Modernity: East Asia

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Modernity: East Asia

Modernity (kindaisei in Japanese, and xiandaixing in Chinese) is a relatively recent term in the intellectual vocabulary of East Asia, becoming current only after World War II. Differing conceptions of "the modern" start much earlier, when terms long available in both languages acquired new connotations, as the region felt the impact of the West. The classical Chinese jin (close, nearby) provided the root for the Japanese kinsei, or "recent epoch," popularized in the sense of "modern period" by translations of European works in Meiji time. It was soon replaced by kindai to free Buddhist implications in sei. These came to China as loanwords jinshi and jindai, but gave way to xiandai in the early 1920s, indicating not "recent" but "present" age. Although intellectual exchange between the two countries was intense after the Opium War (18401842), ideas relating to the "modern" in fact developed along distinctive trajectories.

At the same time, certain shared features have been unmistakable. The notion of the modern, coming to the region accompanied by the military violence of Western imperialism, acquired a strongly spatial, not just temporal, force. It meant learning from the West in both enlightenment and material advance, and struggling for equal position with the West in national, cultural, and intellectual terms. This implied an inevitable element of borrowing or imitation, bringing with it anxieties of collective identity. Moreover, the very process of modernization brought unintendedor even uncontrollablechanges to social life, turning "modernity" into part of an unprecedented daily experience that demanded articulation. Consequently, hard claimed universal ideas have been constantly challenged by local experience, and the relation between universal aspiration and particular attributes is never stable. These were issues that have preoccupied thinkers in the region down to the present.

Civilization and Enlightenment: Meiji Japan

The Meiji Restoration set the stage for the first major bid of modernization. The driving force behind the program was the determination to secure fukoky kȳohei rich country, strong army. But Meiji culture contained other aspirations as well. The most popular catchwords of the early Meiji yearsbunmei kaika, "civilization and enlightenment"were significantly different. The most forceful crusader for them was the prolific writer Fukuzawa Yukichi (18351901), who coined the term bunmei itself. His books Seiȳo Jij̄o (18661870; Conditions in the West, 3 vols.) and Bunmeiron no gairyaku (1876; Outline of a theory of civilization) sold numerous copies. According to Fukuzawa, "civilization can be defined as that which advances man's knowledge and virtue" with an open future; presently, Japan was only "semideveloped" (hankai ), compared to Europe and the United States, a condition that defined the task in hand. Contrasting East and West, he wrote that "there must be some fundamental difference in the education of the Western and Eastern peoples. In the education of the East, so often saturated with Confucian teaching, I find two points lacking: that is to say, the lack of studies in 'number and reason' [science] in material culture, and the lack of the idea of independence in the spiritual culture" (The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi ).

Fukuzawa's original teaching, influenced by John Stuart Mill (18061873), emphasized the values of personal independence and a disciplined but free individuality as bases for a modern society, and the need for public diversity of viewpoints. However his commitment to enlighten the "uncivilized" led him to embrace policies of Japanese imperial expansion that followed European and American examples. Coining the term datsua nȳūo (de-Asianization and joining Europe), he said that "our country cannot afford to wait for the enlightenment of our neighbors and to co-operate in building Asia up. Rather, we should leave their ranks to join the camp of the civilized countries of the West" ("Datsua ron," 1885, On de-Asianization). By the end of his life, Fukuzawa had abandoned his earlier support for "people's rights" and expressed boundless enthusiasm at Japan's military victory over China.

In 1886, the twenty-three-year-old Tokutomi Soh̄o (18631957) published his hugely successful Sh̄orai no Nihon (The future Japan). Announcing that "the democratic trend is the world trend," the book conveyed a new and more intense sense of the pace of modernity and the ceaseless transformations it would require of his countrymen. "The future of reform is reform, but what sort of reform will it be? What sort of reform should it be? After the deluge comes the deluge. But what sort of deluge will it be? What sort of deluge should it be? Time flies faster than electricity." Looking forward to a more industrial and mercantile version of modernity, inspired by John Bright (18111889) and Herbert Spencer (18201903), he argued that Japan's vocation was to emerge from "a natural commercial nation" to become "an industrial country; and as a natural consequence a democratic country."

