Friday, September 23, 2011


KURENAI : Kyoto University Research Information Repository
Kyoto University
South East Asian Studies, Vol. 13, No.3, December 1975
Phan Bt)i Chau and Japan
I Key Factors to be Analyzed
It was during or after the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, that some Vietnamese
nationalists, including Phan BQi Chau, came to Japan. The reason they came to Japan has
been interpreted by Japanese scholars as the result of Japanese influence upon themY
However, few scholars have made a concrete or close analysislD of the reasons why
* ~:E .'§ifL, Graduate School of Sociology, University of Tokyo
1) In phan B¢i Chfm's case, see; Heiji Nakamura, "Indo-Tonan Ajia niokeru Minzoku-undo" in
Sekai-rekishi 23, Iwanami, ("Nationalism in India and Southeast Asia" in World History vol. 23)
pp.117-118. And Yoshihiko Tanigawa, Tonan-Ajia Minzoku-kaiho Undo-shi. (History of Southeast
Asian Nationalist Movement, Keiso-shobo, Tokyo, 1969), pp.47-49.
2) There are two written theories discussing Phan B¢i CMu's trip to Japan.
One is David Marr's Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925 (Univ. of California, 1971).
This book, using full Vietnamese documents and other books, draws a map of Vietnamese antiFrench
movements up until 1925, and it gives us many useful auggestions. On page 106, the
author suggests two reasons that brought Phan B¢i CMu to Japan: "First, because the Japanese
were the same race as the Vitnamese and second, because their reform effort had enabled them
to defeat China and was giving them amazing strength against the Russians. "
I agree with his suggestions, but his reasoning is not completely persuasive. Because (1) it
has not clearly answered the questions as to why Phan B¢i Chdu did not rely upon his own people
but instead dared to ask for foreign help and (2) it does not clearly tell us what had influenced
him to come to Japan even though he knew Japan was the country that had annexed the Ryukyus.
The second study about Phan B¢i CMu's trip to Japan is Kunie Kawamoto's "Phan B¢i CMu
no Nihon-kan" (Phan B¢i CMu's impressions of Japan) in Rekishigaku-kenkyu, no. 391. In his
article Kawamoto makes two important points. First it was before the outbreak of the RussoJapanese
War that Phan B¢i CMu's group became interested in Japan. Second it was contradictory
that Phan B¢i CMu went to Japan though he was conscious of Japan's aggressiveness
(like France's) and its annexation of the Ryukyus.
Kawamoto's suggestions are very important and interesting. As for the first point, he
attributes Phan B¢i ChAu's interest in Japan mainly to the influence of TWIg Be;tt Hl>, who had
visited China and was an old friend of Nguy~n Thanh. But Phan B¢i CMu wrote his article
on the Ryukyus as early as 1903, while he met Ti(ng Be;tt Hl> in late 1904. So there must be
another source for Phan B¢i CMu's knowladge about Japan and the subjugated Ryukyus.
As for Kawamato's second argument, he states that althongh Phan B¢i Chdu was aware of
Japan's aggressiveness, he was fascinated by its strength rather than being afraid of it. The
author almost says that Phan B¢i CM.u seems to have gone to Japan rather reluctantly. But in
the beginning of the 20th century, not only Phan B¢i CMu, but many other Vietnamese did not
hesitate to express their admiration for Japan's strength and its continued existence in a hostile
world, Thus we need another hypothesis to resolve the above-mentioned "contradiction."
Japan was chosen by the Vietnamese nationalists as the most suitable place for a new
Phan BQi Chfm was one of a group of the prominent intellectuals who had a
traditional academic background, but they were also influenced by the new thoughts
from China at the turn of this century. He was a leader of the Dong Du ORJl{f)
movement, or "Visit the East" movement of 1905 to 1908. Even after this period, his
appeal to renovate the country encouraged many youths to engage in revolutionary
activities. It was not until 1925 that his political career was over.
Some of the influence of the Dong Du movement was alive even 111 the 1940's, in
the form of the Pro-Japanese nationalist movement during the era of Japanese occupation.
