chapter  6
Sinic world order revisited: choosing sites of self-discovery in contemporary East Asia
ByShih Chih-yu
Pages 21

East Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam) are derived from the civilization of ancient North China and shaped over the millennia by Confucian ethical concepts and traditions of centralized empire (Kang 2010; Deng 2008; Shih 1990; Mancall 1984). Scholars no longer take this vision of Sinic world order for granted; it is reimagined in order to restore various silenced Chinese subjectivities and the subjectivities of other East Asian countries from their own positions within Sinic world order (Katzenstein 2010; Callahan 2004; Shih 2007). The first such effective attempt at re-worlding dates back as far as Meiji Restoration Japan (1868). One common thread from Meiji to the beginning of the 21st century has been the rediscovery of a kind of Chineseness, as opposed to Japaneseness, especially with regard to the uniqueness of China’s lineage, that has indirectly proved Japan’s own distinctiveness, enabling wide-ranging self-discovery (Tanaka 1993; Fogel 1984). By establishing this mutual distinctiveness, the idea of forming one East Asian identity used to justify Japan’s civilizing intervention in East Asia loses meaning. I begin this chapter with Mizoguchi Yuzo’s (1932-2010) notion of Sinic Kitai

(i.e. basic substance, body history, underlying concepts and essential being), through which he hoped to re-world Japan using a multi-sited approach. Kitai refers to a China with a life of its own not captured by modernist historiography. An obsession with an exclusively Chinese historical lineage has dangerous political and cultural implications for epistemological communities that do not feel responsible for Japan’s imperial expansion during WWII or its thinkers’ quest for intellectual rebirth in the aftermath of defeat. For example, no imperial or war-prone expansionist identity exists in contemporary Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia or Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, as it does in Japan. Instead, their historiographical sensibilities lean toward a historiography of an all-encompassing Sinic world in which their own paths resemble no more than that of a derived, alienated, rebelling or lost child. Re-appropriating Chinese history in these other communities to meet the contemporary need for a reconstructed national or communal history is as politically meaningful as Japanese thinkers puzzling over how to avoid the imperial pitfalls that followed from an appropriation of Chinese history for Japan’s own identity.