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Historians of Asia on Political Violence

 | 
Anne Cheng
, 
Sanchit Kumar

Japan, a country without revolution? Uses of kakumei and historical debates in the Meiji era (1868-1912)

Eddy Dufourmont

Texte intégral

Introduction: political violence in the land of the emperors

  • 1 See for instance the work of Katsumata Shizuo about medieval uprisings, Ikki, Iwanami shisho, 1982.
  • 2 This historical fallacy was derived from the Kojiki (708) and the Nihon shoki (712), two historical (...)
  • 3 See Mitani Hiroshi, “Meiji ishin. Tsūsetsu no shūsei kara kakumei no sekai hikaku he”, in Miura Nob (...)
  • 4 In English see John Brownlee, Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the (...)

1As any country in the world, Japan in the course of its history experienced many phenomena of internal wars, on different scales and of different natures. The construction of fortified villages in the Yayoi period, the political struggles of the Yamato kingdom, the revolts against the imperial regime in the Heian period, the battles between warrior clans in the 12th century or political anarchy in the 15th and 16th centuries are some examples1. Modern Japan experienced a major political change with the coup initiated in 1868 by the Satsuma and Chōshū clans of southwest Japan against the Tokugawa shogunate. The victory of Satsuma and Chōshū and the establishment of the imperial regime in 1889 meant the creation of an ideology, a discourse legitimising the imperial regime based on a false historical fact –the supposedly unbroken line of divine emperors starting with the fictitious Jinmu2. The creation of the imperial regime meant also a general revision of the Japanese past, starting with the coup of 1868 itself. During all its existence, the management of Japanese history was a central problem for the regime. As was shown by Mitani Hiroshi, in 1940 the imperial regime published a large compilation of sources entitled “History of the restoration” (Ishinshi). This work established a vision of the birth of modern Japan that became the classical narrative to describe it, even outside Japan. In this narrative, the opening up of 1853 led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate by a restorationist movement (the “reverence for the emperor and expulsion of the barbarians” (sonnō jōi) movement). The victorious restorationist movement started radical reforms in the name of “opening to civilisation” (bunmei kaika) and “enrich the country, strengthen the army” (fukoku kyōhei)3. This narrative gave a central and positive role to the oligarchs of Satsuma and Chōshū, and simultaneously helped draw a linear discourse leading to the establishment of the imperial regime in 1889. In the year the historian Tsuda Sōkichi published the History of the restoration, the regime put him on trial for having criticised the myths establishing the imperial ideology. Tsuda was expelled from the university, four of his books were banned, and two years later he was sentenced to jail for three months4.

  • 5 See Hiroki Takashi, “1890 nendai no akademizumu shigaku. Jiritsuka he no mosaku”, in Matsuzawa Yūsa (...)

2Ironically, modern historical studies were born at the same time as the imperial regime: in 1887, Ludwig Reiss (1861-1928), a disciple of Leopold von Ranke, was invited to Japan to introduce the new historiographical methods, and the year 1889 saw the establishing of a National history department in the Tokyo Imperial University, the creation of the Society for historical studies (Shigakkai) and of a related academic review (Shigaku zasshi). From this beginning until the fascist period, Japanese historians had to confront the imperial ideology: before Tsuda, Kume Kunitake was forced to resign in 1892 for asserting that Shinto myths were not historical facts. Of course, this does not mean that historical studies were entirely under control5, but a red line did exist.

  • 6 The word kakumei comes from the Chinese (geming) and means “change of mandate”, that is to say the (...)

3The goal of the present article will be to complete previous researches by focusing on the phenomenon of revolution in the use of history during the Meiji era (1868-1912). By establishing an unbroken line of divine sovereigns, the imperial ideology proposed a vision of Japanese history allowing no place to revolution. That is why the 1868 coup was considered as a “restoration” (ishin). We shall discuss here the use of the word “revolution” (kakumei)6 to show that revolution was the central problem in the writing of history because the interest for revolution itself was often linked with a political agenda, or at least a will to challenge the official ideology. That is why the discourse on historians often came from non-professional historians who used the free space left by the belated creation of professional historical studies. The political agenda was on one side state-sponsored history promoting the imperial regime, and on the other side pro-revolution democratic views coming from the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (Jiyū minken ndo) between 1874 and 1890, and after 1890 from the modern nationalists of the Min’yūsha (“Society of the People’s Friends”). The latter challenged the former on every single issue that had to do with the importance of revolution.

4This article will explore three aspects of Japanese and European histories where kakumei have been discussed vis-à-vis the imperial ideology. The first part will outline the definition of Meiji restoration in the context of the creation of the new regime. The two other parts will discuss the aspects challenging the official view of history. The second part details the historical events which put into question the legitimacy of the actual imperial family, that is to say, the coup led by the (real) first emperor Tenmu against his nephew Ōtomo in 672, and the war between the two imperial courts from 1334 to 1392. The third and last part will discuss the role of revolution in European history, especially the French revolution, to show that a counter narrative existed in Meiji Japan, highlighting revolution as a model to establish democracy against the empire centered project of the government.

I. The controversy on the civil war of 1868

I.a. The ideological use of the 1868 civil war and history

  • 7 For an English translation, see Sakamoto Tarō, ed., John Bronwlee trans., The Six National Historie (...)
  • 8 See Matsuzawa Yūsaku, “Shūshikyoku ni okeru seishi hensan kōsō no keisei katei” in Matsuzawa Yūsaku (...)
  • 9 Due to financial problems the Shūshikyoku had to be dissolved in 1877 but was immediately reestabli (...)
  • 10 See Miyachi Masato, “Fukkoki” genshiryō no kisoteki kenkyū”, Tōkyō daigaku shiryō hensanjo kenkyū k (...)
  • 11 See Yoshida Yasutsugu, Dai Nihon ishinshi, Zenrinyaku shokan, 1899.

