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Reviewed by:
  • État, religion et répression en Asie. Chine, Corée, Japon et Vietnam (XIIIe-XXIe siècles) [State, Religion and Repression in Asia: China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam (13th-21st Centuries)]
  • Bernard Senécal, Associate Professor
État, religion et répression en Asie. Chine, Corée, Japon et Vietnam (XIIIe-XXIe siècles) [State, Religion and Repression in Asia: China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam (13th-21st Centuries)]. Edited by Arnaud Brotons, Yannick Bruneton and Nathalie Kouamé, Paris: Éditions Karthala, 2011, 354p.

The object of this very well-written, skillfully introduced and extremely informative book is unequivocally in agreement with the ongoing and worldwide effort being made in the human and social sciences for a renewal of research perspectives and themes. Indeed, the work demonstrates that Asian religions (including Buddhism) - and contrary to the simplistic view all too often prevailing nowadays in the Western world - are not readily identifiable with tolerance, wisdom and non-violence. Rather, just as in any other civilization, Asian religions also display a fundamentally chaotic, conflicting, and fatal dimension: radical schisms, aggressive proselytism, and extreme spiritual practices which can lead to death, violence, the destruction of holy places, and attacks against faith itself.

More precisely, the book shows how throughout the history of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, political authorities have resorted to violence in the name of four different conceptions of the relation between the state and religion: pluralism, freedom, imperialism, and atheism. Emerging resolutely [End Page 156] from the perspective of "connected history," the concrete analyses which comprise the seven chapters of this book delineate how these four models, coming from the West and/or from Asia, have by turns dominated the religious life of those countries according to the conception of the "Way of the State" - one of the strongest bridges between the Far East and the West - which prevailed or still prevails within them.

Each chapter has been written by a member of the COLLECTIF ERA (État et Religion en Asie). Founded in 2003, the COLLECTIF ERA comprises a diverse group of French researchers, among them ethnologists, historians and sociologists, all specialists in Asian languages and civilizations. Translated into English the titles of the seven chapters are:

  1. 1. "The Condemnation of the Monk Hōnen in 13th Century Japan: Was there an Alternative for the Imperial Court?" (A. Brotons)

  2. 2. "How did Religious Repression Accompany the Reforms of T'aejong's Monarchical Regime? Anti-Buddhist Measures at the Beginning of the 15th Century in Korea." (Y. Bruneton)

  3. 3. "'A Strange Repression': towards a New Interpretation of General Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Anti-Christian Measures (1582-1598)." (N. Kouamé)

  4. 4. "An Endemic Repression? The Destruction of 'Immoral Temples' in China under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1898)." (V. Goosaert)

  5. 5. "The Repression of 'New Religions' in Imperial Japan (1868-1945)." (J.-P. Berthon)

  6. 6. "Repression as a Complex Social Function: the Vietnamese State Facing the Cao Dai Movement between 1975 and the Present." (J. Jammes)

  7. 7. "Religious Repression: a National Stake? Concerning the Influence of the USA in Japan and Korea." (N. Luca)

This compilation in a single volume of such a wide range of topics from four different countries and spanning over eight centuries, and the successfully demonstration of how they are interconnected through the common denominators of the "Way of the State" and "religious repression," undoubtedly amounts to a "tour de force" attributable to the quality of the [End Page 157] scholarship and team work of the COLLECTIF ERA. Of course, the fact that the four countries studied by the authors all belong to the Sinitic world has certainly facilitated their task. But let us not forget that their conclusions manage to go well beyond the domain of Chinese civilization by mobilizing the universal concept of the "Way of the State."

Of the seven chapters, three are dedicated to Japan, one to China, one to Vietnam, one to Korea, and one to both Japan and Korea. Korea's religious repression has much to gain from being put in perspective.

Y. Bruneton's chapter on the Ŏ kpul sungyu chŏ ngch'aek 抑佛崇儒政策 (policy of repression of Buddhism and promotion of Confucianism), for instance, helps us to understand how this policy of King...


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