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The Kyodotai[*] Debate

Tanigawa's reformulation of the central issues for studying Six Dynasties China led to a caustic exchange, what one author recently called "an unusually fierce debate in modern historiographical circles,"[26] often illuminating less than one might have hoped. Because of the vituperative and concomitant exaggerations by the participants, uninitiated readers may feel as though they have been dropped head first into a pit of vipers. The first respondent to take up the gauntlet against Tanigawa, Kawakatsu, and their allies raised an unfortunate issue at first that influenced much of the animosity in the subsequent exchange—Tanigawa's apostasy from Marxism. This critic was the accomplished Ming-Ch'ing social historian Shigeta Atsushi, and his views represented the position of the Rekishigaku kenkyukai[*] .

In 1969 Shigeta launched an unmitigated frontal assault on Tanigawa and Kawachi Jozo[*]ah for their calling the Six Dynasties period "feudal" (and medieval), rather than ancient, and by insinuation having strayed from the laws of historical materialism laid out by the Rekishigaku kenkyukai. Shigeta clearly saw conversion (tenko[*] )ai to a non-Marxist methodology as condemnable in and of itself, scarcely needing empirical proof to the contrary of the new methodology. Particularly hard to stomach for Shigeta was how kyodotai[*] was presented by Tanigawa and others for historical analysis. He saw Tanigawa's concept as suprahistorical, impossible to ground in the language of class, excessive in its emphasis on ethical-spiritual


qualities, and ultimately just a matching assumed for the societal base that reflected the aristocratic system. In other words, he claimed that they looked at Six Dynasties society, saw an aristocratic superstructure, and posited a corresponding kyodotai[*] substructure. This approach failed, Shigeta argued, because it ignored the truly important economic system at the base of society, which really was the substructure after all.[27]

There was another damning element in the Tanigawa thesis from Shigeta's perspective. Tanigawa's reperiodization of medieval Chinese history fit precisely with Naito[*] Konan's of two generations ago—Six Dynasties, Sui, and T'ang. Also, the stress on culture in Tanigawa's picture of the new aristocracy in this period struck a respondent note at the very heart of Naito's conception of history, bunkashiaj or cultural history. It is well known and needs little explication in Japanese historical circles that Naito was not a Marxist, did not analyze Chinese "feudalism," has been vilified by many Japanese Marxists as a prewar intellectual apologist for imperialism, and believed the development of culture to be the central process in historical development. Thus, from the Japanese Marxist perspective, it is sufficient to associate someone's name (in this case, Tanigawa's) with that of Naito to establish guilt.[28]

One of the things that makes this debate interesting and particularly guiling for the critics of Tanigawa is that, despite obvious differences in their theories, Tanigawa will not disown Naito; on the contrary, he writes in glowing terms of Naito's remarkable vision concerning key issues in Chinese history, such as the dynamic element he sees in Naito's view of historical development (by implication, a refutation of the idea that Naito popularized a notion of "stagnant China"). He also explicitly claims to follow Naito's periodization of the medieval period.[29]

Shigeta's attack was less scholarly than it was ideological, and it elicited several immediate responses from Tanigawa and Kawakatsu. In one coauthored essay, they sought to address Shigeta's critique by elaborating the importance of understanding medieval Chinese society in their way, the postwar intellectual milieu from which it emerged, and the significant elements of kyodotai.[30] Tanigawa then penned his own direct rebuttal to Shigeta in which he argued again that adherence to a fixed formula (teishiki )ak for historical development hindered


our further understanding of Chinese historical realities. He agreed that he had once believed the Rekishigaku kenkyukai[*] line of ascending historical stages and their corresponding modes of production, but its failure to address crucial scholarly issues had led to reflection and eventually to criticism. Why, Tanigawa rhetorically wondered, was Shigeta harping on this apostasy and not on concrete scholarly problems?[31]

Kawakatsu pulled no punches in this regard. He compared Shigeta's overzealous concern with Tanigawa's change of views to the "trial of a heretic." Shigeta's continual attack on the notion of an aristocracy of culture drove Kawakatsu to the limit: "His [i.e., Shigeta's] astonishing ignorance of the history of scholarship on the Six Dynasties period and his attempt simply to employ categories only he himself trusts [i.e., categories of historical materialism] while discarding everything, which fails to fit into this scheme derive from a bearing unbefitting a scholar."[32] Both Tanigawa and Kawakatsu also sought to defend their notions of the aristocracy, the "community," and the interaction of the two.

