Portal site for Russellian in Japan


Russell's Influence in China and Japan, by Prof. Tsutomu Makino

(In: Kyoyo Shogaku Kenkyu(Waseda Univ.), n.41: Oct. 1972, p.55-63)


As an admiring reader and translator of some of his books, I want to speak about the nature of his influence upon the Chinese and the Japanese and the facts surrounding it.
It is my earnest desire to make it clear immediately here at the Centenary, how deep and pertinent the insight and the logic contained in his books written about half a century ago, still seems today.
I. Differences of Influence
If the word INFLUENCE means that a man exerts a certain power over other men, and the effects of this can be recognised, then as influence. Unquestionably Russell had influence in China and Japan.
Naturally upon observation, we must expect to discover differences in the nature or quality of influence, depending on the character of the giver and the receiver.
In discussing the subject under consideration the above statement must be born in mind. The character of Russell's thinking ; of the Chinese thinking and of Japanese thinking are all important factors in the question of the nature of Russell's influence.
From the point of similarity in the way of thinking, Russell as an Englishman, displaying traditional traits, can be said to evince some similarity to the Chinese. He mentions himself in his book, The Problem of China (1922) : "The Chinese remind one of the English in their love of compromise and in their habit of bowing to public opinion", and he refers to the differences between the Chinese and the Japanese in the same books. The readers may be in agreement with these opinions.
So, his influence upon these two Asiatic nations were and are different. His influence upon Chinese thought is not to be seen as a response to a challenge, rather as the result of a national sympathy, while his influence upon the Japanese is the fruit of clashing opinion, of challenged views, and has therefore been definitely instructive.
It is latent but potentially dynamic in the case of the former, while in the case of the latter striking but limited in range, because of limitations in the reflective awareness of the Japanese.
II. Russell's Influence in China
(1) Factual Background
As he tells us in the Autobiography, vol. II, he was dissapointed at the actual state of affairs in the Soviet Russia in 1920, though that year was the worst time in her history, and his expectations of this newly-born socialist state had been enormous. His views on the Soviet were different from those of the other Labor Party-sponsored visitors with him and he had some anxiety about the response to the publication of his views in the book : THE PRACTICE AND THEORY OF BOLSHEVISM (1920).
When he returned home, a letter of invitation from the China Lecture Association was waiting for him. He accepted it probably partly because of the embarrassment stemming from both public and personal matters in England.
He was warmly received, though none of the Chinese concerned came to see him on his arrival at SHANGHAI Port. This was, of course, found later to be solely due to the delay in communications. Young Chinese people were so enthusiastic about him that a magazine named Russell Magazine was published by them, according to Alan Wood's BERTRAND RUSSELL, the Passionate Sceptic. Various examples of the high Chinese appreciation of Russell point to the existence of a receptivity to his influence.
(2) The Reason for the Invitation
According to the sinologists, the period around 1920 was the time when Young China was very eager and anxious to save its country from anarchy, famine and corruption and to find the best method of social reconstruction. They had hoped to learn from Dr. John Dewey, the predecessor of Russell in 1919, something about reconstruction through educational reform, and from Russell some ideas of social philosophy. Alan Wood wrote in the above-mentioned book that 'Dewey's influence was in fact mainly confined to the Kuomingtang ', while Russell's was exercised largely upon those who seemed to be anarchists, reformists and revolutionists. At any rate, Dewey and Russell were the chief idols of Chinese intellectuals at that time. In this regard, the following description by an American writer on Mainland China is relevant enough to mention here : ...the policy of learning by doing, namely in direct translation of Chinese, the ' HALF-WORK and HALF-STUDY ' system was greatly emphasized during the Proletarian Greater Cultural Revolution in 1960's and originated directly from MAO TSU-TUNG in Yen-An, but indirectly from Dewey's ideas, as they emerged during his lectures in 1919.
In short, Young China were thirsty for the knowledge and the wisdom that could be imported by the two great figures in so far as it was conducive to their national reconstruction.
(3) Lecture and Response
Of many public lectures delivered by Russell in 1920, I'll mention briefly one of them because it is related to my argument.
He visited CHANGSHA together with the Chancellor of PEKlNG University probably on the 24nd of October, 1920. CHANGSHA was then a centre for Chinese intellectuals aspiring towards social revolution, and the next year, in 1921, the Chinese Communist Party was organized.
The young MAO TSU-Tung listened to Russell's lecture on a criticism of Soviet Bolshevism and the outlook for Chinese reconstruction. I take what follows from the Japanese version of a Chinese book entitled : MAO TSU-TUNG IN HIS YOUTH, written and published in Mainland China.
