Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia

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The essays in Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia challenge the idea that notions of modernity and colonialism are mere imports from the West, and show how colonial modernity has evolved from and into unique forms throughout Asia. Although the modernity of non-European colonies is as indisputable as the colonial core of European modernity, until recently East Asian scholarship has tried to view Asian colonialism through the paradigm of colonial India for instance, failing to recognize anti-imperialist nationalist impulses within differing Asian countries and regions.

Demonstrating an impatience with social science models of knowledge, the contributors show that binary categories focused on during the Cold War are no longer central to the project of history writing. By bringing together articles previously published in the journal positions: east asia cultures critique, editor Tani Barlow has demonstrated how scholars construct identity and history, providing cultural critics with new ways to think about these concepts-in the context of Asia and beyond.

Chapters address topics such as the making of imperial subjects in Okinawa, politics and the body social in colonial Hong Kong, and the discourse of decolonization and popular memory in South Korea. This is an invaluable collection for students and scholars of Asian studies, postcolonial studies, and anthropology.

Contributors. Charles K. Armstrong, Tani E. Barlow, Fred Y. L. Chiu, Chungmoo Choi, Alan S. Christy, Craig Clunas, James A. Fujii, James L. Hevia, Charles Shiro Inouye, Lydia H. Liu, Miriam Silverberg, Tomiyama Ichiro, Wang Hui

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822319436
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Series: a positions book Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 453
  • Product dimensions: 5.89 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Tani E. Barlow is a historian of modern China, teaching in the women’s studies program at the University of Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia

By Tani E. Barlow

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9911-7


The Fate of "Mr. Science" in China: The Concept of Science and Its Application in Modern Chinese Thought

Wang Hui

The wide-ranging application of the concept of science in twentieth-century China is far more complex than it seems. Chinese thinkers have not been interested in the idealist concept in which science, being an end in itself, is considered knowledge for knowledge's sake. As in Bacon's age, function and progress are the two keywords in the Chinese concept of science. Function takes on more nationalistic coloring among Chinese thinkers (in search of wealth and power), and progress finds itself aligned with the ideology of antitraditionalism. Indeed, from physics and chemistry to astronomy and geography, the theory of evolution to the theory of relativity, human psychology to human behavior, ethics and morals to political convictions, and so on, the concept and methodology of science have been widely applied in every domain of scientific and social endeavors. This extensive application of the concept of science has in fact led some researchers to conclude that in the first half of the twentieth century Chinese thinkers tended to make use of the prestige of science in areas that had hardly any relevance to science itself, a tendency known as scientism.

I doubt that the Western concept of scientism does full justice to the implications of the Chinese application of the concept of science. Indeed, the term scientism may obscure the fact that in the process of its Chinese application in recent [1839-1911] and modern times [1912-1949], the term science came to imply the pursuit of pure knowledge and the recognition of its independent value. This is an undeniably significant reality. Even more important, the term disregards the relationship between so-called scientistic characteristics and modes of traditional Chinese thought: What language did Chinese thinkers use to grasp the implications of science? In what sense and why did they choose this language? What implications did this language have in the traditional Chinese context, and how did it affect Chinese application of science? If Chinese thinkers' concept of science and their modes of application had produced characteristics similar to those of Western scientism, to what extent were these characteristics related to modes of traditional Chinese thought? If that relationship really existed, then the Chinese application of the concept of science must be unique. Furthermore, since the application related to the social roles of the appliers, it must also have some connection to their historical situation and to the nature and characteristics of the movements in which they participated.


Science is a total concept: derived from the Latin scientia, the word simply means "knowledge." In its modern usage science refers only to certain quasi knowledge, and scientific knowledge is understood to cover a wide diversity of topics. The scientific methods employed in various scientific researches, ranging from systematic observation, classification, deduction and alteration of laws to further observation, are not entirely uniform. [The Encyclopedia Britannica states it thus:] "The complex adjectival form of the word 'science,' namely 'scientific' (that is, 'knowledge-making'), has been steadily displacing simpler, shorter, and more natural formations, such as 'sciential,' 'scientic,' and their variants, since the beginning of the 17th century. The acceptance of the form 'scientific' follows closely the growing prestige of what has come to be called 'science' (earlier 'natural philosophy'). This correlation of concept and adjective becomes intelligible in the light of the growing awareness that science is the making of knowledge and not knowledge as such, so that it has become more nearly equated with 'research,'" signifying at last not a static doctrine, but a process.