5The first event to appear as revolution in the debate on history in the Meiji era was the event that directly gave birth to modern Japan, the civil war of 1868-1869 (Boshin war). It is remarkable that the authors of this military seizure of power gave a central role to history. One of the reasons of such importance given to history was that the gigantic work (397 volumes) sponsored by the Mito clan, the History of Great Japan (Dai Nihonshi, started in the mid-17th century and still unfinished in 1868) which emerged in the wave of the kokugaku (“Studies of the country”), contributed to the anti-Tokugawa discourse. Even before the radical transformations for which the new Meiji government, the Dajōkan, became famous, the very first initiative was to provide an official interpretation of the recent events and to describe the coup not as a revolution but as a restoration (the so-called “Meiji restoration”, Meiji ishin), more precisely a“restoration of imperial power” (ōsei fukko). On May 3rd 1869, the emperor made a declaration calling for the establishment of an official history in continuity with the six historical chronicles (Rikkokushi)7written on imperial order, namely, the Kojiki, the Nihon shoki and the four other chronicles compiled until 9018. The government established the Compilation of History Bureau (Shūshikyoku) just after the imperial declaration of 1869, reemploying the scholars specialised in the tradition of Chinese historiography as well as the kokugaku. This Bureau was one of the seiin which was the highest organ of the Dajōkan, the Meiji government9. As for the civil war, in June 1872, the new government ordered the compilation of all sources related to the recent events, under its direct control. Due to many troubles, this work went on for 17 years resulting in two books entitled “Chronicle of the restoration” (Fukkoki) and “External Chronicle of the restoration” (Fukkoki gaiki, dedicated specifically to the battles)10. A shorter version was published under the title Meiji shiyō from 1876 to 1885. The Fukkoki and Fukko gaiki were published by the Compilation of History Bureau whose scholars were also put to task to establish an official history giving priority to the sources related to the ancient emperors. The Rikkokushi were republished in the 1870s and the compilation of the Dai Nihonshi was completed in 1906. A Chronological History of Great Japan (Dai Nihon hennenshi) was also planned as an official history to complement the Rikkokushi and Dai Nihonshi. A selective compilation of sources gave birth to the first histories by professional historians prefiguring the vision of 1940. In the work of Shigeno Yasutsugu, the word kakumei (revolution) was completely absent11.

6This active promotion of an official version of the civil war came along with the establishment of symbols that became later important institutions of the new imperial regime: in 1869, a Shintō sanctuary, the Shōkonsha, was created in Tōkyō in memory of the warriors killed during the Boshin war, and was later to be renamed the Yasukuni shrine.

I.b. Challenging the state-sponsored history: the earliest professional historians and the democrats

  • 12 Mitani Hiroshi, “Meiji ishin no shigakushi. Shakai kagaki izen”, Yorōppa kenkyū, 9 January 2010, pp (...)
  • 13 See Mitani, op.cit., p. 182.
  • 14 See Tokutomi Sohō, Yoshida Shōin, Min’yūsha, 1893, p. 3.
  • 15 Following a common usage of the time, Takekoshi adds above the ideograms ransei in katakana transcr (...)
  • 16 See Takekoshi Yosaburō, Shin Nihon shi, Min’yūsha, vol.2.,1892, pp. 3-9.
  • 17 See Okada Rei.un, Meiji hanshin den, Hidakaya yūrindō, 1909, pp. 14-5, 17.

7The elaboration of this Satsuma-Chōshū centered view of the civil war was challenged very soon, first by the vanquished and later by the democrats. Fukkoki and Fukko gaiki were enormous compilations, yet they did not include documents related to characters on the defeated side. This is why warrior families close to the Tokugawa shogun, such as the Echizen clan, started to compile their own history of the events, long before the Boshin war12. During the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, some men close to this democratic movement tried to challenge the official interpretation of the Boshin war. In 1888, the politician and journalist Shimada Saburō published Background to the opening of the country (Kaikoku shimatsu), in which he presented a positive biography of Ii Naosuke, a shogunate official who had repressed the pro-restoration warriors. The year before, the journalist Noguchi Katsuichi had launched the publication of Unofficial Sources of the Restoration (Yashidai ishin shiryō, 1887-1896). In the 1890s some journalists, partly from the Min’yūsha circle, published their own histories of the civil war: Takekoshi Yosaburō’s History of the New Japan (Shin Nihon shi 1890-91), Fukuchi Gen.ichirō’s On the Decline of the Shogunate (Bakumatsu suibōron, 1892) and Politicians of the End of the Shogunate (Bakumatsu seijika, 1898), and Tokutomi Sohō’s Yoshida Shōin (1893). The common point of these writings was to strive towards a more objective history of the civil war by moving away from the Chōshū-Satsuma centered vision of the official history13. Thus, Tokutomi had no qualms about presenting Yoshida Shōin, the master of the Meiji government leaders, as a revolutionary (kakumeika)14. Similarly, Takekoshi Yosaburō also described the civil war as a revolution. In fact, Takekoshi based his work on a distinction between three types of revolution: the restorationist revolution (fukko teki kakumei), the idealistic revolution (risō tankyū teki kakumei), and the anarchist revolution (ransei/anarkikaru15teki kakumei). Takekoshi defined the restorationist revolution as a revolution claiming freedom which existed in the past, like the English revolution which took the Magna Carta as a model. His definition had therefore nothing to do with the prevailing interpretation of “restoration”. According to him, the French and American Revolutions were the models of the idealistic revolutions in the sense that they sought freedom for the future. In his mind, the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868 was clearly an anarchist revolution because there was neither a retrospect as a restorationist revolution would imply, nor a quest for an ideal as claimed in the idealistic revolution16. Such a position was clearly a declaration of war against the government-sponsored history. A similar point of view can be found in the writings of Okada Rei’un (1870-1912), a journalist and thinker who was close to Kōtoku Shūsui and, like Kōtoku, had close contacts with the Chinese Republicans. Okada wanted to start a second revolution to overthrow the Meiji oligarchs. In 1909, he wrote one of the first histories of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement which he depicted as a revolution. To him, the Meiji restoration was a revolution like the Taika reform of 645. In both cases, revolution occurred by contact with foreign cultures. In 645, Japan adopted the Chinese and Indian cultures and became part of Asia. In 1868, Japan adopted Western culture based on liberty and equality, and became part of the world. Consequently Okada considered the Meiji restoration as a movement of the people/nation, not different from the case of Italy and Germany. He saw no contradiction in the fact that Meiji was an imperial restoration since for him the Japanese emperor was not separate from his people, being the chief of the Japanese family. Okada thus shared a similar view with the official ideology. The main problem lay with the real governors of Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate and the subsequent Meiji government against whom the people stood up in revolution, as did the Westerners against their sovereigns17. For Okada, the real Meiji restoration was not the civil war of 1868 led by the leaders of the government, but the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement.

