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征伐, せいばつ, seibatsu

An old Japanese friend suggested that 征伐, “conquest,” has a moral tone to it and might be better translated as “righteous conquest,” however, most dictionaries simply define it as a "conquest, invasion, subjugation, overcoming, or punitive expedition." Similarly, ukiyo-e titles in various museums translate 征伐 as "conquest."

A few notes:

  1. In Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney's Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History (University of Chicago Press, 2002), mention is made that: "In 1894, the year when the Sino-Japanese War started, Sasaki Nobutsuna [...] a highly regarded scholar of classical poetry, composed a lengthy song entitled The Song of the Conquest of the Chinese (Shina seibatsu no uta). The song is replete with references to mountain cherry blossoms fragrant in the morning sun and to the sacrifice of the Japanese for the country/emperor." The text goes on to say that the word seibatsu has a "special meaning: it is used for conquests of those who deserve to be vanquished, such as ogres or barbarians."

  2. Though my Japanese is poor, when I was looking at Japanese Wikipedia entries on the Battle of Ōshū (Ōshū kassen, 奥州合戦), I gleaned the following: the Battle of Ōshū is a general, collective phrase used to describe Yoritomo’s invasion of the province, and is a modern, neutral term used in preference to moral and 'biased' descriptions of the battle as Ōshū tsuitō (奥州追討, the “chase and defeat” at Ōshū, a "tracking down and killing; a punitive expedition" in Ōshū), and Ōshū seibatsu (奥州征伐, the “righteous conquest” of Ōshū).

So can anyone shed light on the word 征伐, seibatsu, its etymology and/or the subtleties of its use? If one is looking at C19th and pre-C19th texts is it better to translate the word as 'righteous conquest' (or similar) so there is a historically moral emphasis?

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From Wikipedia:

征伐(せいばつ、conquest または subjugation)とは、反乱を起こした勢力を鎮圧したり、反社会的な犯罪集団・賊などを、武力で処罰(懲罰)したりすることをいう。実際にはプロパガンダ(政治宣伝)として、公権力を背景とし、政治的に敵対する勢力に対して武力行使(攻撃・侵攻・侵略)をしかけるときに使われることが多い。対象は敵国や異民族の場合もある。「征服」に比べて「政敵・及び政府の敵を懲らしめる」という意味合いが強い。

So it's not a neutral word but is a subjective and condescending word that does have a connotation of "defeating the evil", "suppressing insurgency" or even "showing power to savage people". In reality, it's often merely a means to justify what a government is doing; it has been used against what they considered as "public enemies". Indeed, 征伐 sounds "glorious" as long as you are on the government's side. On the other hand, modern historians, who need to be objective and understand the meaning of this proverb, tend to avoid 征伐.

討伐 also has a very similar connotation, but it's used with a single (subjectively "evil") enemy or a small group of enemies (e.g., 勇者が魔王を討伐する).

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Surely 征伐 always means sending an army for a righteous or legitimate cause, or for subduing the wrong.

In chinese, 伐 means attacking the guity or the evil forces. 征 means aggression with the same nuance. Note that the latter has 正 in its character.

In a well-known child song of Momotaro, the Japanese folktales hero, Momotaro goes to 鬼(the demons, monsters)の征伐.

  • Chinese, 正: “right; proper; correct; honest; upright; honourable.” Thanks. – musha Sep 3 '18 at 13:38
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    @musha This reasoning is perhaps a bit reversed. The meaning right, ..., honourable is an extension of the meaning to govern, now written as 政, which itself was an extension of the meaning military expedition, now written as 征. All of these meanings were originally written as 正, with the other components added later to separate these meanings. See this for the glyph origins of 正. – droooze Sep 5 '18 at 9:26
  • @droooze, your observations and your link back to your previous post were insightful, but another indicator of how deep the mud of this language terrain is, even when asking a simple question; how to tread and extrapolate is not always clear. You note: "All of these meanings were originally written as 正...," I assume that for comprehension and detailing of this you are using quite specialised references, certainly not online. Have looked at hanziyuan.net/#正, for instance. All said, I feel that using 'righteous conquest' for pre-C20th usage seems reasonable, given all observations above. – musha Sep 8 '18 at 5:44
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    @musha Wiktionary also mentions these meanings - where it says derivatives, it means that these meanings were originally one word, represented by one character, that got differentiated later by adding on other semantic components, creating newly derived characters. – droooze Sep 8 '18 at 7:48

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