- Tackling the Translation of an Invaluable Primary Source that No One Person Would Dare Face Alone
I think it would be safe to say that not only is the academic organization of Japanese and Western sinology (as well as numerous other fields in the humanities and social sciences) different but the two are virtually incommensurate. Whereas in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, young academic novices are sent out to find their own topics that have "never been done" (or done poorly) and thus stake their claim to a place in the "field" on the basis of an "original" contribution at such a relatively early age, their counterparts in Japan enter the mainstream usually by joining ongoing multigenerational research or study groups (variously dubbed kenkyūkai 研究会, kenkyūhan 研究班, kyōdōkenkyū 共同研究, and the like)—some of which meet regularly for years—slowly learning their trade through contacts with their peers and elders and subsequently with those younger than they. This latter process, especially in research on premodern Chinese humanities, often involves reading especially difficult texts as a group, possibly annotating and punctuating them for the first time, and then often publishing them also as a group effort in modern Japanese, Chinese with Japanese reading punctuation, or both. This practice has been going on at Kyoto University, for example, for nearly a century. The Japanese system, then, as a rule does not lay primary stress on articulating an independent position at a comparatively early stage in one's career, but delays that gratification until one reaches what those of us in the West would consider mid-career.
This system might be crushing to a young person who has something distinctive to say and must constantly defer to his academic superiors, men and women who control the sources to fund research groups and access to participation in them. While such an argument may make some logical sense, in nearly thirty years of contact and involvement with a host of such academic study groups I [End Page 15] have rarely seen it happen. Democracy seldom plays a role in academic dealings anywhere in the world, and in this regard Japan is no exception.1
The academic brokers in Japanese sinology are also the first people approached by publishing houses when the latter wish to put out compilations or collections of one sort or another, and the former usually tap the members of their research groups and the coterie of their past students to fulfill such a task. By the same token, these same brokers tend to be the ones with enough cachet in the academic and publishing worlds to approach publishing houses about various multiauthor projects. In fact, it is the usual practice for a research group to come to an end by publishing at least a collection of selected essays from the ongoing work of its constituents. One does frequently see publication of multivolume compilations of resources on Chinese history and culture, such as series of comprehensive histories (with multiple authors), encyclopedias and dictionaries, source collections often with annotations and reprints of original Chinese materials, and a wealth of annotated translations of primary materials—all far too extensive to list here but nonetheless indispensable to all scholars in the field of Chinese studies. Recent years alone have witnessed exceptionally important collections in all of these areas, often (although by no means always) the end result of group research projects. This is anything but the trend in the West, with a number of notable exceptions, such as the Cambridge History of China (which has been appearing for more than a quarter century and still has at least three more volumes set to materialize) and the Science and Civilisation...