This continuity is demonstrated by such figures as Prince CU'o'ng De who was
among the most important participants in the Dong Du movement and who also played
a key role in the 1940's movement.
Thus it is important as well as interesting to analyze why Phan BQi Chau's group
chose Japan and what its experiences in Japan were.
It appears there are three key factors ought to be analyzed in order to answer the
preceding questions:
( 1) All the Vietnamese Confucianist lettres born in the middle of the nineteenth
century were deeply affected by the thoughts of contemporary Chinese scholars such
as K'ang Yu Wei (jff*r):';'g), Liang Ch'i Ch'ao (~~fj]), and later, Chang Ping Lin (t'(l
~f~D and Sun "Ven (1*50.
( 2) Behind their ideas, especially those of Phan BQi Chau, are calculative and
utilitarian elements. However, Phan BQi Chau and his group's considerations were
vulnerable to Japanese considerations of power politics.
( 3) There was a large gap between their vision, which they nourished before
their departure for Japan, and the actuality that they confronted in Japan.
II Beginning of Phan's Interest in Japan
Nguy~n LQ Tn,lch, author of "Thien HC;l tJC;li The Lu?n" (::k-fA~mm, On the
General Situation of the World)3) and one of the famous intellectuals who preceded
Phan BQi Chau's generation, paid great attention to Japan which he saw as an innovative
and developing Asian country. Phan BQi Chau himself expressed the same opinion in
his "Lu'u Cau Huyet L~ Tan Thu'" (jJfU*lfIl~*JrVr, New Letter with Blood and Tears on
Ryukyu). Nguy~n LQ TrC;lch's appeal was written in 1892 and Phan BQi Chau's was
in 1903. Thus even before the Russo-Japanese War broke out, Vietnamese scholars
3) Nguy~n Van Xu{ln, Phong Trao Duy Tan, (La Boi, Saigon, 1970), pp.28-35, referred this article.
The other articles of Nguy~n L¢ Tr?ch are summarized in Huynh Thuc Khang, Nguyen Lf) Trach,
(Anh Minh, Hue, 1966).
M. SHIRAISHI: Phan Boi Chau and Japan
had been interested in the rise of a new great power in the Far East. And according
to his autobiography, Phan B¢i Chau had read Nguy~n L¢ Tr?ch's manuscript, which
seemingly informed Phan of Japanese success in development, before he wrote "Luu
Cau Huyet L~ Tan Thu'."')
How did Nguy~n L¢ Tr?ch and Phan B¢i Chau gain this knowledge about Japan?
We can suppose that the Chinese books were their main sources of information. Huynh
Thuc Khang, one of the Confucianists of Phan B¢i Chau's period, wrote in his
autobiography that a book titled "Nhe;tt Bfm Duy Tan Sit' (f3 **ltrr~, History of
Japan's Innovation) came from their nothern neighbour along with other reformists'
Furthermore, the Chinese reform movement itself was strongly affected by the
reforms enacted during Meiji Restoration. Especially motivated by the defeat in the
Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese reformists took the Japanese constitutional monarchy as
their model and organized a movement to send youths to Japan, and translate Japanese
books while engaging in other reformist activities.6) It is natural to think that the
Vietnamese, like the Chinese, would be interested in Japan.
Because of Phan B¢i Chau's emphasis on the Russo-Japanese War III his autobiography,
n we tend to think, wrongly, that Vietnamese nationalists became interested in
Japan shortly after the outbreak of war. But as mentioned above, this does not seem
to be the case. We should recognize that Phan B¢i Chau and his comrades were
concerned with Japan well before that war, even though Japan's war with Russia
accelerated Vietnamese interest in Japan.
In brief it is through the Chinese reformists' writings that the Vietnamese lettres'
attention was first directed to Japan. The Chinese refonmists sought a clue to break
the deadlock which they were facing, and so they turned to Japan as a model. The
4) Phan B<)i CM.u, Ttl! Phan, (Anh Minh, 1956), pp.34-35.
