Imagining China in Tokugawa Japan: Beyond Model and the Other
Speaker: Prof. Benjamin Wai-ming Ng
Date: 30 November 2018 (Fri)
Venue: G24, Arts and Humanities Hub, Fung King Hey Building, CUHK
Professor Benjamin Wai-ming Ng would like to share the major findings of his forthcoming book, Imagining China in Tokugawa Japan (New York University Press, March 2019). His new book is a pioneering and ambitious study of how Japanese in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) appropriated and transformed Chinese elements to express and reinforce native ideas and values. While current scholarship on Tokugawa Japan tends to see China as either a model or “the Other,” this study aims to provide a new perspective by suggesting that China also functioned as a collection of “cultural building blocks,” as Tokugawa Japanese selectively introduced and then modified Chinese culture to make it fit into the Japanese tradition. Chinese terms and forms survived, but the substance and the spirit were made Japanese. This borrowing of Chinese terms and forms to express Japanese ideas and feelings could result in the same things having different meanings between China and Japan, and this process can be observed in the ways in which Tokugawa Japanese reinterpreted Chinese legends, Confucian classics, and historical terms. This study thus aims to break down the longstanding dichotomies between model and “the other,” civilization and barbarism, as well as center and periphery when defining Sino-Japanese cultural exchange.