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14 September 2016 : An article of Professor Chen Xiaofa before book launch

Get to the Root of Historical Elements and Sketch a Blue Print for the Future : 

An Article of Professor CHEN Xiaofa

Before the Book Launch of Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu 

(历代正史日本传考注 Glossary Explanations and Bibliographic Annotations of Japan in Official Chinese Dynastic History)

Whenever Japanese studies in China is compared with Chinese studies in Japan, most people may recall the famous ambivalent comments of the late Dai Jitao (戴季陶1891-1949). As an early Kuomintang Party member of fluency in Japanese and the author of the influential Ri Ben Lun (日本论 Theory on Japan), he dismayed at the contrast between Chinese and Japanese attitudes toward studying one another, emphasizing that Chinese must find solution to avoid narrowed-minded patriotism and hence slaves to emotional underestimation of the importance of understanding Japan. Up to now, this is still an academic question for debate among intellectuals. With its focus on criticism against the Chinese prejudicial attitude against Japanese studies, Ri Ben Lun is still a rare species among the books of Japanese studies in China (or Chinese Japanology) that mushroomed in the past few decades. However, is the viewpoint of the late Dai Jitao representing the whole history of Japanese studies in China throughout the ages? A brief review focused on the history of Japanese studies in China hereinafter may provide food for thought.

Dai Jitao (戴季陶1891-1949)

In Ri Ben Lun , Dai Jitao reiterated that other than Huang Zhunxian’s (黄遵宪1848-1905) magnum opus Ri Ben Guo Zhi of forty volumes (日本国志A Record of Japan), which was published thirty years before Ri Ben Lun, no monograph on Japan had been available. It means that only the late Qing dynasty poet and high-ranking diplomat Huang Zhunxian, who was stationed in Japan in early Meiji period, was equipped with first-hand access to information and the unique bundles of knowledge about Japan. To Dai, only Huang’s Ri Ben Guo Zhi could provide an extremely valuable window of information and insight into Japan. It was published in 1887 and subsequently praised by Zhang Zhidong (张之洞) as a must for Chinese diplomatic mission to Japan. Nevertheless, before Huang Zhunxian, was there any Chinese scholars of discriminating views of Japan?


Ri Ben Guo Zhi(日本国志)Volume One published by Yang Cheng Fu Uen Zhai (羊城富文斋) in 1890 (Guangxu 16)

Because of historical reasons, especially national defense and warfare that inspired scholarship, there were several climaxes of Japanese studies in Chinese history. As representative treatises on the wokou aggression (倭寇Japanese pirates’ disruptive activities in Chinese coastal waters and attacking coastal dwellers from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century) in Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the most famous are Ri Ben Kao (日本考Study of Japan) by two military men Li Yan Gong and Hao Jie (李言恭 and 郝杰 both sixteenth century),  Zheng Shungong’s (郑舜功 1556-Ri Ben Ri Jian (日本一鉴 A Mirror of Japan), and Hou Jigao’s (侯继高 1533-1602) Ri Ben Gong Fu Ji (日本风土记 Notes from Japan or Local Social Conditions of Japan).