Tokutomi had few doubts of the ability of his cohort to make the necessary changes, claiming confidently in his journal Kokumin no tomo (Friends of the nation) the next year: "The old men of the past are gradually making way for the young men of the New Japan. Oriental phenomena are on their way out; Occidental phenomena are beginning. The period of destruction is at an end and the age of building is soon to start." This was the age of the utopian political novels, too, with plots set in future times as in Shin Nippon (1886; New Japan, by Ozaki Yukio, 18591954) and Setch̄ubai (1886; Plum blossoms in snow, by Suchiro Tetch̄o, 18491896) finding an enthusiastic reception. Such enthusiasm easily turned to nationalism, as it did in Tokutomi's case, once the Sino-Japanese war started in 1894. Thereafter, he remained an ardent supporter of the ultranationalist cause.

By the end of the Meiji period, to the cancellation of liberal political stirrings, on one side, as reforming intellectuals were absorbed into the ideology of a militarized state, corresponded on the other side the distress of lonely individuals, unanchored in the new society, as a central experience in the arts. The foremost novelist of the period, Natsume Sōseki (18671916), gave striking expression to this theme in his fiction, rejecting naturalist conventions. Sōseki had little confidence in the results of Japanese modernization. Scornful of both Western imitation and nationalist swagger, he told himself in 1902: "People say that Japan was awakened thirty years ago, but it was awakened by a fire bell and jumped out of bed. It was not a genuine awakening but a totally confused one. Japan has tried to absorb Western culture in a hurry and as a result has not had time to digest it" (Sōseki's diary, 16 March 1902). He feared the worst from this force-fed diet. In his essay Gendai Nihon no kaika (1912; The enlightenment of modern Japan), Sōseki predicted:

If by dint of physical and mental exertions, and ignoring all the difficulties and sufferings of our precipitous advance, we succeed in covering in half the time it took the more prosperous Westerners to arrive at the same stage of specialization, the consequences will indeed be serious. We will be able to boast of a fantastic acquisition of knowledge, and will inevitably suffer a nervous collapse from which there will be no recovery.

Belated Enlightenment: China (1880s1920s)

On the East Asia mainland, ideas of modernity developed later. In Korea, most enlightenment thinkers were trained in Japan, and these became the leading spokespersons for modernizing reforms in the late nineteenth century, and, when Korea eventually fell to Japanese colonialism in 1910, for a cultural nationalism and political independence. Chinese thinking about modernity, by contrast, was shaped by a tenacious Confucian view of the world, intertwined with erratic strands ofBuddhism and Western learning, and was marked by the persistent failure of efforts to reform the late Qing state for most of the nineteenth century. The result was a development in which enlightenment discourse was overshadowed by utopian constructions.

The leading reformer of the period, Kang Youwei (18581927), was a generation younger than Fukuzawa, but his ideas were notably less Westernized. In the early 1880s, Kang envisaged the emergence in another hundred years of equal rights for all human beings, phasing out the Confucian hierarchy between emperor and ministers, between gentry and commoners, and between men and women. But by the 1890s, the vague notion of a "public agreement" that would "lead every living being into the paradise of supreme happiness" (Kangzi nei wai pian, 1884, Kangzi: Inter and outer chapters) had given way to an accommodating monarchism that promised to give present society a stage of "well being" (shengping, xiaokang ), en route to a "grand peace" (taiping ) of the whole world of "great harmony" (datong ). The vision of progress in it offered utopian constructions dressed in Confucian discourse as a remedy to China's modern crisis.

The thinker-translator Yan Fu (18531921) was responsible for introducing Social Darwinism into China with a translation of T. H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics, significantly rendered as Tianyan lun (1895; On Heavenly evolution). Convinced of the need for the Chinese to understand the implications of "the survival of the fittest," Yan warned his countrymen: "The weak invariably become the prey to the strong, the stupid invariably become subservient to the clever" ("Yuanqiang, " 1895, On strength). In an essay entitiled "Lun shi bian zhi ji " (1895, On the urgency of change in the world), he noted that "[t]he greatest difference in the principles of West and East, that which is most irreconcilable, is that the Chinese love the ancient and ignore the present, whereas Westerners strive for present to overcome the past." Here what is modern in his evolutionary horizon was still more a matter of geographical contrast than of temporal advance. As time moved on, through the chaos of the early Republic, Yan became disillusioned with the idea of evolution itself.

