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William Gerald BEASLEY

Doctor of Letters
honoris causa

Historians as we all know, often presume to speak for the human race. They are less often invited to appear as spokesmen for specific members of it, as I am today. I am conscious of my inadequacy for the task, and my responsibility, not least because I speak on behalf of men and women who together represent a considerable range of human interests: government and finance; charity and education; medicine and humanities. Their presence here this afternoon is a tribute to your University's catholicity of tastes and to the extent of its links with the Hong Kong community. It is not easy to act as their spokesman. Indeed, in only one respect can I claim to do so; by expressing the sense of appreciation and gratitude for the honour you do us, which I know we all share. So may I, in the names of those now admitted to honorary degrees, express our thanks to the University and reaffirm - as I am sure my companions will permit me to do - our readiness to help it in whatever ways we can. For my own part, as a visitor among you, I am delighted that this ceremony has provided me with an occasion for coming again to Hong Kong, a place I have always found uniquely interesting and enjoyable, and one where I have many friends.

It was Churchill, I think, when asked by a young politician how best to end and after-dinner speech, who replied, 'Sir, when you reach the end of the first grammatical sentence, sit down!' I have just reached the end of such a sentence. However, I have been given to understand by the Vice-Chancellor that this would not be a suitable occasion for putting the second part of Churchill's advice promptly into effect. It follows that I have to give some thought to the choice of a theme on which I might address you this afternoon.

I suspect that Churchill, had he been available for consultation, would have said, 'Stick to what you know!' So I have decided to talk briefly - thought perhaps not as briefly as Churchill would have wished - about the academic study of Japan. It is a topic that poses problems for universities in many parts of the world. The most casual glance at the shop windows and advertisements in Hong Kong suggest that it must do so here. It also raises more general questions about the relationship between universities and contemporary society: how far and in what ways universities should reflect society's current concerns. I hope, therefore, that you might find the subject to be of more than personal or parochial interest.

There are two general arguments for pursuing the study of Japan in universities. One arises from the Europe-centered character of so much university education (and I do not mean only in Western universities). The label Eurocentric does not apply - at least pejoratively - to the natural sciences, since they can legitimately call themselves universalistic in outlook and methodology; but a claim to universality is much less valid if made for the social sciences and humanities. And in practice it is made. General propositions, derived initially from Western data and experience, are regularly applied to other societies, with as theory or as technique. How often do we use words like 'scholarship' or 'methodology' or 'training' in ways that make it plain that we are equating the adjective 'Western' with 'universal'?

I do not wish to argue - certainly not here and now - that such assumptions are in all cases wrong, only that they need to be examined explicitly. Study of Japan provides an admirable focus for doing this. Of all non-Western societies, Japan has come closest to evolving a modern society in the accepted social science meaning of the term. Japanese history, remarkably enough, has followed a broadly Western pattern: a type of feudalism closely comparable with that of medieval Europe, followed by a capitalism that is Western in its models and most of its institutional forms. Yet it still has features that are recognized to be specifically and enduringly Japanese, that is, non-Western. So to examine it closely provides us with an exceptional opportunity to test how far our theories about the nature and origins of modern society need to be modified in the light of what we can learn about one with different cultural roots. Japan, for example, has never accorded individualism the place of honour which it possesses in the ideology Europe derives from Christianity and Greek philosophy; but to my knowledge there has not been any searching scholarly analysis of the implications of that difference either for the nature of Japanese society, or for the equally important question of whether our own modern assumptions about the link between individualism and capitalism should therefore be reassessed.

It is salutary to remind ourselves occasionally - with perhaps a touch of academic as well as social humility - that there is much to be learnt from seeing our own habits and ideas through others' eyes. The Japanese have done everything to help us do this. After two centuries of national isolation, Japan entered our modern world in the nineteenth century with a passionate curiosity about almost all things foreign. Even before the Japanese ports were opened to foreign trade there were occasions when shipwrecked Japanese sailors, sent back from the Philippines of the American west coast, were interrogated about what they had seen in ways that would qualify nowadays for the description 'debriefing'. The tradition continued. Throughout the years that followed, Japanese who traveled or studied abroad were encouraged to write about their impressions and to publish what they wrote. They still do. As a result, there is no shortage of material for studying the Japanese view of the West.

It is an exceptionally well-informed view. And it is sometimes skeptical, serving to remind us that our norms are not self-evidently the norms, appropriate to human behaviour as a whole. There are many serious examples I could cite to illustrate the point. A more lighthearted one, which I have always enjoyed, is the account of an incident that occurred in 1858, when Lord Elgin went to conclude Britain's first full commercial treaty with Japan. At the end of the negotiations, Elgin, as was proper, invited the Japanese plenipotentiaries to a banquet, Western-style. According to the envoy's secretary, Laurence Oliphant, 'they fed more like Christians than any other unchristian nation I have ever seen'. Then at the end of the meal came the loyal toasts, accompanied, as was customary in those days, by a round of loyal cheers. The Japanese officials, Oliphant said, 'lustily joined in'. Afterwards one of them gravely observed to him that they had now learnt something new about their hosts: 'When you in the West want to honour a person, you roar and shout after your meals'. One can see there the seeds of a kind of oriental anthropology, directed to the study of Western social habits.

