New Ideas in East Asian Studies has just published a new working paper by Wang Xiaozhuo:
The Ming-Qing transition, which occurred in 1644, not only made an unprecedented impact upon the domestic political context within China, but also exerted a far-reaching influence on Japan. Japanese Confucian scholars broadly viewed the Manchu as the barbarian; this boosted their strong cultural and ideological self-confidence. In this historical context, early Mito水戸 scholars deified Japanese emperors and kokutai 國體 (national polity) to emphasise that Japan was a divine country with leaders who were descendants of deities.Japan thus had no revolutions, as compared with China, a country which had experienced multiple revolutions. Their aim was to demonstrate and highlight Japan’s unique superiority and authority. This ideology, with its nationalist tendencies, penetrated into the compilation of Dai Nihonshi 大日本史 (the Great History of Japan, 1657-1906). In this historical book, early Mito scholars distorted and denied the fact that Japan used to be inferior to China in terms of international political identity and had paid tribute to China prior to the Sui 隋dynasty. They also emphasised the divinity of the emperors, whose lineage extended over thousands of generations, and the superiority of kokutai, in order to imply that Japan had become a more advanced country than China. It can be said that the early Mito school’s historical compilation was a process of ‘inventing history’. By producing history, the early Mito scholars connected historical compilation with the Sino-barbarian system in East Asia. They wanted to push Japan to replace China as the centre of East Asia in the historical context of the Ming-Qing transition and to establish political legitimacy among East Asian countries.
Key words: the early Mito school, Japanese emperor, kokutai, Dai Nihonshi, the East Asian Order