5) Huynh Thuc Khang, Tlf' Truy~n, (Anh Minh, 1963), p.26. Furthermore, Nguy~n Hien L@', Dong
Kinh Nghla ThlfC, (La Bai, 1968), p.27, counted three books; Nh~t Ban Duy Tl\n Khang Khai
Su: (Outline Histroy of Japanese Innovation), Nh~t Ban Tam Th?p Ni@,n Duy Tan SIi' (30-year
History of Japanese Innovation), and Nh?t Ban Quac SU: (History of Japan).
6) I referred to the following books;
Hidemi Onogawa, Shinmatsu Seiji-shiso Kenkyu, (Studies in Political Thoughts of Later ch'ing,
Kyoto Univ., 1960). Jun Takada, Chugoku no Kindai to jukyo, (Modernization and Confucianism
in China, Kinokuniya, Tokyo). Masataka Banno, Kindai Chugoku Seiji Gaiko Shi, (History of
Politics and Diplomacy in Modern China, Univ. of Tokyo, 1973).
7) In his Nglf-c Trung Thu',(Tan Vi~t, Saigon, 1950), p.28, Phan B<)i CMu said, "The Russo-Japanese
war showed us a truely new world. Our people only knew China before the French occupation,
and after it, we only knew France. We never considered the changes and trends of the world.
Our movement was for a long time only motivated by a spirit of self-sacrifice and thoughts of
revenge. We did not have any concrete vision of national independence. Only after we left our
country and went abroad could we thoroughly alter our thoughts and knowledge. We are greatly
indebted to the Russo-Japanese War for this."
Vietnamese were confronted with almost the same difficulty. They naturally followed
the same path as the Chinese. It is very significant that when Phan BOi Chau came
to Japan, he went first to meet Liang Ch'i Ch'ao, the great Chinese reformer who was
spending a life of exile in Yokohama. It is through him that Phan Boi Chau gradually
became acquainted with a number of Japanese politicians.B)
III Reasons for Phan's Visit to Japan
In this section I will try to examine the reasons why the Vietnamese, especially
Phan Boi Chau, went to Japan and why he and his comrades "left their ancestors'
tombs, parted with their wives and children, crossed the ocean, and went to the country
with which they have not been familiar for these thousands of years."9)
There are at least three main reasons which brought them to Japan. These are
(1) Social Darwinism, (2) their desire to persist in armed struggle by seeking foreign
aid, and (3) their simplistic conception of the solidarity among the yellow peoples
against the whites.
1 Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism has seldom been considered of importance by the scholars
of Vietnamese history. But in fact many of the documents of the period testify
Vietnamese acceptance of Social Darwinism.10)
In a poem titled "Dil;l LY" (Geography) popularized by the school of Dong Kinh
Nghla Th\lc, OIOR~~) we find the following passage:
Five Continents in the world.
The first, the Continent of Asia.
The second that of America.
And then Europe, Australia and Africa.
The Races are clearly divided
According to the Continents.
The Yellow and the White
Are strong and wise.
The Black, the Red and the Blue
8) As for Phan B¢i Chl\u's activities in Japan, please see; Phan B¢i Chl\u, Ng'¥c Trung Thu', pp.
33-58. Phan B¢i CMu, T,¥' Phan, pp. 51-128. Yoshihisa Kuzuu, Toa Sengaku Shishi Kiden,
(Biography of pioneer Patriots in East Asia), Kokuryu Kai, Tokyo, 1935, pp.816-825. Shinjiro
Nagaoka, "Nihon ni okeru Vietnam no hitobito" (Vietnamese in Japan), in Vietnam Bokoku shi,
hoka, (Heibon-sha, Tokyo, 1966).
9) Phan Chu Trinh, "BU'c Thu' Gil'i Chinh Phil. Pha.p, "in The Nguyen, Phan Chu Trinh, (Tl\n Vi~t,
1956), p.89, or in Thai B<,, Thi Van Quac Cam Th(J'i ThuQc Phap, (Khai Tri, Saigon, 1968),
10) David Marr, op. cit., p.100, mentions it.
M. SHIRAISHI: Phan Boi Chau and Japan
Are stupid and silly.
All of life is a struggle.
The wise race will survive,
The stupid will perish.
L~c Hong was the Ancestor
Of our Country.
And our Mountains and Rivers (our Country)
Have been called De;ti Nam
For 4000 years.
