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The Emergence of the Political Culture of Confucian Literati in 19th-Century Japan: Rethinking the Meiji Restoration in the East Asian Context

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Authors
Park, Hun
Issue Date
2015-10-30
Publisher
Institute for Japanese Studies, Seoul National University
Citation
Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol.1 No.1, pp. 141-173
Keywords
Meiji RestorationConfucian literati (shidafu/shitaifu)political cultureConfucian politicsfactional strife
Abstract
The history of the Meiji Restoration has been studied primarily from a Eurocentric and modernist perspective that stresses the Western impact. Yet a closer inspection of Japan during the early and mid-19th century illuminates a different and significant trend, namely the growing influence of Confucianism. This trend suggests a necessity to reconsider the political history of Bakumatsu (late Tokugawa Shogunate) Japan and the Meiji Restoration. From the late 18th century to the early 19th century, Japanese society witnessed the rapid increase of schools, study groups, and private
academies that heightened the fever for Confucian education among samurai. Lowerand middle-class samurai, who had hardly been involved with politics, became interested and participated in it. I call this phenomenon as samurais assumption of the role of Confucian literati (shika) in the sense that ordinary samurai became similar to the Confucian literati (shidafu) of China and Chosŏn. Samurais political participation coincided with the proliferation of the practice of writing appeal letters to the ruler and the growth of academic networks and factions. These phenomena were characteristics
of what I conceptualized as the political culture of Confucian literati (shitaifuteki seiji bunka) that emerged in Song China and prevailed in Ming China and Chosŏn. The unexpected rise of this culture in 19th-century Japan politicized ordinary samurai, who used to be merely the warriors and unctionaries of the garrison state, thereby shaking the Tokugawa system. Samurais assumption of the role of Confucian literati and their activities based on the political culture of Confucian literati provoked the Meiji Restoration. Despite the rapid Westernization after the Meiji Restoration, they left
indelible traces and an enduring legacy.
ISSN
2384-2849
Language
English
URI
https://hdl.handle.net/10371/94444
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Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원)Institute for Japanese Studies(일본연구소)Seoul Journal of Japanese StudiesSeoul Journal of Japanese Studies vol.1 no.1(2015)
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