(1) Conceptualizing the Future in Language, Religion, and Ideology

The comparison of East Asian and Western concepts is one of the basic fields of research of East Asian studies in all their different disciplinary orientations. The transfer of ideas into spoken and written expressions and concepts calls for the study of the coinage of terms and conceptual history.

The expressions for the imminent future in East Asian languages include “about to come” (Ch. jianglai, J. shōrai, K. changnae 將來), “from now on” (Ch. jinhou, J. kongo, K. kŭmhu 今後), or for the remote future, “not yet come” (Ch. weilai, J. mirai, K. mirae 未來), “at a later day” (Ch. houri, J. gojitsu, K. huil 後日), or metaphors such as “the road ahead” (Ch. qiantu, J. zento, K. chŏndo 前途). Earlier research commented on a perceived rise in importance especially of the term jianglai in the early twentieth century as compared to the premodern period (Wang Fansen 2015), or of the quantitative change from the previously dominant jianglai / changnae as the imminent future, with weilai / mirae as the more remote future that has emerged recently in Korea and China (Bae 2012). We suggest combining these results and analyse language change in different fields of knowledge and communication.

Even before it became a subject of global debate, the sustainable management of resources had been an issue in relation to the future in East Asian thought from earliest times. Schwermann (2020) has found distinct ideas on sustainability and preservation of resources in early Chinese writings since the fourth century BC. In addition to the rulers’ maintenance of control over material and human resources, care for coming generations was also a prominent aspect of early economic thinking. Future thought in ancient Chinese economic theory thus is one of the fields that links up to the present.

As the dominant economic power in East Asia during most of the twentieth century, Japan was the most advanced country. In the first half of the twentieth century, the elites throughout East Asia had to position themselves vis-à-vis Japanese hegemony. Eggert (2020a) has shown that in the 1850s to 1880s some Confucian scholars, especially in Korea, were most curious about the advances of the West and developed a distinct understanding and expectation of the “open” horizons lying ahead. From the 1880s onwards, members of both the Korean and the Japanese elites conceived of the future as an inevitable goal pre-defined by imperialist states with advanced systems of science and technology.

Over the course of the twentieth century, ideas of political participation, nationalism and egalitarianism evolved. Adherents and doubters of both liberalism and socialism looked to the future (Moll-Murata 2020, Spakowski 2017, 2018). Their utopian and dystopian views were typically formulated in wishes and aspirations for the New Year. Recently, large quantities of newspaper and journal databases since the Republican period facilitate analyses of such expectations. Such inquiries will allow for a clearer and more representative picture of future views and conceptualizations with respect to the most pressing issues of the time on the personal, national, and global level.

In religious thought and expression, reference to the future likewise plays a crucial role. The three temporally interrelated perspectives of past – present – future (guoqu 過去 – xianzai 現在 – weilai 未來) were first coined in the Chinese language by the Buddhist monk Kumārajīva (343–413). However, the Buddhist belief also recommended that the example of the Buddha be followed in overcoming the threefold temporality. In the late twentieth century, an important spiritual impulse came from Tibetan Buddhism. Its particular focus and survival strategy lay in the attempt to reserve space for a religious as against the secular sphere by way of a missionary programme. This initiative involves the translation of large compendia of Tibetan exegesis into Chinese. As such this constitutes a new attempt that expressly refers to the future both as an immanent destination and as an idea to be overcome.

Possible dissertation topics

  • The Conceptual Complex of Frugality, Moderation in Spending and Sustainability in Chinese Economic Thought (Schwermann / Taube)
  • Semantic Processes of Generating Future in Chinese Economic Thought (Schwermann / Eggert)
  • Liberalism versus Socialism: Future Projections in Republican China (Moll-Murata /
    Noesselt)
  • Terminology of Future in the Writings of Confucian Literati in Korea (Eggert / Schwermann)
  • Literary and Philosophical Projections of the Future in Selected Phases of Early Modernity (19th century, kaehwagi, early colonial period, “liberation space” 1945–1953)
    (Eggert / Mosler)
  • Overcoming the Future: Buddhist Views of Immanence and Transcendence in the Text Collection Miaofa baoku (Treasure Hall of the Wonderful Dharma) (Meinert / Moll-
    Murata)