CHAPTER XIV. LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, AND EDUCATION
The life of a people is expressed in their language, and its acquisition is like getting a new sense by which knowledge is gained of a new world. The Japanese language belongs to a group of which it is the most important. On the continent Korean bears it resemblance, though chiefly in grammatical structure. Besides, there are the languages spoken in the little group of islands called Ryu Kyu (Loo Choo), to the south, but beyond these all regions have been searched for cognates without distinguished or certain success.
The language is polysyllabic, and in general, we may say, the longer the word the more honourable it is. For the distinguishing feature of the speech is its construction on the principle of a gradation of ranks in society, so that you and I and the servant and our friend can be distinguished by the words used in reference to each, as if, talking of our abodes, I should say "mansion," and a little later "hut." The first, of course, would be your home, and the second mine, and this entirely without reference to their relative size or costliness. So, were you to go to town it would be a "stately proceeding," while I should simply and humbly "go." When verbs and nouns can thus be associated with degrees of honour it is manifest that pronouns are superfluous. When I speak of "mansion" and "hut," what need of "yours" and "mine," especially as the same words in your mouth will indicate the opposite abodes? Hence our common translation of the Japanese quite misrepresents it. They do not say, "your august abode," or "your honourable tea," as usually they are represented, but the word itself, or the word with its honourific prefix contains simply the thought of "you" and "yours," as the humble word or the omission of the prefix indicates "me" and "mine." So by and by, when use has blunted the edge of contrast, one speaks Japanese without a thought that his dialect is stilted, or that the pronoun is in any degree a more natural way of distinguishing "you" and "me" than are delicately chosen words.
Then one wonders, at first, to be told there is no true nominative case, and that transitive verbs are not followed, of necessity, by an object. But one soon finds the fashion simple, and its strangeness has analogies. We were taught in youth to say, precisely, "I beg your pardon," but really the pronouns are superfluous, as who mistakes the meaning if we say, "Beg pardon"? unless, indeed, there be confusion and it is not quite clear who committed the offence, nor against whom, when one may say, singling out from an implicated group, "I beg your pardon." So the Japanese uses simply the verb, "pardon," and a substitute for a pronoun only when there is really need. Extend the instance to all verbs and we find we can dispense with multitudes of nouns. "Struck," "done," "sold," "dead,"-even with ourselves emphatic and colloquial speech takes all the rest for granted; but in Japanese these are not abbreviations of more than doubtful propriety and wholly undoubted want of elegance, but they are of the structure and nature of the speech itself. So that we may use verbs without subjects, and active verbs without objects unless, as before, the subject is in doubt, when we go round about as if we should say "Concerning the Japanese Language, difficult." So we announce "concerning what" we speak, and continue without necessity of nominative, objective, and the rest in every phrase.
Stranger yet are the tenses. The student learns his past, his present, and his future, and then is surprised to hear the past used of the future and the future of the past, until at last he comes to understand that the present is the real tense, used of all, and that his past tense represents certainty, and therefore is usual in the past, although his servant, foretelling his obedience, uses it unhesitatingly of the future; and that the future is uncertain, so that the cautious man uses it of something uncertain to his knowledge in the past. The present, too, takes on its real significance, an so often one hears a phrase like "It is that one has been abroad."
Naturally one gets on without gender for nouns, for English teaches us to do that unless, as in Japanese, for some reason the gender must be mentioned, when there are words for such real use. Number falls into the same category, for in cases innumerable it is sufficient to use the word, and singular or plural is plain without our indicating the fact. When the youthful student, accustomed to the complexity of our classic grammars, hears that the Japanese has neither number, gender, nor case he rejoices and thinks he has an easy task.
