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Confucian Tendencies in China and Japan Essay

This paper will present Confucianism in Japan supported by appropriate sources. The findings will be compared and contrasted with the Confucian tendencies in China.

In West, the term “Confucianism” is used to refer to diverse philosophical movements known in the Japanese history as jugaku, which means “the learning of the scholars”. In the East Asian history, there was no common meaning linked to the term “Confucianism”. In early modern times, few Japanese scholars gained diverse knowledge on Confucianism. The term “Confucianism” came into use in the West philosophy as a result of the interaction between Jesuit missionaries and Chinese scholars (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2012). Therefore, the recent origin of the term should not obscure the fact that its understanding existed long before among the East Asian intellectuals, the scholars who followed the teachings of its founder, Confucius (Adler, 2011).

The western scholars distinguish between Confucianism and neo-Confucianism; most scholars use the term neo-Confucianism to refer to forms of Confucian philosophies emerged in the rise of Buddhism. Most Buddhists philosophical teachings stated that reality of common existed in the realm of delusions, ignorance and egocentrism. However, early philosophers failed to address this area of Confucianism. Early Confucians also failed to solve the issue of metaphysics, having claimed the lack of basis on the assumption of common sense. The Confucian aspect developed metaphysics, confirming the reality of experience, and also explained the nature of the world as a generative force transforming things through the unending process of change (Qing & Bell, 2012).

The importance of Confucianism in Japanese history is also undeniable. The philosophies of Confucianism molded the Japanese views in the modern world. These effects can still be seen in many spheres of Japanese life, from philosophical to social sciences. Perhaps, most valuable contribution of Confucianism to today’s Japan is the modern term for college or university, which is believed to have originated from the four books of neo-Confucianism. The growth of the Han Dynasty introduced Confucian teachings in Japan. The results of that philosophical system, Buddhism, can be observed in the art and architecture. Alongside Buddhism, Confucianism came into play and became evident in the philosophical system, influencing social, political and economic relations and institutions in Japan (Qing & Bell, 2012).

Confucianism contribution to Japanese culture related to conceptions of historical times. Through the introduction of Buddhism, the Japanese imperial court began using the names of the years to count the period of reign of an emperor. The Japanese emperors adopted the system as a means to declare the period of their rule. In modern Japan, such a method is still used to count the years up, hence influencing the way Japanese interpret calendar years. The Seventeenth-article constitution is the most influenced writing of ancient Japan. The document acted as a guide to set standards for the government and the society which adopted a certain political system. Confucian texts also developed political nomenclature used in ancient Japan. As a result of political orientation to Confucianism, study and learning became requirements for governing and bringing peace into the world (Adler, 2011).

Japan formulated most of its political policies based on Confucianism. The system of equal land distribution, namely the Handen system, originated from the Mencius account of a humane government. He explained that people only abode by laws of society if they experienced the basic human needs, notably, shelter, food and clothing. Through this thought, he advocated for equal distribution of land among families. Although the approach to land holding later faced comprise, the attempt of its implementation reflected the extent to which the system acted as means of establishing ethical foundations of political society in Japan (Adler, 2011).

China Confucianism

Confucianism in China dates back 2500 years as a religious and philosophical tradition that has spread to other parts of East Asia. According to history of Confucian origin, Confucius founded and transmitted some traditions and values in the Chinese history. Confucius’ followers came to be known as scholars who turned out to be experts in the rituals and arts necessary for good governance and cultured life. In the modern Chinese times, an equivalent for the term “Confucianism” is referred to teaching or learning. It is through these teachings that the claim of human nature being inherently good came into existence. These teachings constitute the core of classical Confucianism in modern day China (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2012).

In the Song dynasty (950-1279), a substantial Confucianism revolution took place, which the Westerners call neo-Confucianism. The dominant figures of neo-Confucianism synthesized the teachings of the 11th century into a system of philosophical and religious practices that resulted in the development of the religious-philosophical view in the 20th century. This period also saw the birth of the education system in China, having touched all its levels, from elementary school to institutions of higher learning. The approach to education (Sage Hood) was also politicized in the 14th century; it was adopted as the basis of civil service examination, hence becoming the avenue for social mobility in China. Formal education played a significant role in enhancing upward mobility. Therefore, in the 19th century, China recorded higher levels of literacy than those which had been observed before. The society also offered other routes to achieve success or improve one’s position in the society. Moreover, through all those routes, education offered a higher rate of success (Collcutt, 1991; Bellah, 1985; Kurozumi & Herman, 1994).

The Confucian traditional values positively influenced a great part of contemporary life of the Chinese community. Chinese show more reverence to educated elite in the society. Additionally, they value everything attributed to learning and information dissemination and orthodox ideology which guide government and society. The other issue, which Chinese community takes into account, is the idea of hierarchy concerning the functions’ distribution in governing the state, which derives from the traditional arrangement of society. In such a case, a good example to prove this claim is that the radical and extreme policies of the 1950s and 1960s were directed to attack on the intellectuals as well as the traces of the development of mandatory labor for bureaucrats may be seen to be embedded in the traditional Confucian attitudes. The functions of the model workers and soldiers, official understanding of substance and a great amount of the literature and arts reflect early Confucian themes (Reitan, 2010).

In ancient Chinese times, Chinese monarchs implemented humane authority. However, after a certain period, a change in the form of the rule was necessary. In modern China, people receive governance through instructional form balanced by institutional arrangements that reflect legitimacy. In today’s China, Humane Authority is implemented through a Tricameral legislature, while the House of Exemplary Individual represents sacred legitimacy; the House of Nation presents historical and cultural legitimacy; and finally, House of Exemplary Persons symbolizes the accepted form of legitimacy (Sawada, 1993).


Bellah, R. (1985). Tokugawa Religion: The Cultural Roots of Modern Japan. New York: The Free Press.

Collcutt, M. (1991). “The Confucian Legacy in Japan”. In G. Rozman (ed.) The East Asian Region: Confucian Heritage and Its Modern Adaptation. (pp. 111-154). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kurozumi, M. & Herman, O. (1994). “The Nature of Early Tokugawa Confucianism,” Journal of Japanese Studies, 20(2): 331–375.

Qing, J. & Bell, D.A. (2010). “A Confucian Constitution for China.” The New York Times. A25. Web.

Reitan, R. M. (2010). Making a Moral Society: Ethics and the State in Meiji Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2012). . Web.

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IvyPanda. "Confucian Tendencies in China and Japan." September 5, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/confucian-tendencies-in-china-and-japan/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Confucian Tendencies in China and Japan." September 5, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/confucian-tendencies-in-china-and-japan/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Confucian Tendencies in China and Japan'. 5 September.

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