Version: v1, Published online: 2015
Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/phenomenology-in-east-asia/v-1
Western philosophy was rapidly introduced into East Asia from the second half of the nineteenth century, in a movement that began in Japan but quickly spread to China and Korea. When phenomenology appeared in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro was one of the first to realize its importance. In the 1920s, many Japanese scholars, including a number of Nishida’s students, traveled to Europe to study under Husserl and Heidegger in Freiburg. Korean philosophers also became interested in phenomenology in the 1920s, and Xiong Wei of China went to Freiburg in the 1930s and was greatly influenced by Heidegger.
The reception of Western philosophy was impeded by the barrier of a different culture and intellectual tradition, in addition to the barrier of language, but phenomenology was felt to have many affinities to East Asian thinking. This was particularly true of Heidegger’s work. Both Husserl and Heidegger were criticized from the East Asian perspective on various points, but this criticism helped to develop the phenomenological movement as an intercultural project engaging both East and West.
Japan, Korea and the countries that make up the Chinese cultural sphere have much in common, but differences in political and social climate affected the development of phenomenological research in each country. In Japan, existentialism became popular after the nation’s defeat in World War II (1939–45) and this led to a shift in interest from German phenomenology to French thinkers like Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. The Korean peninsula suffered a long period of chaos because of the same war and the Korean War that followed (1950–3), and the resulting devastation there also led to a heightened interest in existentialism. Marxism also became an important influence, especially in Japan, where various left-leaning thinkers attempted to integrate phenomenology with Marxist thought. In mainland China, the Communist Revolution and subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China (1949) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 hampered the reception of Western philosophy, but the country has since produced many fine phenomenological researchers. The Chinese University of Hong Kong is a long-standing centre of phenomenological research and has maintained close ties with institutions on the mainland since Hong Kong’s reversion to China in 1997. Scholars in Taiwan continued to study phenomenology throughout the postwar period and now maintain active exchange with colleagues in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Phenomenology is well established in East Asia, with research expanding in many directions. Scholars keep up with developments in the West and pursue research in similar directions; others focus on the connection between phenomenology and the intellectual traditions of East Asia; still others apply the methods of phenomenology to interdisciplinary studies. Other phenomenologists are working on original theories that are relatively free of cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Research is active at universities in all the countries in question. Each country has phenomenological organizations that are active domestically and which engage in academic exchange with organizations abroad. On the whole, East Asia may be said to be one of phenomenology’s most active venues.
Tani, Toru et al. Phenomenology in East Asia, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G3592-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/phenomenology-in-east-asia/v-1.
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