Impacts of the Chinese Sui and Tang Dynasties on Politics, Religion and Culture of Japan
The era of the 33th generation of Japanese Emperor Suiko was a key period to Japan's historical development. Buddhism and Confucianism in Japan were originally introduced from Baekje. However Emperor Suiko in 600 AD sent delegations to China to engage in direct integration with the Sui Dynasty, known as "envoys sent to the Sui Dynasty.” Later, Japan also sent envoys four times to Sui. In the Tang Dynasty, Japan even sent “envoys to the Tang Dynasty” nineteen times.
Envoys sent to Sui and Tang had huge impacts on Japan. Each time, the delegation brought many scholars and learned monks to study Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, astronomy, geography, the calendar system and technology. Their study abroad could last as long as ten to twenty years. After returning to Japan, they led Japan into earth-shaking changes in ideological, cultural, political, social and other areas.
After the Japanese scholars and learned monks who went studying to China in the Tang Dynasty returned home, they set up private schools and enrolled young elite and children from noble and powerful families. The eldest son Prince Nakanooenooji of the 35th Empress Kogyoku also formally became an apprentice to one learned monk. As a consequence he recruited many classmates and appointed one of the most eminent Nakatomino Kamatari as his intellectual. Finally, the two men actually eradicated the Soga family which was despotic, autocratic, and originally held the power. Japan then began to restructure the central and local government organizations to promote the Taika Era Reforms and issued the Farmland Allocation (Handenshuju) Law. All systems were imitated from the Tang Dynasty.
The Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Chinese literature. Tens of thousands of Tang poems spread till the present day. Since a large number of students went from Japan to China, the Japanese people also began to learn to compose poems wherever this custom reached. The earliest extant Japanese poetry collection Kaifuso written in Chinese style was compiled and completed in 751 and all poems were written in Chinese characters.
Japanese people like to sing and chant. In the early days before the existence of written words, texts were spread by word of mouth. After learning words from China, they used the Chinese characters to take note for transmission. Until the Nara period, some people put these poems or songs (called Waka) together into bound volumes, of which the earliest is the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (or Collection to be Handed Down throughout Ten Thousand Eras; Manyoshu) which brought together a total of four thousand and five hundred songs. It is key to know that The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves is the beginning of the development of the current Kana characters used in the Japanese language, named the “Kana of Ten Thousand Leaves.”
However, concerning the impact on Japan of sending envoys to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, we must talk more clearly about the spread of Buddhism. When the envoys arrived at Changan, they said that they led dozens of Buddhist monks to China to learn Buddhism as their main purpose, because Buddhism flourished in China.
After going through the development of Asuka and Nara periods, Japan created six Buddhist schools, collectively referred to as the "six Nara sects" (the Nanto Rokushu). They included the Garland Sutra, Dharma-character school of Buddhism and the Vinaya School. Some of these sects were established by the Japanese monks who had studied in the Tang Dynasty, while some were founded by monks from the Tang Dynasty, who went east to Japan. The head temple of the Garland Sutra was the Todai Temple in Nara, which was built in the fifth year of the 45th Emperor Shomu (728 AD). He also ordered all the states in the country to build a smaller temple similar to the Todai Temple, which was known as Kokubun-ji.
The Vinaya School of Japan was founded by a monk Jianzhen from the Tang Dynasty. The way he went eastward to Japan is a powerful story. He was invited to Japan, but experienced failures five times. Twice due to legal control problems he was imprisoned, since informants accusing him of trying to stow away. Three times he encountered typhoons; although his ship did not sink it drifted far to the south. It was so serious that he became blind. But he still firmly wanted to achieve his goal, never gave up halfway. Some people asked Jianzhen how with two blind eyes he could do missionary work in Japan. Jianzhen smiled and said: "Buddhism is in my heart." Finally he was escorted to arrive in Japan in 753 (during the Tianbao era of Tang) by the envoys dispatched by the Japanese Emperor to the Tang Dynasty. His story shocked the Japanese government and the public. Jianzhen was honored as the Glorious Master of Transmitting the Light and presided over the ceremony for the Japanese Empress Koken, as well as her father and mother to take oath as Buddhist monks. The Toshodai Temple that the Emperor converted for Jianzhen has been a Japanese national treasure till today.
