Confucian Korea & Shogunate Japan
Korean in traditional (Confucian) dress with a Japanese samurai in armor

Map showing various periods of Korean history
Confucian Korea
Koryo (918-1392) & Early Choson (1392-16th Century)
Wang Kon, founder of Korea's Koryo dynastyThe Koryo Dynasty was founded in 918 with a rebellion led by Wang Kon, a man from a locally powerful northwestern Korean mercantile and naval family. ... Wang Kon’s (King T’aejo’s) rebellion, which established the Koryo Dynasty, was explicitly justified with reference to Chinese Mandate of Heaven theory and the revered Chinese historical example of the eleventh-century BCE Zhou conquest of the Shang. Political, legal, and economic institutions in Koryo also continued to be structured after the now vanished Tang Chinese imperial model. But, at the same time, Korea also achieved greater distance from China during this period and, in a sense, became more Korean. ... Rather than a highly centralized Chinese-style imperial bureaucracy, local administration under Koryo was initially left largely in the hands of local lords. These lords often controlled their own private armies, and the central government merely recognized the fact of their preexisting local authority by conferring official titles on them. ... In tension with this native Korean aristocratic system, however, in 958 Koryo also implemented Chinese-style civil service examinations, with the assistance of an advisor who had come from the last of the northern Five Dynasties in post-Tang China. Although the examinations began on a small scale, in the long run most Korean officials came to be selected through such testing. Even this did not eliminate aristocratic dominance in Korea, but it did give the Korean aristocracy a more bureaucratic and Confucian orientation. (HEA, 149-51)

Under the Yuan Dynasty, the city that is today called Beijing was the capital of a vast transcontinental Mongol Empire. It was more than just a Chinese city. At the same time, nonetheless, it was also still a largely Chinese city. In Beijing, visiting Koreans encountered Neo-Confucianism. In 1313, one Korean king, after spending much of his five-year reign living in Beijing, retired there and founded a Sino-Korean-Mongol Neo-Confucian salon called the “Hall of Ten Thousand Volumes.” Meanwhile, in Korea the academy was rebuilt and the Korean national shrine to Confucius restored. Leading Confucian scholars were appointed as teachers in the academy, and they gathered dedicated followings, spurning the old-style textual studies for more stimulating discussions of the true meaning of the classics. ... The first Neo-Confucian private academy (sowon) in Korea was founded in 1543. By the end of the eighteenth century, 823 had been established. The result was what is now often regarded as “traditional” Korean society: patrilineal families sharing surnames and ancestral seats, claiming descent from and venerating a common male ancestor, and with the main line of descent carried through the first-born son of the primary wife. By about the eighteenth century, Korea had become a thoroughly Confucian society. These Confucian ideals were understood as universal truths, however, rather than necessarily as Chinese influences. In fact, late Choson Koreans even came to feel that they were better custodians of proper Confucian civilization than the degenerate Chinese, who had fallen under foreign Manchu rule. (HEA, 152-4)
man and woman in traditional Korean dress
“Traditional” Korea
Through their study of the Chinese Classics, zealous Korean Neo-Confucians came to adopt ancient China as an idealized model. Choson Korea went further than anywhere else in East Asia, including China, in actually attempting to recreate the golden age of Chinese antiquity, as they understood it from the classics. The Choson reforms, which were literally written into a series of legal codes, included an attempt to legislate a restructuring of the Korean family according to the supposedly universal Confucian moral order of patrilineal descent, ancestor veneration, and fixed mourning obligations. A 1390 law, for example, required Korean officials to perform ancestral sacrifices in each season.
As late as Koryo times, family descent in Korea had still been traced through both male and female lines, but in the fifteenth century, mourning requirements for matrilineal relatives were downgraded. Women gradually lost their inheritance rights, and after 1402, women were legally forbidden to ride horses. The principle of primogeniture was increasingly promoted, tracing inheritance from eldest son to eldest son by the sole legal wife, and reducing the status of secondary sons and of all daughters. Sons born to secondary wives (concubines) eventually became ineligible to take the civil service examinations. Intermarriage between persons with the same family name was banned. Although the implementation and enforcement of all these measures was gradual, at least among the yangban elite Chinese-style marriage and family patterns eventually became pervasive. (HEA, 153-4)
Article 809 of the Korean Civil Code (Korean: 민법 제 809조) was the codification of a traditional rule prohibiting marriage between men and women who have the same surname and ancestral home (bon-gwan). On 16 July 1997, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled the article unconstitutional. The National Assembly of South Korea passed an amendment to the Article in March 2002, which came into force on 31 March 2005, and prohibited marriage only between men and women who are closely related. (Wikipedia/Article 809)
Cartoon image of a Korean couple in traditional dress
Six ladies wearing traditional Korean dresses
Click to view two scened of a Korean program on Confucianism (11:42-22:43 and 25:30-29:17)
Bamboo Page Divider
Painted screen showing a scene from the Gempei War
Shogunate Japan
Kamakura (1185-1333) and Ashikaga (1336-1573)
Who Was in Charge?