The first to tackle problems of modernity more directly was Kang's disciple, Liang Qichao (18731929), who fled to Japan after the failed attempt at state reform in the summer of 1898. With far more access to works by Meiji thinkers and Japanese translations of Western literature, he wrote that the effect of reading them was as if "suddenly seeing the sun in a dark room and drinking on an empty stomach" ("Lun xue riben wen shi yi," 1899, On the benefit of learning Japanese). Here were the models for the modernization of China. Reconfiguring the crisis of the time, Liang effectively replaced "Western" with "new" as a defining adjective for the tasks of the time. In his article "Shanonian Zhongguo shuo" (1900, On young China), he wrote: "What has made China today a senile giant is the evil deeds of dying old men." The task of creating a new China fell to the young, and he enumerated all the fieldsfrom morality and laws to institutions and conventionsthat required recasting by them in "an independent spirit" (Xinmin shuo, 19021906, Discourse on the new citizen). He also called for a "new history" and "new novel," publishing a utopian fiction of his own, Xin Zhongguo weilai ji (The future of new China) in 1902, while advocating a monarchical constitution under the Manchu rule.

Liang's call for a new historiography was challenged by the classical scholar Zhang Binglin (18681936), who argued that Confucius should be seen as the first great Chinese historian, founding a tradition of historical studies that retained its validity to the present. "Instead of persuading people to worship Confucianism as a religion, we should encourage them to treasure the history of the Han nation" (1906). Politically a resolute revolutionary committed to the overthrow of the Manchu court, Zhang sought intellectually to tie the nationalist movement to pre-Qing traditions: "Historical events and relics can move patriotic feelings." The ensuing debate between the two showed the persistent classical sense of the past that had to be overcome before "modern times" could be successfully conceptualized in China.

It was not until the following decade that these parameters changed to that similar to, but almost half a century later than, Fukuzawa's bunmei kaika, in both essence and scale. The two leading intellectuals of the period, Chen Duxiu (18791942) and Hu Shi (18911962), launched a sweeping campaign against Chinese traditions in the name of democracy and science in 1917, in a movement that culminated in the May Fourth Incident against the postWorld War I Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. Hu Shi insisted on a "critical attitude" and the need to "revalue all values" (Xin sichao de yiyi, 1919, The significance of the new thought) in the light of modern reason. Chen Duxiu declared:

In support of Mr. Democracy, we must oppose Confucian teaching and rites, the value of chastity, old ethics and old politics. In support of Mr. Science, we must oppose old arts and old religions. In support of both Mr D and Mr S, we must oppose the "national essence" and old literature. How many upheavals occurred and how much blood was shed in the West in support of Mr D and Mr S, before these two gentlemen gradually led Westerners out of darkness into the bright world. We firmly believe that only they can resuscitate China and bring it out of all the present darkness of its politics, morality, scholarship and thought. (Xin qinqnian zui-an zhi dabian, 1919, In defence of the New Youth against accusations)

It was in the urgency of this perspective that the semantic shift of the term for "modern" from jindai to the more sharply present-focused xiandai occurred.

It was left to China's greatest writer of the period, Lu Xun (18811936), to consciously hold skepticism while fighting under the banner of Mr. D and Mr. S against conformist tendency. One of the first in China to introduce literary works from weak and colonized countries in Europe and Asia, he most valued the patriotic affection and fighting spirit expressed by the people. Similarly, he quoted Byron and Neitzsche repeatedly as the model for noncompromised struggle. He attacked those who "dream not about the future, only in the present," and warned those optimistic about modernity that "the most painful experience in life is to wake up from a dream and find no road to follow" ("Nala zouhou zenyang," 1923, Now Nora is after leaving [the Doll's House]). With a clear understanding that no ready model for imitation was available, Lu Xun envisaged life in constant struggle of paving new roads: "What is a road? It is what comes out from tramping over where there was no road, paved out from where there were brambles only." It was also to rejuvenate "human being's potential in longing for perfection" ("Gusiang," 1921, Hometown) to march forward regardless of how difficult, how seemingly hopeless the future ahead might be.

