Political Philosophy across Translingual and Transnational Confucian Heritages

AHA Session 79
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Conference Room E (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Viren Murthy, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Session Abstract

Since the 1990s, scholars advocated the revival of international intellectual history, and pointed to increasing interactions between historians, political theorists and international relations scholars as signs of the field's growing inter-disciplinarity. However, the exemplary "internationalist" works signposted by the Cambridge/Harvard school of "ideas in contexts" continue to privilege familiar genealogies of "Western" thinkers, challenging these lineages only insofar as uncovering their forgotten imperialist contexts (Grotius, Locke, Mill). This formal session proposes new ways of approaching the “international” in modern intellectual history by re-casting turn of the twentieth century Asian political philosophy in trans-lingual and transnational frameworks of historical emergence. In particular, we examine how thinkers and agents, who share a common Confucianist heritage across differentiated spatial and linguistic boundaries, "translated" Confucianist political philosophy to give it a "modern" twist. Should these innovations in modern Asian political thought be read as part of a larger global moment, grounded in a larger social dynamic or should they be understood as renovations (and revolutions) of Asian philosophical traditions?

Viren Murthy turns to Japan in the late 1920s and examines Ōkawa Shūmei's commentaries of the Confucian The Doctrine of the Mean to examine how this controversial pan-Asianist thinker invoked Confucius and Classical Chinese thought to overcome the alienation in capitalist society and the modern state. Ōkawa Shūmei's vision promoted a new configuration of capital and the state more oppressive than the liberal version it attacked. Despite its ultimate failure at the end of the Pacific War, the ideological forms embodied by Ōkawa Shūmei and the problems it faced persist. Guangxin Fan's paper discusses political theory in a global frame through examining Nakae Chomin’s classical Chinese translation of Rousseau’s The Social Contract in 1880s Japan and its reprinting in Shanghai, China at the turn of the twentieth century. By comparing Nakae’s translation with Rousseau’s text and the Shanghai edition, Fan argues that Nakae’s translation discovered messages of republican revolution in Rousseau's social contract theory when combining it with the Confucian anti-tyrannical tradition, giving particular emphasis to the quest for political freedom by the revolutionary party.  Guo-Quan Seng looks at how Dutch-educated diasporic Chinese in colonial Java invented "The Heavenly Way" (Tiandao) as a diasporic Chinese equivalent of Natural Science (Natuurwetenschap). In particular, Seng analyzes how concepts of self, family, state, God and nature were translated around 1900 for the colonial-diasporic social context, from Chinese into the Malay language via the two classical Confucian texts, The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean.

By bringing together political theorists and historians, this session hopes to address, besides the substantive papers, methodological issues of how studies of the histories of political philosophy can be better framed beyond the discursive frames of nation-state time and space.  We are privileged to have as our discussant, Leigh Jenco, who has published widely on the subject of Asian and comparative political philosophy.

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