Bamboo Page Divider
Nara (710-784) & Heian (794-1185)
710-856 Emperors or combinations of nobles
856-1086 Fujiwara nobles
1086-1160 Retired emperors
1160-1180 Military house of Taira
Katana (samurai sword)
Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333)
1185 Founded by Minamoto Yoritomo
1219 Usurped by the Hojo
1274/1281 Mongol Invasions
Katana (Samurai Sword)
Ashikaga Shogunate (1336-1467)
1333-1336 Emperor Go-Daigo: Kemmu Restoration
1336 Ashikaga Shogunate founded by Ashikaga Takauji
1467-1568 Onin War/Sengoku (Warring States) Era
Katana (samurai sword)
Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868)
1568-1600 Azuchi-Momoyama Period: Oda Nobunaga & Toyotomi Hideyoshi
1600-1868 Tokugawa Shogunate founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu
Cartoon of a Biwa Hoshi (Japanese lute performer) performing the Heike Monogatari
The Tale of the Heike recounts the rise of the Taira (a.k.a. Heike) clan, led by Taira no Kiyomori, and their subsequent defeat at the hands of the Minamoto (a.k.a. Genji) clan, led by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune. The conflict culminated in the complete annihilation of the Heike during the Gempei War (1180-1185).
Minamoto no Yoritomo
Yoritomo’s victory in the Gempei War ushered in a new era of “military” rule in Japanese history, where the real power shifted from the imperial court in Kyoto to a “military government” (bakufu) led by powerful generals known as Shogun, who set up a separate government (under the theoretical sovereignty of the emperor) at Kamakura; this period is consequently known as the Kamakura era. The following passages are two examples of the shifting martial ethic that distinguished the more aristocratic Taira from the ultimately victorious Minamoto.
Icon of a sakura petal
Saito Sanemori
Sanemori Describes the Minamoto
Saito Sanemori“Sanemori, in the eight eastern provinces [i.e. those dominated by the Minamoto] are there many men who are as mighty archers as you are?”
       “Do you then consider me a mighty archer?” asked Sanemori with a scornful smile. “I can only draw an arrow thirteen handbreadths long. In the eastern provinces there are any number of warriors who can do so. There is one famed archer who never draws a shaft less than fifteen handbreadths long. So mighty is his bow that four or five ordinary men must pull together to bend it. When he shoots, his arrow can easily pierce two or three suits of armor at once. Even a warrior from a small estate has at least five hundred soldiers. They are bold horsemen who never fall, nor do they let their horses stumble on the roughest road. When they fight, they do not care if even their parents or children are killed; they ride on over their bodies and continue the battle.
Map of Japan
“The warriors of the western province [i.e. those allied with the Taira] are quite different. If their parents are killed, they retire from the battle and perform Buddhist rites to console the souls of the dead. Only after the mourning is over will they fight again. If their children are slain, their grief is so deep that they cease fighting altogether. When their rations have given out, they plant rice in the fields and go out to fight only after reaping it. They dislike the heat of summer. They grumble at the severe cold of winter. This is not the way of the soldiers of the eastern provinces.”
       The Taira soldiers “heard his words and trembled.” (The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, 36-7)

What does this passage tell us about the warrior ethic during this period?
Katana (samurai sword)
With which side — the Taira (Heike) or the Minamoto (Genji) —
do you think our sympathies are supposed to lie?
Sakura (Cherry Blossom)
Kumagai Naozane calling Taira Atsumori to turn back and fight
The Death of Atsumori
Kumagai Naozane fighting Taira no AtsumoriWhen the Heike [i.e. the Taira] were routed at Ichi no tani, and their nobles and courtiers were fleeing to the shore to escape in their ships, Kumagai Naozane came riding along a narrow path onto the beach, with the intention of intercepting one of their great captains. Just then his eye fell on a single horseman who was attempting to reach one of the ships in the offing. The horse he rode was dappled-gray, and its saddle glittered with gold mounting. Not doubting that he was one of the chief captains, Kumagai beckoned to him with his war fan, crying out: “Shameful! To show an enemy your back. Return! Return!”