Urban Cosmopolitan Modernity (1920s1930s)

In interwar Japan a new kind of consciousness of modernity crystallized, around the scenes, rhythms, and sensations of big-city life, which spread to China some ten years later. This was the modern not of institutions or technologies but of the experience of life Charles Baudelaire (18211867) and Arthur Rimbaud (18541891) had celebrated in Europe. The 1920s saw a wave of translations of modernist literature from the West, and formal experiments by Japanese writers. Successive literary schools contended against each other, virtually all of them taking individualism as a given, with aesthetics of existential fragmentation and a mixture of fascination and repulsion for the transient surfaces of metropolitan life. The one ingredient, important in the West, that was missing from this modernismit would be true of the Chinese variant as wellwas the European anguish at loss of religious faith. The solitude of humankind in a world without God was never a major theme of East Asian modernism.

The most influential of its currents in Japan was the New Sensationalismassociated with Yokomitsu Riichi (18981947) and early Kawabata Yasunari (18991972)which Kawabata defined as "Expressionism in epistemology and Dadaism in formal expression" ("Shinshin sakka no shin keikō kaisetsu," 1924, An explanation on the new tendency among young writers). The New Sensationalism came to Shanghai in the late twenties and early thirties. Yokomitsu entitled his first full-length novel Shanghai. It was in these years that the term xiandai became ubiquitous in fashion magazines and avant-garde journals alike, and thatas in Japanthe idea of a specifically aesthetic modernism arrived, associated with the breaking of formal conventions and social taboos, erotic or otherwise.

In both cases, cosmopolitan influences were celebrated and even worshiped, but in general without the revolt against "philistinism" or the spirit of rebellion against the established order that marked much of Western modernism. Yokomitsu's sense of universal cosmopolitanism ended with his "melancholy journey" to Europe in 1936, where a pilgrimage turned into disillusion, and he subsequently "returned" to the nationalist course, reaching the same end, via a different path, as Fukuzawa decades earlier. But something of the same feel for the urban landscape was also shown by the Chinese leftist writer Mao Dun (18961981) in his novel Ziye (1933; Midnight), which covered a wide range of lurid scenes in Shanghai in a style not dissimilar to that of the New Sensationalists. Despite China's national crisis by the late thirties, the younger generation's fascination with modernism continued into the war years, especially in poetry, before fading away in the 1950s.

"Overcoming Modernity" (1940s1950s)

Intellectual reactions against modernity started early in East Asia, and were not confined to traditionalists. Alarm at the "madness" or "lost soul" of modern industrialism and militarism was soon expressed by enlightenment intellectuals in both China and Japan. Touring Europe after World War I, Liang Qichao (18731929) was shocked by what he found:

Countless total strangers live together, sharing the same market or factory, with absolutely no links of affection to each other, merely relations of material interest. Most people own no property, depend on wages only, and lack any roots for survival, like a withering lotus. Social complexity exceeds anyone's capacity for orderly responses to it, over-stimulating and exhausting the nervous system. After work, there is need for play, but abruptly it is time to work again; day and night there is no rest. Desires multiply constantly, the price of goods rises uninterruptedly, life becomes harder and harder, competition fiercer and fiercer. (Ou you xin ying lu, 1920, Impressions from my European journey)

Yet he believed China, as a latecomer to modernity, still had a chance to draw its own critical lessons from European development; he had converted to the May Fourth conviction of science and democracy as the prerequisite of entry into the modern world.