The Subjects of our King
Number 40 million.lD
The poem is strongly influenced by the idea of Social Darwinism. And it seems to
imitate terminology and the ideas of Liang Ch'i Ch'ao, especially those of the "Hsinmin-
shuo" (~~m, Theory on New Citizen)l?). It was surely Chinese books that
introduced the theory of Social Darwinism to Vietnamese scholars. This is demonstrated
by the fact that the terms used by the Vietnamese are still the same as those used by
the Chinese. (For example, the term of Thien dien (::R~), or evolution of the univers).]3)
Besides, it was very natural and reasonable that the Vietnamese lettres at the beginning
of the 20th century, who experienced their country's shameful defeat by the French,
smoothly accepted the theory of Social Darwinism as a universal rule of this world.
They accepted it even though their knowledge and understanding of the theory were
It is very interesting that not only the group of Phan BQi Chau, but the nationalist
lettn~s who were opposed to their martial idea, were also deeply affected by Social
Darwinism.H ) In 1905, Huynh Thuc Khang and Trail Quy Cap jointly wrote a Chinesestyle
classic poem titled "Danh So'n Lu'o'ng NgQc" (150-J.R.=li). This passage says:
Our country of Vi$t was originally founded
11) Nguy~n Hi~n Le, Dong Kinh Nghia Thtl-c, p.71.
12) Liang Ch'i Ch'ao, "Hsin-Min Shuo," in Hsin-min Ts'ung-pao, no. 2, Feb. 1902.
13) The Vuetnamese way of saying Western names symbolically proves that the Vietnamese had
their first contacts with Western culture and thoughts through Chinese books. For example, the
Vietnamese called Bismarck, TI Tu' M?ck; Gladstone, Cach Lan Tu' B(}n; and Washington, Hoa
Thjnh B(}n (Nguy~n Hi~n Le, op. cit., p.69). Those names were borrowed from the Chinese
characters into which the Chinese scholars had transcribed Westerns' names according to their
own way of pronounciation. When the Vietnamese imported the names, they automatically used
the characters that the Chinese scholars had transcribed. However, because the Vitnamese
Pronounciation of these characters is differed, the Vietnamese pronounciation of Westerners'
names was further corrupted.
14) Phan Chu Trinh wrote a "Letter to the Governer General of Indochina," (1906), in which he
mentioned "this society where the strong gains and the weak loses." (In Thai B?ch, op. cit.,
p. 351, or in Nghien Cu'u Lich Sri: no. 66, p. 9) And Tdin Quy Cap said, "Now on the earth,
big countries are struggling and developing knowledge. Thus they have become rich and
strong." (Nguy~n V~n XuA.n, op. cit., p. 177)
In a part of East Asia.
Back in the time of Hong B~mg
Lately in the ages of the Tran and Ly dynasties,
Our people were pure and brave.
We beat the Army of To Dinh
At Llnh Bieu,15)
And defeated Ma Nhi
In the battle of Phu Lu'o'ng.l6)
We also overthrew the Chiem Thanh17)
In fighting,
And destroyed the Chan Lii\pI8)
With weapons.
How strong and prosperous
Our country was!
How could we be inferior
To other countries?
However, one failure caused us to regret
For ten thousand years.m
This poem shows us that on the one hand they described the old prosperous
Vietnam as a country which had successfully resisted all the aggressors, like the To
Dinh or Ma Nhi, from China, and on the other hand as a strong conqueror of the
southern minorities, like Chiem Thanh and Chan Lii\p. According to them, the fact
that the Vietnamese destroyed and absorbed the other weaker races was not a blot but
a brilliant achievement upon their history.20)
It is well known that Phan BQi Chau wrote the pamphlet "Lu'u Cau Huyet L~ Tan
Thu''' in which he discussed the fate of the Ryukyus or Okinawa. Unfortunately this
pamphlet has been lost.2D According to his memoire, in that pamphlet he showed his
pity for the Ryukyus, which had been deprived of their terri torial rights and sovereignty
by Japan.22) Therefore it is clear that Phan BQi Chau knew that Japan had
annexed the Ryukyus. However it is strange that he did not seem to identify his
country with the Ryukyus (or at least he did not want to do so). Even though he
15) This refers to the story of the Tru'ng sisters who resisted the army of Han dynasty in the 1st
16) This refers to the battle of B';\ch Dang where the Vietnamese defeated the mongolian troops.
