs, but a changing in the fundamental way we view the body. As the world has changed because of science so must our theological understanding of it. The new understanding of the self in comparison with our contemporary world is the only way to truly overcome modernity as modernity itself is the understanding of our spirit.


Richard Calichman, Overcoming Modernity, Columbia University Press, (New York, 2008)


  1. Calichman, Overcoming Moderntity, p. 212 []
  2. Calichman, Overcoming Modernity, p.111 []
  3. Calichman, Overcoming Modernity, p.111 []

The Totalitarian Potential of Jiang‘s Confucian Constitutionalism

In “A Confucian Constitutional Order”, Jiang Qing rejects the state and governmental model of liberal Western democracies in favour of a Confucian system that he thinks is better suited for the Chinese case. The ground for this argument seems to be Jiang’s perception of Western systems as essentially unstable mob-rules – a claim he justifies by asserting that “democratic legitimacy is based on the sovereignty of the people. This is said to be unique, supreme, absolute, exclusive and alienable.”1 A Confucian Constitutional Order, on the contrary, could be more beneficial to China, as it would be based on three legitimacies, represented in three parliamentary chambers: That of heaven (a “transcendent ruling will and a sacred sense of natural morality”), of earth (“history and culture”) and of the human (“the will of the people”).2

While we could argue that Jiang’s argument is constructed upon a false understanding of what liberal democracies actually are,3 it might also be worth to just take a closer look at the system he proposes and consider its political implications, which, despite being downplayed by Jiang himself, seem to have a highly authoritarian, if not totalitarian, potential:

From reading chapter 3, “A Confucian Constitutionalist State,” it becomes clear that Jiang has one primary concern, a premise upon which his political system is designed, and that is restoring a Confucian understanding of the State as being “formed naturally and reasonably over a long period of history owing to the cooperation of heaven, earth, and the human element.”4 Its character, therefore, is “sacred, mysterious, whole, awe-inspiring, and enduring.”5 The governmental system which best accommodates this understanding, according to Jiang, is republicanism under a symbolic monarch, the monarch being a direct heir of Confucius who will embody the nature of the state and have a largely representative and symbolic role.6
If the monarch’s power is only symbolic, however, then we would expect that in a system labeled “republican” a significant part of the power would lie with the people, or at least representatives of the people. This, however, is not the case either in Jiang’s model: He relies on a three-dimensional legitimation system based on heaven, earth and the human (as outlined above), and while the will of the people is therefore indeed politically represented in one of the three proposed chambers of parliament, it can hardly be said to bear much political significance: The will of the heaven, in the House of Ru, is prioritized by having veto rights over the suggestions of the House of the People7. Jiang deems this important, since he describes the will of the people as being characterized by “extreme secularization, contractualism, utilitarianism, selfishness, commercialism, capitalization, vulgarization, hedonism, mediocritization, this-worldliness, lack of ecology, lack of history, and lack of morality”8 – in short, he does not trust the competency of the people enough to delegate them any real political power. This is further emphasized in Jiang’s statement that his Confucian constitutional order “can ensure that the ruler’s authority and the people’s obedience are seen, respectively, as right and duty.”9

But if neither the people, nor the symbolic monarch, maintain real political power in Jiang’s system, then who does?

The answer becomes clear when we look at the Confucian constitutional order in its entirety and recognize another significant institution, the role of which is consistently downplayed by Jiang as being merely “supervisory”10the Academy:

This diagram, designed purely based on the description of Jiang’s system provided by Bell in the introduction of the book, shows that the Academy receives an overwhelmingly large share of power.

The Academy would be composed of scholar-officials, a (presumably meritocratic) elite with the power to control the tricameral legislative – by training and supervising its members and even, in the case of “dereliction of duty”, by being able to “recall all top leaders of state institutions.”11 Especially interesting is the fact that their control of one of the chambers, the House of Ru, even surpasses that of the other two, since its members are directly nominated by the Academy.  The House of Ru, in turn, as mentioned above, has a disproportionate amount of power compared to the other two parliamentary chambers, mainly thanks to its veto-rights.

One of the Academy’s most impressive powers that seems to be overlooked by both Jiang and Bell is linked to the Historical Records Office, “that would record the words and deeds of the highest decision makers so that they would be answerable.”12 In other words, there would be no immunity for the members of parliament, something that is usually considered a central right in any republican system, and they could be held responsible for opposing the transcendent will of the heaven / the Academy.

Lastly, I would like to highlight the Academy’s power to issue final verdicts. This essentially turns the institution into a constitutional court of justice. In combination with its control over the other institutions and the fact that Jiang’s model lacks any real executive power (the king would certainly be an executive organ, yet his real power is only symbolic), I believe we can conclude that the Academy would essentially constitute a government of judges, ruling based on a religious or heavenly law set out by Confucianism.

