Friday, January 08, 2010

Japanese Nihonjinron an Influence on Korean Hanguginnon?

Robert N. Bellah
(Image from Robert N. Bellah)

Over the past decade or so, my old UC Berkeley advisor Robert Bellah has been writing his magnum opus, a deeply thought-out work on religious evolution that applies a Durkheimian-inspired, comparative, diachronic analysis to the several great world religious systems. I've read every chapter and offered some suggestions (mainly editorial), and therefore could let the cat out of the bag by revealing all of Bob's secrets . . . but I'll stay mum.

I can, however, reveal that he's nearing completion. Just yesterday, I read his 135-page chapter on India and admired his skill in analyzing the characteristic details and synthesizing the systemic features of a religious civilization that he freely admits approaching as an scholarly outsider. That chapter is his final one focusing on a single religious civilization. Basically, he needs only to write a conclusion, and the entire work will be finished, though he tells me that he's working on a preface and touching up one of the earlier chapters.

Anyway, I wrote him a note thanking him for letting me read the India chapter and apologizing for my six-month delay in doing so. As part of my explanation for being so tardy, I mentioned my own recent Daesan readings and scholarly writings, which have kept me busy above and beyond my teaching -- including my essay on Korean identity, which I linked to for him to take a look at. He read it quickly, and responded:
Your piece on Korea was interesting, especially since I have never really studied Korea. My only comment is that the recent ethnocentric nationalism that you describe is an almost exact copy of what is happening in Japan, where it is call nihonjinron, the theory of the Japanese, also unique, homogeneous by blood, and going back long before the imported religions. I wonder if the exposure of Koreans to Shinto, the religious expression of ethnocentric nationalism in Japan, did not influence the Koreans to develop their own counter version, that turns out to be structurally just like the Japanese.
I've heard of nihonjinron but know little about it. Bob's remark reminded me of the thesis proposed by Brian R. Myers concerning North Korean ideology, namely, that it is a blood-based fascism modeled upon Japanese fascism.

Be that as it may, I searched for a scholarly article on the question of Korean nationalism's debt, if any, to Japanese nationalism, and I found a paper by Han Kyung-Koo (Han Gyeong-gu), a professor in the Division of International Studies at Kookmin University. The paper is titled "The Anthropology of the Discourse on the Koreanness of Koreans" (Korea Journal, Vol. 43, No.1, Spring 2003, pp.5-31) and can be read online by clicking the underlined title.

Han's article looks at what is called "hanguginnon, the discourse on the Koreanness of the Koreans or hanguk munhwaron, the discourse on the Koreanness of Korean culture in modern Korea," and an entire section bears the heading 'The Influence of Nihonjinron on the Making of Hanguginnon' and states in its opening paragraph:
Many Korean writers of hanguginnon have been heavily influenced by nihonjinron in one way or another. Hanguginnon writers of the late Joseon period and of the colonial period tried to respond to Koreans' deepest desire for independence and modernization. In the process of supposedly defending Koreans' minds and souls in the age of imperialism and colonialism, they found it useful to adopt, consciously or unconsciously, many of the points and arguments of the nihonjinron writers of prewar Japan, which were also the outcome of Japan's troubled search for a new identity as well as the struggle against the West to regain self-confidence. Thus, in challenging Japanese colonialism, many Korean intellectuals ironically ended up consciously or unconsciously emulating the arguments of nihonjinron writers.
The article, at least in part, answers Bellah's question, as to whether "ethnocentric nationalism in Japan . . . influence[d] the Koreans to develop their own counter version," by offering a complex affirmative.

I'll leave the rest of the article for the interested to read, for it's a relatively brief and easy paper.

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At 2:06 AM, Blogger kimchikraut said...

I wonder if the "four distinct seasons" was also lifted from the Japanese.

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm betting that it was lifted from Paradise Lost.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:30 PM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

I'd be very interested to read his treatment of Christianity in Korea, specifically the spread of the Protestant faiths. I recently read a bracing history from the early 60s, Mission To Korea, about the trials & triumphs of the American Presbyterian missionaries there.

It's a puzzle to me, why Christianity withered in Japan, but blossomed in Korea. Any insights in your friend's book?

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do you mean Bellah's treatment of Christianity in Japan? I don't think that he's done anything on Korea. (Did I mistakenly say that he had?)

I've not read his work on Japanese religion, so you'd have to take a look at the book yourself . . . or read a review.

Try his website to see if there's something there.

Jeffery Hodges

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