After a time-not too long a time-he is undeceived, and by and by begins to wish he could trade some of his new complexities for the old. Sentences, for example, which can have no relative pronoun, but must put all qualifying words and phrases before the word qualified, become of a length and a difficulty which make him feel that the Japanese sentence, like the Japanese character, is past finding out. For the one rule of syntax is the one just stated, that qualifiers precede, though prepositions are postpositions. We can find analogies in plenty for clauses which condition without the relative, as we may say the murdered man or the man who was murdered, but the rule with the Japanese is invariable. Then, not to be technical, nor to dwell tediously on a subject which is dry in the telling, there are all the fine gradations in nouns and verbs in the indication of the persons speaking, spoken of, or addressed, and the innumerable auxiliary numerals whose use is necessary, as if every word, or kind of word had its own numeral like so many brace of fowls, and,-but we shall stop, referring the curious to the excellent handbooks on the colloquial which will show in what unimagined ways our common humanity may express its common sentiments. Perhaps we may end with one further remark that though Japanese can in no wise be translated literally into any European tongue, still, once learned, it contains neither impossibilities nor perplexities, and fits itself to the Anglo-Saxon psychology and expresses an American's ideas as readily as the thoughts of those to the language born.
But when one has got so far he has just begun. There is the written language with its own grammar and vocabulary, for the two long ago diverged, and the unhappy student must learn both and keep both distinct in memory and use. Then, to make confusion worse confounded, there is the ever-present Chinese; spoken language, written language, and Chinese, and still, and evermore Chinese.
It is true the Chinese is an alien element. Roots decked out with Japanese terminations, governed by Japanese postpositions, separated by Japanese particles, are imbedded in the tongue, but follow obediently the order of the Japanese. Or one may be more ambitious, and turn to literature, which omits more and more of the Japanese auxiliaries and order, and approaches nearer and nearer to Chinese until the latter is fully reached, and one by insensible degrees has arrived at the height of learning, and can read, or-rare accomplishment!-possibly write the foreign language in its purity.
There has been reason for the predominance of Chinese, a preponderance which no change in the twentieth century seems to threaten. First, because in antiquity all literature, and philosophy, and law, and science, and theology came from China, and the language unlocked the great storehouse of human knowledge. The classics were Chinese, the dogmatic authorities of the Buddhists were in Chinese, and the masterpieces of literature were Chinese. So the boy began the study, and the youth continued it, and the man completed it, so far as any human being masters the infinite. Naturally, after the fashion of students the world over, he filled his talk with the words and phrases laboriously acquired until the gentleman had the Chinese synonym for every native word at his tongue's end, all the better liked for being wholly unintelligible to the common herd. Strange fashion,-as strange, perhaps, as that of our ancestors who used Latin in the same style, and for the same reasons, and to the same ends.
But besides the great end of learned speech- the mystification of the vulgar and the cultivation of one's superior self-consciousness the Chinese really has other uses. Never was there such another tongue for compounds: in comparison Greek is difficult and German clumsy. Japanese with its circumlocutions and its polysyllables is simply impossible, but Chinese with an immense vocabulary all of monosyllables fits the scientific terminology to a nicety. The Japanese form compounds expressive of all the meanings of all the technical terms in all the sciences, expressive, concise, exact. Again and again one is astonished to see how speedily and how precisely the product would be formed. Did one want so little as the name of a committee, "The Committee on the Revision of the Rules," out it would come, Rules-revision-committee, exact, elegant, expressive, brief. So in our day Chinese flourishes, for though the ancient classics have lost their vogue, and though students no longer pore for years over the masterpieces of literature, still compounds innumerable one must know if he would read the papers, or understand the conversation of gentlemen. Possibly the self-flattery of foreigners who know the language in its different forms-they are very few-is not without its warrant, as they say that, take it all in all, its native complexities, its foreign additions, its enormous vocabulary, and its immense demands upon the memory for form as the Chinese ideograph is learned, no other single job on earth excels for difficulty its mastery. A distinguished linguist used to say to young missionaries who wished pointers on learning the language, "Stay twenty years and study all the time." Yet he, natural linguist and unrivalled speaker of the Japanese, had no eye for form and could not read a newspaper nor a page in a native book.
