Confucianism in China and Japan


The processes of formation and development of the Confucian tradition had a strong influence on the countries of East Asia. Originating from China, it has spread to the territory of Japan acquiring the relevant national style. The influence of Confucian ideas had a strong impact on the political and socio-cultural life of people in all countries of East Asian region. Human life was filled with philosophy and attitude, which Confucius developed and opened for them. The influence of this ideology was relevant for family relationships, economics development style, education, business, and other spheres of life in both China and Japan. The paper discusses peculiarities of Confucianism in China and Japan and its influence on the social life of these countries. 


Incipience of Confucianism in China and Japan

History of Chinese Confucianism defines several stages of its development. The first one is classical Confucianism, which is associated with works of Confucius, Mencius, and Xun Zi. Then, there is Han Confucianism, which was distinctive for the period when Confucian philosophy has become the official ideology of the Chinese country. Neo-Confucianism became more popular and got its development in Japan. Post-Confucianism period starts from the beginning of the twentieth century and lasts to the present time. Confucius was primarily interested in the nature of a person. People needed to overcome selfishness and follow the Tao Way set for them in order to create a harmonious society. Only a “noble man” can achieve this fully being a perfect person who has such moral virtues as benevolence, spiritual culture, unity through differences of opinions, and dignity. The image of the noble person constantly engaged in self-improvement has become the ideal model of the whole personality depiction of the Confucian cultural region.

There are five basic theoretical principles of Confucianism, three of which are related to the worship and devotion to parents’ family. Confucianism common in China demanded respect primarily to the family. In order to unify ethical consciousness of different sections of the population in China, there was a multi-stage system of exams for those who wanted to take administrative posts. The purpose of this system was to attract the most capable people regardless of the origin of the candidate to the post including state management sphere. Relative availability of high position even for man from the lower class was characteristic only for Chinese Confucianism. Despite the fact that Confucianism has a long history full of difficulties as well as successes, currently this system is on the stage of renaissance. Measures, which the Chinese government had taken, lead to the fact that the country could solve its numerous problems relying on the spiritual heritage, which is based on Confucianism and its prominent ideas.

The spread of Confucianism in Japan initially took place in the 5th-6th centuries when the Japanese started the process of nation-building. The Chinese system of government during Tang Dynasty  has become a model for the construction of the first Japanese state apparatus in the 7th century. The heyday of Confucianism and its approval as an ideological support of Japanese government came in the period of the Tokugawa clan rule during 1600-1868. The greatest interest of the political elite of Japan was the development of the followers of Zhu Xi in the political and social fields, which have been adapted to national circumstances of Japan and, first of all, to the Shinto-Buddhist cultural basis. Prominent Confucian leaders of the country whose views have identified the features of the Japanese version of the Confucian ideology were Hayashi Razan, Yamaga Soko, Ito Dzinsay, Ogyu Sorai, Aizawa, and others. However, the social life of Japan experienced the greatest changes during the Kamakura period when neo-Confucianism just reached the country. 

These ideas received development, and the above-mentioned ideology was flourishing during the Edo period. Japanesesuccessful use of Western science and technologies marked the beginning of the 20th century the start of active internal transformation, maintenance of the aggressive foreign policy, and the entry into struggle for the re-division of the world on a par with other world powers. The Confucian doctrine became the ideological support for the successful implementation of reforms and justification of the aggressive foreign policy. It was based on the ancient Japanese tradition of imperial power legitimization, hierarchical nature of the social and public relations as well as unconditional loyalty to the emperor and state, which contributed to the consolidation of the nation for achieving its goals. The defeat of Japan in World War II led to the abandonment of many political and socio-economic traditions. However, Confucian values were recognized as the driving force of successful modernization. 

Among the features of Confucianism, which contribute to the rapid economic growth, scientists and politicians define the harmonious nature of public relations. Among others are collectivism and mutual assistance in interpersonal relationships, desire to learn, saving of the behavior based on Confucian moral rules: “benevolence of humanity” as well as “duty and justice”. Society emphasizes particularly that the nature of the Confucian doctrine is not faith but a code of conduct. 

