1 Ch21: Confucianism in the Early Edo Period

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1 Ch21: Confucianism in the Early Edo Period

Confucianism had originally been imported along with the introduction of Chinese culture sponsored by Prince ShÇtoku and the Chinese administrative and political model that was implemented through the so-called Taika Reforms (second half of the seventh century). The Confucian Classics were taught at the Court Academy (DaigakuryÇ) from the beginning of the eighth century onward. Basic Confucian ideas such as the importance of Rites and Decorum (Ch. li; J. rei, rai) for the ordering of society, at that time seeped through into the common intellectual heritage of the Japanese court. It was in these same court circles that Neo-Confucianism later became known. There was a time lag with developments in China, but by the end of the Kamakura Period, Japanese court intellectuals had become aware that something new had started in Song China. In the course of the following centuries, basic Neo-Confucian texts such as Zhu Xi's Collected Commentaries on the Four Books, were imported and studied.

The most important locus of these studies was the Kiyohara family, that had begun as one of the “families [in charge of] explaining the Classics” (MyÇgyÇke) in the Court Academy (DaigakuryÇ) and remained active in the field of Confucian studies until well into the seventeenth century. A second locus of Neo-Confucian studies was the Zen monasteries. Through their frequent contacts with the Chinese, the Zen monks had become aware of the importance the Neo-Confucian commentaries had for the study of the Classics; hence, they studied and taught these commentaries, and other texts by Neo-Confucian masters, and they integrated these in their practice of Chinese literature.

In the beginning of the seventeenth century, things changed. The change may have been less sudden than has often been claimed in later, Confucian-dominated historiography, but it cannot be denied that the intellectual atmosphere of the early Edo Period was quite different from that of the late Middle Ages. This change was mainly a matter of a new secular attitude, specifically, a denial of the fundamental compatibility of Confucianism and Buddhism that until then had been commonly accepted.

The change was pioneered by a number of young Kyoto intellectuals, who in the first years of the seventeenth century gathered around Fujiwara Seika (1561-1619).1 They tried to recreate in Kyoto what they fondly believed was the lifestyle of Chinese literati, and their program can best be characterized as anti-clerical and anti-military, They were vociferous in their condemnation of Buddhism, though, as their collected poems and letters show, this did not prevent them from entertaining friendly relations with individual Buddhist monks. They were of necessity less open in their condemnation of the Tokugawa bakufu or of individual daimyÇ. Nevertheless, their scale of values was basically different from that of the warrior class, and if an opportunity presented itself, they did not hesitate to present their dissenting views.

Their central preoccupation was what, for want of a more adequate translation of the Chinese word wen (J. bun), may best be rendered as “Literary Culture or Civil Culture.” This “Literature” did not exclude literature written in Japanese, but was heavily biased towards literature written in Chinese, Chinese literature, and, above all, the Chinese Classics. As Hayashi Razan wrote, looking back on the course that his own studies had taken: “When I was a child I sometimes read modern stories (e.g., the Taiheiki). The person who explained them to me [told me that he] thought that such-and-such a word came from Su Dongpo (1037-1101) or from Huang Tingqian (1045-1105), and that such-and-such a phrase came from Li Bo (701-762), Du Fu (712-770), Han Yu (768-8224) or Liu Zongyuan (773-819). When I read the collected works of Li, Du, Han, Liu, Su and Huang, I noticed that very often what they based themselves on was the Wenxuan (Literary Anthology), the Shiji, (Records of the Historian) or the Hanshu (Han History). When I read the Shiji and the Hanshu, I saw that they followed the texts of the ancient period. I then read the Five Classics, and saw that before them there was nothing from which they derived. Thereupon I clearly realized that these Classics constituted the foundation of all later theories and in this broad perspective I understood what the Way was based on. I only cherished the extra teachings added to the Classics by the Chengs and Zhu Xi, and looked up to the abundant relics of Confucius and Mencius.”1