  • 18 See Shibusawa Eiichi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu kōden, 1918; Osatake Takeki, Ishin zengo ni okeru rikken s (...)

8With the death of the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu in 1913 and the new wave of liberalism, fresh publications by non academic historians challenged the official view of Meiji restoration by paying attention to the historical sources from the Tokugawa side18.

II. Revolution in imperial history: the murder of King Ōtomo (672) by the first emperor Tenmu and the two courts war (1337-1392).

II.a. The troubled creation of the imperial regime in 672

  • 19 The life and reign of Jinmu was placed in the year -660 (according to the Western calendar), a past (...)
  • 20 Tenmu and Jitō were the descendants of a dynasty most probably established at the beginning of the (...)
  • 21 Jinshin is a word coming from the Chinese calendrical practice of naming the years.

9It is often said that the Japanese imperial dynasty is the longest living dynasty in the world, starting with emperor Jinmu in 660 BC. This is not true since Jinmu and the subsequent emperors never existed. It is an invention of the Meiji government, based on the ideology of the first emperors themselves. Tenmu established the imperial regime in 672 AD by killing his nephew Ōtomo and annihilating the kingdom of Yamato. Tenmu, together with his wife and successor Jitō, created a new regime inspired by the Chinese model, chose Nihon as the name of the country and ordered the compilation of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki following the pattern of the Chinese chronicles, so as to redefine the past for the benefit of the regime. Before Tenmu, the kings of Yamato seem to have reigned according to the principle of primus inter pares, surrounded by powerful families. In order to get a strong position in the young centralised state, the emperors altered the old myths so that they could be the only humans of divine ancestry hailing from the Sun goddess Amaterasu. What connected them to Jinmu19 now brought them and all the kings of Yamato under a single dynasty, regardless whether the kingdom of Yamato had been ruled by one or several dynasties20. This was also done to conceal the fact that the first emperor Tenmu (672-686) came to power by rebelling and murdering his nephew Ōtomo. The reign of Ōtomo seems to have been short (only nine months) and Tenmu challenged the decision of his brother king Tenchi who chose his son instead of him. Both the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki make no mention of Ōtomo, transforming what is now called the “turmoil of the year jinshin” (jinshin no ran)21 into a taboo from the very start. The taboo turned out to be short-lived as well as the imperial power itself, since alternative histories in the Nara and Heian periods claimed that prince Ōtomo did reign. In the Edo period, the Mito school, which was the first to write a history of the country (Dai Nihonshi), chose to incorporate Ōtomo in the list of the emperors starting with Jinmu. It is interesting to note that just after starting the process to create a history of the 1868 civil war, the Meiji government in 1870 ordered to officialise the history as devised by the Mito school and to make Ōtomo emperor under the name of Kōbun. Such a decision was supposed to end the taboo surrounding the story of Ōtomo.

  • 22 See Hirade Kōjirō, “Ōtomo tennō kō”, Shigaku zasshi, 1897, vol.8., 8, pp. 61-71, vol.8, 10, pp. 44- (...)
  • 23 See Kita Sadakichi, “Jotei no kōi keishō ni kansuru senrei wo ronjite”, Rekishi chiri, vol.6, n.10 (...)

10But historians and democrats did not necessarily comply with this decision, at least during the Meiji period. Following the new methods of historical studies established in universities, Hirade Kōjirō of the Tokyo Imperial University conducted research on Ōtomo in 1897 with an article in the review Shigaku zasshi where he questioned the legitimacy of Ōtomo as emperor. More exactly, he analysed the historical process through which the Mito school decided to present Ōtomo as emperor, taking into account historical sources after the Nihon shoki, which also presented Ōtomo as an emperor22. Kita Sadakichi, later known for the controversy on the two imperial courts, also produced a study on king Ōtomo. He suggested in 1904 that there did exist an emperor, but it was a girl23. These studies directly challenged the official decision of 1870, but none of the historians have been sanctioned like Kume Kunitake for having said that Shintō legends are fictions.

  • 24 See Takekoshi Yosaburō, Nisen gohyakunenshi, Kaitakusha, [1896] 1909, pp. 130-138.

11A year earlier, the journalist and liberal activist Takekoshi Yosaburō wrote a general book of national history. He started with Jinmu but described the jinshin war as a ‘conservative reaction’. To him, ethically speaking, it was the war of an uncle against his nephew; politically speaking, it was a conservative reaction but with progressive results24. Takekoshi and Hirade were among the very few historians to pay attention to the jinshin war during the Meiji era. Perhaps this was because the debate soon shifted to the war between the two imperial courts in the 14th century.