"Russell criticized Bolshevism and advised Young China to reconstruct the country through education. Chinese intellectuals around MAO were then divided in two groups : the group of reformists and that of revolutionists and after the lecture hot discussion ensued between them. The young MAO expressed the conclusion that Russell's advice for Chinese reconstruction would only fail and was unrealistic, because the holders of power at any time in human history had never yielded the control of education to the powerless, so the change in government must be the first aim."
(4) Truth of Russell's Outlook
I think it is very doubtful that Russell actually did put forward, in his lecture at CHANGSHA, the idea of reconstructiton only or mainly, through educational reform. And as for his criticism of Bolshevism, it seems natural to assume that its substance may have been almost the same as the views of his book : THE PRACTICE AND THEORY OF BOLSHEVISM (1920).
First, I want to explain the reason for my doubt, and then to mention the significance of the influence his criticism had upon the Chinese revolutionists.
(a) His Actual Suggestions for Reconstruction
In the concluding chapter, the outlook for China, of the PROBLEM OF CHlNA (1922), Russell suggested sweeping reconstruction of the country by taking the following steps :
"The three chief requisites, I should say, are :
1) The establishment of an orderly government ;
2) Industrial development under Chinese control ;
3) The spread of education
A11 these aims will have to be pursued concurrently, but on the whole their urgency seems to me to come in the above order.
"Of course, he pointed out the close interrelationship between them, but explained convincingly the precise reasons for his preference for the steps in this order. I think you will be surprised at the contradicton between the reported lecture and the book. It is improbable that Russell changed his views quite sharply within a year something was wrong. A sinologist has told me there may have been a certain kind of subjective interpretation of the lecture or some nuance added. Of course, I cannot judge surely on this point. I hope the Bertrand Russell Archives will provide the necessary data at some future date.
In short, Russell's recommendations in this book were not the same as those the young MAO's comrades had supposed to have listened to, but almost the same in gist as MAO's own conclusion. I think this is very important.
According to Alan Wood, " Professor C. P. FitzGerald, one of the leading present-day authorities on China, has described it, the PROBLEM OF CHINA, as 'a remarkable book by any standard ', a book of 'shrewd and astute foresight"'. I think Russell's recommendations or outlook can be the very good reason for Prof. FitzGerald's high appreciation.
(b) The Significance of Russell's Criticism of Bolshevism
He declared himself to be an anti-communist whenever it was necessary, as you know. He did so in UNARMED VICTORY, even though he supported Khruschev as the only sane man among the chief figures of the Cuban crisis on the ground that the Soviet leader behaved in a way that showed an overriding concern for world peace.
However, in the final chapter of THE PRACTICE AND THEORY OF BOLSHEVISM (1920) : Conditions for the Success of Socialism, he writes that "The fundamental ideas of communism are by no means impracticable, and would, if realized, add immeasurably to the well-being of mankind. The difficulties which have to be faced are not in regard to the fundamental ideas, but in regard to the transition from capitalism."
These difficulties contain the abuse of power in the practice of Bolshevism. This may be one of the reasons that Russell finds himself unable to accept communism. It seems fair to surmise that in his lecture at CHANGSHA this point was as convincingly explained as it is in the above mentioned book. We should not forget that his political philosophy is based on his other book POWER (1938).
The Chinese, according to Russell, are people repectful of public opinion and compromise who never appear unable to see the opposite side of a question. It can be assumed, listening to his lecture, they would be able to consider both the merits and demerits of Bolshevism. And indeed the Chinese revolutionists were able to appreciate the gist of Russell's criticism, and the results of this were far-reaching, for Russell's influence could be seen in the 1960's in Main-land China in the Cultural Revolution and also as the theoretical basis of the Sino-Soviet dispute over the interpretation of the class-struggle, the proletariat dictatorship and bureaucracy impeding of democratization. However coercive the Cultural Revolution may have looked on the surface in the course of its development, it was remarkable that the Chinese leaders never failed to take the measures of filtering the public opinions through to the public, in other words, the 'mass-line', was consistently taken. This may be the most important clue to understanding the Chinese attitude in the Sion-Soviet dispute. They were anxious to build a socialist state in such ways as to confirm Russell's view of them predisposed as a nation respectful of public opinion and towards compromise always mindful of the dual aspect.
Here, I suggest, lies the significance of Russell's influence on the Chinese. He foresaw the disappointment on the part of Chinese intellectuals with Bolshevism and insisted on the absolute necessity of Chinese cultural independence rather than mere political independence fifty years ago in his book, the PROBLEM OF CHlNA (cf. p. 194, p. 214 and p. 242)
III. Russell's Influence in Japan
(1) Japan at The Time of His Visit
Russell visited Japan on his way home from China to England. Before mentioning those who showed the most enthusiasm for Russell I must first explain the social conditions obtaining in Japan in the 1920's.