To limit either their ambitions or their historical importance simply to the study of Confucianism, i.e. to the Neo-Confucian commentaries on the Chinese Classics, would be doing them an injustice. Their activities included much more, varying from historiography and medicine to poetry, both in Chinese and in Japanese, and the classical Japanese corpus. Hayashi Razan, for one, wrote an extensive commentary on Kenko's Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa). It would also be misleading to identify them simply with the School of Neo-Confucianism that is connected with the brothers Cheng and Zhu Xi, and that had become the official school in China and Korea. Both Seika and Razan were aware of later developments that occurred during the Ming Dynasty, and if Razan opted for the Cheng-Zhu School, he did so for specific reasons, and in full awareness of the fact that the Confucian tradition had more to offer. The fact that his “sensei,” Seika, did not make the same choice, is in itself proof that the choice for Cheng-Zhu Confucianism was by no means necessary or preordained.

The group around Seika and Razan had no monopoly on Chinese and Confucian studies. Throughout Japan the basic texts and a basic instruction in Chinese were available. No doubt, the capital area was and remained the main center of intellectual activity, but it was in constant contact with any number of regional centers. One such regional center, regarded by Jesuit missionaries for some time as Japan's “university,” was the Ashikaga School (established in Ashikaga, in the KantÇ region), that was affiliated with the Zen Sect; its curriculum included basic instruction in the Chinese Classics. Several of Tokugawa Ieyasu's advisors, all of them Zen monks, were affiliated with this school.

The flow of information was maintained by monks, especially Zen monks, who used to study at least for some years in the main monasteries in Kyoto, and by samurai, who traveled with their lords to Osaka and Fushimi, and spent part of their life in the capital area. Other contributing factors especially relevant to the availability of texts, were a lively book trade with China, carried on through Nagasaki; the loot from the Korean wars that included many Neo-Confucian texts by both Chinese and Koreans, and also indigenous Japanese printing efforts. Some knowledge, at least, was available throughout the country and to all who were interested enough to look for it; only so can we explain such Neo-Confucians as Nakae TÇju (1608-1648), Yamasaki Ansai (1618-1682) or Kumazawa Banzan (1619-1691); all of whom had been educated in the provinces and had “found the Way” without having been exposed directly to the intellectual milieu of the capital, let alone, having studied under Seika or any of his disciples.

Not only was this knowledge available, there was also a new apparent interest in it among all classes of society, ranging from daimyÇ who went to hear lectures by Seika and who hired his disciples, to the readers of such popular, vernacular treatises as Gion monogatari, Shimizu monogatari, or the treatises associated with the teaching of the Way of Heaven.

The skills and knowledge that the Confucian intellectuals had to offer were their superior command of the Chinese language and the teachings of the Chinese Classics. A necessary premise for their activities was, therefore, the general consensus in Japan that some knowledge of Chinese was an asset, and that the Classics had important things to teach. Whether they subscribed to orthodox or heterodox principles was not an issue in their clients minds.

In the fluid situation of the seventeenth century unattached intellectuals, who were neither monks nor members of the court aristocracy, were a new breed. They had to live by their wits, and to fight for their own niche—their own position within society. For their livelihood, they depended on pupils or patronage, but the market for their skills and knowledge was limited and competition was fierce. They not only had to contend with Zen monks and court nobles, but they also had to compete amongst themselves, or form what today would be called networks. The wiser (or less self-assured) among them took care to develop medicine as a second profession that they could teach as well as practice. Those who did not, had to be extraordinarily gifted and lucky (the case of Razan), or had to come to terms with a life lived in relative poverty (Seika, TÇju).

The debates in which these intellectuals engaged, did not arise so much from their belonging to different schools, but from their attempts to draw attention to their own person and ideas, from their struggle for pupils and patrons. A case in point is Nakae TÇju, who really did not need to wait until he had read Wang Yangming before he could disagree vehemently with Razan. By the same token, the scholarly lineages and affiliations that were recorded so meticulously during the Edo Period, rather than certifying doctrinal purity, provided qualifications for employment and patronage. In this period, Japan was an aristocratic, feudal country; purity of ideas may not have been a prime consideration, but purity of lineage, even of scholarly lineage, was. It was always important to know whose son and whose disciple somebody was. Adding to this, as a continuing legacy from the medieval period, was the key role lineages played in the certification of Buddhist monks, especially in Zen.

