The Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked the beginning of an era of large-scale importation of “Western knowledge” of all kinds: Western political thought, Western trends in art and literature, Western technology and Western science and education. The standard narrative in the historiography of Meiji Japan is that “Western knowledge” brought modernity to Japan and superseded earlier forms and institutions of knowledge production, in particular those of Chinese studies (kangaku). On the other hand it is generally agreed that an education in classical Chinese learning continued to be seen as a cultural accomplishment.
This presentation attempts a re-examination of the fate of “Chinese knowledge” in the years preceding and following the Meiji Restoration from the perspective of a “History of Knowledge”. It argues that the Meiji Restoration marked the end of a transformation of what might be called the Japanese “order of knowledge”, that is the hierarchy by which the legitimacy and relevance of knowledge is evaluated. This new order was not dominated by a dichotomy of Chinese vs. Western knowledge, but arranged around the principle of national sovereignty or independence (dokuritsu). The presentation examines discursive and institutional aspects to explore the complex role of “Chinese knowledge” in the course of this transformation.
Michael Facius is PhD candidate and Research Fellow at Freie Universität Berlin and Visiting Research Fellow at Tokyo University. He is currently preparing his doctoral thesis on “Chinese knowledge in Meiji Japan” as a part of the DFG (German Research Foundation) funded Research Group “Actors of Cultural Globalization, 1860-1930”.