Let me turn to my second argument for studying Japan, which is of a different kind. I am sure I do not need to rehearse the more general reasons why universities should concern themselves with the study of contemporary society. Even Oxford now recognizes, if a little hesitantly, that sociology is respectable. Nor do I need to labour the point that a definition of contemporary society must include countries and cultures other than our own. Technology, if nothing else, has ensured that any narrower definition of the term has become untenable. What I do want to emphasize is that the study of other countries and cultures is a task that falls to universities in a rather special sense.

There is no scarcity of information about the world we live in: press, broadcasting and a variety of information services see to that. Indeed, we must surely be the most amply informed generation that ever lived. Yet 'amply' does not in all respects mean 'best'. The greater specialization and pervasive busyness that characterize our lives, compared with, say, the beginning of the present century, have robbed us in some measure of vision and perspective, have reduced our ability to make full use of the vast pool of information we possess. Men of affairs, to use an old-fashioned but convenient term - which presumably must become 'persons of affairs' in today's usage - have less time than they used to have to think about their work and take a long view of its problems, less time to write thoughtful books about the world with which their work brings them into contact. Instead, we have volumes of 'instant' memoirs. Or we have 'think tanks'. Or we engage in the study of what is called 'futurology'. I suspect we were all better governed when ministers withdrew to their estates for the summer: those who were capable of thought at least had time for it then.

A consequence of the change is that a larger share of the responsibility for sharply examining the contemporary scene, for asking questions about it more fundamental and 'academic' than those that arise in the course of conducting its everyday affairs, falls to universities. Japan is part of that contemporary scene, an interesting an important part.

The interest and importance that it has for us have profoundly changed within the lifetime of most of us in this hall. When I was a schoolboy Japan was a great power, playing a key role in international relations and threatening to acquire a vast Asian empire. I remember writing sixth-form essays on the subject. By contrast, when I first went there in 1945, Japan was a country in ruins, not only defeated, but disoriented. Its people, in so far as they were not preoccupied with the difficulties of daily livelihood, were concerned with questions about where and why their national history had taken the wrong turn, and how the disastrous consequences of this could be repaired. It was a period of doubt and self-searching, of multitudinous political and religious panaceas, of confused discussion about the evils of the emperor system or the merits of democracy.

Naturally enough, Western studies of Japan at that time, predominantly in the United States, but also in Britain, took their tone from this post-war situation. There was still a good deal of Japanese language study in universities, deriving from wartime programmes and largely pragmatic in its purpose. There was much examination, stimulated afresh by war crimes trials, of those elements in Japanese history and social structure and beliefs that might serve to explain the roots of Japanese aggression in and before 1941. increasingly there was discussion of what was needed to make the country 'democratic' - initially this was regarded as identical with removing the causes of aggression - and of how far military government was succeeding in its declared aim of bringing such political change about. Often there was a 'laboratory' flavour about what was written: Japan was seen as the subject of a social and political experiment, a specimen for scholarly dissection and analysis.

This all seems remarkably long ago and far away. Obviously, Japan has changed since then, both in itself and in relation to its environment. The Japanese eventually found their new direction: the pursuit of material welfare to make good the results of material disaster. They also found the means to pursue it successfully. So Japan has become an industrial giant, wielding, sometimes reluctantly, the influence appropriate tom its vast economic strength. Even in Britain, where public recognition of the change came slowly - it is not so very long ago that a significant proportion of the people questioned in a British opinion survey apparently believed Japan to be a communist state - there is not an awareness of Japan as a country with a capital-intensive industrial complex of enormous size, based on high wages and advanced technology.

I put it like that because this is the context in which Japan now presents itself to be studied. Discussion of the war and its origins has dropped out of the limelight, relegated - if that is the right word - to being a question of scholarly rather than public concern. Democracy is taken for granted. Edwin Reischauer former American ambassador in Tokyo, has written in a recent book that in Japan today 'it is hard to find clouds, whether political, economic or social, that really threaten the parliamentary democratic system'. It is possible to have reservations about both the substance and the implications of that statement. Nevertheless, Reischauer's view is characteristic in one sense: few political analysts any longer regard Japan's political structure as experimental, or externally imposed, or even fundamentally Asian. They treat it, whether critically or approvingly, in much the same way as they treat Western politics.

Similarly, students of the Japanese economy no longer address themselves primarily to problems like that of post-war recovery. For the most part they do not even look at Japan as a development model any longer: the rate of Japanese growth in the past twenty years has been so far beyond reach of most developing countries as to be irrelevant for purposes of establishing criteria they can apply, or targets they can aim at. Instead, economists, together with sociologists, have begun to talk of Japan as providing a delineation of the neo-industrial society towards which we are all supposedly moving. They see many of its distinctive features, like the persistence of group loyalties in political and industrial behaviour, not as feudal survivals, but as sign posts to the future, including the future of non-Japanese.