If Jiang’s Confucian constitutional order were to be implemented in reality, the result would thus certainly be a theocratic system where all power is merged in the hands of the Academy. The fact that it is based on an all-encompassing ideology (Confucianism), makes no real provisions for the rule of law or the separation of powers and, on top of that, requires popular participation in support of the “heavenly will” of the Academy, even gives it, in my opinion, a certain totalitarian potential.

  1. Qing, Jiang. A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future. Edited by Daniel A. Bell and Ruiping Fan. Translated by Edmund Ryden. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2012, p. 29. []
  2. Bell, Daniel. China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 6. []
  3. After all, the addition “liberal” to the term “democracy” does not simply refer to the rights that are guaranteed to citizens of a liberal democracy, but more importantly to the fact that the political system was constructed on the principles of liberalism, which emphasizes the importance of a constitution that sets out the separation of powers, thus working precisely against the concepts of mob-rule and an excess of democracy []
  4. Qing 2012, p. 71. []
  5. Ibid., p. 71. []
  6. Cf. Ibid., p. 71, 74-75. []
  7. Cf. Bell 2008, p. 7. []
  8. Qing 2012, p. 33. []
  9. Ibid., p. 28. []
  10. Cf. Bell 2008, p. 8. []
  11. Bell 2008, p. 8. []
  12. Ibid., p. 8. []

Imperial Japan: Mastering the Art of Soft Power

There is often a common misconception that nationalism and internationalism are juxtaposed, two separate entities that have no compatibility.[1] This premise is questionable. As Tomako outlines internationalism is de facto predicated on nationalism, it uses the nation-state as a framework for all internationalist theory.[2] From our readings this week came the most profound example of this connectivity between nationalism and internationalism, which was found in imperial Japan. My assumptions of Japanese imperialism the readings would have most likely led me to  perceive that Imperial Japan was isolationist and self-sustaining, as evidenced from her self-removal from the League of Nations in 1933.[3] Japan in this period could almost have been described as a ‘neo-Sakoku’.[4]
Yet, these assumptions were proven to be misconstrued; Japan was indeed internationalist while simultaneously maintaining her ultra-nationalism. It was all possible because of Japanese understanding of internationalism, or, more specifically, the government’s understanding. The government viewed internationalism through a nationalistic lens; simply put, it could use internationalism as a tool to further Japan’s nationalist agenda in contrast to using internationalism as a means of international co-operation. That is not to say that new liberal internationalism did not exist, as some of the finest examples can be witnessed when analysing Japanese diplomats such as Nitobe Inazo, as Abel outlines.[5]

With all of this said, the premise of this blog will show how an individual concept acted as a perfect lynchpin between culturally-diplomatic internationalist Japan and the political policies of an ultranationalist Japan. The concept was simple and yet had such a prominent role in 20th century imperialist Japan: “the Occident did not understand the Orient”.[6] Surprisingly, this notion was commonplace across the Japanese political spectrum. In Inazo’s book “Bushido”, he criticises the Western scholarship of Dr. George Miller and looks to ‘re-educate’ his Western audiences on Japanese culture.[7] Although, Inazo’s aims are not interlinked to any Japanese political action, it is nonetheless a cog in the mechanism of instilling this idea of Eastern (re)education.

This concept had more political than cultural overtones in the 1930s, as political leaders looked to use this idea that Japan’s actions have been simply misinterpreted in order to justify their actions to the international community. Not only was this used as a defence against Western criticism, but it was used against Eastern states too, as Japan look to assert itself as the embodiment of the East. Yotoku Matsuoka, a Japanese diplomat, declared in his speech to the League of Nations: “I am afraid that advantage is taken by the Chinese representive of Western unfamiliarity with Eastern psychology”.[8] This remark, along with many others, acted as a reminder for the West to not intervene in Eastern affairs until a sense of understanding has been gained.

But who was to arbitrate whether an understanding had been reached? And furthermore, who would educate the West on eastern affairs? Japan. This was in itself a self-fulfilling perpetual circle; the West criticised Japan. Japan proclaimed Western ignorance. Japan educated the West through ‘soft power’ or the ‘correct’ perspective, the Japanese perspective, and so forth. This was primarily one of the reasons for the change of directive of the KBS (Kokusia Bunka SkinKikai), as it looked to support Japanese military expansionism through promoting international public relations.[9] To an extent, between 1934 and 1937, it was astonishingly successful as the KBS managed to cement in American public opinion that Japanese contemporary politics was completely divided in two camps: ‘moderates’ and ‘militarists’.[10] This in turn created an artificial sympathy of Japanese politics and implanted the idea that change was imminent.
Overall, it can be illustrated from key Japanese institutions and political policies how original Japanese ideas surrounding Japanese cultural exportation came to manifest in wider Japanese foreign policy as a tool to placate the West and justify Japanese imperial expansionism.