About seventy years after the time of Jianzhen, another two giants, Saicho and Kukai, emerged in the Japanese Buddhist community. Both took the same boat that carried the envoys who were sent to China for further study in the Tang Dynasty. Saicho followed masters of the Tiantai (Tendai) school, esoteric sect and Zen school to learn Buddhism. After returning home, he founded the Tiantai school of Buddhism in Japan at the Enryaku Temple on Mount Hiei. Kukai formally became a student of the eminent monk Huiguo at the Qinglong Temple in Changan to study esoteric Buddhism and learned all its essence. Kukai was an accomplished calligrapher. After his master passed away, he was recommended by all to write an inscription on the tombstone. This tombstone has remained in the Museum of Forest of Stone Tablets in Xian. After Kukai returned to Japan, he founded the Shingon Buddhism. However, both the Tiantai and the Shingon sects were created under the royal family patronage. They were in essence still aristocratic religions.
Impacts of the Chinese Song Dynasty on Buddhism and Culture of Japan
In the late Heian period of Japan, the militants rose and then there followed the fight between Genji and Heike. For the people, war was the beginning of the days of suffering. In addition, natural disasters occurred constantly, grains did not mature and people all lived in pain. At this juncture, China was already in the Southern Song Dynasty. The situation in Japan was identical to the afore-mentioned late Tang Dynasty and the Later Silla period after the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Thus, the Pure Land Buddhism and the Zen Buddhism also began to flourish in Japan, and the so-called "six new Buddhism sects in the Kamakura period" were founded. Among them, the Pure Land, the Jodo Shinshu and the Tokimune schools all belonged to the Pure Land Buddhism. The Rinzai and the Soto schools were sects separated out from the Zen sect during the late Tang Dynasty in China. Japan had two Buddhist masters Myoan Eisai and Dogen Zenji. They went separately to China for study in the Southern Song Dynasty and each formally became a disciple of the master who descended by direct line from the founder of the Rinzai Buddhism/Soto Buddhism. After returning to Japan, they created separately the Rinzai Buddhism and the Soto Buddhism. Among the “six new Buddhism sects in the Kamakura period,” only the Nichiren Buddhism was unrelated to the Pure Land Buddhism and the Zen Buddhism. But the Nichiren Buddhism regarded the Lotus Buddhism as the highest teaching of Buddhism, and red inflecte part the tint of the Lotus Buddhism of Tang Dynasty.
The Kamakura period witnessed the golden age of Japan temple architecture and sculpture. Many famous temples that still remain today were established during this period, and most of the buildings were imitations of the architectures and sculptures of the Song Dynasty.
Buddhism also had a great impact on the culture and lifestyles of the people. In the Tang Dynasty, there was a Teaism master in China named Lu Yu, respectfully known by later generations as "the Sage of Tea.” In the Song Dynasty, tea drinking became very popular. In the Buddhist temples, people particularly emphasized the art of tea and etiquette, in order to ease the mind. This was regarded as a part of the Zen practice; hence there was the phrase "taste Zen in tea.”
When founder Myoan Eisai of the Japanese Rinzai sect studied Buddhism in China, he lived in the Tiantai Mountain and the Tiantong Mountain where tea were produced in China. Having said farewell to his master, he brought a lot of tea seeds back home. After he arrived in Japan, he made utmost efforts to develop the culture of making and drinking tea. Myoan Eisai therefore was later respected as the founder of Japanese tea.
When founder Dogen Zenji of the Soto sect went to China seeking Buddhism, there was a family retainer Kato Shiro who also followed him to the Tiantong Mountain. Zhejiang Province at that time was the region famous for producing kilns in the Southern Song Dynasty. Kato Shiro carefully studied the pottery technology. After he returned home, he began to bake the black vitreous enamel, known as the "Seto firing." This was the beginning of fine ceramics of Japan. Shiro Kato was later respected as the "father of ceramics” of Japan.
