AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 33

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Session 33: Other Languages of Legitimacy: New Perspectives on the History of Political Discourse Aross the Tokugawa–Meiji Divide

Organizer: David Mervart, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Discussant: David Mervart, University of Heidelberg, Germany

The panel seeks to take measure of recent revisionist developments in the historiography of political discourse of Japan across the divide between the Tokugawa and Meiji period. For this purpose, it brings together the perspectives of intellectual history of political thought, cultural history of political performance and ritual and discourse-analytical approach to the history of international relations. It singles out the notion of political legitimacy as a theme that gains depth from this cross-disciplinary treatment. In addressing this theme, it also turns attention to the broader East Asian context of the China-centered world order and the shared universalist vocabularies of the Confucian moral and political idiom as it encounters the seemingly incompatible ideological requirements of the new age of national polities competing for survival and influence on the international stage. All the three papers urge us to take note of the underlying continuity of concerns between the discourse well before and since the Meiji Restoration in shaping the notions of what constitutes legitimate acts and goals in the sphere of government. The panelists remind scholars that they should be careful before they dismiss all deployments of the Confucian concepts in Meiji politics as inherently conservative and before they too hastily press the material of the 19th-century East-Asian history into the mold of nation-state.

Banzai and Iyasaka: Two Cheers for Democracy in Japan
Yuri Kono, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan

The practice of ‘Banzai’ cheer has its birthday. It is February 11, 1898, the day when the Imperial Constitution was officially promulgated. At the occasion, the students of Tokyo Imperial University had been specially trained for the celebration. They raised their arms shouting ‘Banzai’ three times over. This ritual has since grown into a well-established custom (recently performed by the MPs at the official announcement of the dissolution of the House of Representatives in July 2009). Yet, some 30 years after its birth, on March 1, 1919, the declaration of Korea’s independence from Japan’s rule was hailed by the ‘Banzai’ (‘Manse’ in Korean) cheer from the Koreans. In the event, ‘Banzai’ was not a symbol of the empire, but a symbol of rebellion against the empire. Such is the background against which Kakei Katsuhiko (1872-1961), a jurist and professor at Tokyo University, proposed that ‘Banzai’ be abandoned and the cry ‘Iyasaka’ adopted instead. The two-character compound ‘Banzai’, in Kakei’s view, was too Chinese in origin, while ‘Iyasaka’ was truly authentic and purely Japanese. The paper focuses on the symbolic conflict of the two political rituals of modern Japan. In order to understand the uses of this invented tradition of the modern nation, however, it is necessary to grasp the historical context of these practices. By exploring the debate of (Confucian) rites (reigaku) among Tokugawa-period intellectuals, this paper offers a more suitable context in which to understand the significance of the conflict between the two rival ritual practices for its contemporaries.

The New Principles for Building the Meiji Polity
Saebom Lee, University of Tokyo, Japan

This paper focuses on the discussions around Confucian-informed politics in the early Meiji Era by drawing on two scholars of the period, Sakatani Shiroshi and Nishimura Shigeki. The perception of Confucianism, which was pushed out of mainstream academia by Western Studies after the Meiji Restoration, as inherently “conservative” or “nationalistic” remains prevalent to this day. This paper poses some questions regarding such distorted views of the role of the Confucian discourse. And these questions are derived from the specific arguments that the two scholars made about the new political order. After the Meiji Restoration, subsequent discussions about the suitable foundations of the new political order proceeded along two axes: direct rule under the Emperor himself (tenno-shinsei) and parliamentary politics. It was in this context that there occurred a heated debate about what would unify the polity and bring its people to give their support to the new political order. As members of the two famous intellectual societies, Meirokusha and Yoyosha, both Sakatani and Nishimura took active part in this debate. The former argued that the personification of the universal principle (li) in the Emperor would be the answer, whereas the latter emphasized a pressing need for the new “Japan Morals”. This paper notes that, considering the two authors’ keen interest in the national and international circumstances and the Western studies at the time, these respective arguments were rational conclusions embedded in the logic of the discourse and should not be brushed aside in such simple terms as “conservative”.

Non-emergence of Nationalism: On the Discursive Legitimation of the Ryukyu Annexation, 1879
Jun Yonaha, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan

This paper deals with the political discourse surrounding the Ryukyu Annexation, the integration (or colonization) of the Ryukyu kingdom into Japan in 1879 as Okinawa Prefecture. It aims not only to rethink the widely circulated “myth” that the annexation represented an ethnic reunion of a Japanese nation, but also to disprove that the Meiji government even sought to legitimate its invasion by that kind of logic. Instead, an alternative, and very different, vision of the annexation is proposed. The relevant actors from neither Meiji Japan nor Qing China adopted the argument of ethnicity to give support and legitimacy to their political moves for or against the annexation. Thus, throughout the diplomatic exchange between Japan and the Qing empire, neither the concept of Ryukyu ethnicity nor the ideology of a nation-state played any role at all. The paper explains this phenomenon of “non-emergence of nationalism”, from the two regional perspectives. Firstly, in the early modern “China-centred” world order of East Asia, the concept of nationality obviously had far less importance than in the 20th century. Unlike a nation-state whose legitimacy supposedly derived from its people’s will, the source of authority of pre-modern Asian states was typically seen as residing in their emperors or kings only. Secondly, however, even the Western modern world system of the 19th century was not yet based on the norm of nationalism. Because of these historical conditions, several kinds of contemporary ethnological knowledge about the racial characteristics of the Ryukyu people were strictly prevented from being politicized.