II.b. The taboo of the two courts war in modern Japan

12The medieval history of Japan has been particularly traumatic for the emperors: with the establishment of bakufu (warrior government) from 1185 to 1192, they lost all power and gradually fell into great poverty. The attempt of Emperor Godaigo to restore imperial regime in 1333 was completely unrealistic and the warrior Ashikaga Takauji manipulated the emperor to seize power from the Hōjō family. Takauji even supported another branch of the imperial family to secure legitimacy and from 1336 till 1392 two imperial courts coexisted in Japan. The victory of the Northern Dynasty, supported by Ashikaga, meant the victory of the illegitimate lineage. The emperors of present Japan come from the same line of ancestors. This is why the Dai Nihonshi as early as the Edo period claimed the legitimacy of the Southern lineage.

  • 25 See Obinata Sunao, “Nanbokuchō seijun mondai no jidai haikai”, Rekishi hyōron, 740, 2011, p. 4-17.

13After the 1869 imperial declaration, the Meiji government also included this event quite early in its commemoration strategy. In the same year, the government created new Shintō shrines in honour of the warriors who fought for the Southern court such as Kamakuragū in the city of Kamakura (the ancient capital of the first warrior family who came in power). In 1877, the official line of emperors saw the Southern emperors replace the Northern emperors, as in the Dai Nihon shi. In Taisei kiyō, published by some leaders of the Meiji government in 1883, the Northern emperors received the rank of tei (the very same word used for the Chinese emperor) and were no longer tennō (the Japanese word for “emperor”, reserved only for the Japanese sovereign). In 1900, a statue of Kusunoki Masashige, the most famous warrior who fought for the Southern court, was erected in front of the imperial palace25.

  • 26 See Itō Yushi, Yamaji Aizan and His Time: Nationalism and Debating Japanese History, Leiden, Brill, (...)
  • 27 See Yamaji Aizan, Ashikaga Takauji, Genkōsha, 1909, pp. 202-6.
  • 28 For a recent work in English, see Michael Facius, “Transcultural Philology in 19th-century Japan: T (...)
  • 29 See Georg Iggers, Edward Wang, Supriya Mukherjee, A Global History of Modern Historiography, Routle (...)

14This attempt by the state to establish an official view of Japanese history was soon to be challenged, both within and without. The outside attack came as early as 1909 from the journalist and politician Yamaji Aizan. Yamaji defended the criticism of Yoshino and Kume26, and took an opposite position to the negative portrait of Ashikaga Takauji inherited from the Mito school. He presented Ashikaga as a hero of warriors, more precisely as the leader of a conservative faction (hoshutō) who opposed the revolution led by emperor Godaigo27. As to the inside attacks, they came from the first professional historians. The Compilation of History Bureau was soon divided into scholars still loyal to Chinese historiography and those more interested in source criticism. Among the latter was Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910)28. He was educated in Confucian orthodoxy and was responsible for the historical chronicles of the Shimazu clan, namely, Satsuma. When his clan won the civil war in 1868 against the Tokugawa shogun, Shigeno worked for the Compilation of History Bureau and became the most prominent modern historian. Before the arrival of Ludwig Reiss, it was probably with Shigeno’s support that the Compilation of History Bureau invited in 1879 an exiled Hungarian diplomat, a self-made historian at the University of London, George Zerffi (1820-1892), to write a history of European historiography. His book, The Science of History (771 pages), despite not being translated into Japanese, contributed largely to transform the method of Shigeno and his counterparts29. Shigeno with Kume Kunitake and Hoshino Hisashi were transferred from the Shūshikyoku and made the first professors of history at the Tokyo Imperial University in 1888. They thus became colleagues of Reiss. Shigeno worked closely with him to create modern historical studies and was the first president of Shigakkai.

  • 30 See Brownlee, op.cit., pp. 87-8.

15Despite his support for the Satsuma-Chōshū centered view of the Meiji restoration, Shigeno Yasutsugu challenged the government over the two courts period. In 1890, he claimed that there was no historical evidence for the existence of Kojima Takanori who was celebrated as an imperial hero by the government (on the basis of the medieval Taiheiki, “Chronicle of Grand Pacification”) and even upgraded as a deity. In the same year, Kume Kunitake even questioned the historical veracity of Taiheiki as a whole30.

  • 31 On this theory see Noriko Berlinguez-Kōno, “Naissance de la thèse de l’unicité nippo-coréenne (niss (...)
  • 32 See Christine Lévy, “Kōtoku Shūsui et l’anarchisme”, Ebisu, 28, 2002, pp. 61-86.

16In 1911 the historian Kita Sadakichi (1871-1939) provoked a larger debate on the events. Unlike Yamaji Aizan, Kita was not specifically opposed to the government. After graduating in history in 1909 at the Tokyo Imperial University, he contributed to legitimise the annexation of Korea and supported the theory of common ancestries between Koreans and Japanese (Nissen dōsoron)31. In 1910, he was appointed as editor of history textbooks by the government. He gave lectures on the Two courts period to teachers and claimed that it was impossible to decide which line was legitimate. On January 19th 1911, Prime Minister Katsura Tarō attacked historians on this matter in the newspaper Yomiuri shinbun. A great debate in the Parliament ensued (Nanbokuchō seijun mondai) which resulted in Kita’s discharge from office. The same government also planned the repression of the first Japanese socialists and anarchists. Kōtoku Shūsui and others were accused of plotting the murder of the emperor and were executed on January 24th the same year32.