Development of Neo-Confucianism in Song and Ming Dynasties
Confucianism in China met great changes in the Northern Song Dynasty; Neo-Confucianism began its rise. However, Neo-Confucianism was divided into several different schools and mutually engaged in dialectic studies. Wang Anshi, Sima Guang, Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi and Su Shi, among others, not only had different political opinions and separated into the new party and the old party, but also had different academic convictions about Confucianism. For example, Wang Anshi took an inclusive approach to the teachings of Buddhism. In his book, he quoted many Buddhist ideas and concepts to expound the Confucian thoughts, known as "Wang’s school of Neo-Confucianism.” Cheng Hao and the Cheng Yi brothers, however, considered themselves as representatives of Confucian orthodoxy. They not only excluded Buddhism, but also disagreed with the interconnection between Confucianism and Daoism. They strongly criticized Wang’s school of Neo-Confucianism and insisted that the Buddhist thought mixed in Confucianism must be eliminated.
In the Southern Song Dynasty, the differences between various Neo-Confucian schools became even more obvious. Broadly speaking, there were Zhu Xi’s school of Neo-Confucianism, Lu Jiuyuan’s school of mind, Lu Zuqian’s utilitarian school of thought (Shigong school or Yongjia school), as well as Zhang Zai’s school of qi (flow of air) in the Northern Song Dynasty. The Neo-Confucianism school followed the teachings of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, which advocated studying the essence of things to attain knowledge and “upholding justice, annihilating human desire.” The school of mind regarded the mind as being the principle and paid attention to introspective efforts by not emphasizing the learning of outside knowledge. The utilitarian school thought that the purpose of acquiring knowledge was for statecraft and practical matters, not for empty talk. The school of qi emphasized that “qi” (the fundamental material that everything in the universe was composed of) and the "principle" (the law of motion that everything in the universe follows) are the same thing. This differed much from Zhu Xi’s advocacy of “principle and qi being two things, and rationale goes first before qi."
Zhu Xi's school of thought especially emphasized an ethical relationship (in a hierarchical society) of which the inferior will “speak up,” whereas the superior will “speak down.” This kind of relationship formed an asymmetry that was based on three principles and five virtues. The doctrine was deeply approved by the ruling class and in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties it became the official philosophy. In the Yuan Dynasty from 1313 AD onwards, the Imperial Examination had the provision that the test subjects must be within the scope of the Four Books, and used Commentaries on Four Books by Zhu Xi as the standard textbook. Since then, Zhu Xi’s school of thought quickly became the mainstream Confucianism and other schools gradually subsided. Confucian academics further marginalized Buddhism.
By the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the famous scholar Wang Yangming appeared and Lu Jiuyuan’s school of mind revived again. Wang’s theory emphasized inner self-reflection, and one of the methods was to sit calmly. The mainstream Zhu Xi’s school of thought at that time flocked to attack Wang Yangming, mainly criticizing Wang as "being silent with a nothingness of the realm, and being just like Zen." Namely, it was no different from the Zen meditation. It was clear how the Zhu Xi school showed hostility against Buddhism and Zen in the Ming dynasty. When criticism of the Wang school reached a decisive peak, Emperor Jia Jing even personally issued an edict saying that Wang Yangming "speaks with no restraint, crucifies ancestral Confucian scholars, uses falsehood with reckless abandonment, does evil things with bad intent.” The emperor ordered a ban on his public lectures.
Impacts of Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties on Korea – Anti-Buddhism, Literati Purges and Party Strife
The fourth king Mitsumune (949--979 AD reign) of the Goryeo generation decided to start holding imperial examinations in order to establish a centralized system. Until the eleventh king Munjong of the Goryeo generation, who was a strong proponent of Confucianism, people loved reading and writing, and there were many famous Confucian scholars. Among them, Choe Chung was highly respected by the government and the public. He founded in 1055 a private school known as the Jiuzai School. The students were called the Disciples of Master Choe. This was the first private school that was large enough on the scale and gained community respect in Korean history. Choe Chung was thus respectfully referred to as the “Confucius in Korea.” At that time, other Confucian scholars also widely followed his example to found private schools. The private schools in Goryeo gradually developed and actually surpassed the state schools.
After the rise of the Mongol Empire, the Goryeo Dynasty was forced to concede defeat and pay tribute to the Mongols by sending its prince as hostage to marry the Mongolian princess; it was in close interaction with the Yuan Dynasty. In 1289, the Goryeo scholar An Yu (An Xiang) accompanied King Chungnyeol (Wang Geo) of Goryeo to reach Dadu (capital of China during the Yuan Dynasty, modern day Beijing). Kublai Khan of the Yuan Dynasty gave the king a Complete Writings of Zhu Xi. This was the first time that Goryeo had access to the systematic Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi. After An Yu returned to Goryeo, he actively advocated Zu’s philosophy and An Yu’s student Bai Yi passed it down. After a few generations, the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi began to hold the orthodoxy of Confucianism in Goryeo.