At virtually the same time, the philosopher and reformer Liang Shuming (18931988) set out a severe critique of contemporary Western societies in his book Dongxi wenhua jiqi zhexue (1921; The cultures of East and West and their philosophies), attacking their separation of man and nature, individual and society. After the catastrophe of World War I, the world had arrived at a point where it had to alter direction. In Liang Shuming's view, this meant shifting from the agonistic reason, guided by intuition, of the "cultural will" of the West, to the intuition guided by reason of the Chinese cultural willthis was where the world was now headingand eventually to the valuation of faith and devaluation of desire that was Indian cultural will. The modern society that had emerged in the West was a necessary step in this long-run development, and the spirit of democracy and science it had brought was precious. But a better civilization was possible beyond it.

The challenge to uncritical images of modernity issued by the two Liangs led to a series of controversies in China in the 1920s, in which the resources of traditional Chinese learning in a time dominated by Western configurations of human knowledge and the potential for an alternative path of modern development for China were hotly debated. Although Liang Shuming was subsequently considered a precursor of neo-Confucianism in late-twentieth-century China, at the time he was true to the May Fourth generation, becoming an active proponent and organizer of agrarian cooperatives, and like Liang Qichao in the same period advocating a variant of socialism as a remedy for China's ills.


In Japan, probing of the dilemmas and paradoxes of modernity began already in the Meiji period, and has lasted to this day. In the 1890s, the Christian thinker Uchimura Kanzō (18611930) questioned the purpose of his country's headlong drive to join the ranks of the West:

Can present-day civilization compensate for the loss of the independence of our souls through modernization? Are the steam engine, radio, champagne, torpedoes, and guns better than peace? Does civilization mean spending six billion dollars to maintain standing armies of two and a half million soldiers in Europe, producing anarchists and increasing nervous disorder? ("Kyūanroku," 1893, A record of search for peace)

But by Taishō times, Uchimura's dissent was directed more at his fellow intellectuals than at the government:

I rejoice at the news that the government has a plan to restore Chinese studies in school. It is not the time to argue over the difference between the ideas of the West and the East. What we should do now is to destroy modern man [ kindai-jin ] and modern ideas [ kindai-shiso ]. ("Hibi no shōgai,"1924, Daily life)

There was an echo here, however distorted, of Liang Shuming's desire to counter temporal divisions with a call for spatial unity.

Stark counterpositions of West and East nonetheless persistedeven for those who despised kindai jin and kindai-shiso no less than Uchimurathroughout the interwar and war years. For in this period the Meiji aspiration of climbing up the rungs of a hierarchical world order of "civilization" was replaced, on the one hand, by spatially stressed notions of a plurality of cultures and ethnicities, under the catchphrase of a "return to Japan." On the other hand, Fukuzawa's vision of enlightened individuals acting with a spirit of independence gave way to fear of the modern decadence of an ill-informed individualism that was the captive of a debased mass culture. At the same time, images of socioeconomic modernity itself became much more divided. In the 1870s it was taken for granted that there was just one basic model of civilization, even though the Meiji oligarchs had borrowed selectively from the West. By the 1930s this was no longer possible. Russian Communism, Italian Fascism, American capitalism, and German Nazism offered a range of completely different models of state and society.

Against this background, a symposium that would have enormous resonance was held in Kyoto in the summer of 1942, shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific War. Modeled on League of Nations symposia chaired by Paul Valéry in the 1930s, notably on "The Future of the European Spirit," this Japanese forum brought together philosophers from the Zenand-new-Kantian influenced Kyoto School founded by Nishida Kitarō (18701945), writers from the Japan Romantic School Society, to discuss the problem of "Overcoming Modernity" (kindai no chôkoku ). The political context of the symposiumJapanese fascismfeatured prominently in the discussions, but these did not adhere to any rigid ideological agenda, ranging over many aesthetic, philosophical, cultural, and social issues. Modernity had to be overcome, some argued, because the failures of capitalism, democracy, and liberalism had led inevitably to the war. But was modernity simply a European or American phenomenon? Others doubted it, pointing to a Japanese modernity compounded of indigenous and foreign elements alike. By the end, the chairman of the symposium concluded it had failed in its task.