Education in Old Japan, as will be readily understood, was studying Chinese. It is a vast wilderness which no man ever can explore, yet not a wilderness, for it is cultivated to the highest degree, as the enthusiasm and industry of a marvellous race have been expended upon it. In its higher ranges none ever calls a spade a spade. There is always some classical or poetical allusion which hints the implement. Milton at his worst is a mere tyro in comparison with a Chinese scholar in allusiveness, so that to understand, the reader must have Chinese poetry and history and literature and, above all, the classics at his command. We never knew a foreigner who could dispense with the aid of a native scholar, and the young men, Japanese, of the modern era except in the most extraordinary instances cannot combine the new education with the old. In the olden times in the nature of the case it was easier to be a pedant than a scholar. All the training tended to check originality, and to destroy initiative. The rule was so rigid that the most the ordinary man could hope for as the outcome of his years of application was the ability to write verses which should be technically correct. The writers on the "Way" lament the misdirected energy of men who run over a multitude of books, but do not fasten their minds upon principles, scholars of the eye, and of the memory. Naturally enough, for what else could be anticipated from the system? So was it in Japan and so is it in China. The intellects of the nations were bound by a mass of traditions enshrined in a medium which had a semi-sacred character. We know how powerful is the influence of words in all education and how impossible it seems to escape the tendency to substitute them for things, so that the explanation of the word comes to be the explanation of the fact for which it stands. But with the Chinese system of education this tendency is developed to the utmost. If one asks a scholar of the old type for an explanation he is almost certain to reply by an analysis of the ideograph or an account of its history. When thus he has expounded the nature of the symbol, he takes it for granted nothing further is required. This tendency is most extreme in the Chinese philosophy, in which the mastery of the words of most general import has carried with it the unquestioned belief in the existence of the things, and a complete realism of the mediæval type is the result.
Here and there some mind of original power escaped in a measure the influence of the system, but none ever wholly escaped it. So the innovators after all stood well within the old boundaries and were unable to make such new departures as would create new epochs in philosophy, literature, or science. Thus, though we have differences corresponding to the distinctions between the nominalists and the realists of the Middle Ages in Europe, we have no such new outlook upon the universe as is given by the inductive philosophy. The Chinese, and after them the Japanese, never went at first hand to nature, but at third and fourth remove worked with ideas formulated in the past, and with their shadows, the shadows of shadows, the ideographs. In our judgment the want of greatness in such long periods of history and the meagre outcome of such vast intellectual labour is not because of inherent weakness in the Far Eastern mind, but in the medium used for literature, and the unfortunate system of education which it involved.
The literature which resulted was vast and complicated. The Japanese classify it under sixteen heads, in which we shall not follow them, remarking that the divisions contain nothing especially strange or noteworthy. But when we turn from classification to contents there are resemblances and contrasts to our kindred kinds. The histories are minute, prolonged, and deadly dull, and worse, they are untrustworthy. From the days of Confucius history has been regarded as a means for moral or political instruction, that is, it is morality taught by example. But if through the perversity of facts the past does not show the virtuous always successful and the vicious punished, what is the moralist to do? Why, make the facts fit the theory, for what should be surely is. So did Confucius, falsifying unhesitatingly his facts in the book which has come down to us under his name, mistakenly, I trust; and so did his successors, who were for the most part moralists or courtiers. Arai Hakuseki tells us that history should recount only those things which are to the honour of the men of the past, and a picture shows the Prince of Mito correcting the historians who were writing the great history of Japan, not, we may be sure, because they were not true to the facts, but because they were setting forth something which was not to his purpose or his taste.
Dull as are the histories, almost duller to our notions are the romances. There is a long string of incidents without development of plot or analysis of character. Their value is to the historical student who may find in them material for the reconstruction of times past. To the same class belong the few books of travel, and of miscellanies, works which have their value to the Japanese chiefly because of the beauty of their style, and to the foreigner as showing the life and thought of the people-furnishing with the biographies and rare autobiographies material for the historian.