During the same period, Buddhism gradually became corrupt after the care and protection of kings of thirty generations. The monks only knew how to vigorously expand the temples, hold lavish religious assemblies, sit on huge temple properties and land, accumulate wealth by dishonest means and make profit. It is easy to see that Buddhism in Goryeo was not far away from disasters, if readers can think about the events of Buddhism being suppressed four times in Chinese history during the era of the "three Wu Emperors and one Shi Emperor.” Since the Neo-Confucian scholars of the Song Dynasty represented by Zhu Xi vowed to uphold the Confucian orthodoxy and treated Buddhism as a heresy, the Goryeo scholars who inherited the Confucianism of Zhu Xi would also inevitably learn to strongly criticize Buddhism. In the late Goryeo era, Jeong Mong-ju who held sway at the school of Zhu Xi was among the large group of Confucian scholars who attacked Buddhism. Another scholar Zheng Daochuan even wrote articles clearly and simply saying that Buddhism was a social parasite. It just happened that both of them were the right- and left-hand men of the founder Li Chenggui (Yi Seong-gye) of the Joseon Dynasty. The fate of Buddhism was evident.
However, Li Chenggui had a relatively mild temperament and did not take drastic means against Buddhism. In 1400, Li Fang Yuan (Yi Bang-won), the son of Li Chenggui, ascended to the throne as Taizong of the Joseon Dynasty. He had an unyielding personality and immediately ordered to reduce the thousands of temples in the country, leaving only two hundred and forty, and the rest were removed. Almost all monks and nuns were forced to return to secular life; their land was confiscated and servants were taken by authorities. "Worshipping Confucianism and suppressing Buddhism" became the national policy. Buddhism in the Joseon Dynasty suffered a serious blow and was unable to recover; the social status of Buddhists also plummeted. Later, several kings were sympathetic to Buddhism giving it a little breathing space. But during the five hundred years of the Joseon Dynasty, Confucianism was dominatingly the only national standard of ideologies and values. Confucian scholars became an ethnic group that had the highest social status next to the emperor’s relatives.
Since no one could challenge Confucianism any more, bureaucrats who had different ideologies therefore formed different factions and engaged in party strife. Fierce competitions among factions that had taken place in the Northern and Southern Song Dynasties of China replayed on the Korean peninsula and resulted first in the “literati purges” (scholars’ disasters) and later the “party struggles.” The difference between the Song Dynasty and the Joseon Dynasty was only the ancestral rule of "not killing ministers" set by Zhao Kuangyin, Emperor Taizu of the Song Dynasty, in which the loser of the party competition was at most sent in exile; whereas in the Joseon Dynasty, most of the failed parties suffered family bankruptcy and the people died. They ended miserably.
The so-called "literati purge" had already started to brew from the founding of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 AD). Different political views made elite split into factions of older men led by meritorious subjects (men rewarded with influence and money for their service to the king) and country scholars who were puritanical Neo-Confucians, and each split again and again. They disputed on issues such as approving or disapproving Li Chenggui on setting Goryeo King Gongyang in exile and seized the throne himself to found the Joseon Dynasty, or approving or disapproving Lee Rou to usurp King Sejo (1455 AD) to become the Shizu of the Joseon Dynasty. During the tenth generation of the King Yeonsan-gun of Joseon, the "literati purge" broke out (1498 AD) for the first time. In the following fifty years, successive purges occurred three times. Each time, a large number of elite in the country suffered unnatural deaths when political power changed hands.
During the 14th King Xuanzu of Joseon, literati purges turned into party struggles. Party disputes involved far more complex issues than the scholars’ disasters and must be discussed by beginning with the academic factions of Confucianism.
