<Koakai hokoku> Issue 2 (1880, April 1): 

 

 

- Kaneko Yahei (1854-1924): “General Discourse on Asia” (p. 10-11):

 

from editor: ‘Our member, Kaneko Yahei, is bound to leave for China, and wrote a piece, where he discusses the general situation in Asia. The title is: <Records on Asia>. The abbreviated variants of that piece are the articles, “General Discourse on Asia”, and “Conditions of Our Country” that we publish in our Reports. [Kaneko] deeply researched on the reasons for efflorescence and downfall in past and present, as well as on the pressing needs of our days. His words are sufficient for leading the hearers to explode in the [righteous] anger. Here we publish his “General Discourse on Asia”, while going to publish his article on our country’s problems in a following issue.’

 

 

Kaneko’s Text: ‘In the times of the primordial chaos, Asia was the best among the five continents in the development of human knowledge. Generally, already 4 thousand years ago the human knowledge was born there, and the states were established: China in the east, India in the middle, and Asian Turkey in the west. At that time, the records were made by tying knots on the strings, as there were no books and letters, and that did not change in generations. Although we know about the “books” (fen) by the ancient [Chinese Emperors] or the Old Testament, this kind of things should have disappeared with the time, and then was probably falsified by the descendants, who wrote absurd and groundless stories there. Therefore, those records can be used [only] if they are corroborated by the historical relics and can be believed and discussed on.

In all the above-mentioned countries, the mankind first began to grow and prosper 3 thousand years ago, when both knowledge and material life effloresced, castles and palaces were built, and all rituals and customs concerning the cloth and implements were established. The products of agriculture and sericulture were profitably exchanged in the markets, and the teaching of the etiquette, righteousness, and human morals flourished.

2 thousand years ago, there were gradual increases in human wisdom, and the biggest number of innovations appeared ranging from the systems and decrees to science and industry. In can be called flourishing! At that time, in the continent of Europe, with the exception of its South-East (Italy, Greece, and European Turkey), the people still lived in the caves, did not know how to cook food with fire, and were primitively ignorant. Wild beasts were roaring in the forests and marshes where poisonous insects [also] nested themselves. That desolate wilderness did not resemble human abode.

2600 years ago, the Rome state was established in Italy, and its fortunes gradually improved throughout the time. In the east, it destroyed Greece (Greek states were established more than 2700 years ago, being the earliest in Europe, while Roma was the nest. With the exception of those two, Europe has no ancient states) and also various lands of Ancient Turkey, and in the west, it annexed the lands of such barbarians as British and Germans – the whole of Europe’s hinterland. It brought the intellectual and material life to the flourishing, but the origins of Roman culture lay in Greece, while Greek culture enriched itself by borrowings from the various lands of Asian Turkey. All these things are included into histories, and can be corroborated, so [I] do not need to clarify it further here. Then, beginning from the time when Rome destroyed Jewish Kingdom (today a part of Asian Turkey), Christianity gradually began to spread in Europe.

Then, afterwards, millions [of Europeans] threw themselves into Crusades. As they personally witnessed the efflorescence of the intellectual and material culture in Asia, they began to admire it. On having returned from the war, they studied and recorded it, and also emulated and re-created it, both in scholarship and crafts. The more they studied it, the more exquisite their knowledge became. Gradually, their superstitious and evil customs were overcome, and they began to progress rapidly in culture. Thus, it is said that European culture is, in fact, a gift from Asia. Asian culture, intellectual and material, predates that of Europe by more than two thousand years. The [start] of the flowering of European culture is separated from us only by 500-600 years. [I] lament also that it is not discussed [wider in Japan]  today.

