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International Conference on History, Identity and the Future in Modern East Asia: Interrogating History and Modernity in Japan and China

December 14-16, 2009
Guang-hua Tower, Shanghai, CHINA

Day 1, December 14, 2009
102 East Sub-building, Guang-hua Tower

Opening Ceremony
Welcome speeches by Fudan, UTCP and MEARC/Göttingen

Keynote Speech 1 (Session Chair: Axel Schneider)
  Stefan Tanaka: Time and the Delimitations of History in East Asia

Comments by Naoki Sakai, Wu Chan-liang, Rikki Kersten

Day 2, December 15, 2009
2801 West Main Building, Guang-hua Tower

Panel 1 –Modernity and Philosophy: Thinking Across Boundaries (A) (Session Chair: Benjamin A. Elman)
  Naoki Sakai: The Body of the Nation: the Pastorate and NationalSelf-assertion
  Takahiro Nakajima: Historiography of Naito Konan: how to putaside the desire for an “Interconnected Order”(tong)
  Christian Uhl: Fukuzawa Yukichi and Miyazaki Tōten: ABlack-and-White Portrait of an Odd Couple

Panel 2 – Modernity and the Transformation of Knowledge (Session Chair: Zhu Wei-zheng)
  Benjamin A. Elman: Why was “Mr. Science” Called “Kexue” 科學 in Chinese? Rescuing Science and Culture in Chinese History,
  Tsuyoshi Ishii: The axiomatic expression of parole and ecriture: about Zhang Taiyan's linguistic practises or philosophy discourses
  Li Xiao-qian: Wittfogel and Modern Chinese Academia

Panel 3 –Modernity and History (A) (Session Chair: Rikki Kersten)
  Liu Lung-hsin: Regard Sibu all as history in addition to Six Classics- views on the modern pursuit of Chinese Historiography
  Zhang Qing: “The Significance of History”: A Review of the Imperial Examinations Reformation in the Late Qing Dynasty
  Luo Zhi-tian: The Marginalization of Classical Studies and the Rising Prominence of Historical Studies during the late Qing and early Republic: A Reappraisal

Panel 4 – Modernity and Philosophy: Thinking Across Boundaries (B) (Session Chair: Zhang Qing)
  Peng Guo-xiang: Paradigm and Methodology: Hou Wailu and the History of Chinese Philosophy as a Modern Discipline
  Sang Bing: Concepts and Things: The origin of modern “Chinese Philosophy”
  Fabian Heubel: Cultural nationalism and East Asian modernity: In search for transcultural perspectives in contemporary Confucian learning

Day 3, December 16, 2009
2801 West Main Building, Guang-hua Tower

Keynote Speech 2 (Session Chair: Naoki Sakai)
  Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik: Re-Imagining the Chinese Peasant: The Historiography on the Great Leap Forward

Comments by Yasuo Kobayashi, Peng Guo-xiang, Fabian Heubel

Panel 5 – Postwar Discussions of Modernity (Session Chair: Yasuo Kobayashi)
  Sun Ge: The problem of “modernity” in post-war Japanese research of the history of the masses
  Els van Dongen: Rewriting Modern Chinese History during the Early 1990s: A Critical Engagement with Modernity?
  Rikki Kersten: Historical Trauma, Intellectual Apostasy and Subjective Coherence: Yoshimoto Takaaki’s “1945 Complex”

Panel 6 – Modernity and the Nation: Re-drawing National Boundaries (Session Chair: Luo Zhi-tian)
  Sun Ying-gang: Constructing the “Middle Ages”: A western term in the eastern historiography
  Matthias Zachmann: The Future in East Asia, 1937-45: Re-visioning Sino-Japanese Relations in “Greater East Asia”
  Ge Zhao-guang: Where are the boundaries? The rise of studies of national minorities in China and Japan at the beginning of the 20th century

Panel 7 – Modernity and History (B) (Session Chair: Ge Zhao-guang)
  Viren Murthy: Zhang Taiyan’s Yogācārin Vision of Equality in the Context of the Meiji Buddhist Philosophy
  Wu Chan-liang: The Biogenesis and Anti-Enlightenment Tendencies in the Late Qing Dynasty
  Axel Schneider: Critique of Modernity: Ethics and Progress in Republican Chinese Discourse on History
  Wang Fan-sen: Wang Kuo-wei and the Idea of “moral group”

