2019 Volume 86 Issue 2 Pages 225-236
This article aims to examine how the concept of the “university” has formed and developed in East Asia, with a particular focus on translation as a function for the transmission, consolidation, and sharing of knowledge. In East Asia, universities were formed from the late 19th century on in the manner of modern nation-states, following the models of the Western world. Under the strong influence of nationalism, these establishments were created using their own national languages. For example, there was a plan to make English the official language when Japan introduced its modern university and education system. However, this idea was rejected based on the argument that broader participation in education could be assured through instruction and scholarly activities in the language already widely used within the society (i.e., Japanese). Through the examination of literature in four languages (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English) on East Asian higher education, this article examines the development and formation of the concept of the “university” in various states and regions of East Asia. It then analyzes how the formation and development of the “university” as a concept has been influenced by changing international and national social contexts, first from the construction of modern university systems to the end of the Cold War, and then up through today in the age of globalization. The article argues that, in East Asian universities and societies, the transmission, consolidation, and sharing of knowledge through translation has been implemented in patterns very different from those in medieval Europe with Latin as a lingua franca or in contemporary Europe with English as a globally shared academic language. Modern universities in East Asia were established in close relation with each nation's development. In this region, the languages in use and the patterns of translation are more closely connected to the national identity that also appears in the concept of the university. The translation of knowledge at universities in East Asia tends to be implemented in a hegemonic power context rather than through voluntary academic activities. Also, the patterns and reasons for language choices (English, Chinese, or other local languages) at universities in East Asia are highly complex and geopolitically unbalanced. In these conditions, East Asian societies have not yet been successful in forming a common understanding of the concept of their own universities. In conclusion, the article discusses the potential of the universities in East Asia based on their indigenous academic approaches, represented as “Asia as method”. The article also raises concerns over losses in translation that may lead to misunderstandings of the essential characteristics of universities, such as academic freedom and university autonomy.