But today, as I will describe in this article, the overall strength of Asia does not reach the European [level]. Let us try to discuss it. If we are to describe the progress of European states in wealth and military strength, we may say that human intelligence progresses there daily, and the culture advances monthly. [They] explore the laws of the Heaven and Earth, while scrutinizing also the nature of the myriads of things. The absurd and superfluous stories are discarded, while the discussions on authentic and truthful [facts] are on the rise. Science flourishes, and the enterprises also make successes. Inside [these countries] the political rule and education are in order, while outside they profit from trade. Both superiors and inferiors assumed their proper positions, and [mutual treatment with] humanness follows.

Asia is the opposite. The land is desolate, and the people are scattered. [They] blindly advocate the old, being besotted with the antiquity. [They] ignominiously seek for immediate peace, their vigour having declined and their minds being ignorant. Confusion and heresies are widespread, the politics are not trusted, and education is without substance. The superiors and inferiors resent each other, officials and commoners disdain each other. Humaneness disappears, and treasonous thoughts arise [instead]. If one day an incident breaks out, and [they] wish to guard against internal problems and fend off external enemies, rare are those who do not suffer defeat or do not have their hands tied.  Why the past and present of the Asian intellectual and material cultures are so unlike? And why the differences between the [periods] of its efflorescence and decline are so sharp?

The knowledgeable people, whom I once have heard, say that, by their nature, Asians like stillness, while Europeans, by custom, prefer motion. Stillness means “stop”, while motion means “continuous movement”. That is why, as they say, [the development of] intellectual and material culture in Asia stopped in Middle Ages and did not move continuously further. They add that Asians are credulous and gullible, while Europeans are sceptical. Credulous means, “shallow”, while scepticism means that deeper [reasons] are searched for. That is, they say, the reason for the difference in the fortunes of Asian and European cultures today.

It is clear, but we are, indeed, as manly as they are, and the rise and downfall of culture, as well as the fortunes of state, depend only on human action or inaction.

Today, if [we] wish to revive Asia from several millennia-long decline and compete with Europeans in wealth and power, who will be the people [able to lead the revival]? Even if there are such people, is it possible for human strength to achieve [the revival] at once when the situation is so [bad] as it is now? [Many] say “No”, but they are wrong. We need not to worry about the absence of such people today, as the people already exist, and the situation is ripe. In the past years, the culture of our country followed that of the whole [Asian] continent, mutually acknowledging each other and influencing each other’s development. And in the recent years [in Japan] lots of noble-minded patriots (shishi) emerged, and the wisdom and broad-mindedness also rose concomitantly. The line of national policy established, and indestructible fundament is laid. Human knowledge advances daily, and the worldly fortunes [of the country] are steadily progressing. In this time, rightly called that of manly action, the rise of the whole Asian continent can be expected. If these of our countrymen are really the people [to lead the Asian revival], the situation will also suit them – so, what is difficult and impossible? As the nature and talents of the peoples of whole Asia do not differ with our countrymen, and our countrymen are able [to lead the Asia revival], what is impossible for the men of the whole continent? All the things our countrymen are doing, will not be limited to our country, but will further progress into similar action on the pan-continental scale. Thus, we will revive Asia from the several millennia-long decline, and compete with Europeans in wealth and power.  

 Today’s moment should not be lost, for success or failure of the affair depend on whether the moment is utilized. Before, the wealth, power and civilization of Britain were superior to that of other European countries. Although it lies on a remote sea islands, it became the hegemon of the great continent, and, throughout several centuries, all countries look up to it as to the Great Mountain and Big Dipper. Its might and authority did not decline up to today. How can we not to use the opportunity [now] in order to achieve [the same]? First, without doubts, the situation of our country in the great continent of Asia is just like this. People used to say [about us] that there was one Britain in the East, and that our country would in future heroically advance into the whole continent. Alas! Although our country has such a name, the actual achievement is lacking yet! How are we going to respond to the people of the world in future? Let us make efforts, for our responsibility is not light! And all countries of the whole continent also will take up our initiative, renew their spirit, wipe out the absurd customs, design new ways, and, in mutual cooperation, make great achievements! That is my cherished hope.

1