[1] Tomaoko Akami, ‘Internationalizing the pacific: The United States, Japan and the Institute of Pacific Relations in war and peace, 1919-1945’ , Routledge: 2002, pp. 8-10
[2] Ibid p.8
[3] Jessamyn Abel, ‘The International Minimum: creativity and contradiction in Japan’s global engagement,1933-1964’, University of Hawai’I press: 2015, p.16
[4] Sakoku, referring to Japan’s ‘closed country’ period from around 1630s to 1850s
[5] Jessamyn Abel, ‘The International Minimum: creativity and contradiction in Japan’s global engagement,1933-1964’, University of Hawai’I press: 2015, p.5
[6] Though I am familiar with Edward Said’s Orientalism, I have used such an expression because it is reminiscent of Japan’s contemporary foreign policy. The east was heavily stereotyped and yet Japan not only played up to those stereotypes but used it as a mechanism to attract and divert western attention.
[7] Nitobe Inazo ‘Bushido, the soul of Japan’, Kodansha: 2012, p. 34
[8] Yotoku Matsuoka Speech to the League of Nations, Geneva, 6th December 1932
[9] Jessamyn Abel, ‘The International Minimum: creativity and contradiction in Japan’s global engagement,1933-1964’, University of Hawai’I press: 2015, p.84
[10] John Gripentrog ‘Power and Culture: Japan’s Cultural Diplomacy in the United States, 1934-1940’ Pacific Historical review: 84, 2015, p.482

Esperanto: Constructions of transnational engagement

Esperanto was a language created to be an international and shared-medium that facilitated cross-cultural communication. It therefore ridded people of language-problems that were deemed to prevent ideas being easily understood and transmitted between different cultures.1 Having never encountered Esperanto prior to reading “A Language for Asia? Transnational Encounters in the Japanese Esperanto Movement, 1906-1928” by Ian Rapley, I found the reasons for its spread in Japan fascinating. From the readings I identified that a mix of pragmatism and optimism led to the popularity of Esperanto as it was practical as an international language to learn, whilst also being associated with notions of fairness and equality because  it was upheld that anyone could learn and speak Esperanto.2 Further to this, I will analyse why the Esperanto movement grew in Japan and what the key foundations that enabled the growth of the movement where.

Esperanto within Japan relied heavily on the Japana Esperantista Asocio (JEA) which allowed them to gather together students and speakers, whilst providing sets of texts to support them and the learning of the language.3  I believe from the readings that the philosophy of the language was an incredibly motivational factor, because it surged the popularity of the movement as it was seen to place language “at the heart of transnational engagement”4 I found this an interesting concept, that links with the idea of Wordism which later on promised the emancipation from the nation state, racial and ethical barriers.5 Because Esperanto as a movement shined light onto the intellectual underpinnings of internationalism and consequently how Japan began to link itself with the world.6

But how far can Esperanto be seen as an example of the desire for emancipation within Japan. I would argue that they can be closely linked, because the Esperanto movement was centred around an ideal of free and transnational associations across the world.7. The key aim of Esperanto was to make it so any learner can make direct use of his knowledge with people from any nationality, which opens up intellectual discussion and makes it easier to interact with other nationalities. Alongside this it was studied “by elites and nonelites alike in noninstitutional spaces” outside of state guidance.6. This reveals that the movement strived for uninhibited and transnational connections across persons of any nationality who could converse without barriers of language or ideology. As efforts to create a planned international language are a blatant example of prevailing work to create a global identity.


  1. Ian Rapley, A Language for Asia? Transnational Encounters in the Japanese Esperanto Movement, 1906-1928, (2016), p.75 []
  2. Ian Rapley, A Language for Asia? Transnational Encounters in the Japanese Esperanto Movement, 1906-1928, (2016), p.167 []
  3. Ian Rapley, A Language for Asia? Transnational Encounters in the Japanese Esperanto Movement, 1906-1928, (2016), p.176 []
  4. Ibid., p.168 []
  5. Sho Konishi, “Translingual World Order: Language without Culture in post-Russo-Japanese war Japan”, Journal of Asian Studies 72 (2013), p.93 []
  6. Ibid., p.92 [] []
  7. Ibid., p.93 []

Returning to the Past and Modernity in the Ideas of Wang Hui and Nishitani Keiji

Although Wang Hui (b. 1959) and Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990) wrote in different locations and schools of thought, similarities can be found in the ways they saw the world around them. They saw their surroundings in a state of decay, and wished to return to traditional ideas in order to solve their contemporary problems, with modernity playing a key antagonist role in both their ideas.