Speaking about perception of Confucianism, it is important to mention that Japan managed to use this system applying specific national characteristics while the whole ideology was superimposed on a certain cultural framework in the other countries. For example, for China, it was a symbiotic relationship with the whole range of Confucian ideas. Despite the differences, Confucianism is the framework, which has created the basis of the modern history of China and Japan. In these countries, there is a social consensus about fundamental Confucian values and the fact that they adapted to the new conditions. 

Confucianism and Family in China and Japan

Analyzing modern family relations in China and Japan in terms of keeping them in the traditional Confucian values framework, it is important to mention that Confucian ideas got the strongest power in this sphere of human life. The influence of Confucianism is very significant, and it has not changed until today. The basic family values of this ideology are piety, ancestor worship, worshiping of future generations, which explains their preference for sons and extended family ties in the process of mutual system of aid forming. The internal structure, hierarchical relations, common basic family values are usual in the relationships sphere in the countries of the Confucian culture. 

However, the family system in each of the countries under discussion has its own peculiarities. In China, the family has a meaning of a “safe haven” where people could find protection from the arbitrariness of the state. In Japan, there is a widespread phenomenon of replacing kinship relations by the quasi-family ones. In modern societies, the Confucian family relations continue to have a leading role. There is no doubt that the process of modernization seriously affected modern family relations sphere. Instead of the extended family, the nuclear one appears changing social functions of the family and weakening the cult of parents. In contrast to the traditional society, the family no longer plays a major role in the socialization of the individual. Currently, preschool and educational institutions including universities, informal and corporate associations are actively engaged in this process. 

The Confucian commitment to family traditions is preserved to the large extent, and the family is still the repository of the long-established values for future generations. Traditional values have not disappeared completely but the younger generation inherits those features that correspond to the new conditions of life. As shown by sociological studies, modern family relationships remained under the influence of the majority of Confucian values including high authority of the father, the cult of ancestor worshiping, maintaining high status of the family, care of the parents, and other features. However, in the process of upgrading, many of them have lost their dominant positions or were filled with new content. The cult of the family is preserved in China and Japan though remaining more valuable for the Chinese.

Confucianism Influence on Education in China and Japan

Education system was initially used for establishing and spreading of Confucianism ideas for people on the early stages of their development. Japan borrowed the Chinese examination system and used it as one of the fundamental elements of Confucian teachings successfully implementing in practice. In the teachings of Confucius, knowledge and education occupied the place of material power. Only an educated person with culture of wen could make bureaucratic career. Proclaiming the cult of knowledge, Confucius believed that all human beings were born having the same abilities, and achievement of high social status depends solely on individual efforts and character. The modern systems of education of East Asian countries have many similarities. Their structures do not differ radically from the conventional world standards but the content keeps the traditional Confucianism features.

Education system works with the aim of ensuring assimilation of each pupil as much as possible in the scope of educational material, training standard methods of solving problems, preparing graduates to enter prestigious universities. Education has increased attention to the formation of society and the state. This phenomenon occurred due to the development of the needs of the economy and the Confucian tradition of scholarship cult. The educational programs of schools and universities have a strong focus on moral education based on traditional Confucian values: respect for elders, loyalty, devotion, heightened sense of duty, patriotism, and others. Education is the means to achieve social and material success. The examination system remains the criterion of selecting the best. The hierarchy of higher education institutions is inherent in all the education systems under consideration. People in China as well as in Japan have a strong desire not just to get higher education but to obtain it in a prestigious university. Such diploma will provide a rapid career growth and, consequently, will lead to the increase of social status and material wealth. 

At all levels of education, the high status of teachers and professors remains, which is traditional for the Confucian concept. For educational systems of Japan and China, inherent elitism is relevant at all levels. The education system, being one of the main institutions of socialization, is the main instrument of transmission of traditional values from generation to generation. Education is steeped in the spirit of Confucianism even today. Traditions are preserved and have a strong position but their content has changed in line with modern trends. 