As already mentioned, China's Mind Science (schools of mental nature) in the Southern Song Dynasty was separated into Zhu Xi’s school of Neo-Confucianism, Lu Jiuyuan’s school of mind, Zhang Zai’s school of qi and Lu Zuqian’s utilitarian school of thought. The Joseon Dynasty absorbed the mind science of China and the country scholars split in the early sixteenth century into the “school of Neo-Confucianism” and the “school of qi,” and continued their controversies. Later, a great master named Li Huang (Yi Hwang, 1501-1570 AD) appeared. He gathered all the aspects of the Neo-Confucianism and was known as the Korean Zhu Xi. Also in the school of qi, there appeared a great man named Li Er (Yi I, pen name Yulgok ("Chestnut valley"), 1536-1584 AD), known as the "Korean sage." What Li Huang led was the Neo-Confucianism fundamentalism of Zhu Xi, which rejected all other schools of thought and used highly offensive statements and writings to criticize all the ideologies and theories that he considered as impure. In contrast, Li Er’s school paid attention to statecraft and practical matters as well. The two schools were originally just debating for enhancing learning. But they gradually expanded from emotional struggles into power struggles, and eventually became mutually exclusive.
In the eighth year of the reign of Seonjo (1574 AD), a conflict between two ministers Sim Ui-Gyeom and Kim Hyowon came to the fore. The cause was in fact minor, concerning the hiring of a fifth-ranking government official. But the fuse made the outbreak of their existing conflict. All the courtiers were forced to choose sides. Those who stood by the side of Kim Hyowon were nicknamed the Dong’in Party and were most of Li Huang's disciples. Those who stood by the side of Sim Ui-Gyeom were nicknamed the Seo’in Party and were mostly Li Er’s disciples.
The party struggles lasted for two hundred and fifty years since it started. After the Dong’in Party got the upper hand, it split into the Southern Man Group and the Northern Man Group. After the Northern Man Group got the upper hand, it split into the Big Northern Man Group and the Small Northern Man Group. But the Seo’in Party did not disappear either. Instead, it waited for many years to successfully seize power, and then split into the Old Seo’in Group and the Young Seo’in Group; then split into the Old School and the Young School; then the Old School split further into the Pi faction and the Shi faction.
The party struggles in the Joseon Dynasty lasted until the mid-nineteenth century. During this period the Zhu Xi thought was always the official philosophy, no matter which party got the upper hand; the asymmetrical ethical relationship whereby the inferior would “speak up” while the superior would “speak down” was always correct. Any different ideas and values were treated as heresies. This extreme conservative official attitude, unfortunately, was the root cause for Korea following the path of the Qing Dynasty by adopting extreme practices of xenophobia against Western powers after they arrived in the Orient. By rejecting all the new ideas and new things, Korea fell prey to the bullying powers.
Impacts of Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming Dynasties on Japan
Although Japan learned a lot from China, the Japanese never implemented the imperial examination system. At that time children of the upper nobility enjoyed privileges, and in a system that rewarded children or grandchildren by heritage, they could easily get jobs. Children of the middle or lower class could only depend on a specific clan to get a chance for development. Thus, the Heian period not only had the aristocratic hereditary patriarchy, even Confucianism became a family tradition and was dominated by a few families. Given the narrow door to competition, Confucianism therefore gradually declined.
At the end of the Heian period, warriors rose, and swordsmen gradually dominated the world. Even high officials and the nobility risked the destiny of being left behind, not to mention the scholars. The study of Confucianism thus gradually shifted to the monks, especially the Zen masters.
After the development of the mind science of Confucianism in the Song Dynasty, some of the Zen masters saw its similarities with Buddhism. They combined Confucianism and Buddhism and advocated "Confucianism and Buddhism being the same.” At this time the Japanese monks who studied in China under this influence were naturally inspired by the Neo-Confucianism of the Song dynasty. In addition, the Rinzai School successively had two Zen masters, Beijian and Wuzhun. Their renowned disciples Lanxi Daolong (Rankei Doryu) and Wuxue Zuyuan (Mugaku Sogen) both were hired by Japan and made enormous contributions to the development of Confucianism in Japan. The Zen Master Beijian also guided a Zen master from Japan, whose name was Fukaki Shunjo. He was generally considered the key figure that brought back the Zhu Xi theory and spread it in Japan.
In the Kublai Khan era of the Yuan Dynasty, there was also a famous monk Yishan Yining who arrived in Japan. He had broad knowledge and also reared many Confucian monks with superior quality. He paved a new road for Confucianism in the Muromachi period by not only creating the literature of Five Mountains (gozan bungaku), but also further promoted the Zhu Xi philosophy.
