The roles played by a common language and music education in modernization and nation-state building in Asia

Yuri Ishii


Nationalism is a product of the modern era and is closely linked to the development of capitalism. In a highly mobile industrial society that emerged in modern Europe, people needed to communicate via a common vernacular language, and the speakers of said language gradually formed a sense of unity. The vernacular was then adopted by the government as a common written national language, in its attempt to establish official nationalism, and propagated through a newly established education system (Anderson, 2006). In Asian societies, which skipped this process, the creation of nation was not a result of modernization, but was instead a part of modernization from the very beginning. Asian nations had to face a gap between modernization, which required them to imitate Western values and systems, and the formation of a nation, which in the West was based on existing linguistic peculiarities that distinguished certain members of society from others. The primary aim of this paper is to explore how Asian governments from different backgrounds dealt with this gap. In particular, this paper focuses on music education in schools across Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan, and argues that the availability of a common language, the change in power holders, the populace’s identification with the government and the historical timing influenced Asian governments’ decisions regarding official nationalism.


modernization; nationalism; education; music; language

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