Confucianism. To describe in detail this Chinese system of philosophy, would be alien to the plan of the present work. Suffice it to say that Confucius (called by the Japanese Kōshi) abstained from all metaphysical flights and devotional ecstasies. He confined himself to practical details of morals and government, and took submission to parents and political rulers as the corner stone of his system. The result is a set of moral truths—some would say truisms—of a very narrow scope, and of dry ceremonial observances, political rather than personal. This Confucian code of ethics has for ages satisfied the Far-Easterns of China, Korea, and Japan, but would not have been endured for a moment by the more eager, more speculative, more tender European mind.
The Confucian Classics consist of what are called, in the Japanese pronunciation, the Shi-sho Go-kyō, that is "the Four Books and the Five Canons." The Four Books are "The Great Learning," "The Doctrine of the Mean," "The Confucian Analects," and "The Sayings of Mencius." Mencius, let it be noted, is by far the most attractive of the Chinese sages. He had an epigrammatic way about him and a certain sense of humour, which give to many of his utterances a strangely Western and modern ring. He was also the first democrat of the ancient East, a democrat so outspoken as to have at one time suffered exclusion from the libraries of absolutist, Japan. The Five Canons consist of "The Book of Changes," "The Book of Poetry," "The Book of History," "The Canon of Rites," and "Spring and Autumn" (annals of the state of Lu by Confucius).
Originally introduced into Japan early in the Christian, era, along with other products of Chinese civilisation, the Confucian philosophy lay dormant during the Middle Ages, the period of the supremacy of Buddhism. It awoke with a start in the early part of the seventeenth century, when Ieyasu, the great warrior, ruler and patron of learning, caused the Confucian Classics to be printed in Japan for the first time. During the two hundred and fifty years that followed, the whole intellect of the country was moulded by Confucian ideas. Confucius himself had, it is true, laboured for the establishment of a centralised monarchy. But his main doctrine of unquestioning submission to rulers and parents fitted in perfectly with the feudal ideas of Old Japan; and the conviction of the paramount importance of such subordination lingers on as an element of stability, in spite of the recent social cataclysm which has involved Japanese Confucianism, properly so-called, in the ruin of all other Japanese institutions.
The most eminent Japanese names among the Confucianists are Itō Jinsai and his son, Otō Togai, at Kyōto; Aral Hakuseki, and Ogyū Sorai at Yedo. All four flourished about the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. They were merely expositors. No Japanese had the originality—it would have been hooted down as impious audacity—to develop the Confucian system further, to alter or amend it. There are not even any Japanese translations or commentaries worth reading. The Japanese have, for the most part, rested content with reprinting the text of the Classics themselves, and also the text of the principal Chinese commentators (especially that of Shushi, 朱子), pointed with diacritical marks to facilitate their perusal by Japanese students. The Chinese Classics thus edited formed the chief vehicle of every boy's education from the seventeenth century until the remodelling of the system of public instruction on European lines after the revolution of 1868. At present they have fallen into almost total neglect, though phrases and allusions borrowed from them still pass current in literature, and even to some extent in the language of every-day life. Seidō, the great temple of Confucius in Tōkyō, is now utilised as an Educational Museum.
N. B.—A friendly German critic of the first edition of this work thought Confucius unfairly judged in the opening paragraph of the foregoing article. "Confucianism anticipated modern agnosticism, on the one hand," said he: "on the other—and this consideration deserves special weight—it has formed the basis of a social fabric far more lasting than any other that the world has seen. The endurance of the Papacy is often quoted in evidence of the truth of Roman Catholicism. What then, of Confucianism with its still higher antiquity?"
There is much force in this objection; and those who know China most intimately seem to agree in attributing her marvellous vitality and her power of assimilating barbarous tribes both those she conquers and those that conquer her—to the fact that this great ethical system has infused its strength into the national life, and practically rules the country. We incline to agree with our critic as much as with ourselves. The best plan may perhaps be to present both sides of a question which is too complicated for any sweeping assertion about it to be wholly true.
Books recommended. Dr. Legge's elaborate edition of The Chinese Classics in six large volumes, and Vol. XVI. of the Sacred Books of the East, containing the same writer's translation of the Book of Changes (Yi King).—Confucianism, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, is a much briefer manual of the subject, in popular form.—The Japanese Confucianists have been made the subject of a careful study by Rev. Dr. G. W. Knox, in Vol. XX. Part I. of the "Asiatic Transactions." See also Aston's History of Japanese Literature.