17) Chiem Thanh waS Cham or Champa, who built the kingdom in central Vietnam.
18) CMn L::.p was an old kingdom of Khmers.
19) This poem is in Nguy~n Qnyet Thang, Huynh Thuc Khimg, (Pht.t Quac Vt.t Khanh f)';\c Tnkh
Va:n H6a, Saigon, 1972), pp. 353-358.
20) See note 26).
21) Some of this article was printed in the magazine Van Sit' Dia, no. 33, pp.68-73.
22) Phan B¢i Chau, Ttl Phan, pp. 34-35.
M. SHIRAISHI: Phan Boi Chau and Japan
felt pity for the subjugated Ryukyus, it seems that the intention of his writing was
not to appeal for solidarity with the subjugated people nor to denounce Japan as an
aggressor, similar to France which had occupied his fatherland. Contrary to our
expectation, he refused to identify the fortune of his country with that of the Ryukyus.
Instead he oriented himself to the conqueror, Japan.23)
We can comprehend his way of thinking by analyzing the influence Social
Darwinism had on him. His intention was that Vietnam should avoid the same fate
as the Ryukyus, a 'stupid' and 'weak' race. He hoped his country would become
stronger by following the model of wise and prosperous Japan. In a sense he can be
seen as an intellectual grandson of Darwin, Spencer and Huxley. He was their
grandson, of course, because he became aware of their ideas through the Chinese
reformers' writings. In 1905 on his way to Japan, in his letter to the Governor of
Canton, he said, "the Era when the strong eats the weak's flesh."2i)
And in his "Tan Vi~t Nam" (~~m, New Vietnam), written in 1907, Phan BQi
Chau's belief in Social Darwinism is expressed more clearly. In that article he depicted
the independent and powerful Vietnam which he longed for.
"We will hold all the rights of home administration and foreign relations. The
work of civilising our country will advance day by day and our sphere of influence
will be expanded everyday. We will have a strong army of 3 million, like a tiger
glaring in all directions, and a brave navy like a whale watching all the ocean. After
that, we will send ambassadors to all countries. Every country in the European and
American continents, Japan, the United States, Germany and England will be connected
with our country and will regard us as an allied nation of the first class. Siam, India,
and Indonesia will look upon us as the chief of their league, and China, a great country
in Asia, will consider us as a close and fraternal country. Our adversary, France, will
be afraid of us, will obey our words and will come to ask for our protection. Our
23) As for Vietnam's wish to identify itself with Japan, it is useful to recall one episode relating to
Tifug B<;\t Hl>. According to Nguy~n Hien L~, op. cit., pp. 29-31, Ti(ng B<;\t Hl>, who became a
sailor in China and who sailed to Japan several times, soon mastered the Japanese language and
enlisted in the Japanese Navy. During the Russo-Japanese War, he distinguished himself on the
battlefield. His bravery elicited the admiration of the Japanese and he was decorated. After his
triumph, he attended a banquet held by the Emperor Meiji, where he appealed to the Emperor
with tears about the pitiful conditions of his own country. Listening to his words, the Emeperor
Meiji praised his patriotism and consoled him. Taking this opportunity, according to Nguy~n
Hien L~'s words, he became acquainted with Tsuyoshi Inukai and Shigenobu Okuma and others.
He was advised by them to send Vietnamese students to Japan. This epysode is not really
verifiable. It is remarkable that this legend seems to have been eagerly accepted and widely
believed by a number of Vietnamese. In fact, the originator of the story was just telling his
own dream. He dreamed of one Vietnamese who helped strong yellow Japanese people defeated
the white Russians and thus inspired his own people to identify with the Japanese. The same
type of episode was narrated in Phu'6ng Hii'u's Phong Trao Dq,i Dong Du, (Nam Vi~t, Saigon,
1950), pp. 7-9.
24) Nghien CU'u Lich Su' no. 90, p. 62.

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