In 1868 Japan had broken away from her feudally-organized social system with the ultimate aim of realizing an equivalent of modern European state, and this period the MEIJI Innovation or the MEIJI Restoration, that is, the restoration of the Imperial family. In the next era named the TAISHO era, covering a period stretching from 1910's into the first half of the 1920's, she made great efforts to become a fully-fledged modern state, this was also the age of the democratization of Japan, though later any democracy was stifled by militarists. The trade-unionists and the socialists (the anarchists and the communists were not distinguished from them at that time.) had already started activities and begun their movements. These people had read Japanese versions of his books on social problems. The translation list of that period shows the subjects of their concern with him.
The scene on his arrival at KOBE port was described in the AUTOBIOGRAPHY vol. II. He was enthusiastically greeted by laborers, then going on strike, with banners and streamers. At Kyoto and Tokyo he met Japanese academics. Most of them had come under the influence of the German idealistic philosophers, so that the interviews seem to have been regarded on either side as not very successful. It is to be regretted as far as Japanese learning is concerned, that Russell's theories and achievements thus did not gain due appreciation in Japan. Since the war, Japanese philosophy, of course, has not been quite so heavily influenced by the Germans.
(2) Russell and the Atom-bombed Nation
After the war, it became more varied and widespread. The more intense the anti-nuclear voices and the movement started by Russell, the more prevailing the appreciation and support for him in Japan. Thus, most of the younger generation know him not simply as an authority on symbolic logic, but as a Nobel prize winner and sincere pacifist. For the sake of the promotion of nuclear disarmament, and of the World Federation movement, the late chief of the editorial staff of the ASAHI, the leading vernacular paper, intended to invite to Japan Lord and Lady Russell, and Mr. Christopher Farley had visited Japan in 1964 to establish the Tokyo Branch of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. Russell himself had been very kind in his attitude towards the younger generation of Japan after the War.
(3) His Influence upon the Japanese
It is necessary to explain the kind of people who have read him well. Since the Meiji Innovation in 1868, Japan had studied a great deal of German politics, institutions, technology and general learning, while appreciation of the Anglo-saxon cultural achievements had been less, for it was felt, due partly to the affinity of national traits between the Germans and the Japanese, and to lack a relevance which might attract.
People who we might call 'outsiders' admired Russell. This was because they had found in him something many-sided, meaningful, and instructive. This small minority of thinkers admired his style of thinking at once so full of insight and so disciplined. They had read his books in their seminar classes.
In Japan his prose style has been highly appreciated for its terse quality ; generally Japanese readers of Russell feel that his writing is as far as syntax goes, simple enough but difficult, nonetheless, in the meaning. His writings have been widely used as school texts in English instruction.
The Archives now provide more then forty examples of school texts selected from his writings and published in Japan. Thus the younger generation have the opportunity of reading him in their school days. The Japanese press has been quick to print any news item involving Russell.
In the memorial lecture meeting held after his death at the Tokyo ASAHI Auditorium, more than one thousand people gathered in mourning and a special number of the B. R. Society of Japan Publication in tribute to Lord Russell was issued as the B. R. S. J. Bulletin No. 15 and given to them.
(4) The Bertrand Russell Society of Japan
This society was established seven years ago by his admirers, young and old, of various occupations about four hundred in number.
The aim of the society is the careful study of his books and achievements and the details are shown in our Society Bulletins, no. 22 of which is now under compilation as the Centenary Issue. The materials concerning the Society have been sent to the Archives at Hamilton, including Japanese translations, dissertations and others.
On and for some days after the 18th of May 1972, we held the Public Lecture Meeting of the Centenary Celebrations at Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Naturally it was successful. At Kyoto Dr. Hideki YUKAWA, Nobel-prize winning physicist and one of the participants in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, delivered a lecture.
As you know. Japan today is under the influence of Great Power politics, disguised though this may be, from three directions : West of Siberia, Mainland China and from across the Pacific Ocean. We Japanese are now groping for the way that will help us not to repeat past mistakes but to promote world peace. The voices from these Powers are naturally self-interested, and history suggests to us that not from them, but from independent and impartial thinkers such as Russell, can we learn what is necessary.
It is in the humanity, the insight, and the prescient thinking and the logical arguments towards World Federation of Russell's books that Japan may find an answer to some of the troubling problems that now beset her.
Russell's influence upon the Chinese can be clearly seen today. In their vast effort they are making to achieve democratization, struggling against a bureaucratic hierarchy, and upon the Japanese, in the NO-MORE-HIROSHIMA movement and the vision of World Government.
We are, of course, not worried about being a minority, but rather encouraged, for Russell praises the solitude and independence of the the minority.