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The West vs. China in Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Thought, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1096

Essay

Fukuzawa Yukichi’s importance for the Meiji Restoration cannot be measured accurately. His writings and his political discourse influenced both those who lived in his time and the generations that came after. Yukichi’s ideology was shaped throughout his school years and his vision of a modern Japan matured during his trips to America and Europe. His collection of works is meant both to inform and to persuade his countrymen to move from his half-civilized state towards progress. He conceived China and everything Chinese as archaic and barbarous, whereas West and everything it brought was for him equivalent to civilization and the future. This rejection of the Chinese culture, and embrace of the Western ideas, was to a great extent, the result of his studies at the Dutch School.

The College of Dutch Interpreters began to turn attention to the West early in its formation, and little by little, by analyzing Dutch scientific treatise with Chinese ones, they came to recognize that the Western scientists were right and the Chinese ones were wrong. As George Aston recounts in his biography of Yukichi, after comparing two anatomy books, one from a Dutch author, and the other from a Chinese one, a group of Japanese physicians were astonished to discover that the Chinese medicine, in which their practice had been grounded, was wrong. This conclusion led them to wonder what else could be wrong in Chinese teachings (Aston 2).

It is from this initial loss of trust that the students from the Dutch School, among whom Yukichi could be found between 1855 and 1858, had come to despise Chinese medicine, and this hate soon extended to Chinese culture altogether (Yukichi “Autobiography” 92). In his autobiography, Yukichi explains that he and his friends often ridiculed the Chinese medicine students, for listening to “the same mouldy theories handed down from how many centuries!” (Yukichi “Autobiography” 92). These theories actually refer to Confucianism, the system of thought in which all had been educated, and which was now rejected by these young persons, as outdated and fallacious. These ideas coincided with the country’s own reorientation towards the West, in the ame period of time. For this reason, it can be said that Yukichi was born at the right time. He could take advantage of the confusion that characterized the Meiji Restoration period in order to begin debating against Chinese culture, and for the civilization promised by the West, and Yukichi was a great rhetorician.

This ‘confusion’ was determined by the great discrepancy of what the Japanese had believed in regards to the Westerners, and what they came to discover by the mid-19th century. According to Craig (5), following Chinese ideas drawn from Confucianism, the Japanese deemed all Westerners barbarous and inferior. However, the Western ships that arrived in 1853 and 1854 were a marvel of technique and what Westerners knew about nature, and the world, was far superior to their own knowledge. As a consequence, “raised grave doubts about the old paradigm” (Craig 5). As a direct consequence of this revelation, Japan began to adopt Western technology, being particularly interested in weaponry and navigation. As he was a student at a Western school, Yukichi was less’ confused’ than his contemporary and had a clearer idea where he was to stand in this dichotomy between the West and China. What doubt had been left was about to be erased by his travels.

Even as he traveled to America or the first time, Yukichi knew enough about the efficiency of Western technology and science, as to entrust it with his life (Yukichi 109). For him, the knowledge he received during his years as a Dutch medicine student were crucial because it made him see the West not only as a more civilized part of the world but rather, as the source of all knowledge. The fundamental opposition between the Dutch School and the Chinese School of medicine expanded for him beyond medicine itself, to comprise culture, philosophy, religion and science and thereby, to consider that the West were all-knowing and all-powerful. Having departed in his thought with this conviction, he was to accept everything Western as superior, and to reject everything Asian as inferior and archaic. So passionate he augmented his position, and so respected his knowledge of Western things had become, that it was impossible for his countrymen to ignore him.

In his early works, such as “An Outline of a Theory of Civilization” he discusses the lack of civilization that characterizes Asia, in general, as compared with Europe, and tries to demonstrate that Japan should move into the future by adopting not only Western technique and architecture, but also Western philosophy and way of life (Craig 107). According to him, civilization stages can be divided in three, namely, the primitive stage, the semi-developed stage and the age of civilization (Yukichi “An Outline” 18). In his opinion, Japan was semi-developed, whereas China had not advanced from the primitive stage. Japan was therefore at a crossroad, being able to choose both to return to the earlier stage, and therefore, towards China, or to move forward, and learn from the West. However, what was to learn was also important. I was not enough to adopt the façade, but rather, it was important also to look within, and to adopt the “spirit of civilization” (Yukichi 22). This spirit refers to the mentality of the people, their way of living and their behavior.

As this paper tried to show, his education at the Western School at the right time allowed Yukichi to position himself on the side of progress and advancement, at the time when Japan was at a crossword and needed to be shown in which direction to advance. Yukichi’s rejection of Confucianism, and Chinese culture, in general, and his embrace of Western civilization was a direct result of his medicine studies, which allowed him to see the difference between China and the west, much clearer than his contemporary. His fascination with the Western world was directed not only towards the ‘exterior’ signs of civilization, but also towards deeper and hidden ones. In trying to westernize his people, he was in fact trying to let them perceive, not only the Western superiority in knowledge, but also its superiority in thought.

Works Cited

Aston, George. Fukuzawa Yukichi. Japan Times Press. 1902. Web.

Craig, Albert. Civilization and Enlightenment: The Early Thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.Print.

Yukichi, Fukuzawa. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa.3rd ed. Trans. Eichi Kiyooka. New York: Columbia University Press. 2009. Print.

Yukichi, Fukuzawa. An Outline of a Theory of Civilization. Trans. David Dilworth and Cameron Hurst III. New York: Columbia University Press. 2010. Print.

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