The Self-Description of Society in East Asia: If It Is Not Society, What Else Could It Be?
It is often said that society is a Western concept and that it does not exist in the non-Western world. This chapter uses Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society to examine whether such an opinion is valid or not. In this theory, society is redefined as a self-description (of society). Based on such a viewpoint, we explore how society has been described in East Asia. In the late nineteenth century, intellectuals in Japan attempted to translate the concept of society into various expressions. In the end the word shakai was adopted. The Japanese word shakai (社会) consists of two Chinese characters, and the character sha (社) implies nature and ‘the sacred’. The meaning of those two characters are quite different from what ‘society’ or ‘Gesellschaft’ indicates. The word shakai as a translation of the word society was then imported to China, Korea, and Vietnam. As demonstrated by the adoption of the word shakai, we see that in the East the concept of society contains the nature and the integration by ‘the sacred’ in itself. This chapter concludes that society does exist in the East as the self-description (of society), and that it differs between the West and the East, especially with regard to East Asia.
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