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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ogyū Sorai, human nature and Edo society : the Chinese context Takano, Minoru


This thesis deals with the prevailing image of Ogyū Sorai 荻生徂徠 (1666-1728) as a pioneer who proposed to read Chinese classics not in the Japanese way of kundoku 訓読 but in its original way, i.e. in the Chinese word order and pronunciation. I challenge the historical accuracy of this image and regard it as a product created mainly by the prominent Japanese Sinologist, Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎 (1904-1980). It is well known that Sorai stressed the importance of rites, music, punishments and administration 禮樂刑政 as external forces which transform the internal mind from the outside. I believe that Sorai stressed mastery of literary style rather than mastery of colloquial Chinese as an external thing 物. His belief in practicality which was cultivated by the art of war led Sorai to attempt to realize a world based on a rigid meritocratic hierarchy. Therefore, Sorai proposed to return to the literary styles of the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties whose political situations were highly centralized. This, he believed, would serve to transform the feudalistic hereditary Neo-Confucian Edo state composed of Shogun and Daimyo into a more centralized and meritocratic one through educational policy. In pre-modern China, literature and politics were thought to be connected closely. Previous research, however, had been centered around literary studies focusing on the influence of the Guwenci pai 古文辭派 (Old Phraseology School) upon Sorai’s Kobunji 古文辭 (Ancient Words and Phrases) school. In short, there was no bifurcation in Sorai’s thought between literature and politics in the modern sense. I propose that Yoshikawa separated literature from politics in Sorai’s thought to prove the legitimacy of his own methodology of the evidential school. I will demonstrate their closeness by questioning why Sorai proposed to read poems from the High Tang dynasty instead of the Zhou-dynasty The Book of Songs 詩經. Finally in my conclusion, I suggest that Sorai’s design was ultimately realized in the Meiji era.

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