During the period of confrontations between the Southern and Northern Courts in Japan, there was a minister of the Southern Court, Kitabatake Chikafusa who was influenced by the historical views of a Chinese book, A Mirror for the Wise Ruler (or Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government), and wrote the book Chronicles of the Authentic Lineages of the Divine Emperors (Jinno Shotoki). In this book, he advocated that only the Southern Court was orthodox and stressed a trinity of God, the Divine Emperor and the country as a “just cause,” Japan being the divine land and the Emperor being the Divine Emperor. Although the Southern Court was eventually annexed by the Northern Court, Jinno Shotoki later had a tremendous impact on the ideological trend of Japan.
When Buddhism was powerful in Japan, the traditional local shrines gradually moved closer to Buddhism. A popular opinion was that Buddha was the embodiment of all gods in Japan; hence God and Buddha were a unified entity, and Buddhism and Confucianism were connected. But by the late Muromachi period, there was in Kyoto a Shintoist named Yoshida Kanetomoin who founded the Yoshida Shintoism and was in favor of "Shintoism being the root of everything, Confucianism being the branches and leaves, Buddhism being the flowers and fruits;" namely only Shintoism was the basis. The advocacy of Yoshida Shintoism went against the mainstream thinking and gave rise to dissatisfactions from all parties. But in Japan more and more people agreed with Jinno Shotoki, and they accepted Japan being the divine land and must restore the ancient Japanese tradition of Shintoism to support the Divine Emperor. Yoshida Shintoism’s influence grew and he became the mentor to many shrines.
After Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan, he began to seriously want to change the long-standing problem of the domineering and unruly behavior of the warriors. Since Zhu Xi's academic thought was the official philosophy of the feudal ruling class in China, Tokugawa Ieyasu quickly saw the value of Zhu Xi’s Confucianism for the consolidation of the shogunate. He therefore decided to worship the master of Confucianism Fujiwara Seika to promote the Zhu Xi studies.
Fujiwara Seika was originally a monk in the Shokoku-ji (a large Zen temple) of Kyoto and later focused on researching the Confucianism of Zhu Xi. He gradually became dissatisfied with Buddhism. He was also influenced by a famous Korean scholar Jiang Hang (Kang Hang) who studied the philosophy of Zhu Xi. As a result, soon after the Sekigahara War (1600 AD) he published a declaration for returning to secular life. His declaration had a significant meaning. It symbolized the birth of a new Confucianism. Like Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, and Zhu Xi in China, he began to condemn Buddhism and the old Confucianism.
Fujiwara Seika had many outstanding disciples, of which the most famous was Hayashi Razan. He was even more opposed to differing ideas than Fujiwara Seika. He not only rejected Buddhism, but also was intolerant of the doctrines of Lu Xiangshan and Wang Yangming, regarding them as equal to Zen Buddhism and as heresies. After Hayashi Razan was recommended by Fujiwara Seika to Tokugawa Ieyasu, he became the top intellectual of the shogunate. Hayashi Razan was the mentor of General Tokugawa Hidetada of the second generation and General Tokugawa Iemitsu of the third generation, and enjoyed a much respected position.
It should be noted that Hayashi Razan on the one hand excluded Buddhism, but on the other hand supported Shintoism. He wrote the Encyclopedia of Shrines in Japan (Honcho Jinjako, 6 vols., contains the names of all the chief Shinto temples and of the gods worshipped therein; it is considered a good authority on these matters), in which he stated his point from the very beginning in the Preface: "I hope that the world worships our God and condemns their Buddha.” The idea of a trinity of God, Confucianism and Buddhism since then was short of Buddhism and turned into a unity of God and Confucianism. Japan's Shintoism hence turned away from Buddhism and reverted to an independent development.
Although the shogunate promoted the Zhu Xi philosophy, there was no ban of other schools. So the Wang Yangming doctrine spread among population. Nakae Toju (1608 - 1648 AD) was a key figure of the Yangming School in Japan. He opposed the dogmatism and the formalism of Zhu Xi. This idea of anti-establishment was naturally not welcomed by the shogunate, but received some support from the samurai at the lower levels. Nakae Toju was respectfully addressed as the "the sage of Omi." His favorite disciple Kumazawa Banzan was sentenced to confinement because of openly criticizing the shogunate. However, once the ideology of anti-establishment spread, its influence was very wide. Right after General Tokugawa Iemitsu of the third generation passed away, Yui Shosetsu rebelled in Suruga with the intent to overthrow the shogunate. At the time of General Tokugawa Ienari of the eleventh generation, a major confrontation was caused by Oshio Heihachiro. Both events were related to the Yangming school of thought.
