The Effects of Confucianism in Japan and Korea Essay

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Confucianism, as one may know, originated from China. It is regarded more as a way of life rather than a religion. Founded by Confucius during the 6th century B. C. , it has made a huge impact on the spiritual and political life of early China. The practice includes five major points or practices, namely: the ren which equates to humaneness or benevolence, the li which tackles ritualistic norms, the zhong, which sees the importance of ones loyalty to his true nature, the shu, which means reciprocity, and finally, the xiao, which looks at filial piety.

Together, these five principles are what is known as the de or virtues. (Confucianims) According to Confucianism follows the type of nature-worship present in other religions of Ancient China; according to Confucius, everything is subordinated a supreme being valled Tien which meant Heaven with the other spirits such as the It was not during the 11th century though that Confucianism has been able to cross a wider base. During this period, Confucian thought has been revived and gave rise to the creation of what would later be known as Neo-Confucianism.

(Confucianism) During the Sung dynasty, people started to revitalize the stagnant Confucian tradition; one of the ways this happened was thru the pushing forth of reforms that tried to address the specific problems during that period, especially socioeconomic problems. One of the most important facets of this new Confucianism is the inseparability of the concern for ones government and society, as well as the ascetical practice which leads to the path of ultimate personal fulfillment. (Kalton)

One of the most important and amazing aspects of neo-Confucianism though, is not in its revolutionary principles or its new philosophical underpinnings, but rather its ability to permeate some of the most rigid societies during its time Japan and Korea. These two countries, as one may know, is very much rich in tradition and cultural practices, and it must have meant something if a way of life, such as Confucianism, is able to overpower their more dominant cultural and social practices. Confucianism in Japan

In Japan, the most important person influenced by this neo-Confucianism is Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu turned to Confucianism to help him establish a bureaucracy that will help him oversee over all the other independent daimyos all over the country. Confucianism has been in Japan by the 6th century, but it was not until in Ieyasus reign that it was really embraced by the Japanese people. He used the concept to build his government which will be able to bring 260 years of peace in Japan domestically.

(Hooker) Fujiwara Seika, a devoted student of China and Chinese poetry was convinced that the most important key for a prosperous nation is the construction of the free-market. He used Neo-Confucianism to provide a rational basis for the creation of a market as well as create a rationale that will justify the conducting of business and commerce. This is an unorthodox move considering that ever since the establishment of Confucianism, it has always been hostile to the idea of trading and commerce.

(Hooker) It is important to note however, that even though Seika influenced Ieyasu so much, Seika never worked for him; instead, he passed on the torch for creating a society based on Neo-Confucianism to one of his most brilliant students Hayashi Razan. Hayashi Razan revolutionized the Japanese court as he was in charge of transforming it into a Neo-Confucianist government. He stressed the importance of the study of history and the discovery of rich Japanese traditions.

He also introduced the importance of the Confucian facet of loyalty and obligations which would later on develop into a standard code of conduct with which the shogunate will be able to govern autonomous units led by Daimyos and still be able to maintain social order. (Hooker) He was also the founder of the Rito Shinchi Shinto, a school of thought which was able to blend together teachings of Shintoism and Confucianism, and at the same time be able to reject Buddhist teachings. (Hiroyuki).

One of the most important contributors to Neo-Confucianism was Kaibara Ekken. One of his contributions was a systematic study of nature which he based from the teachings of Neo-Confucianism. (Hooker) His study marked the beginning of the empirical science. The other contribution he made to the Tokugawa regime was his translation of the Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism language into a language that was easily understood even by the ordinary Japanese folk. (Hooker), this helped spread the predominant teachings of Neo-Confucianism into a bigger market.

Following all of these developments, the Japanese government declared that the Neo-Confucianism philosophy to become the official philosophy of the country in 1790. This declaration came to be known as the Kansai Edict of 1790. Along with the passing of this law, any teaching which went against the facets of Confucianism was banned. The law also appointed two officers which looked at all of the teachings to make sure that all of them were conforming to the law. (Hooker) Confucianism in Korea

One of the more notable Confucian influences in Korean culture was its teachings on valuing and respecting the elders because according to Confucius, age brought with it more and more wisdom. Confucius said that by reviewing the old, we can learn the new. (Korean Confucianism) By the 1500s Neo-Confucianism in Korea was becoming rigid and really conservative. It has become really emphasized on hierarchy in human relations and self-control on the individual level. (Social Structures and Values) According to teachings, society was defined using five relationships which were formulated by Chinese thinkers.

These fiver were: between father and son there should be affection; between ruler and minister there should be righteousness; between husband and wife there should be attention to their separate functions; between old and young there should be a proper order; and between friends there should be faithfulness. (Social Structures and Values) One of the more important things that one can see is that among all of the relationships, only the relationship between friends was a relationship between co-equals. Other relationships were much more focused on things such as subordination and authority.

Looking at the negative sides of the Korean Confucian ideology, one can see that there was a big stress in paternalism, that is, men have a larger role in society, especially the husband, because under almost all circumstances, the husband has control over his wife. Other criticisms were that in the Korean Confucianism, there was no role for the poor and the masses when it comes to running the state; in turn, the scholars the educated people, are to look after these weak people as fathers look over their children.

(Confucian and Neo-Confucian Values) These lead to power struggles, inequality, and other forms of social conflict arose, but this was what was seen as both natural and good in terms of the Korean society back then. Power and structure followed a vertical hierarchy in old society. Conclusion Looking at the different influences in Japan and Korea, one can see that Confucianism is not the perfect interpretation of what can be seen as a perfect lifestyle. It is still open to interpretation. In Japan, Confucianism was used to set order, prosperity, and advancement to society.

It presented many advances and developments such as making the government an overseer in terms of other semi-independent states. In Korea though, Confucianism brought about negative things such as vertical relationships, inequality, and poverty. It deprived the people some of their most basic human rights, especially the women. One thing that can be derived from both of these examples, though, is that Confucianism has promoted rigid patterns of rule. Both in Japan and Korea, the role of the state cannot be broken; this is most evident in the formulation of the Kansei Edict.

If one is to point out any positivism in the influences of Neo-Confucianism is that it has been able to mold together entire countries, leading to a respect of authority and respect of fellowmen.


Hiroyuki, Yazaki. Hayashi Razan 4 April, 2006 Encyclopedia of Shinto. 20 April 2009 Hooker, Richard. Japanese Neo-Confucianism 1999. Washington State University. 19 April, 2009

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