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1st Unit : WEB International Lecture

"Chinese Studies and Western Studies in the modern Japan:around Nakae Chōmin"

 WEB International Lecture, the 1st UnitThe Toyo University International Research Center for Philosophy and the Department of Japanese Studies the University of Strasbourg jointly held an international lecture meeting over the Internet on November 14, 2012, using on the Japanese side the special conference room in Building 5 of Toyo's Hakusan (Main) Campus. Prof. Yoshida Kōhei (Toyo University, IRCP)'s lecture on "Chinese Studies and Western Studies in the modern Japan:around Nakae Chōmin" was broadcast via a web-conferencing system to a conference room in France at the University of Strasbourg. The room in Strasbourg was filled with students who are learning Japanese and took part through the conferencing system in the lively exchange in the question-and-answer session that followed the talk.

Professor Yoshida began his lecture by WEB International Lecture, the 1st Unitpointing out that Japan reaped the benefits of Chinese character-based culture from the moment in historical times when it became a part of the Chinese linguistic sphere in East Asia by using that writing system to depict ancient "Japanese." That field of study called Kangaku - which narrowly refers to the study of the Chinese classics but more broadly as in this presentation refers to the study of Chinese things in general - represented for Japan its first experience of "Western studies." The ancient Japanese borrowed phonetic functions of the Chinese script to express the Japanese language in written form. This is what is known as Manyōgana. They subsquently also made use of the meanings of Chinese characters. Given that Chinese characters contained many strokes for phonograms, Japanese came up with katakana and hiragana and used them in parallel with mana (i.e., Chinese characters). This caused written culture to flourish.

WEB International Lecture, the 1st UnitThe second wave of Western studies (in this case, European studies) that came in competed with Chinese studies. European studies paved the way for creating a modern society, while Chinese studies provided both the foundations for its acceptance as well as a fortress for resisting it. Some people entrenched themselves in the older fields of study, but there were also those Japanese who thoroughly absorbed the foundations that Chinese studies provided and, upon sensing the international situation, forthrightly accepted it and proclaimed their successes when it came to finding a third way. One such individual was Nakae Chōmin. Nakae studied the doctrines of the Wang Yangming school from Okunomiya Zōsai. He then went to France where he studied philosophy. After returning to Japan, he ran a French language school while steadfastedly participating in social movements as a standard bearer for the Freedom and Popular Rights Movement (Jiyu minken undō). Even though his everyday life was filled with contradictions, he was quite influential. He was an advocate of materialism, was scathingly critical of what he saw as inconsistencies in the work of the Commoners' Society (Heiminsha), and developed an anti-discrimination position that embraced the problems of the so-called "new commoners" (shinheimin, the Meiji Era euphemism for the outcast class). He moved on to take up his work in Osaka through the Osaka Yangming Study Group (Osaka Yōmei Gakkai), which published the Yōmei (Yangming) and Yōmei shugi (Yangming doctrine) magazines. That group saw Nakae as part of a lineage that ran from Meng Zi (Mencius) through Wang Yangming, Oshio Heihachirō, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Nakae, and would go on to align him with Sun Wen (Sun Yat-sen) and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Nakae, Prof. Yoshida added, was also close friends with Miyatake Daikō, who was the personification of the anti-establishment movement during the Meiji and Taishō Periods. Nakae's theories of freedom and popular rights were carried on by various individuals in the former Tosa Province, and were also picked up on by certain circles in Osaka. However, Prof. Yoshida added, the Osaka Yangming Study Group broke up due to internal conflicts between its conservative and rebel factions, with Nakae's interpretation of Confucianism and Wang Yangming Studies being taken up in a different form by the rebel faction.