  • 33 See Inoue Tetsujirō, « Furoku “Kokumin dōtoku to nanbokuchō mondai” », Kokumin dōtoku gairon, Sanse (...)
  • 34 See Tanaka Yoshinari, Nanbokuchō jidaishi, Meiji shoin, 1922, pp. 140, 195.
  • 35 See Brownlee, op.cit., p. 158.

17The impact of this debate and the trial of the Japanese anarchists lasted until the end of the imperial regime. Inoue Tetsujirō, the principal ideologue of the imperial regime, writes in his Outlines of National Morals (1912) that history should focus only on morals in order to maintain national unity. He saw the controversy of Ashikaga as a plot of “anarchists”33. A historian such as Tanaka Yoshinari cautiously claimed that the question of legitimacy between the two courts was to be avoided in academic research, but Ashikaga Takauji was depicted positively in Nanbokuchō jidaishi (History of the Northern and Southern courts period)34. With the rise of fascism, Ashikaga Takauji again became a subject of debate. In 1934, the Minister of Commerce and Industry Nakajima Kumakichi was forced to resign under the pressure of fascist organisations who made use of his 1921 writings about Ashikaga Takauji arguing that Takauji’s case should be re-examined35. This episode turned out to be one of the causes of the call for a “clarification of the national essence” (kokutai meichō undō) in 1935, which contributed to the rise of the wartime system dominated by the military and by fascism.

III. Revolution and harmony as matters of Japanese national identity

III.a. Revolution as model? Civilian historiography and the French revolution

  • 36 See Eddy Dufourmont, Rousseau au Japon. Nakae Chōmin et le républicanisme français (1874-1890), Pre (...)

18Since the Meiji era was a period of discovery of the past and recent history of the world, revolution as a historical phenomenon was obviously not limited to Japanese history. The Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, which began in 1874 with the demand for a constitution and a parliament and saw the birth of political parties, also meant the discovery of European political philosophy and history, including the revolutions. The French revolution was especially attractive. Among the writings published by the partisans of the Movement, there is an astonishing wealth of translations and presentations of revolutions, primarily the French revolution36. These documents can be divided into two groups: (i) the publications by Nakae Chōmin (1847-1901), one of the main intellectual figures of the Movement who translated Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On social contract and many French republican texts (ii) other publications.

19The translations published by Nakae Chōmin and his disciples clearly show a will to promote not only Rousseau but more generally the French revolution:

Official texts:

– The 1776 American Declaration of independence.

– The declaration of 22 May 1790 (Declaration of peace to the world).

– The Montagnard Constitution of 1793.

Political and literary texts:

  • 37 Performed at the Théâtre de la Nation on January 4th, 1791. This play, the first of its kind, was s (...)

– Harny De Guerville, La liberté conquise, ou le despotisme renversé37.

– La Marseillaise.

– Mirabeau, Essay on despotism.

Philosophical and law texts:

– Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments.

– Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit (last chapter: “On the future progress of the Human Spirit”).

Historical chronicles:

– Philippe Buchez, A Parliamentary History of the French Revolution.

– Victor Duruy, History of France. Chōmin referred to it to write History of the two centuries before the French Revolution.

– Madame Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne, Popular History of the Revolution. Chōmin used it to introduce the 1789 Cahiers de doléances.

– Amédée Le Faure, Socialism during the French Revolution. Chōmin consulted it to translate the Manifesto of the Equals.

20The list shows how the Japanese saw a model in the French (as well as the American) revolutions and how their own Movement could be a new revolution. It goes without saying that kakumei had a positive meaning during the period among the followers of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement.

21Chōmin and his disciples were among the few Japanese able to translate from the French. Nevertheless, other minkenka people translated French works from English. This proves to what degree the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement gave importance to the French Revolution and wanted to associate their own movement with kakumei. Most of the translations, such as those of Chōmin, were published around the year 1882, the climax of the Movement and of the revolts against the government:

a) Translations:

François Mignet, Kawatsu Sukeyuki trans., Futsukoku kakumeishi (History of the French Revolution, 1824, 1878 and 1889).

Adolphe Thiers, Kusama Jifuku trans., Futsukoku kakumei zenshi (Histoire des années précédant la Révolution française [Histoire de la Révolution française, 1823-27]), 1884.

Unknown author, Watanabe Sōhō trans, Bankoku kakumei shi (History of the revolutions throughout the world), 1890.

b) Single works (often based on European books):

Suzuki Gorō ed., Futsukoku kakumei genrinron (On the causes of the French revolution), 1882. Nariai Hisao, Ōbei minken shiryaku (Short history of the rights of the people in Europe and the United States), 1882.

Ida Saneyuki, Seiyō ensetsu kihan: minken to jiyū (Models of discourse in the West: the rights of the people and freedom), 1882.

Hisamatsu Yoshinori, Taisai kakumei shikan. Furansu kakumei no bu (General History of the Revolutions in the West. The French Revolution), 1882.

Takagi Shūho ed., Tsūzoku Futsukoku kakumeishi (Popular history of the French revolution), 1887.

  • 38 See Dufourmont, op.cit. pp. 43-4.

22These texts often introduced the English and French revolutions as revolutions for the “rights of the people” (minken), suggesting similarity with their own movement38.

  • 39 See Edmund Burke, Kaneko Kentarō trans., Reflections on the Revolution in France (Seiji ronryaku), (...)

23This appeal of the French Revolution was so strong that the Meiji government, seeking inspiration from Germany to establish an authoritarian constitution, felt obliged to publish translations against Rousseau and propounded a negative view of the French revolution based mainly on German works39.

