Dr. Fukuzawa Yuukichi

Anyone who’s studied modern East Asian history, or the history of Western medicine in Asia, or Eastern educational theory, is probably familiar with Dr. Fukuzawa Yuukichi. He’s the thick moustached man on the Japanese Y1000 bill that looks kind of like William Faulkner.

I read his autobiography when I was studying moden Japanese history, and I must say I was pretty impressed with the guy. His ideas were very bold for the time, and he is credited with a lot of the ideas that made Japan a modern nation.

But my girlfriend disagrees. She had to read about him when studying education here in Taiwan, and she feels Taiwan, and other countries besides Japan, have really nothing to learn from what he said and did. She feels that he was just an educated man (a physician, to be exact) who was at the right place and at the right time. She says Fukuzawa did little but wake his countrymen up to the fact that they could modernize without being controlled by anyone else.

I have to say, she has a point. There’s a reason why few people who haven’t studied East Asian history have heard of him, while he’s a household name in Japan. What do you think? Was Fukuzawa a renaissance man, who can serve as an inspiration for other newly modernizing countries? Or is his lesson one fairly specific to Meiji-era Japan?

I’d be interested to hear the opinion of any Taiwanese people, or people very familiar with Taiwanese history and attitudes, toward Dr. Fukuzawa. Is he, or can he be, any inspiration to Taiwanese people?