Cultural Identity and Modernization in Asian Countries

Summary of Discussions: SESSION C


This session was held on the last day of the symposium and discussions were supposed to be based on the contents and results of the issues and discussions carried out in Session A, "Religion and Secularization," and Session B, "Traditional Culture and Modernization." However, there was little discussion referring directly to Session A. Rather, the comments tended to focus on defining "traditional culture" as national culture or the distinctive culture of each nation, and on assessing how it would be possible to objectify or identify and revivify this culture within the context of modernization.

Before opening the session, the chairperson, Mr. Tomio Fujita, indicated that he would like to proceed with the following two points in mind: (1) It would be desirable to proceed with discussions utilizing the concept of cultural identity -- a suggestion made in the keynote address by Mr. Bellah. This is because the word "national" contains many concepts and would invite confusion; (2) It would be desirable to engage in concrete discussions on the question posed by Mr. Berger. Among the various elements of traditional culture, what should be systematized and institutionalized?

1. Supplementary Explanatory Comments by the Speakers

The four speakers for this session, Mr. T.N. Madan, Mr. Pinit Ratanakul, Mr. Tongshik Ryu, and Mr. Goro Uchino, in that order, made supplementary explanatory comments to their previously distributed papers. While Mr. Madan's theme was a comparison of modernization and the resulting crisis in cultural unity in Japan and India, the remaining three speakers spoke in considerable detail on the history, present conditions, and research into the cultures of their own countries.

First, Mr. Madan who spoke on "Modernization and Cultural Identity in the Countries of Asia," focused on two countries, Japan and India, and indicated the major points of difference in their modernization. In short, Japan succeeded in its modernization while that of India was frustrated. The reason for this was that Japan's modernization or Westernization was completed without being opposed to traditional culture. In India, on the other hand, the soul of the Indian was emasculated by the preachings of Roberto de Nubili in 1606, and following that, Indian intellectuals fell into a schizophrenic condition because of acute conflicts under English colonialism. These factors precluded the possibility of advancing modernization.

However, Mr. Madan did not truly wish to concentrate on this particular question. Rather, he emphasized that the significance of this symposium was that it inquired into the possibilities for Japan and India of reconstituting their respective cultural unities while in the process of borrowing from the West and of modernizing. Also, the symposium was significant for attempting to promote a mutual understanding of the distresses involved in this endeavor.

Mr. Pinit followed with a consideration of national and cultural unity in Thailand. He began by pointing out that modernization was a necessity even in Thailand, a non-colonialized country, and that this modernization had produced various values which threatened the traditional and distinctive cultures of each of the ethnic groups. In order to resolve this oppositional state of affairs, it is necessary to search for a new national identity while recognizing the distinctive ethnic cultures of the groups which make up Thai culture: the Thai, the Chinese, and the Muslim. To achieve this end, it is in turn necessary to spread the humanistic sciences which will study the traditional and distinctive culture of Thailand--starting with what may be considered the core of Thai culture, Buddhism--and to critically reinterpret and discriminate this culture in order to foster a living culture for the future. Mr. Pinit's advocacy of the necessity of the "secularization" of Buddhism and of a secularistic interpretation of Buddhism was especially thought provoking.

Mr. Ryu spoke from the standpoint of a people which had experienced Japanese Imperialism over a long period of time, on the various difficulties of such a people or nation in its search for a cultural identity.He divided the progress of Korean studies of Korean culture into three periods. He explained that the lingering aftereffects of the second period--during which there was a great loss of cultural identity as a result of the Japanese colonial policy of creating Imperial subjects--are extremely significant even today. As a result, even at present, when national cultural studies have developed to a certain degree, there are calls for sweeping away that which smacks of Japaneseness. This is due to the establishment of Korean studies, which has had three objectives: (1) scientific research, (2) contributing to cultural development in the future, (3) contributing to both the discovery of the particularity of a culture and to the development of world culture.

Finally, Mr. Uchino discussed early-modern (kinsei) national studies (kokugaku[Glossary: kokugaku]) as a form of Japanese research into Japanese culture. He also referred to the new national studies (shin kokugaku[Glossary: shinkokugaku]), which inherited the earlier national studies and deveroped from it in a critical fashion. He pointed out that interest in national studies research has witnessed a precipitous decline in the post-war period; and that in order to truly establish Japanese cultural studies it is necessary to develop the national studies as suggested and carried out by such persons as YANAGITA Kunio[Glossary: yanagita_kunio] and ORIGUCHI Shinobu. Also, it is necessary to study not only Japan but to make comparative studies with cultural studies of other foreign countries. This will make Japanese cultural studies even richer. His suggestion that the kinsei period was unique to Japan and that this period served as the first step toward the modern era, was of great interest.