The modern usage of science as a term meaning "process" can be easily seen in recent Chinese thinkers' efforts to translate the word into concepts belonging to lixue (study of principle)—concepts like gezhi (investigation and extension), gewu (to investigate things), and qiongli zhi xue (study of probing thoroughly the principle). The term gewu zhizhi (to investigate things so as to extend knowledge) is a verb-object structure, reflecting a dynamic subject-object relationship. In fact, gezhi as a noun consisting of two verbs ["to investigate and to extend"] can be viewed as a gerund ["investigating-extending"] or a verbal noun. Compared with the later popular concept of "science," gezhi lays particular stress on the process of the subject's cognition, observation, and experience.

The similarity between the concept of gezhi and the modern usage of "science" does not in fact originate in modern usage, but rather in the particular way that Chinese thought understood the nature and origin of zhi (knowledge). In general, Chinese thinkers' responses to this problem can be grouped into three categories: the first held that zhi originated from sensory organs—in other words, it was admitted that all objects were independent and that knowledge was drawn from sensory impressions. A typical expression of this was Yan Xizhai's [Yan Yuan (1635-1704)] statement that knowledge was inseparable from its object (also Xunzi [ca. 340-ca. 245 B.C.] and Wang Chong [27-ca. A.D. 100]). A second body of opinion held that zhi originated from both without and outside [the human mind]. Cheng Hao [1032-1085], Cheng Yi [1033-1107], and Zhu Xi [1130-1200], for instance, considered knowledge innate to humans, who must investigate things in order to perfect zhi (also Mozi [ca. 478-ca. 392 B.C.], Zhangzi [Zhang Zai {1020-1077}], and Wang Chuanshan [Wang Fuzhi {1619-1692}]). The third school argued that zhi comes from within, not from outside—that is, it comes spontaneously from one's innermost being. (This doctrine is known as the xinxue, or "learning of the heart-mind," of Lu Jiuyuan [1139-1192] and Wang Yangming[Wang Shouren {1472-1528}].) Although each of the three schools of thought placed emphasis differently, they shared a basic belief that an affinity exists between knowledge and cognitive ability, between knowing and doing. Insofar as lixue was concerned, knowing mainly referred to a mental-philosophical recognition of the self and not to the physical understanding of nature; doing did not mean remaking nature, but rather moral practice aimed at self-realization and self-implementation. Although the domain of knowing and doing was only a medium for realizing the "unification of Heaven and Man" (tianren heyi), and not a method of understanding and remaking nature, since the notion of "knowing" in Chinese thought was closely related to the spiritual practice of the subject, the domain of knowing and doing ended up emphasizing the process by which the subject approaches knowledge and practices knowing. This revealed an interrelationship between the traditional concept of "extending knowledge to the utmost" (zhizhi) and the dynamic process of "science" embodied in the concept of "investigation and extension" (gezhi).

The locus classicus of gewu zhizhi is the "Daxue" [Great learning] chapter of the Li ji [Record of rites]. There we find a direct relationship among the text's statements: "The extension of knowledge [zhi] lies in the investigation of things (wu)," "after things (wu) are investigated, knowledge (zhi) becomes complete" and "to illuminate the luminous virtue" (ming mingde). Here wu, or "things," refers to ethical and moral behavior, zhi to ethical and moral knowledge. Thus, standing side by side with "rectifying the heart-mind" (zhengxin) and "making thoughts sincere" (chengyi), we find that the "investigation of things and extension of knowledge" is a means of "cultivating the self" (xiushen) and "illuminating virtue" (mingde). The purpose of the exercise is to "harmonize the family, order the state, and pacify the world." Such is the Confucian doctrine of "being an interior sage and an exterior king" (neisheng waiwang).

What gave proponents of lixue an avenue for linking gewu zhizhi (the way of self-cultivation) to modern science was their ability to separate the notion from the Li ji, and combine it with another concept, "probing thoroughly the principle and exhausting nature" (qiongli jinxing), taken from the "Yizhuan" (Treatises on the Book of Changes), thus not only making gewu zhizhi into an important category in the methodology of lixue but also endowing it to some extent with implications similar to epistemology.

The theory of gewu zhizhi had undergone three basic formulations in the realm of lixue —namely, Cheng-Zhu lixue, LuWang xinxue, and an ideological trend called shixue, or "practical studies," represented by Wang Fuzhi. Lixue and shixue formulations had shown in different degrees the effort and tendency to achieve knowledge within the subject-object epistemic structure and to bring about, from their debates with the xinxue, the possibility of approaching modern science. Opening this possibility does not mean that lixue can spontaneously engender modern science, however. Neither Zhu Xi's doctrine of gezhi nor Wang Fuzhi's thought of shixue ever broke away from lixue. Looked at this way, their debates with the school of Wang Yangming were no more than internal strife within lixue.

