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Albert M. Craig - Civilization and Enlightenment: The Early Thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi

I gave up reading this book about halfway through. There is just too much about the 18th and 19th Century notions of stages of development in human civilizations and too little about Fukuzawa Yukichi for my tastes. With a picture of Fukuzawa on the cover I was expecting the book to be mostly about him. Instead, you can read extended portions of this book without hearing anything about him or Meiji Era Japanese thought.

When the book finally does get around to Fukuzawa it isn't all that interesting. Much of it is merely an English translation of his Japanese translation of a 19th Century English book. Yawn. The Japanese passages are rendered in romaji, rather than real Japanese, so they aren't easy to read for those with some Japanese knowledge.

I wanted to learn more about Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University and face of the 10,000 yen bill, since my kids will be going to school (Tokyo International School) right next to Keio starting this fall. But someone can learn more about him from a webpage like this one than from this book.

from the publisher:
The idea that society progresses through stages of development, from savagery to civilization, arose in eighteenth-century Europe. Albert Craig traces how Fukuzawa Yukichi, deeply influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, “translated” the idea for Japanese society, both enriching and challenging the concept.

Fukuzawa, an official in the Tokugawa government, saw his career collapse when the shogunate ended in 1867. Reinventing himself as a thinker and writer, he made his life work the translation and interpretation of the Western idea of the stages of civilization. He interpreted key Scottish intellectuals— Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, John Millar; relied on American geographies to help explain how societies progress; and focused on invention as a key to civilization.

By defining the role of “less developed” nations in the world order, Fukuzawa added a new dimension to the stage theory. But by the end of the 1880s, he had come to dismiss the philosophy of natural rights as “the fatuous idealism of Christian ministers.” Though civilization—as represented by Britain—was still his goal for Japan, he no longer saw the West as a uniformly beneficial moral force.

This engaging history offers an illuminating look at an important figure and the world of ideas in nineteenth-century Japan. [an error occurred while processing this directive]