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Conference outline

With the end of the cold war, expectations in the West ran high that globalization would lead to a united world under the umbrella of a universal modernity of Western origins. However, these expectations have not materialized. Although a market economy of some sort is dominant on a global scale, cultural and political developments have moved in the opposite direction. Elites all over the world increasingly doubt Eurocentric notions of cultural and political modernity and re-emphasize their own historical heritage. This revival of interest in the past is paralleled by elite and popular movements emphasizing various types of particular collectives, concerned with national identity, ethnicity and indigenous traditions.

This bifurcation of globalization into a universal economic system on the one hand and an emphasis on particular historical traditions on the other finds its parallel in academic debates on modernity. Post-modernists have identified several targets in their long-standing attack on universal Western modernity, including: the dominance of the nation-state; the strict teleology of a Hegelian view of history; the Orientalist attitude towards other cultures; and the emphasis on the novelty of the modern age and the break with tradition it represents.

In recent years even theoreticians of modernization have introduced new concepts such as the notion of multiple modernities in order to cope with the apparent end of Eurocentrism. They increasingly allow historical and cultural factors to play a greater role in their theories of modernization processes, while still trying to subsume particular phenomena under a core of modernity identified as a set of structural, institutional, and cultural arrangements. Similarly, attempts to create a plausible way of conceptualising global history are a response on the part of ‘world historians’ to the perceived Eurocentrism driving ‘world history’ in the modern era.

This conference is located within this bigger context of a paradigm shift in academic research on the modern era and the nature of modernity. It will address an essential factor in the intellectual and political life of modern China and Japan: the revival of interest in history and tradition, and its impact on the creation of collective identities. In the distinctive forms of conservatism and revisionism, reflections on tradition and the role of history have become essential ingredients in the intellectual and political processes of reflecting on modernity, of shaping legitimacy and collective identity with considerable consequences for the future of both countries.

The conference will address how these issues have been manifested in three spheres: the political, the scholarly/academic and philosophical.

History, politics and national self-assertion

In the wake of economic success first in Japan and then later in Korea and China public intellectuals and politicians increasingly questioned the dominant Western modernization paradigm. In the 1990s in both Japan and China, history has been reinterpreted and traditions have been reevaluated with the aim to establish a redefined national identity and to provide a new foundation for political legitimacy. Closely intertwined with the decline of established structures of political economy and a rapidly changing international environment after the end of the cold war, these reinterpretations found their way into public media and the educational system.

The writing of history: modernity, cultural continuity and national identity

Closely linked to these developments, yet going beyond them are changes in the way history and tradition are being researched and conceptualized in academe. On the level of interpretations of history long dominant master narratives have been questioned and discarded with historians now in search of new narratives that reinterpret the nation’s culture, history and political traditions. On a meta-level where history has functioned as a form of discourse that characterizes contemporary Western academe we find that Western modernity has been challenged by the rise of new media and – in the case of China – by the rise of the market. Scholars no longer uncritically accept Western forms of researching history and attempt to link back to indigenous historiographical traditions for inspiration. Even Western scholars have struggled to address the narratives of power that emanate from the act of conceptualizing history, thereby betraying their premise that not only modernity, but history itself, is so imbued with a Eurocentric impetus that it is irredeemable. New modes of addressing the past, and concurrently, of conceptualising modernity, have thereby become the underlying concern of contemporary scholarship on the past in East Asia.

History, subjectivity and the human condition

This reconsideration of history as a form of discourse is again intimately related to philosophical developments in 20th century East Asia. The challenge that history (becoming) has posed to philosophical reflections on the human condition (being) since the late 18th century has been at the heart of important philosophical developments in the West. These developments – from the philosophy of life, via existentialism to post-modern philosophy – still shape contemporary discourse on the nature of modernity. In China and Japan this challenge posed by history has been addressed in different ways during the 20th century against the foil of specific East Asian traditions of thinking about time, history and the human condition. In this context Chinese and Japanese traditions have contributed to some of the most stimulating and fruitful dialogues with Western philosophy and have posed serious challenges to a Western understanding of modernity, that today has become more important than ever.

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