Daily Archives: 23 August 2007

The Fall of the Ming and the Rise of the Dog Shogun

From The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, by Beatrice Bodart-Bailey (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2006), p. 67:

Japan’s leadership was confronted with serious questions [after the fall of the Ming dynasty]. Northern China had more or less peacefully capitulated to the invading Manchu forces, abruptly ending the supremacy of the nearly three-hundred-year-old Ming dynasty. From Shoho 3 (1646) onwards over some forty years the bakufu received requests for military assistance from the supporters of the beleaguered Ming holding out in South China. These served as a constant reminder of the fallen giant. Chinese scholars seeking refuge in Japan readily pointed out that the Chinese imperial house in no small way had been brought down by misgovernment and the discontent of the commoners. The question of how Japan would stand up to a Manchu threat could not be ignored. We know that the senior councilor Matsudaira Nobutsuna probed Kumazawa Banzan on this topic. The latter feared that last-minute preparations for battle would create enormous logistical problems with regard to food supplies. Shortage of rice would cause mutiny and riots, making it easy for the invaders to conquer Japan. Even if the invaders were repelled, the social and economic havoc resulting from the attempted invasion would leave Japan in a state of anarchy and civil war.

A solution in accord with Confucian concepts was to better the lot of the commoners so that they would rally behind their government. This was to be achieved by Confucian-style benevolent government (jinsei), where the commoners were administered with increased expertise, efficiency, and dedication on the part of samurai officials. Education brought enlightenment and reduced violence. Yet education and appointment commensurate with performance challenged the inherited birthright of the samurai. Moreover such benevolent government often required financial sacrifice. Especially at times of natural calamities, the military was expected to forgo tax collection and contribute to relief funds.

In opposition stood the resolve to maintain the political status quo by consolidating the privileges of the ruling class. This strategy meant adherence to Ieyasu’s maxim that farmers were to be taxed so that they barely retained enough grain for seeding and burdened with corvee leaving just enough energy to produce good crops. Education encouraged insubordination. As Sakai Tadakiyo had advised Ikeda Mitsumasa, in these troubled times expenditures on military and public duties were more appropriate.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), the fifth Tokugawa shogun, is one of the most notorious figures in Japanese history. Viewed by many as a tyrant, his policies were deemed eccentric, extreme, and unorthodox. His Laws of Compassion, which made the maltreatment of dogs an offense punishable by death, earned him the nickname Dog Shogun, by which he is still popularly known today. However, Tsunayoshi’s rule coincides with the famed Genroku era, a period of unprecedented cultural growth and prosperity that Japan would not experience again until the mid-twentieth century. It was under Tsunayoshi that for the first time in Japanese history considerable numbers of ordinary townspeople were in a financial position to acquire an education and enjoy many of the amusements previously reserved for the ruling elite.

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