Fujiwara Seika, Hayashi Razan and the Rise of Neo-Confucianism

Fujiwara Seika came from an ancient and noble family, the Reizei branch of the Fujiwara clan, and he was a descendant in the tenth generation of the famous poet Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241). He was born on the estate of his family in Miki (Harima) and, as a younger son, was destined for an ecclesiastical career. When his father and older brother were killed by a local warlord, Bessho Nagaharu (died 1580), and the family estate was seized (1578), Seika went to the capital to live with his uncle, Jusen Seishuku (dates unknown), who was abbot of the FukÇin, one of the subsidiary temples of ShÇkokuji, a major Zen monastery in Kyoto, and became a monk of the ShÇkokuji himself.

In the course of his training Seika came into contact with Chinese and Confucian studies, and apparently Confucianism struck a cord. Nevertheless, the Koreans with whom he sought contact, i.e. the members of the Korean embassy of 1590 and the Korean prisoner of war Kang Hang (1567-1618), consistently refer to him as a monk (“Shun of the MyÇjuin”). The sources are not clear on this point, but around that time, shortly before or after 1600, he seems to have renounced Buddhism. Thereafter he lived as a layman, and apparently even married and fathered or adopted a son. At least, the second version of his Collected Works, the Seika-sensei bunshã (preface of 1651; printed in 1717), was compiled by Fujiwara Tametsune, who is described as his great(?)-grandson.

Before 1600, Seika was a great traveler who followed Toyotomi Hidetsugu to the base-camp for the first Korean Expedition in Nagoya (Kyushu), and in the following year, 1593, went to Edo to visit Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had recently established his headquarters there. In 1596 he even boarded a ship in order to travel to China, but this attempt failed. After 1600, however, apart from visits to Wakayama where he stayed with Asano Yoshinaga (1576-1613), he lived in Kyoto in semi-retirement, either in his house near the ShÇkokuji, or in the cottage he built in Ichihara, north of Kyoto, in 1605. Seika was supported by such warrior patrons as Akamatsu Hiromichi (1562-1600), Asano Yoshinaga, and Kinoshita Katsutoshi, by the merchants Suminokura RyÇi and his son Soan, and, no doubt, by his pupils. He also gave occasional lectures to interested daimyÇ. One such lecture, on the Great Learning, was put on paper and still survives as Digest of the Great Learning (Daigaku yÇryaku).

Seika’s main contributions to Confucian and Chinese studies in Japan were the editions he made of the Four Books and the Five Classics, and his ambitious project to make a compilation of exemplary Chinese prose and poetry in the various genres, the BunshÇ tattokuroku. The editions of the Classics, and also of a number of other Chinese Confucian texts were made at the request of Akamatsu Hiromichi. The actual writing was done by Kang Hang and a number of other Korean captives; Seika’s role was restricted to supervision and to adding the Japanese reading marks. The importance of the exercise lay in the fact that Seika added these marks according to the Neo-Confucian commentaries; this was a departure from the traditional reading marks used by the Kiyowara, which were based on the older, Han commentaries. Seika’s collaborator in the literary project was Yoshida Soan, who seems to have done most of the actual work. This project never reached completion; at least, what was printed (in or shortly after 1639) under the name of BunshÇ tattokuroku kÇryÇ, were the first six, introductory chapters, containing excerpts and quotations relevant to Chinese literary theory.