In the 1880s Fukuzawa Yukichi, most famous of the writers who were then advocating Western-style modernization for Japan coined a phrase to sum up the policy he thought his country should follow. It was 'Datsu-A', 'quit Asia'. He meant that Japan should, as he put it, 'break out of formation and behave in the same way as the civilized countries of the West are doing': she could not afford, he said, to wait until her neighbours became civilized, until 'all may combine together to make Asia progress'. It could well be argued that in the present generation Japan has at last attained Fukuzawa's goals.

What, then, are the implications of these changes for Japanese studies in our universities? In theory, there is nothing intrinsically difficult about coming to terms with them. It is simply a matter of time and money (if one may dare speak so lightly of such matters in the presence of a Vice-Chancellor). It takes time for scholars to adjust their teaching and research to include a fresh range of material. It takes money to provide the books and facilities they need if they are to do so effectively. None of this is easy, but as a problem it is familiar and soluble. For economists and political scientists, for sociologists and historians and geographers, to change the emphasis of their work to take account of new questions and new material is something that has happened before in other contexts and will no doubt happen again. It is in fact already beginning to happen on a substantial scale with respect to Japan.

I prefaced that series of statements with the words 'in theory'. Let me turn to the practice. There is one feature of what we do now that seems to me to require further thought, if one accepts the assessment I have given of the purposes of studying Japan in universities. I refer to the fact that we commonly regard the detail study of Japan as the business of area specialists, or to put it differently, of scholars whose function it is to create monograph literature on which others can base their theories and teaching. This distinguished the study of Japan - and for that matter China - from the study of France or Germany or Britain or the United States. The social scientist or historian, turning his attention to one of the major Western countries, would not take it for granted that he was dependent on indirect knowledge, that is, exclusively on books written in his own language. If the degree of his interest were great enough, he would expect to acquire knowledge at first hand. By the same token, he would not regard learning French or German or English as something that turned him into an area specialist.

That we don not react this way when we think about Japan is partly because of the inherent difficulty of the Japanese language. Reischauer, writing in the book I quoted a little while ago, described it as 'a barrier of enormous size between the Japanese and other peoples'. He is right: learning Japanese is a formidable task, not lightly to be undertaken. Yet I think there is more to the reluctance than mere practicality. It is partly a matter of contemporary attitudes. Teachers and students, we all tend to be less well equipped with ancillary language skills than our predecessors were. One reason, perhaps, is the increasing use of visual methods of communication, like television, both in education and in our daily lives. Another is the vast growth in information services, private as well as public, which furnish us with most of what we need to know, tidily packaged in our own language - especially if that language happens to be English. The phenomenon is a general one, not confined to Japanese

Nevertheless, this is not the only explanation. There is also a more specific one, which might be described as habitual scholarly thinking. Japanese is an oriental language. This makes it many people's eyes the business of 'orientalists', those primarily interested in traditional culture (who have to learn languages), rather than of those concerned with human society more widely conceived (who do not). A moment's thought shows that the distinction is unreal. Japanese is not the only language of record for those who want to study Japan: the language, that is to say, in which basic date are set down. The impressive development in Japanese universities in the twentieth century has ensured that the writings of Japanese scholars are fundamental to the analysis of any significant topic concerning Japan. To divorce oneself from them is to cut oneself off from the moving frontier of knowledge. Nor is the relevance of the language restricted to the study of things Japanese. What Japanese write matters immensely to students of China, for example, as many of you here will know. It is of concern to students of medicine, technology and the natural sciences. In other words, Japanese is becoming one of the world's academic languages. As such, we have in my view paid it insufficient attention.

I am aware of the immense practical difficulties in the way of doing anything about this. Yet I do not believe them to be as great as is often made out, given our ability to exploit the language teaching techniques developed for government and business training schemes in recent years. It is high time members of universities used them more frequently on themselves.

When the French 'philosophes' in the eighteenth century wished to criticize the 'ancien regime', they did so by considering the supposed political virtues of China. Similarly, when Japanese Confucian scholars in the 1850s wanted to criticize their own countries foreign policy, they first attributed the policy to China, then criticized the Chinese. In both cases the men in question were acting prudently. You may by now have decided that I have been equally devious, if not for quite the same reasons.

I freely admit that while I have been talking of Japan I have not been thinking only of Japan. It is a paradox of the modern world that the more we improve our technological means of communicating with each other, and the more we insist on nationalistic grounds that others must make the effort to understand 'us', the less we do to learn other people's languages, which is an essential ingredient in understanding 'them'. And as the world becomes more close-knit, the dangers of ignorance - ignorance of each other, ignorance of each other's languages - become even greater. Universities can do something to abate those dangers. I hope they will. The possibility gives a special significance to all our international studies, not merely those of Japan, about which I have been speaking this afternoon.

Because of Hong Kong's geographical location and the ethnic composition of its population, your University has already had to face, particularly with respect to the study of China, the kind of problems that the rest of us well increasingly have to face in other contexts. Consequently, I believe there is much that I can others like me can learn from your experience. Indeed, I for one have done so in the past. So I do not only thank you, Sir, for the award of a doctorate, an honour I shall always hold high. I also thank you for enabling me to come again to Hong Kong, thereby continuing my education.

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