Yet, after World War II, the symposium became a landmark for intellectual inquiry into Japan's modern history and its future. This outcome was primarily due to the work of Takeuchi Yoshimi (19101977) in the early 1950s, who extracted its quest from the compromised setting of wartime Japan, and "refunctioned" it for an anti-imperialist politics in postwar Japan. Significantly, Takeuchi was the major Japanese editor and translator of Lu Xun. Writing after the Communist victory in China, he contrasted the trajectory of the Chinese Revolution with the Japanese experience of a military-fascist regime followed by American occupation. Yet, throughout East Asia modernity had been the result of imperial violence by the West that forced it upon the East, in a continuous process in which until 1949 the West had always claimed victory. Truly to overcome that modernity in Japan required a "double resistance"resisting both the external imposed reason and the internal denial of the defeat of which it was the outcome. Such resistance was the task of the citizens of a politically responsible nation (minzoku ), to exercise their independent subjectivity (shutaisei ). It was not antimodern. "If I were asked what is resistance," he wrote, "the only answer I have is, 'It is what you find in Lu Xun'" ("Chūku kindai to Nihon no kindai," 1948, China's modern and Japan's modern; in later collections the title changes to "Kindai towa nanika," What is modernity).

In postwar Japan, subjectivity had become one of the central terms of political debates over the recent past, as intellectuals sought to understand the human agents of social change in the processes of modernization and Japan's war experience. Maruyama Masao (19141996), a leading thinker of the Occupation period, rejected the existential interpretation of subjectivity of the Kyoto School, which continued as a major influence in the 1950s. During the war, Maruyama had invoked Fukuzawa as a thinker who "could never conceive of national independence in the absence of individual autonomy" ("Fukuzawa ni okeru chitsujo to ningen,"1943, The order and humane in Fukuzawa); and in his path-breaking essay Chôkokkashugi no ronri to shinri (1946; "The logic and psychology of ultranationalism") he attributed the disastrous course of Showa politics to the "collective irresponsibility" of an elite drifting to war in the name of a mystified imperial rule transcending temporal or spatial boundaries, and commanding the passive obedience of its subject-citizens (kokumin ).

A true democratic revolution in postwar Japan, Maruyama contended, required the "establishment of a modern personality," capable of responsible decision making. His ideal here was Max Weber's (18641920) ethic of responsibility, as set out in Politics as a Vocation (1918). This was an admiration shared by his contemporary Otsuka Hisao (19071996), an economic historian who energetically appropriated Weber's theory of the Protestant ethic as a model for the kind of self-discipline needed to build a robust civil society in Japan. In their different ways, Maruyama's championship of the "modern personality" and Takeuchi's call for resistance by the minzoku opened a new page of critical thinking in Japan. The themes of modernity or its overcoming were taken up by many others in subsequent decades and have lingered in various contexts as a persistent theme in Japanese thinking to this day.

The issue of a politically responsible citizenry, resonant in Maruyama and Takeuchi, reappeared in Korean intellectual life during the 1970s. Paik Nak-chung (b. 1938), a leading literary critic, advocated a "national literature" (minjok munhak ), the modernity of which is defined by its opposition to Korea's North-South division, and its openness to the world at large from a Third World position. Paik has since actively promoted an independent, creative national subjectivity, in a series of debates on modernism, postmodernity, and globalization.

Modernization and Postmodernity: Ongoing Debates

If modernity and modernization were characteristically Weberian concerns, they had little place in Marxist thinking, since their generality blurs the distinction between capitalism and socialism as forms of postfeudal society that is central to Marx's theory of history. Thus the major historical controversy within the communist movement in the two countries developed quite independently of debates over modernity, and without reference to them. The Chinese Revolution might be objectively responsible for a vast modernization of the country, but for a quarter of a century the notion itself was essentially foreign to its vocabulary.