Shigeta's essay proved an unhappy first thrust at a Marxist rebuttal because it was so thoroughly tendentious. Later, though, more studied critiques of Tanigawa and Kawakatsu appeared in print; in fact, a flood of essays inundated the scholarly press in the early 1970s. Goi Naohiro, Tanaka Masatoshi, Hori Toshikazu, and a host of others all attacked Tanigawa's notion of kyodotai[*] for the injustice they perceived it had done to class theory. All argued that class was more important than kyodotai. Tanaka alone did not dismiss Tanigawa's idea as the ravings of an illogical madman. He argued instead that what Tanigawa had identified as kyodotai was in fact an "ideological form," a "phenomenal form," or a "reflection of the superstructure." Before Tanaka could accept this notion, Tanigawa would have to elaborate in full materialist detail the essence of this kyodotai. When he reviewed the debate in 1974, Tanigawa noted that although he did not agree with Tanaka, at least he felt Tanaka understood what he was trying to do with kyodotai theory and Six Dynasties history, which Shigeta had not.[33]

One criticism raised by a number of scholars was the lack of precision in Tanigawa's defining of kyodotai. Tanigawa agreed


that this was a task still being worked out, but that did not preclude its use as a sociological tool in historical analysis. By using this sociological term to help uncover and explain historical facts, its methodological structure would become more refined. An even more prominent criticism of kyodotai[*] which even Shigeta had noted, was that Tanigawa and Kawakatsu had overplayed the ethical or spiritual element at work in "community" dynamics. It must be understood that positing the "ethical" or the "spiritual" as historically significant is anathema to hard-line Marxist critics or, at best, is considered by less dogmatic Marxists to be mistaking a reflection of reality for reality itself. However, the crux of the matter for either group, and the large area in between them, is that nothing can be more important than class in history.[34] If kyodotai were made secondary to the role of class in history, no one would have any theoretical problems with it, but Tanigawa and Kawakatsu have argued for its primacy in premodern Chinese history. For that reason, and particularly since Tanigawa once counted himself within the historical materialist fold, they have received a virtual barrage of criticism.

Although the volume translated here was not specifically meant to address the outpouring of criticism, it effectively did just that by reviewing not the history of kyodotai debate but the issues involved in the study of "medieval China." This task necessitated a reinvestigation of the major schools of thought regarding Chinese "feudalism" and the dating of China's "medieval age." It also allowed Tanigawa to describe more fully how kyodotai might best be understood in the concrete realities of the Six Dynasties period. The book divides into these two major sections.[35]

Kawakatsu has long maintained an association with French sinologists and in fact spent a period of time studying in France. Two of his essays have appeared in French, the most recent being a brief explanation of his and Tanigawa's conception of Six Dynasties history. A German analysis of Tanigawa's notion of kyodotai for the study of medieval China was published several years ago. Recently, a balanced exposition of Tanigawa's (and the "Kyoto school's") analysis of the place of the "medieval era" in Chinese history appeared in the foremost


journal of Soviet Asian studies. It was almost immediately translated (for internal consumption only, nei-pu-fa-hsing )al in the People's Republic of China. Furthermore, the theories of Tanigawa and Kawakatsu figure significantly in a recent study of postwar Japanese sinology to emerge from Taiwan.[36] The publication of this volume of Tanigawa's marks the first serious discussion of his work in English[37] and the first translation into English of any of his writings. It is hoped that the issues raised here will provide food for thought not only for "medievalists" but also for students of other eras in Chinese history.


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