Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America (Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies)

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9780824839475: Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America (Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies)

The story of Catholicism and Protestantism in China, Japan, and Korea has been told in great detail. The existing literature is especially rich in documenting church and missionary activities as well as how varied regions and cultures have translated Christian ideas and practices. Less evident, however, are studies that contextualize Christianity within the larger economic, political, social, and cultural developments in each of the three countries and its diasporas. The contributors to Encountering Modernity address such concerns and collectively provide insights into Christianity’s role in the development of East Asia and as it took shape among East Asians in the United States.

The work brings together studies of Christianity in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan and its diasporas to expand the field through new angles of vision and interpretation. Its mode of analysis not only results in a deeper understanding of Christianity, but also produces more informed and nuanced histories of East Asian countries that take seriously the structures and sensibilities of religion―broadly understood and within a national and transnational context. It critically investigates how Protestant Christianity was negotiated and interpreted by individuals in Korea, China (with a brief look at Taiwan), and Japan starting in the nineteenth century as all three countries became incorporated into the global economy and the international nation-state system anchored by the West. People in East Asia from various walks of life studied and, in some cases, embraced principles of Christianity as a way to frame and make meaningful the economic, political, and social changes they experienced because of modernity.

Encountering Modernity makes a significant contribution by moving beyond issues of missiology and church history to ask how Christianity represented an encounter with modernity that set into motion tremendous changes throughout East Asia and in transnational diasporic communities in the United States.

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About the Author:

Albert L. Park is associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Modernity and the Materiality of Religion

Albert L. Park and David K. Yoo

The story of Christianity in East Asia has been told in detail and with verve, chronicling the introduction and practice of Catholicism and Protestantism in China, Japan, and Korea. The existing literature is especially rich in documenting church and missionary activities. It also relates how varied regions and cultures have translated Christian ideas, practices, and symbols. Less evident, however, are studies that contextualize Christianity within the larger economic, political, social, and cultural developments in each of the three countries and its diasporas. The contributors to Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America address such concerns and, collectively, provide insights into the role that Christianity has played in the development of the region of East Asia and among East Asians in the United States.

Scholarship in English on East Asian Christianity grew significantly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Western missionary activities increased in the area. Not surprisingly, missionaries themselves wrote the majority of these studies on Christianity through publishing houses located in various denominations and missionary-built institutions. In the first half of the twentieth century in Korea, for example, presses such as the Christian Literature Society, the Korean Religious Book and Religious Tract Society, and the Chosen Mission Presbyterian Church U.S.A. distributed journals and books such as Korea Mission Field (1905–1941), History of the Korea Mission Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (1934), and The Nevius Plan for Mission Work (1937). During the 1930s and early 1940s, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America published numerous materials on Christianity in China written by missionaries and Christian workers, such as China Missions (1937) and On the Shantung Front (1940). After 1945, books and articles on Christianity in China, Japan, and Korea were not only authored by missionaries, but also by native converts who served as pastors, educators, and lay workers in the church. For example, Arimichi Ebisawa, who was a professor of history at International Christian University in Japan, became a leading historian on Christianity in Japan through books such as Christianity in Japan (1960) and Christianity in Japan: A Bibliography of Japanese and Chinese Source (1960).1

These studies by Western missionaries and native converts to Christianity mainly centered on missiological issues and history as well as on the reception of Christian theology by natives and their church activities. Nicholas Standaert points out that the introduction of missiology as a theological discipline in the 1920s and 1930s pushed scholars to ask “whether the Chinese experience was representative of a certain missiological approach.”2 This research agenda was also applied to the examination of missionary movements in Korea and Japan. Many of these studies reviewed missionary activities in foreign settings in order to refine and further develop missionary strategies and methods. Hence, according to Standaert, in the field of Chinese Christian history, writers focused on the work and ministries of missionaries such as Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall von Bell, and Ferdinand Verbiest.3 Expanding the field of missiology further required studies on how Japanese, Korean, and Chinese converts to Christianity responded to missionary teachings and how they practiced Christianity in their local settings. Examining church activities and movements further helped refine and strengthen the mutual efforts of missionaries and East Asian Christians, contributing to an increased church membership in the three countries.

By focusing so much on the ideas and practices of missionaries and the way Christian theology was interpreted and practiced by natives, studies of Christianity in China, Korea, and Japan have failed to look at this religion within a larger historical context. Put differently, these studies have provided little insight into how Christianity as a system of ideas, practices, and institutions affected and shaped political, social, economic, and cultural structures in East Asia, and what role it played in mediating people’s everyday lives as they also experienced modernity and capitalism. Some studies on Christianity in Korea, such as the edited volume Christianity in Korea have analyzed the role the Protestant Church played in terms of Korean nationalism under Japanese colonial rule. A central focus has been how Japanese imperialism affected church activities, as in the 1937–1938 Shinto shrine controversy. Only recently, with the use of postcolonial, critical, and cultural theories and through research conducted by those outside of the church and its institutions have studies illuminated the role Christianity played in political, social, and economic developments in China, Japan, and Korea. Hyaeweol Choi’s book Gender and Mission Encounter in Korea and Kelly H. Chong’s book Deliverance and Submission are two examples of studies that have analyzed the relationship between Christianity and social structures such as gender roles. Furthermore, Ryan Dunch’s book Fuzhou Protestants and the Making of Modern China, 1859–1927, has helped expand Chinese historiography through its examination of Christian ideas and how they informed political thought and movements in modern China.5 Yet, these books represent the exception, as the scholarship on East Asian Christianity continues to focus on missionary activities and native church practices and developments.

The existing historiography, moreover, has tended to focus on a single East Asian country rather than providing a sense of how Christianity unfolded in the region. History of Christianity in Asia in two volumes by Samuel H. Moffett stands in contrast to the trend and is significant in documenting and analyzing the role of Christianity in the broad expanse of the Asian continent. Moffett provides a rich and deep history, rooted in the tradition of church history and missiology. The comparative frame employed by Moffett is less about individuals and communities and more about institutional traditions.6

Encountering Modernity contributes to the scholarship by bringing together studies of Christianity in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan and their diasporas that expand the field through new perspectives that look at how Christian ideas, practices, and institutions were adopted, translated, and practiced in relation to political, economic, social, and cultural developments in order to negotiate phenomena such as modernity. This mode of analysis not only results in a deeper understanding of Christianity, but also produces more informed and nuanced histories of East Asian countries that take seriously the structures and sensibilities of religion, broadly understood and within a national and transnational context. This volume critically investigates how Protestant Christianity was negotiated and interpreted by individuals in Korea, China (with a brief look at Taiwan), and Japan starting in the nineteenth century as all three countries became incorporated into the global economy and the international nation-state system anchored by the West. People in East Asia from various walks of life studied and, in some cases, embraced principles of Christianity as a way to frame and make meaningful the changes they experienced because of modernity.

For clarity, it is important to explain the term “modernity.” According to Raymond Williams, “modern” appeared at first “as a term more or less synonymous with ‘now’ in the late sixteenth century, and in any case used to mark the period off from medieval and ancient times.”7 More specifically, “modern” was a chronological term that denoted a new historical period starting in the middle of the fifteenth century in Europe. Several institutional features distinguished the modern period from the earlier period in history. Relying on theories and historical works by Anthony Giddens, Max Weber, Charles Tilly, and Jürgen Habermas, Kim Dong-no argues that these new institutions reshaped the political system, economic system, culture, and social relationships.8 The first new political feature of the modern period was the nation-state, which “can be defined by its centralized power structure, clearly demarcated boundaries, institutional separation between politics and other realms of everyday life (especially economy), and the monopoly of legitimate means of physical violence.”9 Second, capitalism, especially industrial capitalism, became the dominant economic system, where “mass production and mass consumption prevail for the maximization of profit as opposed to the precapitalist one dominated by the principle of subsistence.” Third, in the area of social relationships, the modern period featured the “detachment of the individual from traditional collectives” in order to shift personal loyalty to the nation-state and allow the individual to commodify his or her own labor without inference from any “supraindividual entity.” Finally, nationalism emerged as a new cultural force in the modern period, as it “enabled the horizontal integration of individuals by cross-cutting various political, economic, and social interests, thereby replacing the vertical hierarchy of traditional society.”10 The first new political feature and social interests, thereby replacing the vertical hierarchy of traditional society.”10 Urbanization and rationalization also represented prominent features of the modern period.11 Far from denying that these features may have appeared earlier in history, scholars emphasize that these elements collectively became dominant features in society that organized people’s daily lives in new and powerful ways, thus setting the modern period apart from previous historical periods.

“Modern” lost its meaning as a chronological term that simply denoted a new historical period as it became intertwined with various ideological-based processes that turned it into a normative category. Totalities of history, especially those articulated by Karl Marx and G. W. F. Hegel, configured the modern as an essential stage of history that needed to be reached in order to achieve progress and the unfolding of model personhood and society. These totalities envisioned a linear history with a beginning, middle, and end through which the goals of the respective histories were played out, and, more important, they located the origins of these historical totalities in the West. For both Hegel and Marx, these histories were universal totalities in that their goals applied not only to Westerners, but also to people and societies throughout the world. What was right for Westerners in their present and future was appropriate and right for non-Westerners because these historical totalities were presumed to be based on universal beliefs and categories. These totalities of history ultimately became the authoritative philosophies or ideologies on modernity that promised a positive progression of society.12

Framed as “truth” and what “ought” to be and backed by political and military power, theories on modernity were exported to many parts of the non-West through Western colonialism and imperialism. In particular, they forced people in East Asia to organize knowledge in a particular way and to adopt a particular ideological orientation for political, economic, and social development. In terms of the production of knowledge, there are a number of examples of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese scholars in the late nineteenth century using Hegel’s theory to dig into the past and identify which institutions and elements to eliminate or cultivate for the purpose of becoming modern. Sinologists and historians in Meiji Japan, for example, constructed new categories for historical investigation, such as Tōyō (Orient) and Shina (China), based on the epistemological framework on modern historical development found in the West. They used these categories to investigate the origins of the nation and Japan’s historical development in East Asia in order to validate its ability to become modern and ultimately lead other Asian countries to achieve modernity.13 As for ideology, a diverse group of people in East Asia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including government officials, intellectuals, and social reformers, were guided by the belief that the modern period was the highest stage of humanity and a universal phenomenon that began in the West. Therefore, in order to start the linear development toward modernity in which one stage of development led to another and ultimately ended with “catching up with the West,” proponents of modernization recognized it as necessary to adopt the “civilized and enlightened” ideas, practices, and institutions popular in the West.14 In other words, government leaders, intellectuals, and social reformers in Korea, China, and Japan pursued a process of “modernization” that included reforms such as constructing a strong central state, developing industrial capitalism, fostering nationalism, and promoting urbanization.

As a category to organize knowledge and guide practice, modernity, or more specifically multiple theories on modernity, influenced notions of the ideal form of human subjectivity and society. More than just capturing imaginations and remaining in the world of ideas, these theories pushed
intellectuals, politicians, and ordinary citizens to materially organize the world in order to reach the goal of becoming modern―a process that reshaped the political, economic, and social landscapes of East Asia. Before and after 1945, the quest to realize modernity through modernization produced effects in East Asian societies and countries that were far from the promising results guaranteed by these theories: imperialism, colonialism, war, political authoritarianism, social division, ecological ruin, and wide-ranging economic inequality. In effect, modernization has set into motion far-reaching and unanticipated changes that have extended well into the present.

Since the late nineteenth century, Protestant Christianity has been an important source and system of ideas and knowledge for intellectuals, politicians, and everyday people in Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan to help them negotiate modernity and give them meaning and direction in a changing present, especially as imperialism and colonialism have threatened their countries’ sovereignty. Protestant Christianity in East Asia, in particular, was often mediated and understood through the history and the particular cultural and social structures of a local area or a given people. Through this interaction, Protestant Christianity inspired new forms of subjectivity, visions of society, and conceptions of national identity. Moreover, new forms of Protestant Christianity emerged and took on characteristics of “new religions.” Today, Protestant Christianity has thrived in China and especially in Korea, which today is the second largest exporter of missionaries in the world.

Although the missionary legacies in East Asia have been an important part of the story, the chapters presented in this volume explore the ways in which Christianity was given shape and form by those who received i...

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