Monday, April 11, 2016

Kiri Paramore's "Japanese Confucianism"

Kiri Paramore is University Lecturer in Japanese History at Leiden University. He studied Asian History at the Australian National University and worked for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before moving to Japan to study Area Studies and Intellectual History at the University of Tokyo. He has been awarded research fellowships from the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica, Taipei, where he was Visiting Research Professor from 2011–12. His first book was Ideology and Christianity in Japan.

Paramore applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Japanese Confucianism: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
What is Confucianism? What role does and did it play in Japanese society and history, and how is that similar or different to what happened (and is still happening) in China? Each part of my book focuses on a different social activity to answer these questions. So chapter by chapter we march through education, religion, knowledge, politics, warfare, and so on. Page 99 is part of a section dealing with medicine. Confucianism is often described as being against innovation and science. This chapter instead demonstrates how most scientists in East Asia were Confucians. It argues Confucianism was the primary push factor in promoting medical innovation from the 1400s right up until the late 1800s. In the nineteenth century Confucianism even supported the institutionalization of Western medical practice in Japan. In other parts of the book other similarly counterintuitive stories of Confucianism are told. The book explains how the popularization of Confucianism in medieval Japan was the work of Zen Buddhist monks from China, how early Japanese liberals and socialists first arose in Confucian study circles in the nineteenth century, and how in early modern Japan Confucianism was associated with the rise of a form of rampant ultra-individualism. In each of these strange social manifestations of Confucianism in Japan there was an underlying interaction with China - sometimes a reflection of China, sometimes a reaction against it, but always slightly and intriguingly different. This difference, encountered in various disparate aspects of history and social life through the course of the book, demonstrates the plurality of Confucianism globally, and thereby challenges the usual equation of Confucianism with Chinese culture. This book will be enjoyed both by readers interested in Japanese society and history, and those engaged with the bigger question of the role of China and Chinese civilization in current imaginations of future global society and past global histories.
Learn more about Japanese Confucianism at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue