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Three— The Evolution of Critiques of Theories of Unilinear Development and the Problem of Feudalism
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Three—
The Evolution of Critiques of Theories of Unilinear Development and the Problem of Feudalism

"Modernization" Theory and the Problem of Reevaluating Feudalism

By the middle of the 1950s, it became evident that the effort to understand Chinese history in world historical terms with general categories such as slavery and serfdom had run into severe theoretical as well as empirical difficulties. This situation spawned a movement that emphasized the particularity of Chinese history. In substantive terms, this constituted a trend toward stressing the despotic nature of Chinese society and trying to find the basic class relations between the autocratic state and the masses. The perspective that saw class differentiation among the people as giving rise to fundamental class relations and thus defining the historical nature of that society began to retreat into the background. Although the new trend did not completely deny the phenomenon of class differentiation among the people, it was given a secondary, subordinate position.

Nishijima's new position was already an expression of this trend, and we should note here that this trend was rather strongly reflected in the understanding of the history of the Six Dynasties period. The historical character of Six Dynasties society was considered to be the old aristocratic system. It was thought, for example, that the Six Dynasties aristocrats existed


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in a transcendent position over state power, or rather that state power was a collegial organ of the aristocratic class, a perpetual ruling class that led society. Thus each dynasty in this era was merely a temporary power. This view of the aristocracy in Six Dynasties society appeared before the war. Needless to say, it was the position of the Kyoto school founded by Naito[*] Konan. Also, because it was based on the historical research of the Ch'ing school of textual criticism, it expressed in this sense a traditional Chinese historiographical orthodoxy.

The Kyoto school's thesis that the Six Dynasties constituted China's medieval period is based in this conception of the aristocratic system. Nishijima's earlier position understood the Six Dynasties aristocracy as a bureaucratic aristocratization of the ancient great clans, namely patriarchal slave owners. Although this conception is distant from the Kyoto school's thesis of a medieval aristocracy, they do share in the view that the Six Dynasties aristocracy was an independent class that possessed (or had once possessed) the source of power somewhere within society. Yano Chikara'saa and Ochi Shigeaki'sab theses on the Six Dynasties, which appeared around the time that Nishijima retreated from his earlier position, heralded a new trend in that they did not firmly recognize the independence of the Six Dynasties aristocracy as a class. Let us take a look at the general contours of their ideas.

Yano analyzed the economic livelihood of influential aristocrats in the Wei-Chin period. He felt that many of them had been stipendiaries of the state and that the Six Dynasties aristocrats were bureaucrats who lived off the state just as had officials in the Ch'in-Han period. They were what Max Weber called patrimonial bureaucrats, merely dependents of the sovereign. Within such a structure, this fact was the sole arena of power; and just as in the Han empire, the state was basic to the houses of the Six Dynasties. Even in the Southern Dynasties, where the aristocratic system was held in reverence, the emperor's position, Yano argued, was secure as a political absolute with respect both to individual aristocrats and the aristocratic system.

Ochi Shigeaki's view of the Six Dynasties was different in nuance from Yano's, but they were in agreement in emphasizing the parasitic-bureaucratic side of the Six Dynasties aristoc-


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racy. Ochi argued that at the same time that they possessed this bureaucratic side, the Six Dynasties literati played an independent role as socially renowned families through the Wei and Western Chin eras; from the Eastern Chin on, however, the bureaucratic side expanded until they became parasitic officials fully dependent on state power. Corresponding to this, imperial power eliminated the special privileges of the aristocratic class and moved toward a thorough, unitary, personal control.

What was the importance of Yano's and Ochi's arguments? In a word, they expressed doubts about using the aristocratic system as the historical index to the Six Dynasties era. If they could prove their point, then the entirety of Chinese history might be described with the schema of despotic power controlling the masses. If their positions are so presented, the implication is that they have assumed a negative attitude toward understanding Chinese history as developmental stages in a historical structure, such as ancient-slave or medieval-feudal society.

I have analyzed this issue elsewhere,[39] and I shall not offer an assessment here. The reason I particularly raise this notion of theirs is that it seems as though it fully tended toward the view of world history that emerged in the latter half of the 1950s. This tendency was critical of the unilinear development theories, which were the hallmark of the postwar understanding of world history, and it arose vigorously outside, rather than from within, the scholarly world of East Asian studies. Furthermore, it was not generated and circulated in Japan alone but constituted a new intellectual trend with impact on an international scale. Not merely an academic problem concerning our comprehension of Chinese history, as might be expected, it contained very serious contemporary problems directly linked to world politics. Although I do not preclude the possibility of overstepping the bounds of the issues in this section, I should like to try and give a general overview of this new trend.

One example representative of this trend was Umesao Tadao's "Bunmei no seitai shikan josetsu" (Introduction to a historical view of the forms of civilization).[40] Another would be Edwin O. Reischauer's collection of essays entitled Nihon kindai no atarashii mikata (A new approach to modern Japan).[41] Both these works dealt with questions that consumed the jour-


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nalistic world in Japan from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. Since I have already discussed elsewhere[42] the problem of how these two men understand feudalism, I shall avoid too deeply trespassing at this point on old turf. But, from the perspective of the postwar trend to conceptualize world history, both of these men's ideas were direct challenges to the unilinear development theories that had held a dominant position until then in the Japanese academic world.

For example, Ueyama Shumpeiac had earlier expressed dissatisfaction with the conception of unilinear development current among Marxists (the view that the developmental process of human society was a one-lane road from primitive communism, to slavery, to feudalism, through capitalism, and then to socialism); and he sought the possibility for harmony between the Marxist world view and a multiform view of history.[43] When Umesao proposed his thesis advocating a multiform conception of history, he praised Ueyama's idea and called for Marxists to accept it.

Beside the historical course within civilization—Umesao's "first zone"—which followed exactly the stages from antiquity to medieval times (feudalism) to modernity (capitalism), Umesao posited the existence within civilization of a "second zone," in which this spontaneous succession did not transpire. The latter was the zone in which ancient civilization originally flourished; and, the rise of the ancient state in the first zone was due to the spread of ancient civilization into the second zone—merely its imitation. However, although the second zone caused the emergence of feudalism in the first zone and was linked to the generation of modernity later, it showed no conspicuous historical development because huge despotic empires continued to rise and fall. Thus, without a distinctive historical stage of feudalism being clearly demarcated, the second zone stumbled and fell along the wayside in the modernization process of world history. This modernization effort showed a marked trend toward the building of a sense of group along communistic or socialistic lines, not to be accomplished by the bourgeoisie, as in the first zone, but by a government replete with strong political leaders.

According to Umesao, the countries of Western Europe and Japan belonged to the first zone, and the unilinear conception


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of historical development was applicable only to the societies in this zone. Societies of the second zone, which constituted an enormous part of the world, followed a different historical development. Very briefly, they would travel directly from antiquity to socialist (or communist) modernity.

ZONE ONE. Antiquity ® Medieval Era (feudalism) ® Modernity (capitalism)
ZONE TWO. Antiquity ® Modernity (socialism)

Antiquity in zone one was a copy of antiquity in zone two, but modernity in zone two was a "false form" of modernity in zone one. The dividing line between real modernity and fake modernity lay in the important point of whether or not the society had experienced a feudal-medieval period.

Thus, in the final analysis, feudalism was a precondition for genuine modernity. I have investigated the view of history inherent in Reischauer's schema of "feudalism ® modernization,"[44] and within those limits Umesao and Reischauer are thoroughly consistent. Yet, on this linkage between feudalism and modernization, although Umesao's description of the actual circumstances is stronger, Reischauer explains in depth the logical links between the two conceptions to form a coherent theoretical system.

One of the main pillars of Reischauer's argument was a comparative historiographic analogy between Japanese and Chinese society. Why was it that while Japan had been responsive to the problems of modernization, China had responded sluggishly? It was not, he argued, because of a difference in historical stages between the two countries, as the Marxists suggested. One was a feudal state, the other a state where power was centralized, with qualitatively different social structures. China's advanced bureaucratic system had once been a model for European states in the period of absolutism, and the egalitarianism supporting this bureaucracy would seem a rather easy means to ensure the modernization of China. In spite of this, her lateness to modernization was due to the very state structure of China.

China's high level of civilization, Reischauer went on, gave rise to a sinocentrism because of which she disdained absorbing foreign knowledge. Her unitary, centralized power structure


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hampered an efficacious response to Western learning and might. The egalitarianism central to Chinese society guaranteed to the people an equality for success in life; and because of this, China retained the bureaucratic system rather than moving toward an intention-oriented ethic, as in Japan. As a result, new undertakings for wealth and fame were blocked in their development as private enterprises and tended to be fully absorbed into state enterprises. Thus, China's tardiness to modernization was not due to a low level of civilization or laggard social development, but to a state structure that had developed to a high level. This state structure can be expressed as despotism and it stood in parallel to feudalism.

Reischauer's position was not uniquely his but rather a result of the research of the American "modernization" group with which he was associated. "Modernization" theory has been analyzed in a number of publications,[45] which argue that the unfolding of "modernization" theory was fundamentally linked both directly and indirectly to America's international policies in the postwar period, particularly from the 1950s. America's policy of "containment" of the socialist countries, begun shortly after the war, included economic aid to backward countries outside the socialist camp, but this "containment" policy, they argue, ended in failure. Beginning with the birth of a new China in 1949, independence for the peoples of former colonies was achieved with tempestuous momentum.

America's economic aid plan, the critics go on, confronted this flood tide by merely sending capital goods and technology and by forging a bond between these items and the local labor power, but it was too late. American policy could not rouse the development of the self-regulating economies of the backward countries with material and technological essentials alone. Reflection on this economic aid formula led to a profoundly felt need for "regional studies" that would encompass non-economic elements, and comprehensive scholarly research was promoted by collaboration between the various disciplines of economics, history, political science, and cultural anthropology. This eventually set the tone for American foreign policy.

"Modernization" theory, linked in this overall way to "regional studies," had the political aim of guarding the newly risen states from the attractive power of the socialist camp and trying


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to join them to the free world. In order to promote economic growth in the newly risen states where bourgeois influence was weak, state power had to play a large role, and thus these states were liable to incline toward the socialist camp. The problem for American interests lay in what possibility existed to redirect these nations toward the capitalist camp.

The categories of "capitalism" and "socialism" in "modernization" theory that was seeking a solution to this question were not different stages of development, as Marxism argued, but two distinct forms of modernization. Modernization, as it was used, meant primarily industrialization. The development of human society was a leap from preindustrial (traditional) to industrial society, and this transition was the decisive turning point in establishing the nature of each civilized society. In this sense, "capitalism" and "socialism" were merely two discrete models of industrialization. "Modernization" theory, as so conceived, sought to encompass the various societies of the peoples of the world with a generalization based on the equivalence of modernization and industrialization. Thus, all societies were capable of reaching this stage, and it was a question of secondary importance whether they took the capitalist route or the socialist route.

Considered in this framework, "capitalism" or "socialism" become a relative issue, not the Marxist path of progress from capitalism to socialism. Not only this, argued the "modernization" theorists, but also from the perspective that modernization was industrialization, capitalist modernization (as the spontaneous typical course for this) gained dominance over the socialist variety. For, while in the former the individual's freedom was guaranteed, the latter was premised on an unnatural system—"totalitarianism."

Thus, while accepting the equivalence of modernization and industrialization in human society as a general rule, "modernization" theory advocated taking the capitalist route as the ideal form. Wada Haruki distinguished this view—dubbed "contemporary modernization theory"—from "classical modernization theory," which had considered "free, democratic, Western society" as the ideal. According to Wada, one difference between these two modes of thought was that the "classical" variety emerged in such underdeveloped capitalist countries as


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Russia and Japan and in conjunction with the political task of overcoming backwardness, whereas "contemporary modernization theory" grew out of America's international orientation of opposition to revolution. He argued that while the former sought certain theoretical underpinnings in Marxist theory, the latter set out explicitly from a position critical of Marxism. Despite these historical differences cited by Wada, both sides clearly shared a Europocentric position.

It is evident that this conception of "modernization" theory offered high praise for Japan's modernization and was politically linked to Japan's place in American policy. And, in the academic world, there was high praise particularly for the Tokugawa feudal system and the Meiji Restoration. It is well known that "modernization" theorists produced energetic studies in this area, and these studies led to the convening of the Japan-United States Hakone Conference (August–September 1960). This event brought to our attention the commencement of a new era in American-Japanese relations following the revision of the Security Treaty. Professor Reischauer, who would subsequently become American ambassador to Japan, naturally attended the conference.

Because Reischauer's thesis was formulated and expressed with this background, he was inundated with criticism from Japanese Marxist historians. The critique went along a variety of lines, including: 1) an identification of and attack on the nature of Reischauer's thesis as the ideology of imperialism; and 2) an attack on the point that his view of history ignored the role of the people in history (in his conception of feudalism, serfdom was ignored in the definition of the feudal system).

The first argument was made by the late Horigome Yozo[*] in his essay, "Hokensei[*] saihyoka[*] e no shiron" (A reevaluation of feudalism).[46] He called for a critical attitude toward politics and noted that the problem of the feudalism-modernization connection central to Reischauer's position was not Reischauer's own innovation but was based on a notion current in Western scholarly circles. I myself am in agreement with this last point and have attempted an investigation of Reischauer's thesis—or perhaps better referred to as an investigation of how to establish a critical position.[47] To go beyond Reischauer's thesis, or "modernization" theory itself, requires in-depth


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study of the conception of feudalism. In this sense, I hesitate to say if the second criticism has yet been anchored in firm scholarly work.

Reischauer did not see feudalism as a general phenomenon in world history but as a distinct social system of peoples who shared the experience of having lived under the specific conditions of feudalism. The following points enable us to say that this conception of feudalism was not Reischauer's creation alone. In 1950 a joint research project on feudal systems was carried out at Princeton University. Papers were prepared by specialists on feudalism in eight regional areas—Western Europe, Japan, China, ancient Mesopotamia and Iran, ancient Egypt, India, Byzantium, and Russia—and Reischauer was responsible for the Japan portion. The essays were edited and published by Rushton Coulborn in the volume Feudalism in History.[48]

In his review of the book, Masubuchi Tatsuo[49] describes Coulborn's summary presentation concerning the formation of feudalism as follows. Feudalism does not necessarily arise anywhere after the collapse of an ancient empire. It is a phenomenon seen in the marginal territories of an empire, and in the more central areas order is reestablished by following a different route. Thus, an empire is restored by a revival of the centralized bureaucratic system itself. Concrete examples of states that became feudal are Western Europe and Japan, whereas the Byzantine empire, which inherited the Roman empire, is offered as an example of a revival of an ancient empire. In China as well, we see the succession, after the collapse of the Han empire, of temporary disunion, then the Sui-T'ang empire, and then the centralized empire from the Sung onward. Indeed, there was a tendency toward regional independence for a while in the Southern Dynasties, but this was a false feudalism, merely a temporary phenomenon when seen from the overall perspective.

While commenting on Coulborn's overview, Masubuchi claims that this conceptualization was borrowed from the work of the German medievalist Otto Hinze. In Hinze's usage, "feudalism" is an irregular form in the normal historical course from clan to state and from there to despotic empire. When a young race, having just shaken free of the clan system, is swayed from


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this normal process of development by contact with a highly civilized empire in a state of decline, the result is feudalism, according to Hinze.

In citing feudalism as one of the two possible routes following the collapse of an ancient empire, Reischauer, Coulborn, and Hinze all agree. Furthermore, as I will discuss shortly, Karl Wittfogel's conception of feudalism is fully consistent with theirs in this regard. And what is more, it seems to me that Ishimoda Sho[*] 's notion of feudalism, as expressed in his book Chusei[*] teki sekai no keisei, and that of Kato[*] Shigeshi from his prewar essay, "Shina to bushi kaikyu[*] ," both discussed earlier, contained very similar conceptions to these. Ishimoda later altered his approach to the two paths, so that it was two paths toward feudalism; and he went further to stress the common points of these two as feudal systems. But, as I have already detailed, this tendency ran into difficulties. Just when the position of unilinear development theories was beginning to be undermined, multilinear theses (which the unilinear theories intended to surmount) were taking up the very same problem of feudalism and returning it to center stage.

Conceptions of Feudalism in Western Academic Circles and China's Autocratic Society

The theoretical origins of the conception of feudalism held by "modernization" theorists were by no means superficial. As Horigome noted, they go back to Max Weber's theories. Weber's view that feudalism was a degenerated form of patrimonial bureaucracy is well known. He argued that the centralized patrimonial bureaucracy in which the sovereign concentrates power in his own hands runs into difficulty maintaining itself in pure form and thus continually tends toward a personal, status system of patrimony that offers officialdom considerable independence. The extreme form of this is feudalism, and Weber distinguishes nonhereditary Pfründe (beneficiary) feudalism and hereditary Lehn (investiture) feudalism. Although the former has not yet been able to shed its patrimonial bureaucratic attributes completely, the latter has. Thus, Lehn feudalism consists of a loyalty bond, as its spiritual foundation, which links a specific sovereign to a specific vassal; it is


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never a one-sided relationship, but rather a contractual bond between two parties. While Pfründe feudalism's main principle of control is the vassal's official duty (Pietät, piety) to the sovereign, fidelity (Treue ) is appended to the principle of Lehn. As Weber put it: "Lehn feudalism is an extreme case of the patrimonial structure."[50]

Lehn feudalism, according to Weber, was a particular feudal system seen only in medieval Europe. Or, rather, the particular form of feudalism known as Lehn was distinguished when Weber inserted the historical premise that the dominant pattern that had given rise to capitalist modernity was European society. This is clear from Weber's statement about the relationship between feudalism and modern capitalism. He noted that although feudalism possessed the proclivity to obstruct the development of modern capitalism—through investment in land as property, or suppression by traditionalism, and so on—the great security that the feudal legal order held compared with the patrimonial state could provide an advantageous element for capitalist development. The opportunity for an individual to acquire property through random chance, as under the patrimonial state, disappeared. But, for that very reason, feudalism became advantageous to the establishment of the rational structure of capitalism itself.

Because in medieval Europe there was no accumulation of wealth in the dependency relations of the patrimonial state, as there was with officials and state-authorized merchants in the Orient, China, and Russia, capital flowed to purely non-official profit channels in the form of wholesale domestic industry and manufacture. Also, the more the feudal stratum shut off new wealth from playing a role in officialdom and political power, and prevented it from acquiring control over the aristocracy, the more it forced new wealth into purely urban capitalist use.

This all points to what Reischauer called intention-orientation. The opposition he set up was between feudal Japan's intention-orientation and the bureaucratic Chinese status-orientation. In Weber as well, China is cited as one of the prototypes of a patrimonial bureaucratic state together with ancient Egypt. The developed bureaucratic system was furnished with a rationality making it capable, at a glance. of passing for a modern bureaucracy. However, in matters involving its con-


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tent and basic principles, it could not transcend the bounds of the traditional ruling form. In a word, it had reached the apex of the patrimonial bureaucracy. Although the formal modernity it possessed seemed to have complied without question with the development toward modern capitalism, in fact this made its actual compliance difficult. The reason was that the rationality that this formal modernity imitated was in essence a one-sided, top-down, false rationality that could not go beyond the patrimonial bureaucratic framework.

What separated European from non-European states was whether or not the principle of rule was truly one of loyalty, based on a contract, and hence legal. However darkly colored by what seemed to be the appearance of feudalism, however firmly recognizable the telltale signs of capitalism might seem, if the substance of this principle of rule was missing, there was neither a true feudalism nor a truly modern society. Thus, "feudalism" and "modernization" emerge as categories linked by a logical necessity, and Western European society became that historical society in which this linkage could be understood. In this sense, Western European society was what Weber had in mind.

How then did Weber understand Japanese society? My knowledge is extremely limited in this area, but I believe what I have to say to be credible. Weber argues that the basic character of Lehn feudalism lay in its amalgamation of personal fidelity bonds originating in the "duty" (Pietät ) of the retainer system together with their accompanying beneficium. Although Japanese feudalism did have the idea of a personal retainer's "duty," it lacked the manorial lord structure of beneficium. For instance, what daimyos were entrusted with by the shogun was Amt (official position), not Lehn (feudal tenure). Also, the daimyo obeyed perforce the shogun's unilateral orders to change fiefs. The daimyo's retainers were not feudal servants of the Lehn type but Pfründe recipients of rice stipends. Thus, Japanese feudalism did not constitute a full-fledged Lehn feudal system. Nonetheless, Weber continues, a contractual legal bond offered a much more powerful basis for nurturing individualism (in the Western sense of the word) than did China's theocracy. Although Japan had been unable to generate the spirit of capitalism from within herself, she was able to adopt


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foreign capitalism with comparative ease. Weber also argues that the link between honor and loyalty are found only in the Western Lehn feudalism and in the Japanese Gefolgschaft (client) feudalism.

Thus, we find in Weber's view as well that feudalism—to the extent that it is genuine—carries with it the theoretical assumption of modernization; and thus, only Western European society or its equivalent, Japanese society, was equipped with this precondition and the process resulting from it. This structure is consistent with the theoretical structure of "modernization" theory. Although the two are not identical in thought, there is no doubt that the "feudalism-modernization" thesis of "modernization" theory relies to a considerable extent on Weber's sociology.

The influence exercised by Weber's comparative historical method on historical theory today is immeasurable. It has become the theoretical fount for "modernization" theory. I would also like to show how close Weber's structure was, particularly on the issue of feudalism, to the conceptions of China of two European-born historians, Étienne Balazs and Karl Wittfogel, both of whom presented incisive analyses of Chinese society.

A Hungarian-born sinologist, Étienne Balazs (1905–1963) studied primarily the society, economy, thought, and literature of the Six Dynasties, Sui, and T'ang periods, but his many writings have a breadth of vision covering the long range of Chinese history. A number of his essays were collected in Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy.[51] The central issue raised in these essays was the conditions under which China had been able to sustain an imperial government for over two thousand years from the third century B.C. into the twentieth century. Balazs was also interested in the links between traditional Chinese society and post-1949 China. He claimed that it was the bureaucracy that gave Chinese society the quality of homeostasis. In the imperial period, the structure of Chinese society was a self-sufficient agriculture at the social base and a totalitarian state administering it. State bureaucrats were scholar-officials from the gentry class. It was not landownership that bestowed social position and influence upon the gentry; nor was it the hereditary passage of position or influence.


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Rather, it was the administrative control function that this group performed in society. Their becoming officials was the manifestation of this function.

In this way, the bond between the state and the self-sufficient peasant village was formed through the intermediary of the bureaucracy. Since state power was considered omnipotent, this bond produced characteristics of totalitarianism, such as a reigns of terror, repression of private entrepreneurial development, and a desire among officials to avoid responsibility. Confucianism, Balazs went on, provided the ideological means used to support this system. There were indeed movements to reject or oppose this structure. Taoism's mystical idea of a return to nature, as opposed to the political conservatism of "rationalistic" Confucianism, captured people's desire to deny contemporary realities. Often this merged with peasant rebellions to topple a dynasty.

Although these popular uprisings were tinged with revolutionary coloring, Balazs felt that they could not fundamentally negate the traditional Chinese system. Rather, they ended with a repetition of the destruction and reconstruction of the traditional system that had reproduced itself into modern times.

Only when she faced an invasion by modern European powers did China reach the stage of social revolution (in a substantive sense). Balazs, however, saw the successful modern Chinese revolution as analogous to traditional bureaucratic society. In China, he argued, where the overwhelming majority of the population were poor peasants and the formation of a bourgeois class was weak, the intellectuals replaced the bourgeoisie in leading the revolution. The party bureaucrats who, as a result of the revolution, directed Chinese socialism—Balazs called it state capitalism—were comparable to the scholar-officials of the imperial era. The economy was controlled by the power of the state; state farms, for example, he likened to farming on garrison lands in the earlier period.

Thus, Balazs considered Chinese socialism a contemporary edition of the old bureaucratic state and stressed its totalitarian flavor. He pessimistically foresaw the trend toward totalitarianism—namely, bureaucratic, technocratic state control—covering the entire world, including the advanced


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nations of the West as well as the backward states that had formerly been colonies.

In Balazs' understanding, the permanent quality of Chinese society revolved around the "bureaucracy." He was forced to draw the conclusion that from the inauguration of the imperial system China had never in her history experienced feudalis—mat least, it had never been effectively put into practice. Balazs argued that the Chinese Communists had dispensed with Marx's original four-stage schema (Asiatic society, classical slave society, medieval feudal society, and modern capitalist society), and in its place, with a schema borrowed from "vulgar Marxism," they had become adept at calling "feudal" everything that transpired between the "slave society" of ancient China and 1949. Thus, Balazs argued, this all-inclusive "feudalism" only led to a confusion in understanding. Not that China's bureaucratic society wholely lacked feudal elements, but in his view the principal ruling class in society had remained the scholar-officials, and they were not the great landowners truly befitting the station of a feudal class.

It should be clear from this brief summary that Balazs' conception of Chinese society resembled Weber's. In fact, according to Muramatsu Yuji[*] ,[52] Balazs was heavily influenced in the theoretical area by Weber's work because he had studied sinology under Otto Franke. It is safe to say that Balazs' research on China sought to offer concrete cases for Weber's ideas about China. At the same time, he undeniably shared many points in common with the view of China offered by American "modernization" theory. If there was any difference between them, it would be that "modernization"' theory pinned its policy hopes on the modernization of the peoples of the world along the lines of the "free world," whereas Balazs was apprehensive about the threat of totalitarianism hanging over the future of the world. This may reveal his European liberalism, but the two fundamentally shared in the view that understood Chinese society negatively, be it as a bureaucratic or a totalitarian state.[53]

Karl A. Wittfogel is also a sinologist in the Weberian strain. According to his own recollections, Wittfogel began his work on the distinctiveness of the hydraulic society and the state under Weber's influence in the winter of 1922–23. In 1924 he


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began to cite the work of both Weber and Marx.[54] His study of hydraulic society was apparently constructed by laying Weber's sociological theory and Marx's view of the Asiatic mode of production on top of each other. There is clearly no need to rehearse the famous thesis of Wittfogel's book. Here I shall select several statements concerning the issue under analysis from Oriental Despotism, Wittfogel's comprehensive treatment of hydraulic society.

In his "Introduction," Wittfogel describes the significance of his own research on Oriental despotic society. Studies of Oriental society flourished in the age of European absolutism, but concerns shifted to other problems in the middle of the nineteenth century, the age of industrial capitalism. Although it had been hoped that liberalism would be realized at that time, total power, far from being eliminated, expanded gradually, and this revived interest in the historical experience of despotic rule. Thus, a thorough analysis of Oriental society became necessary once again.

According to Wittfogel, Oriental society is more appropriately called "hydraulic society." Marx and Engels called it the Asiatic mode of production, and hence originally argued for a two-tracked mechanism for the development of societies. Later Marxists peddled a unilinear theory under Marx's name. A representative case would be Soviet scholars of East Asia who, for political reasons, denied the existence of an Asiatic mode of production. Thus, Wittfogel claims, they tried to conceal the bureaucratic essence of the Soviet Union's new totalitarian control—a modern edition of Oriental despotism.

Beginning with the category of "hydraulic society" (a society with irrigated agriculture under large-scale governmental direction), Wittfogel offers an analysis of the functions performed by the Oriental despotic state in every area from politics to the economy to culture. But, as is clear from this formulation, it is not only applicable to traditional Oriental society but also points toward a universal pattern covering all "totalitarian" states, be they ancient, modern, East, or West. He notes that his comparative historical analysis is based firmly in the work of American cultural anthropologists and is the result of making free use of extremely rich and widely varied sources.

The pattern of the totalitarian hydraulic state drawn by


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Wittfogel shares many points in its larger framework with the views of other scholars noted earlier, such as in their discussions of China, to say the least. In describing the peculiar structure and nature of Chinese society, Wittfogel often adopts the method of comparing and contrasting it with classical antiquity and medieval Europe. Needless to say, this method is closely tied to Wittfogel's understanding of the two-tracked mechanism of world history.

What then is Wittfogel's interpretation of Japanese society? Japan, he argues, is part of the Asian mainland, and Japanese civilization bears the same traits as China and India. Furthermore, the Japanese had developed the most ingenious system of irrigated agriculture in human history. Despite all this, Japan was never hydraulic. Because of her topography, water utilization in Japan did not take an all-inclusive (hydraulic) form but rather a decentralized (hydraulic agricultural) form. It did not necessitate large-scale public works under government control, and it was administered by local managers.

These conditions for water usage, argues Wittfogel, bequeathed Japan the nature of her historical development. State policy for the establishment of a centralized bureaucracy, attempted at the time of the Taika Reforms, did not take root in Japanese society. The shift of a bureaucratic stratum into hereditary landowners and the adoption of a system of primogeniture put Japan on the road to feudalism. Medieval Japanese society was not centralized and was based on wealth. And, it was one step closer to the European feudal order than was the Chinese hydraulic pattern. The absolutist centralization of power in the hands of the government, which characterized the Edo period, was also one step closer to European absolutism, rather than an expression of Oriental despotism.

Wittfogel never denied that an Oriental character can be seen in Japanese institutions and thought. He points out that the demand for absolute obedience to the feudal lord may not be unrelated to the quasi-hydraulic nature of Japan's irrigated agriculture. Furthermore, he argues, the fact that the mode of thought of the ruling class was based on Confucianism and revered the culture of the written Chinese language is linked in one respect to the Chinese principle of a civil officialdom. In recognizing the Oriental aspect of Japanese society and simulta-


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neously stressing its closeness to Europe, Wittfogel seems to have been influenced by Weber's conceptions.

A certain shared pattern is evident in the views of scholars who have supported a manifold structure to world history, as we have noted in these pages. They interpret world civilization by dividing it into two types centering on the feudal social system. One is the civilization that has experienced feudalism in the classical sense; the other is the civilization that has not produced it. Although the cradle of civilization of the ancient world first appeared in the latter, eventually it spread to areas on its periphery, overcame them, and finally gave birth to the feudal civilization of the former. Whereas the former followed a self-generative development toward modern capitalist society, the latter was unable to generate a further epochal evolution from the social structure of ancient civilization that had matured quite early. It was reorganized under conditions brought about by world capitalism by preserving its essence as a centralized bureaucratic society. While it may have become a colony and may have realized a socialist revolution, it could not, in either case, escape the status of a backward country. Resolution of this contradiction necessitated the reconstruction of the bureaucratic state under a new guise.

This conception of world history is based on the ideal of liberalism, a point shared by all the authors. Feudalism in their view is not simply a form of society, but a particular mode of human cohesion that gives rise in its pure form to a bilateral, contractual, lord-vassal bond. It overcomes the unilateral, absolutist relationship of the ancient bureaucracy and guarantees human freedom under customary law. The historical and theoretical link between feudalism and self-generating modernization can be found here. By contrast, bureaucratic society either remains ancient or pursues modernizing development through socialism—in short, "an unfree world."

This conception of world history naturally includes a critique of the unilinear development thesis of the Marxist camp. As we have seen, however, according to both Balazs and Wittfogel, originally Marx and Engels had never advocated a unilinear understanding of world history themselves. They agreed that the Asiatic mode of production and stages of European history were set up as two distinct conceptions. If this is true, then the


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issue of the correctness of a unilinear development theory is left unsatisfied by Marxism or bourgeois liberalism alone. The host of problems involved here will be the subject of the next section.

The Revival of the Theory of the Asiatic Mode of Production and the Problem of Feudalism

The debate over the Asiatic mode of production, which receded in the 1930s, has recaptured an international vigor over the past ten years. It has become widely known in Japan through such works as Ajia teki seisan yoshiki[*] no mondai (Problems concerning the Asiatic mode of production), edited and translated by Honda Kiyoji; and Ajia teki seisan yoshiki ronso[*] no fukkatsu: Sekai shi no kihon hosoku[*] no saikento[*] (The revival of the debate over the Asiatic mode of production: A reinvestigation of the basic laws of world history), edited and translated by Fukutomi Masami.[55] I should like to discuss here how the revival of this debate is connected to the issue of feudalism, which remains the problem under analysis. The circumstances surrounding the revival of the debate have been detailed in a host of books and require no further explanation save a general description of the contours of the controversy.

The debate over the Asiatic mode of production arose in the 1920s, primarily over the problem of strategies to follow in the Chinese revolution. With the Leningrad Conference of 1931, Soviet scholars tended to deny theoretically as well as from the historical evidence that Marx's conception of the Asiatic mode rendered it a separate mode of production. Examples from the past stipulated as the Asiatic mode were now considered Asiatic forms of feudalism; and the theory that the social structure of slavery had existed in ancient Asia as well now became quite influential.

The denial of the notion of the Asiatic mode was not necessarily the result of scholarly investigation but reflected potent political objectives. Under Stalin's personal directive, theorists of the Asiatic mode were labeled Trotskyists. With this background, Stalin published in 1939 his "Dialectical and Historical Materialism," in which he stated as a law that human history traveled through five stages: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. Thus, if historical facts


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failed to comply with this formula, the facts were deemed anomalous. This dogmatism, which stressed the formula over the facts, constituted the system of world history in the socialist camp with the political support of Stalinism.

Not until the early 1950s was this officially authorized system torn down. The "thaw" over the issue of the Asiatic mode in the Soviet Union actually began in the 1960s. As is well known, the issue was raised again by French Marxist historians at this juncture: in 1964–65, the journal La Pensée ran special numbers devoted to the "Asiatic mode of production." Another indication of this change in circumstance occurred at the same time with the publication of Ocherki po problemam politekonomii kapitalizma (Outlines of political and economic problems of capitalism) by the Soviet economist Eugen Varga.[56] In this book, Varga indicted the history that had obliterated the Asiatic mode of production from discussion and proclaimed that the time had come to restore the reputation befitting this theory.

At the end of 1964, a debate over the Asiatic mode was begun in the various institutes under the umbrella of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Noteworthy is that the areas debated concerned not only the investigation of concepts but also of problems involving the structural formation of societies and the periodization of world history, as well as many other questions of basic theory. This entailed a reexamination of the image of world history provided by Stalin's formula, and here the problem of feudalism in Asian society came into focus. I should like to look now at the issues that emerged in the process of this debate, with the aid of the collections of translations by Honda and Fukotomi cited earlier in this section.

Jean Chesneaux, a French Marxist who played an important role in reopening the debate, cited three essential elements as practical incentives for returning serious attention to the Asiatic mode of production.[57] They were: (1) the world-historical events of the liberation of the peoples of Asian and African countries after the Second World War and their actual political and social development; (2) the spectacular advances in recent knowledge of the history of the non-European world; and (3) the emergence of the need for a theoretical battle against Marxist apostates and revisionists—Wittfogel was mentioned as a representative example. I shall examine below how these


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three were linked. In sum, the appearance of such a state of affairs was sufficient inducement to reinstate investigation of the Asiatic mode as the basis for penetrating research into the history of the non-European world.

Concretely, this state of affairs raised scholarly problems, such as the following: "Classical Marxist concepts, particularly those of slavery and feudalism, may not necessarily be fully applicable in the efforts to analyze non-European societies or at least certain elements in them."[58] Chesneaux raised the cases of Africa, India, Vietnam, and ancient Egypt as regions already of awakened to this sort of reexamination; and he introduced with high praise the work of the Hungarian sinologist Ferenc Tökei, Sur le mode de production asiatique.[59] Tökei argued the existence of the Asiatic mode in Chou dynasty China. Chesneaux was thoroughly dissatisfied with the way contemporary China interpreted her own history. "They look simplistically for the same stages in Chinese history as in European history, with feudalism following slavery. The distinctive East Asian qualities of slave or feudal society are not addressed. Not one basic fact comparable to the existence of a distinctive Mandarin state bureaucracy has been the subject of a really penetrating independent analysis."[60] Chesneaux's evaluation is liable to oversimplify the trends among Chinese historians, but he stated his position on this issue rather clearly here.

When we assign a stage for the Asiatic mode of production to a specific civilized society, then what is to be foreseen in the history of these societies as a whole? This leads to complications and difficulties inconceivable under Stalin's unilinear theory. There is the danger, of which Chesneaux was aware, that the Asiatic mode will be linked to the notion of stagnation. In order to overcome this fear, he had to clarify the stage into which the Asiatic mode would evolve. Chesneaux predicted the possibility of a course from the Asiatic mode of production to a feudal mode of production. He defined the Asiatic mode as: "the combination of the productive activities of the village communities with the economic participation of state authority which simultaneously controlled these communities and exploited them."[61] He argued that the evolution from this social structure to the feudal stage may be achieved by the expansion of private ownership of the land, and he devoted his attention with


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respect to China to the development of private landholding from the Han dynasty.

Chesneaux, however, did not have full confidence in this course. He argued that although Asian societies have headed toward a kind of feudalism, it could not produce anything except the sprouts of capitalism, and this feudalism (whether "genuine" or not) soon withered away. Thus, as Tökei and others noted, until the invasion of European capitalism in the nineteenth century, the various Asian societies essentially held firm in their perpetuity.

This skeptical statement implied that Chesneaux did not firmly believe in the notion of an evolution from the Asiatic to the feudal mode. Chesneaux's basic intent, as he stressed time and again, was not to raise any conclusive arguments in a hasty fashion, but to appeal for the need to develop overall research inquiries liberated from the formulaic dogmatism of the past and based upon new, contemporary knowledge. In place of the dogmatism of the universality of slavery and feudalism, he asserted, we must not bring forth a new dogmatism of the universality of the Asiatic mode of production.

One member of the group that participated with Chesneaux in the revival of discussion concerning the Asiatic mode of production was Roger Garaudy. His book, Le problème chinois,[62] also rejected the "dogmatic schema" that all human societies passed through the five stages of primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism; and he claimed that China had never experienced the slave mode of production. The prototypical slave system, he argued, flourished only in Mediterranean civilizations, whereas in China, as Tökei and others had noted, the Asiatic mode of production dominated society in the Shang-Chou period. From the Han dynasty on, the Asiatic mode in its prototypical form had ceased to exist, because the lack of private ownership (one of the basic features of this mode of production) disappeared owing to the privatization of land and the accumulation of slaves. After the Asiatic mode, the feudal mode of production arrived, but it was stamped with the remnants of the Asiatic mode and bequeathed a distinctiveness to Chinese feudalism.

Hence, Chinese feudal ownership in land, in Garaudy's view, was tied to the special privileges of the imperial bureaucrats, a


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sort of bureaucratic feudalism. It differed immensely from the "pure feudalism" (of Europe) where the feudal lord was a direct recipient of rent paid in labor; and where all state functions, such as the military and the judicial system, were provided. The transition to capitalism that European feudalism achieved by inheriting the commodity economy of classical slavery could not be brought about with this kind of feudalism. Sprouts of capitalism, cropping up here and there, could not avoid a stage of mercantilism under state control. Rich merchants, intent on entering the official class, made the formation of a bourgeois class impossible.

In the final analysis, Garaudy's view was able to synthesize the schema of the Asiatic mode of production leading to a distinctive Chinese feudalism. As noted previously, he did not see this "feudalism" developing into modern capitalism—in this regard, he shared elements with various comparative historians who were of a liberal bent.

A free expression of views not confined to old models can be seen in the debate among Soviet historians that was touched off by the new arguments in France. According to L.V. Danilova's summary[63] of the disputation in the Institute of Philosophy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, many theoretical issues (far beyond expectations) were raised at the symposium inaugurated by an investigation of Varga's work, such as issues concerning social structure and the periodization of world history. The relationship between the concept of the Asiatic mode of production and Marx, as well as the validity of this concept, were considered; and two opposing viewpoints emerged over whether to take the concept seriously. This issue was naturally linked to the problem of the structures of class societies.

One view strongly put forward was that the earlier official theory (slavery ® feudalism ® capitalism) failed to accord with the realities of the vast majority of the peoples of the world—although they had known slavery as a form of exploitation, they had not experienced it in the structural form of slavery. This view vigorously repudiated the earlier official theory that had disavowed the concept of the Asiatic mode and recognized the existence of a slave stage in various non-European regions. This not only involved an interpretation of Asian history but was also tied to a systematic understanding of world history.


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There was also the view that the unilinear development theory was applicable only in the Mediterranean world and was doubtful for the whole of mankind. Of course, there were opposing arguments, but, as Danilova noted, the need for a reinvestigation of the three-stage periodization that had previously been taken for granted was affirmed by the majority of participants.

The contested points expanded to include problems of early class societies as well as methodological issues. The latter in particular gave rise to a view that sought to underline geography as a constituent element of productive capacity and a basis for simplistic developmental theories. Another position that became the object of argumentation saw the role played by the state in the later primitive period as achieving the function of organizer of social production, rather than as the instrument of violence for class rule. In this view can be seen an argument indicating the transition from a theory of slavery to one of the Asiatic mode of production. This also pointed to a revival of general interest in theories of the state.

Thus, the reopening of the debate on the Asiatic mode of production in the Soviet Union led to a recognition of the need for a reexamination of the established concepts concerning the development of human history. Summarizing their work, including that of the Chesneaux and the French Marxists, Soviet historians cast grave doubts on the earlier unilinear theory of development. As noted previously, the critique of the unilinear Marxist theory first raised in the liberal camp by American "modernization" theorists eventually caught fire within the Marxist camp as well. Despite their ideological differences, both sides shared a certain common objective.

What happened to bring this about? Perhaps Chesneaux's statement, cited earlier, is suggestive here. He pointed to the actual liberation and development of the peoples of non-European, underdeveloped nations after the Second World War as the first occasion for the revival of the debate on the Asiatic mode. If Marxism proved truly incapable of grasping the realities of world history, Chesneaux argued, then this was nothing short of self-immolation for Marxism. These new realities, with the strains they imposed on theory, worked the same way on the liberal camp, whose main force was in Amer-


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ica. Without a theoretical grasp of these realities, decisions on world policy were impossible.

The question of how to go about understanding the historical structure of these newly risen peoples, considered the "casting vote" for contemporary world history, formed one aspect of the competitive struggle between the two camps. As one of the motives for the revival of debate on the Asiatic mode, Chesneaux pointed to the need for an unmitigated theoretical struggle against Marxist renegades and revisionists. This problem was not only for "defectors" from Marxism, however, for it could equally be applied to the entire ideology of the liberal camp.

In any case, the belatedness of the Marxists was clearly undeniable. There was a discrepancy of five to ten years, for example, between the formulation of "modernization" theory and the rehabilitation of the theory of the Asiatic mode of production. In terms of theoretical content as well, the former distinguished Europe (and Japan) from the non-European world, and offered a multilinear system of world history, while the latter, perhaps saving its strength for the battle with dogmatism, remained far from systematization. A more essential question, however, has not been mentioned. The intellectual origins of the former lay in a modernism whose main feature was industrialization, as pointed out earlier. Thus, the real issue for the latter was from what stance to confront "modernization" theory and put together a new system of world history that began with a revival of the Asiatic mode debate. Hence, it also seemed necessary that the problem of feudalism be more deeply understood in this regard.


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