Reform of the education system in East Asia affected its form to the greater extent while the Confucian traditions still determine the content of the educational process. The state and society pay great attention to it due to the needs of economic development and moral education. For citizens of these countries, education and knowledge are the keys to the well-being, social recognition, and material power. Thus, the institutions of the family and education are fundamental values in the public mind of the studied countries and are imbued with the spirit of Confucianism. These values have become the social and cultural foundation of the economic success of East Asian countries. In the societies of these countries, family values became the basis for the establishment and operation of companies and corporations.

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Confucianism Ideas in Business

Despite the presence of significant country differences in the perception of Confucian principles, family orientation, race, clan, team, both China and Japan share Confucian mentality. The most common features in family relations are Confucian values, on which the internal communication is based. It includes the hierarchical structure, absolute subordination of junior member to the senior one, the loyalty of a younger relative to the older one, the dominance of common interests over personal ones, debt commitment, and maintaining of family status in society. Besides the above-mentioned features, harmonic relationships and loyalty become the basis for building ties within the economic units: enterprises, firms, and corporations in Japan and China.

The main difference between the Chinese and Japanese family businesses is that the Japanese family companies easily manage institutionalization through the involvement of professional managers. At the same time, just a few Chinese companies can overcome the distrust of the control to an alien person when it relates to business. It is important to mention that due to significant influence of Confucian ideas about family a great number of large Chinese corporations are based on family business. Brothers, cousins, in-laws, and other relatives of the company’s founder occupy most of management positions. The perception of the family as a “confidence-cell” and “team №1” marks the Chinese Confucianism. Thus, the priority of the family and its exaltation in comparison with other social networks is indisputable. Institutionalization of business requires fast decisions, severe changes, and refusals of some benefits that can lead to the success and prosperity of the company. Professional managers, which were trained to lead business with American and European companies, can easily cope with crises and provide the company’s significant growth. Japanese enterprises’ leaders can see that clearly and prefer using professional employees making them a part of their work family.

The claim that East Asian corporation is one family mainly refers to Japan, not to China. One can explain this phenomenon using the fact that the Chinese non-state enterprises are mostly based on kinship relations that predetermines the dominance of small and medium-sized companies in the economy; the fragility of brands also contributes to this process. Japanese companies at the same time are built on quasi-family relationships that involve dissemination of family and relative links to each team member. This makes possible to involve professional managers that prejudge the durability and viability of large corporations in Japan’s economy. Despite this feature, Japanese workers have the unlimited devotion to their corporation. 

However, undivided loyalty to their company often results in complete suppression of the individual interests of the worker. All activities are entirely drawn into the affairs of the company and become subjects to them. All colleagues are fully informed about the affairs of each worker, and he/she almost has no personal secrets. If the desktop of a worker does not have a family picture, the others look at this person with suspicion. The established constant control of the individual he/she has experienced from an early age gradually formed a habit to ensure that the best should be given to collective goal, which should be above the individual interests. Entrepreneur according to Confucian theory seeks for ways to create moral economy in the public interest. The ideal manager has to follow the path of the “noble man” and be humane, improve constantly, combine morality and culture, and be educated. Enterprises have inherited from family relationships their hierarchical structure, unquestioning obedience of junior to senior, and belief that the common interest is always more important than the personal one. In spite of certain differences of opinions, all the theorists of the past and present converge in the fact that for Chinese and Japanese societies a person is inherent to seek benefits but it is justified only if paired with a public duty.


In conclusion, Confucian ideas influenced both China and Japan cultures and life of their societies as well as political structures significantly. The results can be seen nowadays in all spheres of human life in both countries including family relations, education, and economy. Due to the fact that neo-Confucianism considerably developed in Japan, there are significant differences between the Japanese and Chinese models that should be mentioned. Family ties are not that strong for Japanese people as for Chinese. This gives the positive result for industrial sphere of Japan since corporations are not afraid of using skills of professional workers that are not family members. At the same time, most family businesses in China experience lack of fresh ideas and creative professional decisions, which leads to a great number of failures. Confucian ideas influence all spheres of Chinese and Japanese societies presenting a number of similar features in both countries. 

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