Библиографическое описание:

Гу Я. Confucianism and Japanese Culture // Молодой ученый. — 2015. — №17. — С. 601-604.

Chinese Confucianism spread to Japan a long time ago. As a ruling instrumentof the feudal classes, Confucianism consolidated the ruling of Japanese dominance hierarchies at that time, but also made important influences on the social, economic and cultural development of Japan. From the development course of Chinese Confucianism, this paper analyzes characteristics of different development stages, argues the spread of Confucianism in Japan by stages, and finally elaborates the influences of Confucianism on Japanese Culture.

Keywords: Confucianism; Japan; Culture; Influences.


China has a history of over 5,000 years, and the glorious civilization was created as early as in ancient times. Chinese Confucianism, among the civilization, occupies a predominant position in the East Asian cultural circle, and has profound influences on the culture development of East Asia and even the whole Asia. Located at the Northeast Asian region, Japan is a close neighbor of China separated by only a strip of water. The contact between China and Japan dates back to an ancient book of China, The Classic of Mountains and Rivers, which incorporated the records about Japan. Since ancient times, the two countries sent legatine commissions to each other and established trades for exchanges. China and Japan, both of which are members of East Asian cultural circle, have many common points in traditional culture. In THE KOJIKI: Records of Ancient Matters of Japan, Chinese Confucians and Daoist ideas were proved to be present among intellectuals of Japanese Royal. As it were, the development of traditional culture in Japan was profoundly influenced by Chinese Confucianism.

1.      Confucianism Development in China

Confucianism, the abbreviate form of Confucian Theories, originated in Eastern Zhou, the Spring and Autumn Period of China. In the history of feudal society over 2,000 years, Confucianism reflected the benefits of ruling classes as the orthodoxy of Chinese society. Confucianism development in China is generally divided into the following stages.

The first stage is the preliminary Confucianism development in Pre-Qin Period, represented by Confucius, Mencius and Hsun-Tzu, etc. At that time, the contents of Confucianism were mainly about the moral cultivation of ancient gentlemen and political kingcraft, concentrated on ethics and political thoughts. The originator of Confucianism was Confucius, a famous ideologist, politician and educationist.

The “Ren (Benevolence)” advocated by Confucius was the basic principle of Chinese ancient ethics. Confucius attached importance to humanity and rationality. He considered the benevolence as the basic moral rule for “Shi” (that is, a gentleman). Such view played a decisive role in the development of Chinese traditional culture. In the Warring States Period, Mencius developed “Benevolence” into “Benevolent Government”. He opposed harsh government, with the core content of “the people are the most important and the ruler is the least important to a state”. This theory was better for enduring social lasting stability and easing class contradictions. While thinking highly of moral righteousness, Hsun-Tzu emphasized the role of political institution. In this period, as it were, Confucianism was a theory cultivating officials for the state and society, and it was a culture of “Shi”.

The second stage is the establishment of mainstream position for Confucianism. Confucius’s doctrine developed in Han Dynasty. Confucianism in this period was improved by assimilating strong points of many theories like Mohism, Daoism, Legalists, Yin and Yang, etc, The representative figure was Dong Zhong-Shu, who pushed Confucianism towards political institutionalization and religionization. Upon the establishment of feudal society, Confucianism was held up as a national study in order to adapt to the feudal system. In the Emperor Wu Period of Han Dynasty, it became articles of social and political institution, as well as moral rules mandatory to all social members. Dong Zhong-Shu proposed etiquette as the guiding ideology of politics, implementing cultural tyranny policies of “banning all schools of thought except Confucianism”, which was the mainstream ideology of feudal states. The classical works of Confucianism spread far and wide, such as Book of Changes (Yijing), The Book of History (Shangshu), The Book of Songs (Shijing), The Book of Rites (Liji), The Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu), etc. Later, social chaos in the last period of Han Dynasty brought about crisis of ruling thought. Peasant revolts and incessant fighting between warlords caused the trend of social criticism. As a result, the incoming of Daoism and Buddhism in this period greatly impacted the Confucianism.

The third stage is the revival and development of Confucianism. In the period of Tang and Song Dynasties, some rationalistic Confucian philosophers devoted themselves to revival of Confucianism in respects of ethics and culture of mind and body. They constructed a speculative philosophy system with the most grand and complete scale as well as the most considerate and precise analysis, that is, the Neo-Confucianism. It was called “the rationalism of Cheng and Zhu critiques” or “Song-ology”. Among these philosophers, Zhu Xi epitomized the thoughts. The Confucianism spread to the Korean Peninsula and Japan was in large part the Neo-Confucianism originated by Zhu Xi. Zhu’s Neo-Confucianism proposed “making the course of nature existent and the desire of human extinct”, “to study the phenomena of nature in order to acquire knowledge”, particular about moral integrity. Zhu Xi dedicated his life to the study of Confucianism. He selected “The Four Books” (The Great Learning; The Doctrine of the Mean; The Analects of Confucius; and Mencius) from classic works of Confucianism, and printed for issuance as schoolbook. In the following feudal society of China, Zhu’s Neo-Confucianism was always the official philosophy of feudal ruling classes.