2. Remarks by the Commentators

Mr. Mitsuo Suzuki and Mr. Kenji Ueda commented on the remarks of the speakers.

Mr. Suzuki remarked that after listening to the panelists he felt that an interesting contrast could be made between the formerly colonialized countries of India and Korea, and the non-colonialized countries of Japan and Thailand.

(1) In India, under English colonial rule, there was both an adulation of the various systems of civilization of the West and a strong continuation of a nostalgia for India's past civilization. These two cultures came into such severe confrontation that intellectuals were driven into a "schizophrenic" situation. On the other hand, in Korean even during the period of Japanese colonial rule, there was little of this sort of English/Indian confrontation since the foundations of Japanese and Korean cultures had much in common. It is precisely for this reason that a theory of Japanese and Korean common ancestorship could appear, why a great tragedy could come about, and why this theory could serve as the basis for a huge problem.

(2) Thailand and Japan share the fact of not having been colonialized. Yet the former has managed to allow the various ethnic groups to retain their cultural identities while simultaneously maintaining a national identity. There has thus been a peaceful coexistence between culture and nation. This is a situation which is difficult to understand, for Japan is an ethnically homogenous nation in which cultural identity and national identity exist on the same level. In this regard, I would like to know how the difficulty in the Thai case is being resolved. In other words, what are the elements of this national identity?

Next, the commentator turned to Japan and expressed his own opinions on "Japan's modernization", an issue touched upon by Mr. Madan. He pointed out that there were four cycles in Japan's modernization: (1) the early-modern (kinsei) preparatory cycle; (2) from the Meiji Restoration to the end of the War; (3) from post-war economic recovery to the present; (4) the future, when true "Japaneseness" will be sought as a result of economic setbacks. Needless to say, the commentator emphasized (4). During this period, the Japanese people, having worked to exhaustion for economic development, will try to reconsider and reinstitute that which has been lost as a result of modernization. He asserted that the Emperor-system and Imperial-culture will form the core of this attempt.

3. Responses by the Speakers to Suzuki's Comments

There were responses by Mr. Madan, Mr. Pinit, and Mr. Ryu to the comments by Mr. Suzuki.

Mr. Madan: (1) Mr. Suzuki has said that India, like Korea, tried to establish an identity during the period of colonialism. However, Indian culture and civilization is old and a sense of identify existed before the colonial period. Thus his statement is off the mark. I cannot identity precisely what that identity is, but Hinduism probably forms the core. Also, the concept of national identity is important. That of India is multiple, yet there is a unity of Indians.

(2) Mr. Suzuki has stated that the Emperor-system and Imperial-culture plays an important role in the unification of Japanese politics and culture. However, is it not true that interest in the Emperor is only declining?

Mr. Ryu: (1) Cultural commonality is in itself an important matter. However, to link this up with a theory of Korean and Japanese shared ancestry is scientifically false and untenable.

(2) Mr. Suzuki has stated that because there is cultural commonality, it is difficult to exclude that which smacks of Japaneseness. But it is precisely for this reason that there has been a conscious movement of elimination, and an attempt to cast off a spiritually and culturally colonialized slave mentality.

Mr. Pinit: As Mr. Suzuki has pointed out, there are three ethnic groups in Thailand, each with its own language, customs, and tradition. These groups cooperate mutually and are not isolated. Also, the Imperial Household performs an extremely important role in the unification of these ethnic groups into a nation. In particular, the king goes on a procession through the Muslim areas of the south for several months. The effects are significant.

Mr. Kenji Ueda followed with his comments. Before commenting on the remarks of the individual speakers, he spoke from the standpoint of a Shinto specialist in trying to broadly reconsider the concept of the distinctive culture of a nation, such as that represented by Shinto. He argued that even if culture is imported from abroad, if this culture takes root and is traditionalized, it should be considered as culture distinctive to a nation. He continued with individual comments on the remarks of Mr. Madan, Mr. Pinit, Mr. Ryu, and Mr. Uchino.

To Mr. Madan: Mr. Madan has taken up only the negative aspects of modernization; yet is it not true that it is precisely modernization or economic development which provides a foundation upon which spiritual and cultural fulfillment can be based? Especially in the case of a country like India, is not economic sufficiency based on modernization really the matter of first priority?

To Mr. Pinit: It is true that cultural identity is Buddhist. But the idea that a Buddhism poisoned by modernization can be resuscitated by a reinterpretation through the humanistic disciplines is tantamount to a secularization of Buddhism itself. Does this not lead to a denial of the traditional culture of Buddhism?