Zhu Xi concluded his teaching on "the investigation of things" in a related supplementary treatise in his Daxue zhangju ["Great learning" in chapter and verse]:

What is meant by "the extension of knowledge lies in fully apprehending the principle in things" is that, if we wish to extend our knowledge to the utmost, we must probe thoroughly the principle in those things we encounter. It would seem that every man's intellect [in his heart-mind] is possessed of the capacity for knowing and that every thing in the world is possessed of principle. But, to the extent that principle is not yet thoroughly probed, mans knowledge is not yet fully realized. Hence, the first step of instruction in greater learning is to teach the student, whenever he encounters anything at all in the world, to build upon what is already known to him of principle and to probe still further, so that he seeks to reach the limit. After exerting himself in this way for a long time, he will one day become enlightened and thoroughly understand (principle); then, the manifest and the hidden, the subtle and the obvious [crude] qualities of all things will all be known, and the heart-mind, in its whole substance and vast operations, will be completely illuminated. This is called "fully apprehending the principle in things." This is called "the completion of knowledge."

To sum up, to apprehend Zhu Xi's doctrine of "investigation of things and extension of knowledge," one must attend to the following main points. First, gewu zhizhi is the organic part of the structure of Zhu Xi's lixue. The problem that it seeks to resolve is this: having begot the myriad creatures with the aid of qi (ether), how does li, as the origin of the universe and the noumenon of the supreme ethical and moral principle, return to the noumenal li, so that gewu zhizhi is an indispensable link in the self-unification of li, the li which is "the principle and nature without human body"? Accordingly, though "investigation of things and extension of knowledge" is a direct expression of the process and various ways in which a person recognizes the li of each thing, obviously an inclination to knowledge, in the structure of lixue it is only a process of the return of the noumenal li to itself, or of the consummation of self-arrangement, self-transposition, and self-combination. This determines an a priori outcome for the process of subject-object recognition.

Second, the phrase "investigation of things" is comprised of three aspects: "to approach the things" (jiwu), "to probe thoroughly the principle" (qiongli), and "to reach the limit" (zhiji), of which the second one is the core notion. Although the ultimate aim of "probing thoroughly the principle" is to grasp the "heavenly principle" (tianli), since Zhu Xi inherited and developed the two Cheng brothers' thought of "differentiation between principle and individuality" (li yi fenshu), which suggested that all things on earth are in differential relationship to the general and the particular, hence "the differentiation of the principle under the heaven into myriads," the direct object of "probing thoroughly the principle" widely involves the nature and rules of concrete things. Thus, "probing thoroughly the principle" must employ "approaching the things" as its prerequisite; otherwise, the principle will have nothing to adhere to.

Third, "the labor of investigating things as discussed by Master Zhu is still the labor of the heart-mind, or an extension of the li already known into the realm of unknown." The li already known includes filial affection and piety, compassion, rites and regulated music, the way of ordering and pacifying, as well as creatures of the universe and other physical phenomena. What is meant by "differentiation between principle and individuality" is also that myriads of principles belong to one single principle, that principle is separable from neither matters nor the heart-mind, and that principle lies in things—all those my heart-mind is able to illuminate. At the end of Daxue zhangju, Zhu Xi insisted that his supplementary treatise on gezhi "is essential for illuminating the virtue," eventually summing up the achievements of gezhi in the moral state, in which "my heart-mind, in its whole substance and vast operation, will be completely illuminated." Thus, it is clear that gezhi is not only a way of learning but also the fundamental method to rectify the heart-mind, to make thoughts sincere, to illuminate the luminous virtue, and to rest in perfect goodness. In the process of gezhi, epistemology and the theory of human nature, along with the belief in truth and the law of value, are totally united.


Excerpted from Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia by Tani E. Barlow. Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: On "Colonial Modernity" 1
The Fate of "Mr. Science" in China: The Concept of Science and Its Application in Modern Chinese Thought 21
Translingual Practice: The Discourse of Individualism between China and the West 83
Leaving a Brand on China: Missionary Discourse in the Wake of the Boxer Movement 113
The Making of Imperial Subjects in Okinawa 141
Writing Out Asia: Modernity, Canon, and Natsume Soseki's Kokoro 171
Colonialism and the Sciences of the Tropical Zone: The Academic Analysis of Difference in "the Island Peoples" 199
In the Scopic Regime of Discovery: Ishikawa Takuboku's Diary in Roman Script and the Gendered Premise of Self-Identity 223
Remembering Pearl Harbor, Forgetting Charlie Chaplin, and the Case of the Disappearing Western Woman: A Picture Story 249
Politics and the Body Social in Colonial Hong Kong 295
Surveillance and Punishment in Postliberation North Korea 323
The Discourse of Decolonization and Popular Memory: South Korea 349
[actual symbol not reproducible] Career in Postwar China Studies 373
Oriental Antiquities/Far Eastern Art 413
Contributors 447
Index 449
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