The Four Landscapes Are Mine—An Exposition

In 1592 Seika travelled to the base camp at Nagoya (Kyushu) in the entourage of Toyotomi Hidetsugu. There he met Ieyasu, who invited him to come and visit him in Edo. Since before long Seika managed to get into Hidetsugu’s bad graces, he thought it wise to take Ieyasu up on his invitation, and he stayed in Edo for several months. There he lectured to Ieyasu and made a number of friends and useful acquaintances amongst Ieyasu’s vassals, but Seika and Ieyasu themselves apparently did not get on too well. The exposition “The Four Landscapes Are Mine” is a declaration of independence on Seika’s part, and he never tried to get into Ieyasu’s good graces again. The basic topoi in the text, i.e. that the things of nature have no lord, and that things belong to those who enjoy them, have much in common with the first of the “Fu on the Red Cliff” by the Song poet Su Dongpo, but an aesthetic orientation and holism with nature was also a significant aspect of Neo-Confucian spiritual cultivation of the “humaneness that forms one body with Heaven-and-earth and all things.”
Which land does not have mountains? If these mountains have no colors, it is because the mind is lazy. Which land does not have water? If the water is not clear, it is because the heart is busy. These expressions “If the mind is lazy, the mountains have no colors,” and “if the heart is busy, the water will not be clear,” have been used by the ancients, and I use them in my turn. Amongst the sixty provinces of our Japan, you find the most beautiful places for wandering through and admiring in the eight provinces east of the barrier, and within the eight provinces the crown is held by the four landscapes of Mount Fuji, the Field of Musashi, the Sumida River and Tsukuba mountains. Whoever has not seen these has been called less than human. I, too, had long had the intent of making this trip, for I had once heard that the appreciation of mountains and water inspires you to open your heart to the Way. When Confucius climbed Taishan (mountain)and tarried on the bank of the river, did he not do so for this reason?

In Bunroku 2 (1593) I received a gracious invitation from the lord of the eight provinces, the asomi Lord Minamoto, and I visited the castle of Edo in Musashi and remained there till the following year. In my little room of ten feet square in the inn I hung up the two characters ga-yã (“I have”). A guest came by, who laughed and said: “You are lonely and broke. You do not own even one square foot of land, not even the smallest house. You do not own a thing! What, then, do you mean with “I have”?” I answered: “How terribly conventional you are! How boorishly narrow in your views! I possess the whole universe, and I do not have to work at it. . . . . You cannot say that I do not possess anything! Take the snow in winter: it may be fresh, but that does not yet suffice to make it special. But white, pure snow on a summer morning, as it lies high on Mount Fuji’s lofty top! Looking up to it, I wear it like a hat from Wu, and it is not at all heavy! Take flowers in spring: they may be beautiful, but that does not suffice to make them special. But riotously blooming flowers on an autumn day, as they are spread across the several hundreds of li of the Field of Musashi! Stooping down to them, I put them on like sandals from Chu, and how well they smell!. The water of the swiftly flowing Sumida River, in which the moon is stored, is something you can put into your calabash gourd. The mountains of Tsukuba, that tumble over each other and erase the clouds, are the stuff of poetry. But how could these be the only things? I have the myriad phenomena under my roof. I cannot give them away to others.”

The guest said: “Huh? What you say sounds like Yangzi’s egoism. A gentleman should not profess that creed.” I answered: “Correct. All man live under the same roof with me, so I can share everything with them.” The guest said: “What you are saying now, sounds like Mozi’s universal love. A gentleman should not talk that way.” I said: “Right again.

[He said:] “But where does that leave you?” I answered: “All things have a master. How could they not have one? If you want them for yourself, you cannot have them, and if you want to give them to others, that is not possible. All things have a master, and to him they belong.” He asked: “Who is this master?” I answered: “The lord of the province, [here Ieyasu] but when I . . . asked this lord, he did not own them; when I asked the ordinary people, they did not possess them. Alas! What others want I do not possess, and what I possess others do not want. Therefore, my house is empty but in my heart I travel through heaven. I put the Sumida River into my calabash, fold the mountains of Tsukuba inside a poem. My hat of Mount Fuji, my sandals of the Field of Musashi! My sandals and socks began from here, here I drink from my calabash, and yonder I am inspired to write poetry. Since I live this life of rapture, left to my own devices, it is not only the four landscapes, not only the eight provinces, not only the sixty provinces of Japan—all the beauty one can admire within the four extremities and the eight directions, is present in my body. The colors of any mountain under Heaven need not have entered my eye for my eye to be impregnated with them. I need not have washed myself with the water of any clear stream under Heaven for my ears to become wet. I have obtained the highest principles under heaven in my heart, without needing to think. The heart is expansive and the body at ease, and for the first time one becomes human. How enjoyable is this traveling! Is not my land wide? Is not my house huge? Is it not well equipped? Is not this travel a pleasure? Is it not enjoyable? In truth, “military might will not be able to cow me,”1 nor will wealth and rank be able to sweep me off my feet, or poverty, make me budge.”2 Since I gave up the idea that my mind is one definite “me,”3 how superior I feel, how free to travel! I am sure those things belong to me!”

