"Where is a hero's home?" (英雄何處是家鄉?)
65 X 35cm in Cursive Script (草書)
This phrase is extracted from a calligraphy work by Itō Hirobumi (伊藤 博文, 1841 – 1909) displayed in Ryozen Museum of History, Kyoto, Japan. Itō Hirobumi was the first prime minister of Japan and was a key figure in promoting westernization of Japan in the Meiji Restoration era(1). He was raised in a traditional samurai family as an adopted child, and was secretly sent to England to learn western Naval science in 1863 (2). During his stay in England, he recognized the urgent need for Japan to adopt the Western system and so he furthered his studies in modern currency systems in the United States in 1870. Upon return to Japan in 1871, he established Japan's modern taxation system (3), and was then sent to Germany to study under constitutional scholars in 1882. Through many political struggles, he eventually became the first Prime Minister of Japan in 1885, forming the first Western-styled cabinet in Japan's history (4).
Today, Itō Hirobumi is a fairly controversial historical figure, especially in East Asian communities. As the top Japanese official in his time, he oversaw the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), both of which involved Japanese invasion of her neighbouring countries, including China and Korea. As such, many Chinese and Koreans see Itō Hirobumi as an instigator for invasion of their respective home countries (5). Nonetheless, he is certainly regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern Japan by many historians (6).
"Where is a hero's home?"
(translated by KS Vincent Poon Dec. 2015)
Itō Hirobumi resided and travelled to many countries outside Japan in his lifetime, including England, Germany, United States, Korea and China. Presumably, he wrote this phrase to lament the rather turbulent times he was in. Raised in a traditional samurai family, it was unconventional (and perhaps even dangerous) for him to acknowledge the Western way, yet he found the courage and audacity to accept new ideas and reflect on the old samurai system to reform his country. It is therefore evident that driving progress and shaping a better future require not only dedication but also self-reflection. A nation that is unwilling to self-reflect or face her own past has no good prospect and will likely repeat the same mistakes again. Likewise for an individual; if a person cannot learn from one's own mistakes and take responsibilities, that person will not have a good future.
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