In The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity, Wang saw a significant problem in the form of ‘depoliticization’, which he believed has acquired ‘worldwide predominance’ in today’s world.1 The main example he cited is the effect depoliticization has had on democracy. He argued that political parties were becoming less and less representative of their ideas and values under market conditions. These parties have become mere mechanisms of power, and now ‘the representative system of democracy exists now in name only’.2  Wang looked to Chinese history to find a solution to depoliticization. He argued that while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has expressed regret over the Cultural Revolution, ‘it does not repudiate either the Chinese Revolution, socialist values, or Mao Zedong thought’.3  The effect of this, Wang continued, was that ‘the socialist tradition’ continued in China’s current government, and ‘functioned […] as an internal restraint on state reforms’ as well as allowing ‘workers, peasants, and other social collectivities some legitimate means to contest or negotiate the state’s corrupt or inegalitarian marketization procedures’.4

Wang saw this ‘socialist tradition’ as a way to counter depoliticization, because it provided ‘an opening for the development of a future politics […] to break the hold of a depoliticized political ideology after the end of the revolutionary era’. 4 In this way, Wang hoped to use China’s history and tradition of socialism to achieve a democracy that could translate well under China’s contemporary conditions.

The problem Nishitani saw in his world was not the lack of politics, as he illustrated in his essay ‘My Views on “Overcoming Modernity,” but the lack of a worldview. He believed that Japan stood in a spiritual vacuum, and required a worldview that would put Japan on its correct path. Nishitani began this discussion with an examination of a standpoint that he called ‘the religiosity of spiritual nothingness’.5 First, by ‘religiosity,’ he meant an idea that could transcend science in order to be authentic. Anything that transcended science was inherently subjective, and once ‘the standpoint of true subjectivity appear[ed] within us [..] [it] represent[ed] the one thing that cannot […] be objectified’.6  This leads us to the third part of the equation: ‘nothingness’. In using this word, Nishitani did not wish to indicate this standpoint was nothing but that it ‘signifie[d] that which cannot be objectively apprehended as “being”’.7  Overall, this ‘religiosity of spiritual nothingness’ was something that Nishitani believed Japanese people had within them, and was ‘the deepest aspect of Japanese spirit’, and rooted in Japan’s history and ‘particular circumstances’.8

Nishitani related this religiosity back to his fear of the Japanese lack of worldview. He believed that once this religiosity could permeate the people’s sense of ethics, it would form a kind of moral energy that would be the backbone of the Japanese nation and consequently, a new worldview. This is what Nishitani meant when he asserted that ‘[t]here is something at the deepest roots of Japan’s traditional spirit that can provide a course of resolution to these present world problems’.4 Once this worldview is formed, Japan would be well on its way towards ‘its mission’ of ‘founding a new world order and constructing Greater East Asia’.4

Evidently, both Wang and Nishitani looked to tradition and the past in order to find a solution to the world’s current problems. While Nishitani looked inwards, Wang posited a problem and a solution external to the self. However, both Nishitani and Wang were clear on painting modernity as an antagonist. Wang believed that modernity, and its associated Western trends of neoliberalism and globalization, were the reason why depoliticization occurred. Nishitani also drew parallels between what is thought of as modernity and the West, writing: ‘In general, what is called ‘modern’ means European’.9 He criticized this modernity as being ‘divided’ and its religiosity as not transcendent enough – too ‘secularized’ – to form an authentic worldview.10 Nishitani saw Western modernity as the reason why the West’s worldview had become fragmented. Overall, both Wang and Nishitani viewed modernity as a significant factor as to why these problems existed and persisted, choosing to look towards the past in order to better face their future.


Nishitani, Keiji, ‘My Views on “Overcoming Modernity”’, Richard F. Calichman (ed. and trans.), Overcoming Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan (New York, 2008), pp. 51-63.

Wang, Hui, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (London, 2011).

  1. Hui Wang,  The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (London, 2011), p. 13. []
  2. Ibid, xxx []
  3. Ibid, 18. []
  4. Ibid. [] [] [] []
  5. Keiji Nishitani, ‘‘My Views on “Overcoming Modernity”’, in Overcoming Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan (New York, 2008), p. 59. []
  6. Ibid, 54-55. []
  7. Ibid, 55. []
  8. Ibid, 59. []
  9. Ibid, 51. []
  10. Ibid, 54. []