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Shaping Modern Japan Through Kangaku: The Case of Nishi Amane

Cooney, Owen Austin

Kangaku, or Chinese learning, was the cornerstone of literature, education, and intellectual thinking in Japan for over a thousand years, even up to the end of the 19th century. In just a few decades after Japan opened to the West, however, it had receded into the background as a discipline that was considered old-fashioned and archaic (although it experienced a few revivals). What role, if any, did it play in the modernization of Japan? Was kangaku merely an obstacle to modernization, or perhaps an incidental condition of the times? Many scholars have passed it over in their studies of modern Japan. I believe, however, that if we are to truly understand the transformation Japan underwent in the late 19th century, we must examine the ways in which the Meiji Period was heavily colored by Chinese modes of thought. The purpose of this paper is to show how kangaku"”especially as a contributor to the Japanese language"”provided an intellectual framework for absorbing the alien ideas of the West while preserving and consolidating Japan's cultural identity.

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Academic Units
East Asian Regional Studies
Degree
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
December 5, 2011
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