In the modern period after19th century, scholars represented by Kang You-Wei contributed to new development of Confucianism. Confucianism communicated with and accommodated democratic and scientific thoughts of the modern western countries. Kang You-Wei advertised the democratic thoughts of modern western countries by virtue of the ideology of Confucius and Mencius, and worked hard on the conversion of Confucianism into modernization. Since “the May 4th Movement”, people criticized Confucianism violently. Such criticism is understandable under the conditions of anti-feudal revolution. However, it is not scientific to totally negate such theory. The subject of Confucianism development should be treated dialectically. Nowadays, there are still many scholars in China working on the Confucianism.

2.      Development of Chinese Confucianism in Japan

In history, China and Japan had frequent communications. Chinese culture, science and technology spread to Japan continuously, which promoted the social and economic development of Japan. Chinese culture had a profound influence on Japan. Till now, in Japan, Confucianism is still an existence of order and principle as the most advantageous traditional culture. The “Harmony” sprit, “Family” system and “Loyal”, etc. in Japanese enterprises are the consequences under influences of Chinese Confucianism.

As regards when Chinese Confucianism firstly spread to Japan, nothing has been ascertained. Generally, scholars believed that Chinese Confucianism spread to Japan through Baekje in the Emperor Keitai period. In 6th century AD, Emperor Keitai of Japan advertised for the Five Classics officer. (“The Five Classics” refers to The Book of Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites, and The Spring and Autumn Annals. It is a general term of the five classic Confucian works.)

Prince Shotoku (Syoutoku) of Japan played a major role in the heritage of Chinese Confucianism. Prince Shotoku established the centralized system governed by Emperor, originated “Crown-Title System”, and promulgated The Seventeen- Article Constitution. The titles in “Crown-Title System” were Ren (Benevolence), Yi (Righteousness), Li (Propriety), Zhi (Wisdom) and Xin (Sincerity) of Confucian thoughts, and De (Kindness) complemented by Prince Shotoku, of which each was classified into two levels, 12 titles totally. The Constitution reflected the human relations, cardinal guides, constant virtues and sense of hierarchy in Confucianism like the monarch and his subjects, the father and his son, etc., stressing on the “monarch upmost” and “loyal to the monarch”. In addition, it emphasized the reference to Confucian rites. Prince Shotoku also sent many students to Sui and Tang Dynasties as emissary, aiming to absorb Confucian thoughts and study the Confucianism directly in China.

In the Heian Period, Confucianism spread far and wide in Japan, and rooted in political, cultural and educational fields. In the following Edo Period, Japanese Confucianism had its heyday. Chinese “Song-ology” generated profound impacts in Japan.

Song-ology spread to Japan together with the Chan sect. At that time, Japanese Zen monks, Rong Xi, Chong Yuan, Dao Yuan, etc., entered Song. They kept their eyes open to Confucianism in addition to Buddhism, and became the pioneers of spreading Song-ology. Song-ology emphasized moral integrity, which played an active role in re-energizing the national spirit. It evolved into a thought of “patriotic and loyal to the throne” in Japan. Japanese schools also centralized education on Confucianism. Schools enforced San Zhu (Three Aspects of Notes), The Four Books, The Five Classics, Collected Biographies,Lao-Zhuang (Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu),Records of the Grand Historian, Anthology and other Confucian works as schoolbooks. Till the Shogunate politics period of 17th century, Song-ology grew up quickly to be the official study, occupying the leading position during the 260 years of Shogunate ruling.

Japan under ruling of Shogunate introduced Confucianism more actively, and this period was the efflorescence of Confucianism. In this period, the introduced Confucianism was mainly Zhu Xi’s “Song-ology” and Wang Yang-Ming’s “Yang-ming Studies”. Song-ology was authorized the official philosophy as the orthodoxy for Tokugawa Shogunate. Confucianism fit to the maintenance of Shogunate system. Tokugawa Ieyasu put Fujiwara Seika, a famous Confucianist called “The Founder of Zhu Xi’s Theory” in Japan, into an important position. Fujiwara Seika explained the Shinto based upon Zhu Xi’s theory, and constructed the theoretical support for Shogunate system. As further studies show, many schools derived from Japanese Confucianism, including Ancient Study, Ancient Meaning School, Yang-ming Studies, and so on, which directly worked on classic works such as The Analects of Confucius.