To Mr. Ryu: there is at present a rising interest in the distinctive cultures of nations, but at the same time it is not possible to ignore the strength of the spread of Christianity, which, in contrast, points to the universality of culture. Has a tense relationship developed between these two different types of culture?

To Mr. Uchino:Is there really a compelling reason to terminologically distinguish between "national studies" and "new national studies"? Though the historical periods and the objects of research may differ, there is a consistency in that the objective is a search for the distinctive culture of Japan. Thus, is it not allowable to call the scholarship of Yanagita and Origuchi, "national studies"?

4. Responses by the Speakers to Ueda's Comments

Mr. Madan: The secularization of Christianity gave birth to "modernity," but the modernization which developed this "modernity" has given birth to grave and fundamental problems, even in Japan. I have indicated these problems in my paper also. The important issue here is to determine how to overcome the vices of materialism and economism that this modernization has brought forth.

Mr. Pinit: It is the responsibility of the humanities to reinterpret our distinctive traditional culture, as represented by Buddhism, and to make it intelligible to the youth. To interpret Buddhism through the humanistic disciplines is not necessarily to transgress the boundaries of Mahayana Buddhism. Rather, the current age is one in which it is necessary to reflect upon the fact that only the sacred side of Buddhism has been stressed and to emphasize the importance of the secular aspect.

Mr. Ryu: In present day Korea, a situation characterized by the rapid destruction of national culture continues. It is necessary to salvage this culture and to revitalize it. Also, Christianity has spread in Korea and since the possibility of its becoming a Korean Christianity is strong, I do not believe that a tense relationship will develop between traditional culture and Christian culture.

Mr. Uchino: I do not mean to be overly insistent on using the terms ''national studies'' and ''new national studies.'' However, there are many differences between the "new national studies" and the "national studies" of the early-modern period. At the least, since Yanagita and Origuchi have called their work "new national studies," it does not seem unreasonable to use the term.

The above exchange of opinions between the speakers and the commentators was less of a discussion of the central theme, "the discovery of national culture," than a discussion along the lines of the previous day's theme. This was a preliminary question which asked how the distinctive traditional culture of each people or nation is related to modernization; and also inquired into the current situation concerning this relationship. In this regard there was an unexpectedly large gap between Mr. Madan's radical questioning of "modernization" and an acceptance modernization as a given.

5. Discussion

Next, there were questions from the floor and an exchange of questions and responses. The following is a selection of some of the main points.

First, Mr. Mendoza stated that the terms national and cultural should not be confused. He emphasized that especially in the case of the Philippines, a multi-ethnic nation, the term, national, is difficult to use; and that the term cultural, should be used instead. This was a criticism of the fact that these two terms had not necessarily been distinguished during this session.

Mr. Minoru Kasai stated that the issue raised by Mr. Madan was in fact an admonition to look closely at the culture of a nation; and that in this regard, Mr. Berger's suggestion to select and institutionalize elements of a culture reflects a lack of knowledge about other cultural traditions. There was no special response from Mr. Berger to this comment. Since this remark touched upon the initial suggestions of the moderator and was basic to the development of the session, a somewhat deeper delving into the issue was probably necessary.

Mr. Abito Ito commented in general terms; in other words, he evaluated the entire session in the following way. Culture and society form a whole, and this whole must be grasped in structural terms if culture itself is to be understood. It is meaningless to simply talk about a culture's elements or functions. This was also a criticism, like that of Mr. Kasai, of Mr. Berger' s proposal to "determine which elements of a culture ought to be selected and institutionalized."

Mr. Michael Ashkenazi criticized the contents of the foregoing discussions for being overly limited by personal concerns. He argued that it was unclear who was to be the object of the cultural or national identity being discussed.

Mr. Nobutaka Inoue argued that material culture takes the form of development, of automatic development, as it were. But spiritual development does not necessarily take the form of development or progress. In a sense, it is precisely because culture can be buried or destroyed that the theme, "the discovery of culture," is plausible. This being the case, he wondered if there was some special law for the developmental process of spiritual culture. He thus raised the very fundamental issue of how to view culture itself. However, Mr. Madan, who spoke as the representative in response to this question, avoided discussing this question directly and went only so far as to point out the limitations of material culture.

As is clear from the comments above, there was little discussion of the fundamental issue of discovering together, and of determining how to protect and nurture the distinctive cultures of peoples or nations. However, to begin with even a little greater and a more accurate mutual understanding of one another's cultural circumstances is certainly a first step in this direction. Indeed, based upon the issues and discussions raised in this session, it can be said that a path has, for the first time, been cleared for the true "discovery of national culture."