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Confucian philosophy had a great impact on development of many Asian countries. Japan was not an exclusion and the state governance as well as societal norms were shaped by Confucius’ ideas (Leidy 291). It is possible to trace the influence of Confucianism in Japan during the Nara period. Notably, Confucian ideas were spread through his famous Analects as well as stories from his life. Therefore, it is possible to analyze some concepts mentioned in Analects (which could have sprung out of particular events in Confucius’ life) to understand the way they were adopted in Japan in the 8th century. It is possible to focus on such concepts as benevolence, justice, peace, care and centralized power.
Five Principles that Affected Japan of the Nara period
One of the concepts central to Analects is benevolence. The thinker stresses that the ruler has to be “solemn” with people who will respect him, in return (“The Analects of Confucius” 86). Clearly, this is a facet of justice. Japanese people who adhered to principles of Buddhism were eager to follow this simple convention (Bary, Keene and Tanabe 338). An episode form Confucius’ life revealed in a recent film Kongzi (2010) suggests that the thinker followed the principle. Thus, he saved a boy from those who wanted to kill him due to an old tradition as slaves had to be buried with their masters (Kongzi). Importantly, Confucius stresses, “Benevolence is love for our fellow human! A ritual murder is still a murder…” (Kongzi). It seemed natural that rulers should be wise and treat people rightfully.
Justice is another concept revealed in Analects. This broad concept is the central one. Confucianism is based on the principle of justice and Confucius taught that people should treat each other in a just way, since this is the basis of a prosperous country.
Peace is another important concept that is revealed in Confucius’ work. The thinker stresses that “when there is peace there is no danger the ruler will topple” (“The Analects of Confucius”90). When people do not die, there is prosperity in a country. Japanese rulers as well as elites understood that wars brought ruins and tried to avoid conflicts (although such efforts were often unsuccessful).
An important concept found in Analects is care. Confucius taught that people had to take care of more vulnerable ones. It is noteworthy that this care also expanded on the relations between parents and children. Japanese people were also quite eager to follow such principles that conformed to Buddhist rules.
As for the concept of the effective central power, Confucius revealed his admiration with an emperor as “towering were his achievements” (“The Analects of Confucius” 39). In other words, the thinker stressed that centralized power (the power in one emperor’s hands) could bring order and prosperity to the country. This concept was well-accepted in Japan that was transforming into a centralized state (Collcutt 123). It is possible to note that the state developed rapidly during the 8th century and centralized power was one of impetuses of such development.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that Confucian ideas had a significant impact on development of the Japanese society in the 8th century. Confucius’ writings as well as some events of his life spread major principles of the new philosophy. It is necessary to note that Buddhism was practiced at that period and the two systems (Confucianism and Buddhism) shared a lot of principles in common. Therefore, the Japanese quite rapidly adopted major conventions of Confucianism.
Bary, Wm. Theodore, Donald Keene, and George Tanabe. Sources of Japanese Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Columbia University Press, 2013. Print.
Collcutt, Martin. “The Legacy of Confucianism in Japan.” The East Asian Region: Confucian Heritage and Its Modern Adaptation. Ed. Gilbert Rozman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. 111-157. Print.
Kongzi. Dir. Hu Mei. Beijing: China Film Group. 2010. DVD.
Leidy, Denise Patry. The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History & Meaning. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2009. Print.
The Analects of Confucius. Web.