       The warrior turned his horse and rode back to the beach, where Kumagai at once engaged him in mortal combat. Quickly hurling him to the ground, he sprang upon him and tore off his helmet to cut off his head, when he beheld the face of a youth of sixteen or seventeen, delicately powdered and with blackened teeth, just about the age of his own son and with features of great beauty. Taira no Atsumori“Who are you?” he asked. “Tell me your name, for I would spare your life.”
       “Nay, first say who you are,” replied the young man.
       “I am Kumagai Naozane of Musashi, a person of no particular importance.”
       “Then you have made a good capture,” said the youth. “Take my head and show it to some of my side, and they will tell you who I am.”
       “Though he is one of their leaders,” mused Kumagai, “if I slay him it will not turn victory into defeat, and if I spare him, it will not turn defeat into victory. When my son Kojiro was but slightly wounded at Ichi no tani this morning, did it not pain me? How this young man’s father would grieve to hear that he had been killed! I will spare him.”
Kumagai preparing to behead AtsumoriJust then, looking behind him, he saw Doi and Kajiwara coming up with fifty horsemen. “Alas! Look there,” he exclaimed, the tears running down his face, “though I would spare your life, the whole countryside swarms with our men, and you cannot escape them. If you must die, let it be by my hand, and I will see that prayers are said for your rebirth in Paradise.”
       “Indeed it must be so,” said the young warrior. “Cut off my head at once.”
       Kumagai was so overcome by compassion that he could scarcely wield his blade. His eyes swam and he hardly knew what he did. But there was no help for it; weeping bitterly he cut off the boys head. “Alas!” he cried, “what life is so hard as that of a soldier? Only because I was born of a warrior family must I suffer this affliction! How lamentable it is to do such cruel deeds!” He pressed his face to the sleeve of his armor and wept bitterly. Then, wrapping up the head, he was stripping off the young man’s armor when he discovered a flute in a brocade bag. “Ah,” he exclaimed, “it was this youth and his friends who were amusing themselves with music within the walls this morning. Among all our men of the Eastern Provinces [i.e. those allied with the Minamoto] I doubt if there is any one of them who has brought a flute with him. How gentle the ways of these courtiers!”
       When he brought the flute to the Commander, all who saw it were moved to tears; he discovered then that the youth was Atsumori, the youngest son of Tsunemori, aged sixteen years. From this time the mind of Kumagai was turned toward the religious life. (Anthology of Japanese Literature, 179-81)
Are we supposed to be sympathetic to the more courtly Taira/Heike
... or the more martial Minamoto/Genji?

Kumagai riding backward on a horse (facing the Western Paradise of Amida)
Monk Rensho (Kumagai) Facing the Western Paradise
Noh Hannya Mask
The ghost of Atsumori recreates the scene of his fatal combat with Kumagai no Naozane with gestures. He tells Rensei (Rensho) that they are not enemies any longer as he has been consoled by the same person who killed him. After asking for further prayers on his behalf, the ghost of Atsumori disappears. With the fast, wild rhythm of [the chu-nori vocal style] ... the shite [lead actor] single-handedly skillfully performs two different persons, Atsumori himself and Kumagai, in the past scene of their deadly combat.
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Atsomori: Before long, including the boat conveying the Emperor Antoku
Reciters: the people of the Heike clan began to launch and board their ships to sail forth one after another. When I rushed into the waves not to miss a boat, His Majesty’s boat and [the] warrior’s boats had already sailed far out.
Atsumori: Stranded alone on the back of a horse on the beach I was hopeless and could not decide what I should do.
Atsumori: At just that moment,
Reciters: Kumagai no Jiro Naozane fiercely pursued him. Atsumori pulled his horse back to face Naozane, and unsheathed his sword. They exchanged several blows with their swords. They grappled with each other on horseback before falling to the beach together, and Atsumori was finally killed.
Atsumori: Today my fate brought me here to you. When I tried to slay you as my foe, I found that you have rewarded an old enemy with kindness and prayed for the peace of my soul with holy invocations. I believe we will both be reborn on the same lotus flower in Paradise in the end. Monk Rensei (Rensho), your name is the same as the lotus flower. You were not my enemy. Please, pray for me. Please comfort my soul. (Atsumori, 12-3)
Korean Confucian and Japanese Samurai