The Unifying Aspects of Cultures


Transnational Endeavors and Contradictions in Asia

Chair of the section/Suggestions, Abstracts, Contributions to:
Email: Naoji Kimura (Tokio/Regensburg)

ABSTRACT: When one used to speak about it, ex oriente lux, one usually thought of the East only in contrast to the West. With the expansion of the Western image of the world, Europeans also gradually began to recognize the Middle East beyond the Near East. However, up to the present day the Far East still remains excluded from the Near and Middle East. Thus, whenever in a cultural-science question there is talk of the Far East, one must actually speak about East Asia. The separating factor lay basically in the different religions, since Christianity, despite all inner divisions, drew with every means possible a strict dividing line against everything heathen in the East, that is, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Buddhism or whatever else it might be called. The Jesuits have at least made the most important documents of Taoism and Confucianism accessible to Europeans in Latin translations. Since religions are essentially handed down in language and in each case produce a particular culture, the divisive aspects of religions result to be sure in manifold cultural complications of the greatest consequences.

In this fundamental situation, Japan finds itself in a conflicting position, which results from geopolitical and religious-historical causes. As a land that lies in the farthest Far East, the island empire was historically closely connected to the dominant Chinese cultural tradition. But when during the Edo period it broke out of its 200 years of being sealed off, called "Sakoku," and since it has been noticeably modernizing itself since the Meiji restoration in 1868, Japan it has attached itself via the USA to the West and has long proven itself to be the Far West with its civilization.

Thus, as a quasi Western power, Japan at the end of the 19th century already began building its empire in East Asia by military means. Nationalism, Imperialism and Colonialism went hand in hand in this process - just as in Europe. But apparently Japan, even then, wanted to establish a kind of Asiatic Union, in that it spoke of an East Asian cultural group under its hegemony. This attempt led, of course, to a conflict of interests with the Western colonial powers, which had already colonized East Asia, and ended with the defeat in the Second World War. Japan was able to reestablish itself relatively quickly after the disastrous consequences, by developing itself technically and economically into one of the most modern countries.

But for reasons of intellectual history Japan has not been sufficiently successful in overcoming the past politically and culturally, so that the East Asian lands or nations, respectively, view with skepticism a renewed attempt to revive the idea of an Asiatic Union in analogy to the EU, as long as Japan with its economic power plays a leading role in it. Earlier an ideology guided transnational endeavors in East Asia. Today technology makes transculturalism in East Asia necessary as well and spreads a sub-culture. In East Asia, however, ancient religions, which are burdened with contradictory national and ethnic problems, still remain very much alive.