Of course, other scholars also tried alternatives. For example, Yamaga Soko who belonged to the branch of Ancient Learning studied Chinese classics very hard. He drew the conclusion that the Zhu Xi doctrine completely distorted the original ideals of Confucius and Mencius. He openly criticized the Zhu Xi doctrine and as a result was sent into exile by the shogunate. Another scholar, Ogyu Sorai, criticized the Zhu Xi school of thought as "By clearing areas of good and evil to reduce the ancient kings’ realms, and by arguing between right and wrong to narrow the teachings of Confucius, the Confucianists are commiting sins." Ogyu Sorai especially stressed the pragmatic application of Confucianism to promote social and political reforms. He advocated that Confucianists should not only enhance virtue and engage in self-cultivation to become merely a moralist, but should also study politics and economy in order to make people's livelihood affluent so that culture and arts could be developed.
When General Tokugawa Iemitsu of the third generation was ruling the country, earth-shaking changes occurred in China. The Ming Dynasty was taken over by the Qing Dynasty. The Ming survivors widely fled overseas. Among them, there was an erudite Confucianist Zhu Shunshui who arrived at Japan’s Nagasaki in 1666. After five years he saw the overlord of Mito, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and accepted his cordial invitation to set up schools in Mito. Tokugawa Mitsukuni himself also formally became an apprentice to Zhu Shunshui. The Zhu Shunshui school was not bound by thoughts of Zhu Xi or Wang Yangming and its ideologies formed an independent system. Zhu Shunshui did not like to talk about the universal order in the human character, but paid attention to statecraft and practical matters. He mastered everything including astronomy, geography, arithmetic, agriculture, construction and the political system. Famous Confucianists throughout Japan heard his name and came continuously to become his disciples. The Mito Confucianism thus became an important school of Confucianism in Japan for the next two hundred-some years.
The shogunate gradually became unable to control ideology, so it categorically banned the teaching of knowledge other than the Zhu Xi philosophy. This was the Kansei Ban on Heterodox Learning (1790 AD). However, the Kansei Reforms led by Matsudaira Sadanobu ended in failure and the ban on heterodox learning also did not produce much effect. Private schools set up by civilians multiplied and soon outnumbered the schools established by the shogunate. The brisk evolution of ideologies could no longer be forcefully constrained.
Due to the influence of Zhu Shunshui, Tokugawa Mitsukuni convened a group of Confucian scholars to jointly compile the History of Great Japan (Dai Nihon Shi) that started from Emperor Jinmu down to Emperor Komatsu of a hundred generations later. The future Mito generations had been continuously supporting the compilation for over two hundred years until its completion in the Meiji era. What Tokugawa Mitsukuni did not expect was that during the long preparation process of the Dai Nihon Shi, the thinking of “advocating reverence for the king and the expulsion of foreigners” since the Confucian times actually fermented gradually and echoed with the previous Jinno Shotoki.
If the “king” in “reverence for the king" referred to the Emperor, and if "authentic lineages" also referred to the Emperor, then what should be the position of the shogun? The idea of “reverence for the king" created in the late period of the shogunate induced the Japanese patriots to widely turn their allegiance to the Emperor. It was impossible to estimate how serious the damage was to the shogunate. Many academics in Japan therefore believed that Mito was the birthplace for the thought of Meiji Restoration.
The Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan could not completely control people's minds right from the beginning. Although the shogunate was known for excluding foreign contacts, in fact, it still opened a trade window to the Netherlands and engaged in a limited degree of cultural exchanges with the West. Later, the shogunate was becoming increasingly weak. The strong powers in the southwest of Japan rose and made their own acquisitions of new weapons to train new troops; the Dutch Studies (studies of Europe and the world) also began to germinate in Japan lively with new ideas and new knowledge. Thus, unwittingly, Japan was already making preparations for the Meiji Restoration.