Philosophy there is, following the mutations of the Chinese schools, but with no contribution of its own. Buddhist theology is in vast undigested masses, only a few tiny books of genuine Japanese material in it all, and there are Shinto works of late date in which, after the fashion of theological apologists the world over, the writers attempt to prove the undoubted divinity of their own notions and to confound the adversaries. Then there are cyclopedias, and technical works, and books which appeal to collectors of antiques and of curiosities, and all the multitude of works on subjects which belong to the history and the technique and, above all, the mystery of art.
Poetry deserves a word, for it is almost the only distinctively Japanese production in the list. There is also Chinese poetry written by Japanese, but in some mysterious way the Japanese verse managed to hold its own. It is described by contraries. In its pure form it has neither rhyme nor rhythm nor parallelism. Some poems are of moderate length, but the usual verse is of thirty-one syllables, 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. Evidently not much can be accomplished in the space, especially as short Chinese words are tabu, and the Japanese, as we remember, are polysyllables. But, moreover, as if the syllables were still too many, meaningless words are employed to round out the number, "pillow words," on which the others rest. The poet in his narrow limits and bound by rigid forms can only make a suggestion, sometimes an exclamation, and let the mind of the reader do the rest. The poem hints at some natural subject, the list is as limited as the syllables, and through it suggests a thought of life, or love, or death, or duty, or emotion, or beauty. The list shows by its limitations the powerful effect of tradition which prevents one from going direct to nature to see with his own eyes and to hear with his own ears; thus, though the moon, the flowers, the falling leaves, the mist, are repeated over and over, with the flight of birds and the sound of insects, the stars are quite left out.
As if thirty-one syllables gave too great latitude, a still tinier poem is made of seventeen syllables, 5, 7, 5, a test surely of poetic ingenuity beyond the sonnet, for in these artificialities the East always can excel the West. And the style of education is perfectly shown in the fact that all educated men were expected to write verse, a task as valuable and as inspiring as the writing of Latin verse by schoolboys in "enlightened" lands. The illustration may fit a wider range, for, extend the discipline of Latin verse over the whole range of education, and, mutatis mutandis, you have the spirit and the method of Japanese education in the past and of Chinese in the present.
But with the coming of the "Age of Enlightenment," all has changed. If the people were to be educated it could not be in a system which should take as its idea the writing of Latin verse, and if the favoured few in earnest were to master the. range of Western science they could not spend years in mastering the turns and phrases of the endless literature of the past. So, in the day of revolution, the old education was swept away and the ideals of the nineteenth century were introduced. A new literature springs into being- works of science, essays, novels, theologies, philosophies, translations, and adaptations of modern literature in Europe and America, with masses of reviews, magazines, and periodicals. The newspapers are many - partisan, often violent, frequently afflicted with the evils of our most "yellow" press, with scandals and libels peculiarly their own. Unfortunately the Chinese ideograph is retained: unfortunately, for it is practicable to write the Japanese in Roman letters, and before the full benefit of the great advance can be felt the change will be made, else inevitably in literature Japan will lag behind.
Every child must go to school when it is six years old. It learns to read the simple Japanese syllabary which is used for the uneducated, the Roman letters, and the Chinese ideographs which are in most common use. Besides, there is arithmetic, with gymnastics, a bit of manual training, and poetry. The tuition is paid in part by the parents, say four cents or less per month, and part by the State, the average cost of each school per year being less than three hundred and fifty dollars. As the teachers are men, sometimes with families, they are wretchedly underpaid with consequent inefficiency. Parents who cannot pay the little fee may have it remitted on application to the authorities and this becomes the rule, elementary education being practically free. Evidently the education leaves much to be desired, and the child whose course of study stops with these primary schools-and the vast majority go no farther-knows only how to read the simplest books, and to write the simplest letter, and to work such simple sums as may serve its purpose in its very diminutive accounts in later life. It gains no real outlook, no command over the instruments of knowledge, and no ideal for future efforts. This is true even if the child be favoured with a supplementary course of a year or two, at the section added to the primary school, for in it the work is still confined to subjects which deal with the simplest things in the simplest life.
