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Comparative Political Systems In East Asia

Political Culture of China and Japan

Perhaps, over the past century East Asia has experienced conflict and transformation more than any other part of the world. The dynamism of the area continues taking on new and more transformation. This paper is intended to show the comparative analysis in the East Asian political culture focusing on Japan and China. On the one hand, the political culture in Japan is largely influenced by western ideas while in China the efforts are made to challenge these ideas.  It advocates the possibility of developing international norms and principles which might become alternatives to western-oriented ones.

The development of modern Japan can be divided into two stages: from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the end of World War II and secondly from the defeat of Japan in World War II up to the present (Charlton, 2004). These two approaches investigate the essential features of the modern Japanese value system which comprises both traditional and new elements. It also includes the organizational structure thereby viewing changes and continuity in a balanced way. Secondly, new elements correspond to western elements. In this case, the pattern of combinations in both the value system and organizational structure helps to identify the western influence and the way it is modified to suit the Japanese political culture (Charlton, 2004). On the other hand, China seeks to take the lead in constructing frameworks to attain relative position with Japan.

There are two core values that are seen in the political culture of both Japan and China. These values include a strong tradition of group cohesiveness and a national goal which drove these countries’ leaders to reorganize their states to catch up with the western powers (Jung, 2002).The traditional value system in Japanese society prior to the Meiji Restoration is a detailed explanation. Western traditions of both Judeo- Christian and Islamic base its value orientation on the belief in a transcendent God. On the other hand, in both Chinese and Japanese societies transcendental values are lacking. In other words, values are based upon and fused with the worldly order. These values are principally centered on the maintenance and furtherance of the group (Jung, 2002). However, even though these countries share Confucian tradition, there is a difference between them.

Although a transcendental value is lacking in China, some universalistic ideas such as that of heaven clearly exist. It is  emphasized, that when the mandate of heaven changed, the government lost its legitimacy leading to a revolution (Jung, 2002). In effect, this idea was used , to justify the change of dynasty after it had taken place. However, the reality is that there was ethical and cultural provision for justification. In contrast, the idea of a change in the mandate of heaven does not exist in Japan. When the Confucian classics were introduced in Japan, this idea was carefully avoided. The Japanese imperial rule had no other source of legitimacy than the belief that it had existed from the very beginning of the history (Lu, 2004). In this sense, the Chinese traditional value system was more universalistic while the Japanese one was more particularistic, although they both existed within the same category of immanent value orientation.

Further, although group cohesiveness was the same after the Meiji Restoration, the size of the group changed. Under the Tokugawa shogunate the han (fief) was the major focus of loyalties (Lu, 2004). However, as a result of the western impact the sense of nationality became stronger and with the reorganization under the new Meiji government the focus of loyalties shifted to the state.  In addition, there had already been some potential for a national consciousness before the restoration. Under the Tokugawa regime there had been a network of communication and transportation throughout the nation, there had always been a vague sense of national identity (Jung, 2002). On the other hand, after the civil strife connected with the restoration, it took some time to establish more solid and politically effective sense of national identity.

One contributory factor among traditional elements in establishing national identity was mobilized to create the family-state idea. The Japanese traditions of ancestor’s worship and subordination of branch families to the main family were integrated to achieve loyalty on a national scale. The imperial family was regarded as an extended family. The emperor occupied the position of the patriarch in the common main family (Charlton, 2004).  In addition a strong impetus for the establishment of the nation’s loyalty appeared after the Meiji Restoration. This was a goal formulated under the impact of the western powers’ cannons which had compelled Japan to open its doors to the world. It should be emphasized that Japan commenced rapidly on its political culture based on a broad national consensus. Commonly, it may be better to deal with a national goal as a matter of policy rather than value. However, it is a different case with Japan, because of the immanent nature of value orientation and the strong tradition to maintain the cohesiveness within the group; once the national goal is decided, it becomes internalized in popular mind to form a part of value itself (Jung, 2002). Since the goal to gear towards and match with the western powers was considered imperative for maintenance of national independence, this goal occupied the major place in the national value system. Moreover the lack of transcendental religion in Japan proved advantageous here. There was no need for secularization prior to the introduction of western institution and ideas.  On the other hand, when compared to China where transcendental religion also lacked, Japan proved more flexible in accepting western ideas. In China, partly because of its Confucian and self-image as the central empire (chung kuo), it proved more difficult to accept western ideas.

