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Message-Id: <199803190632.BAA18524@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 22:30:31 +0000
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
From: Marilyn Levine, H-Asia <mlevine@lcsc.edu>
Subject: H-Asia: Chukoku/Zhongguo


A dialog from the H-Asia list, March 1998

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 22:30:31 +0000
From: LEE JOHN # HISTORY <John.Lee@StMarys.ca>

Chugoku, as the name of the region of Japan that includes the prefectures of Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi, means something more like Central Provinces. A province was called under the ritsuryo system kuni, i.e., koku, and the name was probably in allusion to the fact that the provinces of the Chugoku region occupied the middle parts of Nara-Heian Japan's terrritorial extent. I do not think that the region's existence was what made the Japanese avoid using Chugoku as the name for China. Shina had not widely been in use until the late nineteenth century, and its choice probably reflected the Japanese desire to avoid a name that in any way glorified China. Another name the Japanese had used for China is Morokoshi. I do not know the origins of this name, or, for that matter, whether or not it had anything to do with the modern word tomorokoshi, which means, of course, maize.

John Lee (John.Lee@STMARYS.CA)
Department of History
St. Mary's University
Halifax, NS, Canada

Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998
From: Pär Cassel <par.cassel@swipnet.se>

Robert Entenmann wrote:

> In Japanese Chugoku refers to the
> area around Hiroshima as well as China
> (is that one reason the Japanese
> used the term Shina?).

To this list you could also add the fact that in the early Tokugawa period, Yamaga Sookoo asserted that Japan was superior to China in Confucian terms and thus was more suited to the name Chuugoku. This use was later picked up by other scholars, one of the most famous examples being Aizawa Seishisai's political tract Shiron from 1825. The origins of Shina have previously been discussed, it would be very interesting if someone on the list could explain the etymology of Kara. As Kara also means Korea, although written with another character, it seems to me that the word is a rather old one.

It is also interesting to note that in Zhongghua Minguo Jie, published in Tokyo 1907, Zhang Taiyan dissmissed the name Zhongguo as a name for China exactly on the ground that the name was not exclusive for China. Zhang's definition of the territory of China also differs considerably from the definitions that are current today. An English translation of Zhonghua Minguo Jie is due to appear in the forthcoming issue of The Stockholm Journal of East Asian Studies.

Par Cassel
Institute of Oriental Languages,
Stockholm University.

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1998
From: John Mensing <101301.2532@compuserve.com>

Robert Entenmann is correct in pointing out that some—in fact, many*+—other civilizations, or mere portions of civilizations, have projected themselves as being the center of things. What seems to set China apart, these days, is that they still actively have this philosophy as part of their world view. A centerpiece of Confucian philosophy was the kingdom of the middle, and it is that philosophy which, updated and enlivened, keeps what is worst about the current government afloat. There is an aggressive political, economic and cultural currency to the term Zhongguo which is not matched in the Mediterranean.

It is no more outrageous to regard as uncivilized all those who do not live under a Confucian monarchy than it is to regard as barbarians all those who do not speak Greek. In the course of China's long history, nearly all her sustained contacts had been with less important peoples, of whom a fair number had been strongly influence by Chinese civilization, some even to the point of adopting Chinese writing. The Empire was bounded largely by almost impassable mountains and by deserts inhabited only by nomadic tribesmen. Sinocentrism was deeply rooted in geography as well as culture.

--Lucien Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915 - 1949
London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Whereas in the States, Euro- or Afro- centrism may be a strongly held personal belief, political strategy, or issue/social group identifier; in China, sinocentrism is the law. Protest or disagreement is not allowed.=20 Even here in Japan (in the Chugoku region no less!) where the cultural chauvinism of nihonjinron posits often absurd levels of uniqueness in a quest to prove, scientifically, the superiority of the Japanese race—or fulfill identity inadequacies?—one is still free to disagree. The distinction with China is that the culture and the government are inseparably wedded there, so that one can not speak of one without referring to the other. Japan has a bit more breathing space (and no growing army, or advisors in Burma, territorial disputes with the Philippines, etc. ) and Greece still more, even with the Cypriot conflict. Their national identities have evolved into modern or postmodern forms, to put a name to it. Much of China's totalitarian power devolves from a distinctly pre-modern national identity.

Robert Entenmann's freedom and luxury to separate ideas, turn them over, and compare them historically without a government culture/cultural government breathing over, under, and through him is unimaginable in China.

Likewise, it might be difficult for Western academics to fathom the depth of total control which allows a unified racialist and superior civilization ideology to reign triumphant over China.

Robert Entenmann's note about the relative unimportance of Zhonggou's etymological weltanshauung reminds me of a lecture by a Tibetan monk who had endured twenty odd years of torture and saw most of his colleagues die of starvation or abuse. A man in the audience who had been a victim of the US prison system volunteered, in an apparent attempt at solidarity, that the same sort of things went on in America. Fortunately or unfortunately, they do not. I think our integrity as academics require that we recognize that there are gross differences in the ideologies which underpin the national civilizations of our era, as there are gross differences in their penal institutions. Zhongguo is a key to understanding how much of what is cherished as humanitarian in one tradition can be disregarded as a threat to the order of heaven in another.

Recently some Asian governments have contended that the standards of human rights laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are those advocated by the West and cannot be applied to Asia and others parts of the Third World because of differences in culture and differences in social and economic development.

-- H.H. the Dalai Lama; Vienna,
     Austria, 1993

John Mensing
Hiroshima Happens
Hiroshima, Japan

PS: I realize I sound a bit polemical here, however, I sincerely believe that we should acknowledge the premises of academic thinking in China (which includes sinocentric connotations of the term Zhongguo); respect their right to choose, and perhaps ours to disagree. Although contemporary Chinese thought does not premise cultural relativity; the presumptions of multi-culturality in contemporary Western academia may prove—and certainly threaten to do so, from the perspective of China's ruling elite—historically, to have been a rhetorical pose.

I sent this response to Mr. Entenmann, and received the following, which he appears to have given permission for you to publish as well:


I don't think we really differ all that much - I agree with nearly everything you say. There are some Chinese who have a more pluralistic and cosmopolitan view of the world - the ones I have met often have studied abroad - but as far as the government is concerned, you aare absolutely right. Moreover, the government's identification of itself as the embodiment of the Chinese people, Chinese culture, and the Chinese nation makes it possible for it to regard any criticism as treasonous if it comes from within, or racist if it comes from without. (A Chinese government spokesman recently complained that criticism of Chinese policies in Tibet hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.)

Your comparison a Chinese attitudes with Nihonjinron is interesting. As you point out, Japanese can - and some do - question notions of Japanese superiority. China today can be compared, I think, to Japan in the 1930s, when one couldn't openly question such things.

Robert Entenmann
St. Olaf College