Meiji Restoration broke the political, economic and identity systems of feudal society, bringing along the capitalist society in a style of Western Europe. It was a crucial step for Japan to run after and even surpass Western Europe and march towards modernization. In this period, Confucianism suffered some severe knocks. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan actively learned science, technology and system of Western Europe to keep pace with these countries. However, Confucianism did not disappear. The influences of Confucianism made a great contribution to the modernization of Japan after Meiji Restoration. In order to maintain the authority of Emperor, government paid more attention to Confucianism, especially the concepts about loyalty and filial piety which helped the maintenance of Emperor’s authority and existing order in Japan. As a result, Confucianism study was carried out among all people in Japan. From the end of World War II till now, the research on Japanese traditional culture shows that, many scholars are still devoted themselves to the study of Japanese Confucianism.

3.      Influences of Confucianism on Japanese Culture

Chinese Confucianism has had 1500 years of history since spread to Japan. Along with the propagation and continuous development of Confucianism in Japan, Confucianism was completely integrated into Japanese society. In combination with inherent culture and national consciousness, Confucianism formed the Japanese culture characterized by Japan. However, in Japanese culture, the influences of Chinese Confucianism are still discovered.

In feudal society of China, Confucianism was put onto the position of official philosophy as an instrument maintaining class rule. When Chinese Confucianism spread to Japan, which was also feudal society at that time, it was undoubtedly taken by Japanese ruling class as a powerful instrument maintaining their ruling. Therefore, Confucianism served for ruling classes all the time in feudal society of Japan. Taking Neo-Confucianism (Zhu Xi’s Theory) spread to Japan in Edo Period as an example, Japan was ruled under uniform feudal system and centralization of authority in this period. Shogunate and dependent states turned to government by civilians while strengthening the military force, in order to consolidate ideological ruling. They tried to establish and develop political and economical systems by the power of ideology. Neo-Confucianism came at a more opportune moment for Shogunate. Shogunate implemented strict identity system among Commander, daimio, warrior, even among common people in the field of agriculture, industry, commerce, etc. Just like the “Ruler performs his duties as a ruler, the minister those of a minister, father as a father and the son those of a son” concept stressed by Neo-Confucianism, Shogunate required everyone to recognize the master-slave relations and obey their masters absolutely.

In Japan, Confucianism served more than the instrument of ruling class. Along with the development of Confucianism, it has great and profound influences on the Japanese samurai moral, people’s ideology and education development.

From Kamakura Shogunate to Tokugawa Shogunate, Shogunate always trumpeted and worshiped martial arts, advocating samurai moral. Warriors were required “loyal to the emperor and master at any price even the death; worshiping martial arts and advancing bravely, keeping sense of shame and disciplines in mind”, etc. During the shaping of samurai moral, the “Loyalty”, “Braveness”, “Propriety”, and “Righteousness” of Confucianism played a role of theoretical support. Moreover, different from Chinese Confucianism emphasizing “Benevolence” and “Filial Piety”, Japan attached more importance to “Loyalty” and “Sincerity”, especially the “Loyalty”, which fully embodied the direct master-slave relations. In the Shogunate period, the guideline of warrior class was the “Loyalty”, that is, to be loyal to their own Commander. Such sprit was abused by “Militarism” during the World War II.

In addition, the incoming Confucianism promoted the establishment of moral ideas for Japanese people. At the beginning, Japan had no definite concepts about “Goodness”, “Evil”, “Filial Piety”, etc. The moral ideas of Confucianism were spread to Japan and gradually accepted by Japanese, which greatly improved the moral level of people. Confucianism also promoted the shaping of Japanese education system. As Confucianism is always an official study in Japanese society, learning Confucianism is an open sesame to a political career for the young. Confucianism has become a mandatory subject of cultivating officers for Japanese society. Until the World War II, Confucianism was listed as specified subject in schools. With the increasingly growth of Confucianism learners, Confucianism spread far and wide, and on the other hand, it promoted the establishment of education system centered on Confucianism. Subsequently, Confucianism was popularized among common people, which played an active role in improving civil quality.

Throughout history, Japanese Confucianism went through a development process ups and downs as same as Chinese Confucianism. For China and Japan, both of which locate at East Asian culture circle, the influences of Confucianism on their politics, economics, society and culture cannot be ignored. Eastern Culture centered on Confucianism is still showing its charm to this day.




1.      Wang Yong, Japanese Culture. Higher Education Press, 2001.

2.      Fang Han-Wen, History of Eastern Culture. Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press, 2007.

3.      Han Li-Hong, Overview of Japanese Culture. Nankai University Press, 2006.

4.      Yan Shao-Dang, “Mutual Recognition of Chinese and Japanese Cultures”. Japan Studies, 2006(4).

5.      Dong Xing-Hua, “Discussion on Localization of Confucianism in Japan”. Heilongjiang Chronicles, 2013(17).


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