However, some pioneering scholars of Japanese studies have now been forgotten. Yao Wendong(姚文栋1852-1927) is one such case. As a Chinese Japanologist, he was a prolific writer. In Yi Ben Di Ri Bing Yao (日本地理兵要 Japan’s Geography and Its Defense)(1884, 2 juan, 8 volumes), which was particularly detailed concerning Japan’s coastal defense, he discussed the ways to attack Japan. Having the same title as Huang Zhunxian’s magnum opus, Yao’s Ri Ben Guo Zhi in 1884(日本国志Treatises on Japan) is a benchmark in Chinese Japanology though it is essentially a translation from Japanese works. Ye Qingyi’s (叶庆颐 active 1880-1889) Ce Ao Za Zhi (策鳌杂摭 Random Pickings From a Dragon Ride, 8 juan 1884), Chen Jialin’s (陈家麟的Dong Cha Uen Jian Lu(东槎闻见录 Mini-encyclopedia of Japan, 4 juan, 1884), Gu Houkun’s (顾厚焜1870-1930) Ri Ben Xin Zhong Kao(日本新政考Reference Materials on Japan’s Modernizing Reforms , 2 juan , 1888) and Fu Yun Long’s(傅云龙 1840-1901) Yu Li Ri Ben Fu Jin (游历日本图经 Japan with Maps and Tables, 30 juan , 1889 ) are pioneering masterful encyclopedias providing correct information about Japan. They surpassed their predecessors in scholarly rigor and the quality of academic contribution. Their efforts to understand Japan cannot go unnoticed. Unlike the comments of Dai Jitao, their scholarship exerted a considerable impact on Chinese Japanology and had been rated highly by academia in later generations.


Fu Yunlong (傅云龙 1840-1901)   

Inevitably, all academic researches may be under the limitation of historical factors. To be fair, Chinese Japanology had been far ahead of Japanese Sinology. Moreover, in the history of China approaching Japan intellectually, the early beginning of Japanology in China can be dated to pre-Han times. This is the earliest Japanology in the world. Nowadays, even when Japanese scholars conduct research on ancient Japanese history before their usage of kanji ( Chinese character), they have to refer primary Chinese historical data. Otherwise, it will be a castle in the air, a river without headwaters or a tree without roots. It is thus not an exaggeration to say that Japanese intelligentsia and academia cannot underestimate the significance of Chinese researchers and primary data about ancient Japan. In this connection, the uncontested pioneering works are the Japanese bibliographies in official Chinese dynastic history books of past ages.

Historiography is a splendid part of Chinese cultural heritage. Official historiographers in different dynasties acted like impartial judges with a spirit of rule of law upon their writing dynastic history with a strong sense of professionalism, thereby providing a vast sea of very precious official historical data to later generations. From Hou Han Shu (后汉书 Book of the Later Han ) in the fifth century to Qin Shi Gao (清史稿 Draft History of Qing), which was published in 1928, the 1500 years time span of continuous historical records of Japan in official Chinese history is unprecedented.

A total of sixteen categories and seventeen chapters of different historiographical genres about Japan under the names of Wo (), Wo Ren (倭人),Wo Guo(倭国), Ri Ben(日本) and Yi Ben Guo (日本国) can be found in seventeen official dynastic history books of China, of which the breakdown is as follows:

  1. Hou Han Shu (后汉书 Book of the Later Han): Wo(倭)

  2. San Guo Zhi (三国志 Records of the Three Kingdoms):Wo Ren(倭人)

  3. Jin Shu (晋书 Book of Jin):Wo Ren(倭人)

  4. Song Shu (宋书 Book of Song):Wo Guo (倭国)

  5. Nan Qi Shu(南齐书Book of Qi):Wo Guo(倭国)

  6. Liang Shu (梁书 Book of Liang):Wo(倭)

  7. Nan Shi (南史History of Southern Dynasties): Wo Guo(倭国)

  8. Bei Shi (北史History of Northern Dynasties): Wo(倭)

  9. Sui Shu (隋书 Book of Sui): Wo Guo(倭国)

  10. Jiu Tang Shu (旧唐书 Old Book of Tang or Book of Tang): Wo Guo(倭国)

  11. Jiu Tang Shu (旧唐书 Old Book of Tang or Book of Tang): Ri Ben Guo(日本国)

  12. Xin Tang Shu (新唐书 New Book of Tang): Ri Ben(日本)

  13. Song Shi (宋史 History of Song):Ri Ben Guo(日本国)

  14. Yuan Shi (元史 History of Yuan): Ri Ben(日本)

  15. Xin Yuan Shi (新元史New History of Yuan): Ri Ben(日本)

  16. Ming Shi (明史History of Ming): Ri Ben (日本)

  17. Qin Shi Gao (清史稿 Draft History of Qing): Ri Ben (日本)


    Official history books in different dynasties

    It is unnecessary to repeat the value and contribution of the above-tabulated chapters in official history books of China. More importantly, how to allow global academia to gain an insight into the past authoritative status and “boom” eras of Chinese Japanology? It could be especially rewarding in case these obscure and nearly unintelligible chapters could provide reorientation of Chinese Japanology. This is the objective of our publishing Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu (历代正史日本传考注Glossary Explanations and Bibliographic Annotations of Japan in Official Chinese Dynastic History). Notwithstanding the issues of historical cognition, territorial dispute and a deepening maritime rift with Japan and neighboring countries may lead to deterioration of mutual trust and intensify tension in East Asia, history is always repeating itself and we can learn from it. Historical experiences and lessons can help us draw up a blue print to attain sustainable future development. We attach this extravagant hope to these five volumes of Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu.

    The publication of Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu is not an easy task. In 1990s, the Institute of Japanese Culture Studies of Zhejiang University had weekly study sessions for it. The participants included professors, students, Chinese and foreign scholars. Due to personnel changes in 2004, study session was suspended. For more than one decade, new insights had been gained from reviewing the aforesaid chapters about Japan in Chinese official historical books. It provided an unexploited academic field for doctoral researches and master dissertations.

    In 2001, a national academy press promised to provide financial support for the publication of this prestigious work. Unexpectedly, this publication project had to be given up halfway due to conflictual viewpoints. Even so, efforts had all along been incessantly made to polish and improve the quality of it. In late 2014, Professor Wang Yong (王勇)of Institute of East Asian Studies of Zhejiang Gongshang University cordially sought the support from Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press and secured finance allowance from the national fund successfully. With the co-operation and academic contributions from Chinese and foreign scholars, this academic project was finally completed in June 2016.

    Professor Wang Yong is the editor-in-chief heading the project of Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu of five dynastic volumes, of which the authors are tabulated hereunder:

    1. Han-Wei-Liangjin-Nanbeicha (汉魏两晋南北朝) by Ge Jiyong (葛继勇) of Zhengzhou University and Wang Yong of Zhejiang Gongshang University

    2. Sui and Tang (隋唐) by Wang Yong of Zhejiang Gongshang University. Concomitant with these chapters are the valuable historical information about Japanese landscape, society, politics, custom and transportation between China and Japan in different dynasties for more than a millennium. Aside from gaining knowledge about Japan, all these demonstrate “boom” eras of Chinese Japanology under the limitations of possibility of hearsay, poor transportation and communication. 

   3. Song and Yuan (宋元) by Jiang Jing (江静) and Zhang Xinpeng(张新朋). Both are faculty members of Zhejiang Gongshang University

    4. Ming (明) by Chen Xiaofa of Zhejiang Gongshang University and Zheng Jiexi (郑洁西) of Ningbo University

    5.Qing() by Lv Shun Chang (吕顺长)of Zhejiang Gongshang University

Starting with defining problem (解题), the other parts in each volume are main body (正文), annotation (注释), textual research (杂考), and cross-reference(研究余录).  Textual research is  a comprehensive general illustration and explanation. Cross-reference refers to related information elsewhere and encompasses latest domestic and international research outcomes of significant impacts.

The characteristics of Li Dai Zheng Shi Ri Ben Zhuang Kao Zhu are up-to-date, comprehensive coverage and meticulousness. Nevertheless, there is no royal road to learning. To err is human. For one thing cited, illustrated and explained in our work, ten thousand may have been left out. Our work is far from being complete. Enlightenment, criticism and comment are always welcomed. Da Xue (大学 )reminds us that one should know one’s strengths and weaknesses. Though Chinese Japanology has the issue of tunnel vision, Chinese academic circles should neither improperly belittle themselves nor lack of common sense and intelligence. We believe that this is the correct attitude towards the development of Japanology in China.

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