With the strong reaction against the Cultural Revolution (19661976) that came in the early seventies, this changed. The government adopted the slogan of the "Four Modernizations": industrial, agricultural, techno-scientific, and defense. In time the function of this semantic shift became increasingly clearto cancel the long-held distinction between socialism and capitalism, as Mao had feared. But in doing so, it reopened the classic "wound" in the concept itself, which was first painfully exposed in Meiji times. Was modernity just a "rich country and a strong army," as the quartet of official goals implied? Dissidents did not think so. In 1978, Wei Jingsheng (b. 1950) called for a "fifth modernization"the institution of political democracyand was punished with a long prison sentence. Rapid economic growth and political repression have continued to date.

By the 1990s, debates on postmodernity had reached China, but in the early 2000s the principal stake in discussion remained the concept of modernity itself. The historian of theology Liu Xiaofeng (b. 1956) in his work Xiandaixing shehui lilun xulun (1996; A preface to social theory of modernity) believes that modernity manifests itself in the form of a social structure, whose inherent contradictions can never be put to rest by actions of "overcoming," but will regenerate themselves endlessly, and which is European in origin only through a series of historical accidents. Other countries then initiated modern processes of social change under external pressure, albeit with their own varied historical legacies. Since the late Qing period most Chinese intellectuals, Liu argues, failed to grasp the logic of modernity because they tended to accord priority to the nation instead. In his view, the moralistic party-state that came into being after 1949 is now decaying, and to fill the vacuum it has left, a religious community needs to be rebuilt through religion at the local level, both in order to protect individual freedoms and to ensure an ethical basis for people to cope with an ever-changing society. The modern human without God must find salvation in religion again.

Approaching the issue from another perspective, the intellectual historian Wang Hui (b. 1959) worked for more than a decade on his study Xiandai Zhongguo sixiang de xingqi (2003; The rise of modern Chinese thought). In this work he traces the origins of ideas of modernity in China back to the eleventh century, with the aim of showing that capitalism can hardly lay claim to everything that is today associated with the modern. Himself the author of a work on Lu Xun, he champions a spirit of resistance, similar to that in Takenuch, though without emphasizing the "double," to mystifying discourses of global modernization, and the historical teleology that he argues they always entail, with an obligatory class structure and empty representative institutions at the end of the road. Alternative modernities remain necessary and possible, even if these will now require a different international order, sustaining national innovations, rather than crushing them in a neoliberal straitjacket.

In Japan, on the other hand, the success of postwar capitalist development did not put an end to questioning of modernity. Among significant debates, one centered on literature. Karatani K̄on (b. 1941), in his study Nihon kindai bungaku no kigen (1980; Origins of Modern Japanese Literature ) emphasized the "nearness" of the "origins" of Japanese modernity, instead of tracing it to a genealogically distant past. Pointing to a global simultaneity of multinational modern experience, he sought to unravel the historical specificity of the Japanese case. Karatani almost immediately drew sharp disagreement from a number of Japanese scholars, including Kamei Hideo (b. 1937), who charged him with disregarding the continuities in the Japanese experience of modernity. For Kamei, exclusive attention to a uniformly identified "modernity" has suppressed the multiple possibilities latent in the flourishing creativities of Meiji Japan, which developed out of Edo culture and still require an intellectual effort to recover. The national component of modernity, projected by Takeuchi, acquired a new level of depth for inquiry.

With the consumer boom of the eighties, many intellectuals began to wonder whether Japan was not witnessing a new way of "overcoming the modern"entrance into postmodernity. In a famous intervention, Asada Akira (b. 1957) has given the interlinked problems of subjectivity and historicity a critical postmodern twist. Drawing playful inspiration from Nishida Kitar̄o, he has contrasted a senile capitalism in Europe, under the sway of transcendental traditions, and an adult capitalism in America, marked by an inner-directed sense of individual responsibility, with an infantile capitalism in Japan, displaying the "nearly purely relative competition exhibited by other-directed children." Asada has described the postindustrial psyche of Japanese society in the following way: "Children are running around, each as fast as possible, at the front lines of the history of capitalism as infantilization proceeds. They are enveloped by a 'place' whose age is hardly knownthe 'place' that is transhistorical in the sense Nishida demonstrated" (1989). Debates on modernity in East Asia have plainly not yet run their course.

See also Empire and Imperialism ; Modernism ; Nationalism .


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Chaohua Wang