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Speaking of Confucian ethics, the difference between the two countries is related to difference in flexibility.  On the one hand, the Chinese bureaucrats were literati who passed the difficult civil service examination on the Confucian classics (Zhou, 2013). On the other hand, the Tokugawa bureaucrats who were originally samurai (warriors), assumed both civil and military responsibility. Furthermore, whereas in China the authority over military matters were primarily in the hands of the autonomous warlords,  the Tokugawa warriors were pragmatic and placed great importance on the ability to deal with any contingency. Despite their comparatively low hierarchical position under feudalism, the samurai possessed practical administrative skills and the ability to deal with the outside world (Zhou, 2013). Majority of them traded with Dutch traders and became increasingly influential. Once the seclusion policy was abolished and that of westernization was officially decided upon, they were able to lay the groundwork for rapid development.

Social Darwinism as one of various western ideas important in the context began to spread rapidly in Japan from the 1880s. This idea played different roles in Japan and China.  The idea became popular in China when Yen Fu and others introduced the concept. Its popularity lasted much longer than in Japan (Jung, 2002).  It was considered when the country rapidly joined the ranks of the powerful in the international arena.  Chinese intellectuals who espoused this concept could not consider the weakness of the Chinese position in the world (Zhou, 2013). They argued that open competition for survival was a process that denied the weakness.

The Meiji incorporated the villages as part of prefectures in order to establish the centralized government. It explains why the Meiji leaders had established a system of local government even before they formed the national parliament (Zhou, 2013). They wanted to mitigate the escalating conflict between the government and the infant political parties emphasizing the conformity which existed in village life. Meiji leaders built up a bureaucratic structure of government which was based upon the rural communities. This was a new element introduced into Japan by the West. Although, a semi centralized form of government had already existed in the Tokugawa period, the samurai wholly had the administrative powers (Zhou, 2013). When bureaucratic organization was brought from the West together with the western legal system, the Meiji leaders wished to recruit personnel taking into account abilities rather than family background. As a result, an examination for civil officials was introduced in 1887. On the contrary, in China the old type of examination system was based on the ability to memorize Confucian classics. It therefore was more difficult to introduce western types of bureaucratic organization in China than in Japan.
In both countries, a bureaucratic type of organization means a public or private organization established for a specific goal. It consists of members recruited because of their achievement rather than ascription and obedience to a set of rules based on functional division of labor (Pekkanen & Tsai, 2006). Civil and military bureaucracies and business organizations and other indispensable elements of modern society belong to this category. Nevertheless, the introduction of such organizations is not peculiar to Japan. The precise relationship between the traditional element and the new social stricture is very important.  This relationship is much more dominant and continuous in Japan than in China. For instance, in Japan the family and the rural community were the basic units of social organizations. In other words, the family and community, but not the central government, played a centripetal role (Pekkanen & Tsai, 2006). On the contrary, in China, their function was centrifugal. There was a wider gulf between family, community and central government in China than in Japan. Additionally, in terms of shared Confucian ethics, in China filial piety was given priority over loyalty to the state or emperor while in Japan the situation was the opposite.  This difference could be attributed to various elements. The first one is the degree to which the central power penetrated down to the grass-root level.

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Traditionally, the power of central government was not felt in daily lives of ordinary Chinese people. The administrators had no real contact with the people in the community other than through the taxes collection (Charlton, 2004). In comparison, in Japan the relationship between the local rulers and peasants was very close even with psychological attachment. This was partly due to the small size of the country and better communication and transportation networks. The relationship lasted uninterrupted for several centuries. However, at the time of restoration the old han was abolished and replaced by the prefecture, an administrative unit headed by the governor appointed by the central government (Charlton, 2004). In this way, although the personal ties between the feudal lord and the rural community were eliminated, the han’s status remained. The leaders of the newly established government tried to link the central government with the traditional village so that the sense of unity and conformity could be extended to the national level. These were measures to avoid conflict between local units.

In addition, there were democratic values, an overwhelming majority of them favored the democratic elections of public officials at local levels.  Therefore, it would be erroneous to say that Chinese peasants were necessarily conservative with regard to democratic culture and presented themselves as an anti-democratic force in China (Zhong, 2013).. It is worth mentioning that the level of core democratic values support was high. Additionally, policies and policy performance mattered in generating popular support and to ensure that the political systems remained legitimate. And therefore, the Chinese government had to improve its policy performance to gain support from the Chinese populace. Chinese village officials were most instrumental in implementing government policies and maintaining stability in rural China. (Zhong, 2013). There was a high degree of congruence between village cadres and ordinary villagers concerning the core democratic values and civil liberties. They were especially supportive of democratic elections. Towards the end of Meiji era, it was argued that with the stimulus of century of development dominated for a long time in Japan. Therefore, it was necessary for Japan to speed the development at a certain level so as not to suffer exhaustion (Zachmann, 2010).  With this idea, Japan’s accelerated progress gave an unquestionable advantage in international competition especially over China.   In other words, Japan reacted to foreign stimulation much earlier than China.

