previous part
One— Introduction
next chapter

One—
Introduction

Did Chinese society in fact experience an era that can be called feudal? If it did, which period was that and what form did it take? If it did not, then what sort of logical development has Chinese history as a whole pursued? The basic task of this part of the book is to disentangle this issue. My original intent was to come to terms with the unique nature of Chinese society by further investigating Chinese society from this perspective. Since I have been unable as yet to reach that goal, my present objective is a preparatory investigation to that end.

Why, then, must we ask if feudalism existed in China? To people for whom it is self-evident that Chinese society, like Western society, followed a course from ancient slavery to medieval feudalism to modern capitalism, or should have taken such a course, it may indeed seem strange to pose the question of the existence in Chinese history of feudalism. Yet, we are certainly not lacking for theories that deny the existence of feudalism in Chinese history. The two positions, affirming or denying feudalism, have a rather long history of debate themselves. This issue is actually linked directly to the issue of China's modernization.

Generally speaking, theses that affirm or deny feudalism have tended to bifurcate into diametrically opposed views with respect to the progressive nature of Chinese society. Those who believe China experienced feudalism argue that Chinese society basically followed a path of historical progress consistent with that of Western society. Those who deny feudalism argue that Chinese society was extraordinarily saturated with stagnancy, as compared to the West, and they assume that it existed in a qualitatively different historical world from Western society. In other words, the former conceive of a unilinear, monistic


4

world history, whereas the latter conceive of a two-tracked or multitracked world history.

These two points of view, though diametrically opposed, nonetheless share one aspect in common. Be it progress or stagnation, in either case the observation is rooted in modern Western society. In comparing it to the modern West (and its prehistory), they see Chinese society as either progressing or stagnating—merely different perspectives from the same line of vision. In this line of vision, it seems that the "modern West" is deeply tied up with a guiding conception for world history. Casting the least doubt on all this necessitates a basic reanalysis of both theories, progress and stagnation.

In the past, the issue that East Asian historical studies have confronted most revealingly has been the nature of the link between the societies of East Asia and of the modern world (with the West at the forefront) as an overall, continual process from ancient through modern times. It was here that the two opposing points of view were born, though neither side doubted that Chinese society would dissolve into the stream of the modern world. In this "modernization process," they wanted to see the evolution of the Chinese into ordinary people. However, we have reached a critical stage in which various negative factors in contemporary human existence have forced us to reexamine the significance of such a modernization process itself. The more modernization proceeds, the more people lose confidence in their existence as individual beings. This contradiction has consistently covered the contemporary world. This human crisis we see today must be linked to the nature of East Asian historical studies itself. The question, can East Asian historical studies maintain its integrity as a human science, seems to pose a tremendous hindrance to the development of our own field of research, which is only natural.

Now, however, there seems to be no more room for doubt that these preconceptions, which past scholars of East Asia took for granted, are themselves being undermined. We can no longer understand the realities of Chinese society in the context of world history solely within a framework of progress or stagnation. Where shall we find a new line of vision for our understanding of China? This book attempts to look along an untraveled path from the vantage point of an investigation of past scholarship into this problem of the existence or nonexistence of a Chinese feudalism.


5

previous part
One— Introduction
next chapter