Beyond the primary schools are the common middle schools, where the curriculum embraces English, the Japanese language, a further acquaintance with Chinese, elementary mathematics, geography, history, physics, chemistry, drawing, and zoölogy. Five years are given to these studies, and the number of students pursuing them is something more than fifty thousand, who constitute thus the lowest order in the intellectual aristocracy of New Japan.
Finishing his middle common school, our student may enter a high school, where in three years more he can be prepared for the university or for special technical schools. In this higher course he carries on the work begun in the lower schools, fitting himself for his university much as in Europe, with the exception of Latin and Greek, Chinese furnishing more than a full equivalent for the discipline of the dead languages. According to the department he chooses, the student must now acquire a working knowledge of English or German, or both. On graduation he can enter the university without examination, but the graduates are few, for only some five thousand students advance to entrance in this grade.
The universities are two, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, the former only being fully organised. It has a large faculty, and more than three thousand students in six colleges: literature, science, law, medicine, engineering, and agriculture. In addition is the university hall for graduate students engaged in original research. The students dress in uniform, and are in large part provided for by the State. The university opens to its graduates careers in the Government and in the professions, and fitly crowns the educational edifice.
Besides this regular system, there are other schools, normal, technical, and private. Some of them have exerted power second only to the university, perhaps not second to it, for the graduates of the great institution established by Mr. Fukuzawa are found in all the important departments of public activity profoundly influencing the course of events. Several of the mission schools also, notably the Do-shi-sha, founded by Mr. Nishima, have been highly influential through the prominence and the activity of their graduates. And once more, a large number of young men have been educated abroad in the schools, colleges, and universities of America and Europe, there being clubs in Tokyo composed exclusively of graduates of foreign institutions.
Education for women is not so far advanced. The proportion in the common schools is small, only five-eighths as many girls as boys. And in the higher schools the number grows rapidly less, even in comparison with the males. In the university there are none, but excellent private schools for girls have been established. In this, as in much else, the missions were pioneers, one of the best results of their activity being the incitement of the Japanese to imitation and rivalry.
Students as a class are only too diligent and are free from the pranks of Western boys. Yet none the less at times their teachers find them difficult to deal with. It is not only that they are impatient of the slow steps of the ordinary lines of our educational processes and are eager to reach the end at once, nor that their interest turns too lightly from topic to topic so that they are ready to leave one half-mastered for a new one just discovered, but more because they are hero- worshippers, and the supply of heroes is limited. So long, then, as their teacher retains their confidence and holds their imagination, he will find them docile and ready to follow where he leads; but the instant they find him out to be, after all, only the ordinary man, and when with this discovery they think they possess all which he can teach, rebellion follows. Moreover, the elders, themselves incompetent to judge the educational situation, support the students, so that time after time meritorious teachers, Japanese and foreign, have lost their positions because, through no fault of their own, their students in rebellion have been supported by parents and authorities. A fundamental principle of government is this: that the superior man governs not by rules but by his influence. If, then, disorder breaks forth, it is proved from the fact that he is not superior, and hence, even without error of his own, his place is lost.
It has been customary for men to gather groups of students about themselves, the students dwelling in their houses and supported, perhaps entirely, by their patron, who lectures to them occasionally and oversees their studies and provides them teachers. In a number of instances individuals have established large schools partly on this plan and partly supported by the payments of the students. Even when the student receives all of his support in this fashion, there is little sense of humiliating dependence, but the feeling of a reciprocal favour conferred, for the man of influence and position owes a duty to society, and the student has a claim, not only for existence, but for training, that he, too, may become a factor in the State. As the samurai for generations lived on allowances from the Government, and as in return they were expected only to give their services as might be required, and as they were taught to expect the highest education for the mind as well as the best training for the body, they came to accept all as a matter of course. Sometimes foreigners have charged the Japanese with ingratitude because of their seeming unconsciousness of benefits received, and it is true that a Japanese may be taken into a family, treated almost like a son, and yet, at some later time leave, making no sign of thankfulness. Yet there may be gratitude, for let him feel that he has received training for the mind or soul or body which fits him for his place and he will carry the sense of his profound obligation with him to his death.