III.b. Japanese harmony versus Chinese revolution

24The repression of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement and the establishment of the imperial regime had as corollary the negation of revolution: the proof of the divine status of the imperial regime was found in history itself, in the absence of revolution, which made possible a single and unbroken lineage. Revolution was therefore eluded in Japanese history and in its stead the main value proclaimed was harmony (wa).

25Some intellectuals were precursors in integrating the idea of harmony as the core of Japanese, or more largely, Asian identity. The art critic Okakura Kakuzō (Tenshin) wrote in 1903 The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan (later translated into Japanese). Okakura presented a history of Asia in which he included India, China and Japan. He characterised the Asiatic nature by gentleness, moral ethics, harmony, beauty and communalism. Harmony was of primary importance in Okakura’s way of thinking because in it lay the reason why Japan was in possession of the best of Asia, since the Japanese spirit had the ability of assimilating from abroad what was harmonious with its own nature.

26Okakura’s discourse contributed to the rise of harmony as a key concept of Japanese and Chinese national identities. Two other factors played an important role in this change. First, studies on Chinese history developed in the academic world with the establishment of “Oriental history studies” (Tōyō shigaku). In 1904, the first department of Chinese history studies was created in the Faculty of letters at the Tokyo Imperial University. This department was reformed in 1910 as the Oriental history studies department while the Historical studies department was divided the same year into National history and Western history.

27The second factor happened a year later: the 1911 Revolution in China provoked a huge shock in Japan because it destroyed a multi-secular regime and the elites also feared that the same could happen in Japan since Marxism and anarchism attracted more and more Japanese. In fact, in the same year, Kōtoku Shūsui, the disciple of Nakae Chōmin and founder of the first Socialist party, was executed by the government.

  • 40 See Tazawa Haruko, « Naitō Konan ni okeru futatsu no « kindai » to « seiji » », in Yamada Satoshi, (...)
  • 41 Ibid., p. 68.
  • 42 See Matsumoto Sannosuke, Kindai Nihon no Chūgoku ninshiki, Ibunsha, 2011, p. 172.

28Such characterisation, however, was far from commonly shared. Naitō Konan for example, in his book On China (Shinaron, 1914), refused to see any possibility of China as a potential democracy and republic40. Far from seeing revolution as the national essence of China, Naitō considered that the 1911 Revolution was the product of contacts with the West through the Chinese students sent there. On the other hand, Naitō admitted a strong egalitarianism in Chinese society, an element that gave rise to the Taiping rebellion41. As was shown by Matsumoto Sannosuke, Shiratori Kurakichi or Yano Jin’ichi also considered republicanism as a novelty for China42.

Epilogue: after Meiji, the growing tension between revolution and harmony

  • 43 See Kayahara Kazan, Shin dōchū seikan, Tōadō shobō, 1913, p. 136.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 141.

29Between the 1920s and 1940s the characterisation of China and Europe by revolution and of Japan by harmony became such a topos that it is impossible to synthesise here all the texts involved during this period. The earliest examples of the characterisation of China as revolutionary can be found in the 1910s, just after the 1911 Revolution, regardless of the political camps. The liberal Kayahara Kazan interpreted the 1911 Revolution as a new form of the Chinese republicanism (kyōwashugi) which can be found in the Chinese classics43. Kayahara referred on this point explicitly to Shiratori Kurakichi44.

  • 45 See Eddy Dufourmont, Confucianisme et conservatisme. La trajectoire intellectuelle de Yasuoka Masah (...)
  • 46 See Hiraishi Kiyoshi, Bushidō no fukkatsu, Kinseisha [1933] 2011.
  • 47 See Hiraishi, op.cit., p. 349.
  • 48 Ibid., p. 351.
  • 49 Ibid., p. 352.
  • 50 Ibid., p. 357.
  • 51 Ibid., p. 372.

30The success of the Soviet revolution added fear for the future of the imperial regime. The tendency to characterise China as a land of revolution increased alongside the characterisation of Japan as a land of harmony. For example, Yasuoka Masahiro (1898-1983) used his own interpretation of the word kakumei to characterise China and the West as lands of revolution, contrasting them with Japan as a land of political stability45. Hiraizumi Kiyoshi (1895-1984), professor of history at the Tokyo Imperial University, provides another interesting example. After a trip he made in the early 1930s to England, France and Germany conducting research on the French Revolution, he published a book in which he compared European and Chinese revolutions with the Japanese Meiji restoration46. Hiraizumi made a distinction between revolution and restoration, defining the former as the destruction of a state aimed at the creation of a new one47. To him, the best illustration according to this definition was China. Hiraizumi even considered that the English revolution of 1688 did not fit with his criteria because it was not a radical change of state48. On the contrary, the French revolution could be compared to the Chinese ekisei kakumei because it “completely destroyed the organisation of the state, ignoring its history and traditions” to create a new state49. Such an interpretation was negative because Hiraizumi interpreted revolution in general as a “fit of madness” (hakkyō). He explicitly quoted Paul Bourget, a French conservative historian and member of the Académie française, and his negative view of the French revolution: it had destroyed the feudal organisation that was foundational of France to replace it with a centralised government which cut off the French from their past50. Hiraizumi also quoted Edmund Burke, writing pages after pages to persuade the reader that the Meiji restoration was not a revolution, despite all appearances: it was a great change, or a reform, but not a revolution because it did not cut off people from their past. Quite to the contrary, the Meiji restoration had reestablished the “correct form of Japan, its natural form” (Nihonkoku no tadashii sugata, honnen no sugata)51.

  • 52 See Ōkawa Shūmei, Nihon bunmeishi, Daitōkaku, 1921, pp. 336-364.
  • 53 See Kita Ikki, Shina kakumei gaishi, Daitōkyaku, 1921.
  • 54 See Nagahara Keiji, 20 seiki Nihon no rekishigaku, Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 2003, pp. 97-101.