China and Japan differ in many ways, but the relevance to Confucianism is felt even today despite revolution and economic development. The experience with imperialism is another common theme (Zachmann, 2010). The consequences of World War II were also significant in both countries.  There are two distinctive features of 20th century East Asia. One is Japans’ rapid ascendancy and pivotal role in the region. Its preeminence generated considerable interest in its approaches to economic development. On the other hand, China’s revolutionary period is receding into the past (Zachmann, 2010). World War II caused revolution in China and crushing defeat in Japan.  However, Japan rose quickly and within a generation, it challenges the West on its own terms.

In China, Confucius favored government in the hands of virtuous and trained ministers chosen for their merits. Confucianism’s rationale for organizing society began with the cosmic order and its hierarchy of superior-inferior relationship (Hayes, 2012). Parents were superior to children, men to women and rulers to all subjects; each person therefore had a role to perform collectively as defined by convention, thus establishing the fixed set of social expectation. These expectations were defined by the authority, which guided individual conduct along lines of proper ceremonial behavior (Hayes, 2012). Acting on the contrary would bring disorder and discredit. This could mean to be disesteemed by the group and lead to subsequent disastrous loss of self-esteem for which the only remedy was suicide.

In contrast to the western Christian notion according to which the mankind was corruptible, Confucius held to the principle that man was perfectible. The notion that men are qualitatively different at birth was replaced by the idea that men are naturally good and have an innate moral sense (Hoyt, 2006). In addition men can be guided through the right path obtaining education and self-motivation. This ancient Chinese emphasis on the moral educability of a person has persisted to the present and still inspires the government to promote moral education. Another aspect of Confucius is a code of behavior that stresses the idea of proper conduct according to social status (li).There existed an elite made up model of a superior and noble man guided by li (Hayes, 2012). The code was less relevant to common people whose conduct was to be regulated by reward and punishment rather than by moral principles. The code was essential for the elite, who were responsible for the management of public affairs. Confucius emphasized right conduct of the ruler and those subordinate to him (Hoyt, 2006). To conduct oneself according to the rules of li in itself gave one a moral status or prestige which in turn gave influence over people.

Japan and China are very different in terms of political culture. While the former is an advanced country with an open democratic capitalist regime, the latter is a newly industrialized developing country with a party-dominant authoritarian regime (Yoshimatsu, 2014). Despite such differences, the two states have significant similarities in the history of statism. The history of statism in both countries provides state policymakers with relatively high freedom to extract and direct national resources for foreign policy goals. However, political legitimacy acts as a common factor that determines the preferences of policy makers. In this case, the existing government has the legitimacy to govern the citizens (Yoshimatsu, 2014). Second, the present government depends on the perception of the public that it is legitimate. Consequently, the ruling class needs to meet demands and expectations of the public thereby convincing them that the present government has the legality to exercise and maintain power.

The maintenance of political legitimacy is generally a critical issue for policymakers in a democratic political regime in both countries. It has intensively competitive party systems and strong social inputs from influential societal groups (Yoshimatsu, 2014). Even in the one-party dominant political system, policy makers are required to pay attention to the demands of the citizens. This is because positive responses to such demands guarantee continuous support and consolidate the political foundation of the ruling group. As the state has increased economic and social interdependence, international factors are more likely to influence the public’s economic and social well-being (Yoshimatsu, 2014). The ruling group is required to consider the impact that an external policy will have on the domestic society. For example, a trade policy to open national borders to services and goods can either benefit or ruin domestic industries. Political leaders with weak support from political and social groups are forced to adopt external policies that sometimes pose a risk to domestic resources.

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Additionally, a close look at the two countries shows that such leaders are not supported by the citizens in pursuing external policies.  On the contrary, they seek to take advantage of external policies and relations as a means to enhance the legitimacy of the regime (Yoshimatsu, 2014). In addition, the preferences of political legitimacy occur at two levels. At the governmental level, the government wholly seeks to maintain political legitimacy in formulating its external policy. It shapes and undertakes external policies and the way they will affect the domestic society and political support from the people (Yoshimatsu, 2014). Secondly, at the government agency level, individual government agencies act as the administrative organs to care about national interests in formulating external policies.

Conclusively, over the past century the countries in East Asia have experienced more transformation in their political culture than other countries. This dynamism is seen especially in China and Japan. On the one hand, the political culture in Japan is largely influenced by western ideas whereas in China the efforts are directed to challenge these ideas.  China advocates the possibility of developing international norms and principles which might become alternatives to western-oriented ones. The political culture in these countries has some similarities and differences. In Japan, the political culture has adopted the western idea while China followed the Confucianism’s principles.  Secondly, Japan is an advanced country with capitalist regime but China is a newly industrialized country with a party-dominant authoritarian regime. However, these countries share the history of statism. Secondly, the existing government is dependent on the public’s perception on its legitimacy.

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