The guest rose to his feet as if he had suddenly understood, straightened his clothes, and thanked me, saying: “Through your studies you have climbed high and you have come to consider the empire small. Looking down, you grieve over the others, [enmeshed] in [the cycle] of day and night. Do you perhaps study 'the one who climbed and considered the empire small,'1 who 'looked down and grieved over [the passing] of day and night?'2 You are no Yang, no Mo.”

[Seika Sensei bunshã, NST v. 28, pp. 80-82; WB]

Letter to the Korean Scholar Kang Hang

Late in 1598 or early in 1599, Seika asked the Korean scholar Kang Hang on behalf of Akamatsu Hiromichi to add a postface to their newly finished edition of the Four Books and Five Classics, based on the Neo-Confucian commentaries of the Song. Seika's language is typical of the Neo-Confucian depreciation of Han Confucian scholarship as well as of Zhu Xi's claim to the repossession of the long-lost Way of the Sages, as represented by his Four Books. In Seika's view Japanese Confucianism is still dominated by the old learning of the Han and Tang, introduced in the Nara period, and the new interpretations of the Song philosophers (the “original” teachings of Confucius and Mencius lost in the Han and Tang but now rediscovered) are still largely unknown in Japan. Hence the need for this new edition to proclaim the new dispensation.

Our lord Akamatsu wants me to transmit to you the following: the various houses that in Japan lecture on Confucianism, from olden times till now, have only transmitted the learning of the Confucians of the Han period and do not yet know the philosophy of principle (ri) of the Confucian scholars of the Song. For four hundred years they have not been able to remedy the defects of their inveterate tradition. Quite the contrary: they say that the Confucians of the Han are right and those of the Song are wrong. In truth, one can only smile pityingly on them. . . .

From my youth onwards I have never had a teacher. I have read books on my own, and said to myself: the Confucians of the Han and Tang never rose above memorizing and reciting words and phrases. They hardly did more than give explanatory notes on pronunciation and add remarks in the upper margin in order to draw attention to certain facts. They certainly did not have an inkling of the utter truth of the Sage Learning. During the Tang dynasty the only one to rise above this level was Han Yu. But he, too, was not without shortcomings. If it were not for the Song Confucians, how could we ever have resumed the broken strands of the Sages' Learning?

However, since in Japan the whole country is like this, one man cannot turn back the raging waves that have already toppled, or send back the declining sun when it is already coming down. I have felt full of pent-up anger, and only held the zither and did not play the flute (i.e., I kept my opinions to myself). For this reason our lord Akamatsu has now newly made a copy of the text of the Four Books and the Five Classics, and he has requested me to add Japanese reading marks to the side of the characters according to the interpretation of the Song Confucians, for the sake of posterity. Whoever in Japan shall henceforth want to champion the interpretation of the Song Confucians should take these volumes as his basic source. . . .

Please relate these facts, confirm their truth, and write a postface at the end of these works. This has been our lord Akamatsu’s long-cherished desire, and would please me very much. Do consider it!

[Seika Sensei bunshã, NST v. 28, pp. 95-96; WB)

Kang Hang: Fujiwara Seika's New/Old Learning

Although Seika's critical anthology of Chinese prose and poetry [the BunshÇ tattokuroku] was far from finished at the time, Kang Hang wrote a preface for this work, dated 1599, in which he extols Seika’s learning, and gives an insight into the sources of his erudition, including scholars of the Yuan and Ming who contributed to the later development of Neo-Confucian thought. Kang's point is that Seika is thoroughly up-to-date, as compared to the old-fashioned Kiyohara school.

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