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The revival of Neo-Confucianism

The revival of Neo-Confucianism
The Kobunji-ha school changed the face of scholarship and literature in the Edo period, its influence even stretching outside writing in Chinese. However, the highly ethical approach to scholarship of Neo-Confucianism retained its appeal, and when the political climate changed, it once again regained a dominant position in the scholarly world. The Kansei reforms, which were started by Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1829), in Tenmei 7 (1787) succeeded in strengthening the shogunate’s finances, reducing corruption among officials, controlling famines, and even contrasting Russia’s southward expansion. The Hayashi family, whose scholarly activities had been dwindling, succeeded in securing talented young scholars through adoption, and thrived under governmental support.
The family’s school went from being a small private academy to becoming the shogunate’s official center of learning, the Shōheizaka gakumonjo (Shōheizaka Center of Learning, named after Confucius’ birthplace, Chanping, pronounced “Shōhei” in Japanese). All scholarly approaches except Neo-Confucianism were banned from the Center. The edict is known as the “Kansei-era Proscription of Heterodoxy” (1790). Although it limited academic freedom, government endorsement also gave a tremendous boost to scholarship and new provincial schools were opened across the country. The Gakumonjo admitted not only the scions of prominent samurai families but also talented young students from the provinces. On returning to their hometowns, teachers would continue to train their disciples, or some disciples would travel to Edo to study with their masters.
In this way, an extensive network of scholars was formed, with the Gakumonjo as its center. To promote Neo-Confucianism, the government also sponsored publishing activity. We look at books published by the Shōheizaka gakumonjo—known as kanpan, or, “government publications”—in our next step.

When the political climate changed, Shushigaku (Neo-Confucius) once again regained a dominant position in the scholarly world.

The Kansei Edict of 1790 made Neo-Confucianism the official doctrine of the state and banned all other schools. Watch Prof. Horikawa explain how it happened and what the result of this movement was.

Books introduced in the video

Old Book Fig.1 Seisai shiwa, Kyōwa 2 (1809) edition
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Full text can be viewed through National Diet Library of Japan Digital Collection.

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Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

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