Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japan's divergence from China

On page 27 Reischauer writes:
"The period of greatest learning from the continent lasted from the late sixth century until the middle of the ninth, but then a subtle change began to take place in the Japanese attitude toward China. The prestige of all things Chinese remained great, but the Japanese were no longer so anxious to learn from China or so ready to acknowledge Chinese superiority. After three centuries of borrowing, elements from the Chinese system had become so thoroughly familiar to the Japanese as to have taken on a life of their own. There existed, at least in the capital district, a cultured society with its own political and social institutions, pattered of course after Chinese models, but changed to fit Japanese needs by conscious experimentation and slow, unconscious modification. The Japanese were no longer a primitive people, overawed by the vastly superior continental civilization and eager to imitate anything Chinese. Japan was reaching a state of cultural maturity that made it ready to develop along its own lines. The emphasis shifted from borrowing more new things to adapting and assimilating what had already been acquired.

"A contributing reason for the lessened interest in learning from China was the political decay that became marked in the T'ang dynasty as the ninth century progressed. In 894 it was decided not to send a proposed mission to China because of the turmoil in the land.

"Merchants and Buddhist monks continued to travel between the two countries, but there was a decided lessening of contact between them for the next few centuries, and the resulting increase in Japanese isolation hastened the cultural modifications already well under way in the islands.

"One of the clearest signs of increasing divergence from Chinese patterns was the development during the ninth and tenth centuries of an adequate way of writing Japanese. . . ."

There is some contact from Chinese Buddhist monks during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) and then no mention of Chinese influence. On page 113 Reischauer indicates a time when even the contact from Chinese monks was prohibited, "Japan's more than two centuries of enforced isolation . . ."

Did the periods of reduced contact with China followed by a period of enforced isolation comprise enough separation for Political Scientists to declare Japan a separate civilization? Apparently.

Consider by way of comparison Elizabethan England. Who of us today reads and enjoys Shakespeare. I do from time to time but I have to work at it. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616. Hamlet was written about 1602. If we subtract the date of Hamlet from the publication in Foreign Affairs in 1993 of Huntington's article Clash of Civilization we have 391 years.

Now let us pick up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It was first published in 1478. I have read annotated editions of the Canterbury Tales but there is no reading it without help, either a glossary or some training. We don't speak the same language as Chaucer, and he wrote his Canterbury tales a mere 515 years before Huntington wrote his article. The beginning of the Sung Dynasty (960, when there was no contact except by visiting monks) to the burning of the British legation in 1863 was 903 years.

And then bear in mind that there was no separation of the people of Chaucer's day to the people of today. They merely continued on as British and then sent their children to such places as Australia, Canada and the United States. But we have most things in common. We haven't, any of us, become a clearly distinct people. During World War II there was much talk about the former colonies of Britain rising to their support. Australia and Canada did it more readily than the U.S. but we finally showed up as well. China has nothing like that with Japan. As Reischauer notes, they don't even understand each other's language.

I am just speculating here. I never saw any reason to challenge what the political scientists said about Japan being a separate civilization. In fact if it came down to their having to choose between China and the U.S. in war, I would be surprised if they didn't choose to side with us. Korea I'm not quite so sure of.

Huntington's concept involved the theory of the "Core" state. Thus, Russia is the Core State of the "Orthodox" Civilization, and the U.S. is the Core State of the "Western Civilization." In cases of big trouble the other nations in a Civilization look to the "Core State" to solve the problems. But can anyone imagine Japan looking to China to solve its problems?

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