31Needless to say, such discourse on China and revolution was not homogeneous. Pan-Asianists and Marxists were willingly prepared to see revolution in Japan because they wanted to accomplish a new revolution each for their own reasons. On the right, Ōkawa Shūmei described the Meiji restoration as a revolution and saw it as a model for the Shōwa restoration52. The same can be said about Kita Ikki, who even went to China to witness the Chinese revolution with his own eyes53. On the left, Marxist historians such as Hattori Shisō or Wani Gorō analysed the Meiji restoration as a bourgeois revolution54.

  • 55 See Monbushō, Kokutai no hongi, 1937, pp. 50-63.
  • 56 See Ōuchi Chizan, Kokutai no hongi kaisetsu, Kyōbunsha, 1937, pp. 48-50; Miura Tōsaku, Kokutai no h (...)

32Due to the political crisis in the 1930s, the efforts of the government to define Japanese identity as harmony, loyalty and cohesiveness culminated. Starting with the propaganda of the “Harmony of the five races” (gozoku kyōwa) to justify the creation of the Manchurian State, the government published in 1937 the True Meaning of the National Essence (Kokutai no hongi) in which harmony (wa) was for the first time highlighted as part of national identity55. Right-wing commentators of the text relayed the message56. The post-war conservative emphasis on harmony cannot been understood without this tension and debate in the Meiji era about history and revolution.

Notes

1 See for instance the work of Katsumata Shizuo about medieval uprisings, Ikki, Iwanami shisho, 1982.

2 This historical fallacy was derived from the Kojiki (708) and the Nihon shoki (712), two historical chronicles which the first emperors ordered to compile so as to justify the new regime through revised history and myths –an emperor appearing as a deity was beyond criticism. See Francine Hérail, “Les révisions de l’Histoire nationale par les Japonais” in Gilbert Gadoffre et al., eds., Certitudes et incertitudes de l’histoire, Presses Universitaires de France, 1987, pp. 105-114.

3 See Mitani Hiroshi, “Meiji ishin. Tsūsetsu no shūsei kara kakumei no sekai hikaku he”, in Miura Nobutaka & Fukui Norihiko, eds., Furansu kakumei to Meiji ishin, Hakusuisha, 2019, p. 63.

4 In English see John Brownlee, Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu, 1997.

5 See Hiroki Takashi, “1890 nendai no akademizumu shigaku. Jiritsuka he no mosaku”, in Matsuzawa Yūsaku, Kindai Nihon no hisutoriogurafî, Yamakawa shuppansha, 2015, pp. 85-120.

6 The word kakumei comes from the Chinese (geming) and means “change of mandate”, that is to say the change of dynasty through the loss of “Heaven’s mandate” (Japanese: tenmei; Chinese: tianming). The word appears in the Book of changes (Yijing), which states that kings Tang and Wu overthrew the preceding dynasties of Xia and Shang respectively according to the will of Heaven. Mencius interpreted this passage of the Book of changes as the possibility given to the people to kill the malevolent ruler. See Viren Murthy, “Chinese revolutionary thought” in Mark Bevir, ed., Encyclopedia of Political Theory, Sage, 2010, p. 167.

7 For an English translation, see Sakamoto Tarō, ed., John Bronwlee trans., The Six National Histories of Japan, Columbia University Press, 1991.

8 See Matsuzawa Yūsaku, “Shūshikyoku ni okeru seishi hensan kōsō no keisei katei” in Matsuzawa Yūsaku, op.cit., pp. 3-27.

9 Due to financial problems the Shūshikyoku had to be dissolved in 1877 but was immediately reestablished as Shūshikan under the direct control of the Dajōkan, that is to say the Meiji government.

10 See Miyachi Masato, “Fukkoki” genshiryō no kisoteki kenkyū”, Tōkyō daigaku shiryō hensanjo kenkyū kiyō, 1, 1990, pp. 66-139.

11 See Yoshida Yasutsugu, Dai Nihon ishinshi, Zenrinyaku shokan, 1899.

12 Mitani Hiroshi, “Meiji ishin no shigakushi. Shakai kagaki izen”, Yorōppa kenkyū, 9 January 2010, pp. 179-186.

13 See Mitani, op.cit., p. 182.

14 See Tokutomi Sohō, Yoshida Shōin, Min’yūsha, 1893, p. 3.

15 Following a common usage of the time, Takekoshi adds above the ideograms ransei in katakana transcription anarukikaru to specify the meaning he wishes to convey here.

16 See Takekoshi Yosaburō, Shin Nihon shi, Min’yūsha, vol.2.,1892, pp. 3-9.

17 See Okada Rei.un, Meiji hanshin den, Hidakaya yūrindō, 1909, pp. 14-5, 17.

18 See Shibusawa Eiichi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu kōden, 1918; Osatake Takeki, Ishin zengo ni okeru rikken shisō, 1925; Id., Nihon kenseishi taikō, Nihon hyōronsha, 1938-9; Id., Meiji ishin, Hakuyōsha, 1942.

19 The life and reign of Jinmu was placed in the year -660 (according to the Western calendar), a past that was remote enough to compare with Chinese dynasties and Korean kingdoms.

20 Tenmu and Jitō were the descendants of a dynasty most probably established at the beginning of the 6th century and their predecessors certainly belong to another dynasty which ruled mainly in the 5th century. Japan itself was divided into several kingdoms and the kingdom of Yamato emerged by conquering them before the 5th century.

