Confucianism: Confucian Censorship in Japan

analytical Essay
3122 words
3122 words

The history of the world has undoubtedly been controlled by different schools of thought, the basis on which governments stand. Of these schools of thought, Confucianism has been a prevailing one, influencing behavior and social structure in Asia, predominantly China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, for two and a half millennia (1). Confucius claimed that the most ideal method of learning was "to master the old ways and to recognize newness" (2). A counterpart, Neo-Confucianism, a more fundamentalist version of old Confucianism, arose in Japan in the sixteenth century. It consisted of social and ethical philosophies of metaphysical ideas that the universe could be understood through human reason, and that it was up to people to create a perfect, harmonious relationship between the nature and the individual—the basis for which a supposedly perfect system can be imposed (3). In practice, this led to attempts to reshape the human order, using claims of moral legitimacy and heavy sanctions based on tendo, or the idea of a Heavenly Way. Neo-Confucianism sought to remove passion and desire, thought to be destructive influences that caused conflict (20). This philosophy is often criticized in modern times as being highly oppressive, due to its promotion of strict class structures, government control, and heavy censorship (3). During the period of the Tokugawa shogunate (1615-1868), the military bakufu, or shogun (literally “military commander” or “general”), issued numerous edicts of censorship in order to exercise government control over the people (4). These edicts, while highly restrictive, in practice motivated artists of the time to be more creative in finding way to bypass these stringent laws due to the Japanese people’s love for enter...

... middle of paper ... Japan was largely unsuccessful in restraining the flow of artistic material and diversity. In fact, the opposite can be said—the effect of such attempted oppression in printmaking was simply the increase of creativity and ingenuity due to the importance that the people of the time begun to place on entertainment and artistry. The complex language that was developed by artists served as a veil for the publication of woodblock prints that would have otherwise been censored, sparking both creative expression and new genres of printmaking. Later, the heavy hand of Neo-Confucian oppression in ukiyo-e would be lifted, as the previous satirical depictions often found in artists’ designs would be used to unify the Japanese people against external threats, as Japan relinquished its isolationist nature, and the strain between artist and government regulations calmed (20).

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that confucianism influenced behavior and social structure in asia for two and a half millennia. neo-confucian censorship was criticized in modern times as being oppressive due to strict class structures and government control.
  • Describes confucianism and its neo-confucian descendant within the bounds of social organization.
  • Explains that egoyomi depicted the months of the year using the lunar calendar. the shogunate dictated that only a select few publishers were officially allowed to produce calendars for the public.
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