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.
- Hui Wang, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (London, 2011), p. 13.
- Ibid, xxx
- Ibid, 18.
- Keiji Nishitani, ‘‘My Views on “Overcoming Modernity”’, in Overcoming Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan (New York, 2008), p. 59.
- Ibid, 54-55.
- Ibid, 55.
- Ibid, 59.
- Ibid, 51.
- Ibid, 54.