21 Jinshin is a word coming from the Chinese calendrical practice of naming the years.

22 See Hirade Kōjirō, “Ōtomo tennō kō”, Shigaku zasshi, 1897, vol.8., 8, pp. 61-71, vol.8, 10, pp. 44-56.

23 See Kita Sadakichi, “Jotei no kōi keishō ni kansuru senrei wo ronjite”, Rekishi chiri, vol.6, n.10 and 11, 1904.

24 See Takekoshi Yosaburō, Nisen gohyakunenshi, Kaitakusha, [1896] 1909, pp. 130-138.

25 See Obinata Sunao, “Nanbokuchō seijun mondai no jidai haikai”, Rekishi hyōron, 740, 2011, p. 4-17.

26 See Itō Yushi, Yamaji Aizan and His Time: Nationalism and Debating Japanese History, Leiden, Brill, 2007, p. 47.

27 See Yamaji Aizan, Ashikaga Takauji, Genkōsha, 1909, pp. 202-6.

28 For a recent work in English, see Michael Facius, “Transcultural Philology in 19th-century Japan: The Case of Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910)”, Philological Encounters, 2018, vol.3, 1-2, pp. 3-33.

29 See Georg Iggers, Edward Wang, Supriya Mukherjee, A Global History of Modern Historiography, Routledge, 2016, p. 115.

30 See Brownlee, op.cit., pp. 87-8.

31 On this theory see Noriko Berlinguez-Kōno, “Naissance de la thèse de l’unicité nippo-coréenne (nissen dōsoron)” in Jean-Jacques Tschudin & Claude Hamon, eds., La nation en marche : études sur le Japon impérial de Meiji, Philippe Picquier, 1999, pp. 209-225.

32 See Christine Lévy, “Kōtoku Shūsui et l’anarchisme”, Ebisu, 28, 2002, pp. 61-86.

33 See Inoue Tetsujirō, « Furoku “Kokumin dōtoku to nanbokuchō mondai” », Kokumin dōtoku gairon, Sanseidō shoten, 1912, p. 1.

34 See Tanaka Yoshinari, Nanbokuchō jidaishi, Meiji shoin, 1922, pp. 140, 195.

35 See Brownlee, op.cit., p. 158.

36 See Eddy Dufourmont, Rousseau au Japon. Nakae Chōmin et le républicanisme français (1874-1890), Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2018, pp. 121 ff.

37 Performed at the Théâtre de la Nation on January 4th, 1791. This play, the first of its kind, was soon to be forgotten and was never published.

38 See Dufourmont, op.cit. pp. 43-4.

39 See Edmund Burke, Kaneko Kentarō trans., Reflections on the Revolution in France (Seiji ronryaku), Genrō.in, 1881; Samuel Griswold Goodrich (translator unknown), Futsukokushi [A Pictorial History of France, 1844]); Hermann Roesler, Doitsugaku kyōkai trans., Futsukoku kakumeiron, 1885; Marcius Wilson (in part), Suzuki Kurajirō trans., Rekishi tetsugaku [Outlines of history, 1854]), 1887; Johann Ignaz von Döllinger, “Sennanahyaku hachijūkyūnen Futsukoku kakumeiron” in Yamamoto Nagatarō ed., Shin Nihon seiji shakai genron, 1887; John Wilson Crocker, Tomitatsu Kuba trans., Futsukoku kakumei shiron [Essays on the early period of the French Revolution, 1857]), 1888; Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette, Mizutani Yoshiaki trans., Futsukoku kakumei yoha kokkai no kakin: ichimei. Lui 16 se shikei tenmatsu [original work unknown]), 1888.

40 See Tazawa Haruko, « Naitō Konan ni okeru futatsu no « kindai » to « seiji » », in Yamada Satoshi, Kurokawa Midori eds., Naitō Konan to Ajia ninshiki. Nihon kindai shisōshi kara miru, Bensei shuppan, 2013, p. 65.

41 Ibid., p. 68.

42 See Matsumoto Sannosuke, Kindai Nihon no Chūgoku ninshiki, Ibunsha, 2011, p. 172.

43 See Kayahara Kazan, Shin dōchū seikan, Tōadō shobō, 1913, p. 136.

44 Ibid., p. 141.

45 See Eddy Dufourmont, Confucianisme et conservatisme. La trajectoire intellectuelle de Yasuoka Masahiro (1898-1983), Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2014.

46 See Hiraishi Kiyoshi, Bushidō no fukkatsu, Kinseisha [1933] 2011.

47 See Hiraishi, op.cit., p. 349.

48 Ibid., p. 351.

49 Ibid., p. 352.

50 Ibid., p. 357.

51 Ibid., p. 372.

52 See Ōkawa Shūmei, Nihon bunmeishi, Daitōkaku, 1921, pp. 336-364.

53 See Kita Ikki, Shina kakumei gaishi, Daitōkyaku, 1921.

54 See Nagahara Keiji, 20 seiki Nihon no rekishigaku, Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 2003, pp. 97-101.

55 See Monbushō, Kokutai no hongi, 1937, pp. 50-63.

56 See Ōuchi Chizan, Kokutai no hongi kaisetsu, Kyōbunsha, 1937, pp. 48-50; Miura Tōsaku, Kokutai no hongi kaisetsu, Tōyō tosho, 1937, pp. 155-187; Kojima Tokuya, Kaisetsu kokutai no hongi, Sōzōsha, 1940, pp. 145-174; Tsukamoto Tetsuzō, Kokutai no hongi kaisetsu, 1940, pp. 131-137.

Auteur

Eddy Dufourmont is Associate professor at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne. His researches deal with the intellectual and political history of modern Japan, with a special interest for Confucianism and the translation of European political philosophy in Japan. His recent publications include Nakae Chômin, Ecrits sur Rousseau et les droits du peuple (Belles Lettres, 2018) and Rousseau au Japon. Nakae Chômin et le républicanisme français (Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2018).

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