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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Assertions of Cultural Uniqueness in Asia

This project focuses on identity construction in East Asia, a process in which a common front against the "West" as well as movements of demarcation within the region can be discerned. Discourses of self-assertion articulate themselves in extremely diverse formations. Self-orientalization, assumptions about anciennity as typical argumentative patterns of cultural nationalism, intellectual maps of the Orient and the Occident as the basis of self-demarcation, and the role of intellectuals as opinion leaders are only a few of the topics of this investigation which crosses cultural and disciplinary boundaries.


In German, the term Selbstbehauptung (self-assertion) is partly synonymous with "self-defense," "forcefulness," "self-confidence" and other related concepts. The contextual range of the term hampers an unambiguous translation into Chinese (ziwo zhuzhang), English (self-assertion), Japanese (jiko shuchō) or Korean (jagi jujang). Significant collocations for the German term Selbstbehauptung are, among others, Nation (nation), Staat (state), Gewalt (force, violence), Abendland (the Occident), Eroberung (conquest), Anpassung (adjustment), Unterwerfung (submission), Neutralität (neutrality), Ringen (struggle), Freiheit (freedom), Zwang (restraint), and Weltordung (world order) ( The connotations and collocations of the term Selbstbehauptung are Janus-headed, and the range of its meanings may well be characterized by the word pairs defensive/offensive and action/reaction.


"Discourse" has been defined by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe as follows: "We will call articulation any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulation practice.The structured totality resulting from the articulatory practice, we will call discourse. A discursive formation is not unified either in the logical coherence of its elements, or in the a priori of a transcendental subject, or in a meaning-living subject à la Husserl, or in the unity of an experience."


Discourses of self-assertion are carried on worldwide and, because of their universal character, only ever come to a provisional conclusion. This is not only true of Japanese or Asian discourses of self-assertion but also of German or European ones, as shown by, for example, the book of the former federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt, published in 2000, Die Selbstbehauptung Europas: Perspektiven für das 21. Jahrhundert [The Self-Assertion of Europe: Perspectives for the 21st Century]. Put in the abstract, underlying self-assertion and probably also self-assertion discourses is, according to the definition supplied by Laclau and Mouffe, a virtually antagonistic environment, or at least one that is perceived as such, in which the self is confronted in a disruptive fashion with an entity endowed with will and consciousness. The majority of discourses on self-assertion are conducted nationally, or from a national perspective and, as a rule, rapidly arrive at nationalistic conclusions whose ideological caliber can be positioned at various points between patriotism and ultranationalism.


Scholars from Germany, Japan, Korea and China have covered the subject of assertions of cultural uniqueness in three symposia: at the German Institute for German Studies in Tokyo (November 30–December 2, 2000), in Seoul (November 14–17, 2001), and at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (December 12–14, 2002). Contributions to the first two conferences have been published in the volume Selbstbehauptungsdiskurse in Asien: Japan – China – Korea (Munich: Iudicium, 2003).


Recent Publications

Ducke, Isa
Internationale Sportveranstaltungen - Tummelplatz für den Nationalismus oder Mittel für die Regionenbildung in Asien? (International Sports Events - A Breeding Ground for Nationalism or a Means for the Building of an Asian Region?
In: Asien p. 23-38.


December 12, 2002
Symposia and Conferences
The Omnipresence of Discourses of Self-Assertion in East Asia: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Perspectives

November 14, 2001
Symposia and Conferences
Discourses of Cultural and Political Self-Assertion in East Asia

November 30, 2000
Symposia and Conferences
Asian Discourses of Cultural and Political Self-Assertion in East Asia


Previous Staff

Isa Ducke
Head of Social Science Section

Andrea Germer
Gender Studies, History

Matthias Koch
Social and Economic History of Japan, Business History, Germany and Japan in Comparative Studies, German-Japanese Relations
Head of German-Japanese Relations and Comparisons Section

Sven Saaler
Modern Japanese Political History, History of Foreign Relations

Monika Schrimpf
Study of Religions