Japanese History Documented in Chinese Writings | Free Essay Example

Japanese History Documented in Chinese Writings

Words: 2194
Topic: History


The history of East Asia revolves around the three regions of China, Japan, and Korea. Chinese history, according to research, was one of the earliest, if not the earliest histories to be documented. Consequently, the earlier Chinese dynasties and kingdoms documented their history through paintings, writings, and other forms of documenting history. Moreover, the Japanese also recorded their history in writings such as the Kojiki and the Nihongi, which were chronicled the history of early Japan.

Various studies on Asian studies show that there are limited records on early Japanese history; William De Bary, through his book, explores the two major writing that documents on Japanese history. William De Bary, through his book, explores the relevance of these two texts and how they document of Japanese culture and history. There is no doubt that the historical writings of the Kingdom of Wei and the Nihongi (Chronicles of early Japanese history) tough being a little bit different provide true events and happenings in early Japanese history.

Rich culture

Japan has a rich culture and traditions which date back to the 7th century B.C. However, most of the documented Japanese history comes from the writings during the Wei kingdom. The Wei kingdom was a Chinese kingdom that interacted so much with Japanese people and its rulers during ancient times. The earliest writings of the Chinese people in the kingdom of Wei suggest that they shared cultural and social experiences with their Japanese neighbors for a brief period.

Writings from the Kingdom of Wei, as evidenced in the text by William De Bary, demonstrate how Japanese life was organized in those days. According to the text, it was difficult to differentiate between males, females, and young people. The Japanese people were also fond of liquor, and they worshipped together with important persons in society, only clapping their hands instead of kneeling or bowing down.

The text shows that there were class differences, and the important people were more privileged than other commoners in society. For instance, the text articulates that “Ordinarily, men of importance have four or five wives; the lesser ones, two or three.” Japanese people, according to the text, were very religious, while theft and litigation were very minimal (De Bary 625).

The Japanese people practiced the art of punishing law offenders by confiscating or exterminating their family members. Commercial activity was undertaken in markets under officials of the Wa kingdom as well as taxes were collected from traders and citizens. The Wa people had a male ruler who was disposed of during the period of war in a period of eighty to ninety years during the warring states period.

They, therefore, decide to choose a woman ruler by the name of Pimiko. She was a sorcerer who practiced magic and bewitchment; she ruled the people while being at an advanced age. She lived in a big palace where she was served by as nearly as 1,000 female servants and only one man responsible for serving food at the same time being an intermediary for the Queen’s communications (De Bary 625). During the year 238 C.E., Queen of Wa sent a delegation to visit the Daifang, where her envoys were received well by Governor Liu Xia. In return, the governor sent a message saying, “Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate exceedingly. We confer upon you, therefore, the title of ‘Queen of Wa, Friendly to Wei’” (De Bary 626).

On the other hand, the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan) are written accounts of Japanese history by various Japanese kingdoms that existed during that period. These writings are referred to as Japanese mythology, and they record times during the reigns of Emperors Tenji, Temmu, and Jito during the 8th century. This piece of writings is the second oldest after the Kojiki. In the text of William De Bary’s book, we witness that the Japanese people of the Wa kingdom practiced fishing by diving into the water and catching fish. They also believed in Buddhism, which was obtained from Paekche while practicing the art of tattooing their bodies.

The form of retribution for wrongs done according to the Nihongi included putting pebbles in boiling water or putting a snake in a jar; the guilty party would suffer either burns or a snake bite in both cases (Seth 35).

Similarities drawn from both accounts of Japanese tradition include the fact that both explain that theft and litigation cases were scarce. The religious practices in both accounts of Japanese history show that in both accounts show similarity in the way the people of Wa worshipped. Both accounts of Japanese history attest to the fact that Japanese culture was influenced so much by the Chinese, especially in written languages and religion. For instance, the text says, “This was the first time they came into possession of written characters” in reference to written style borrowed from the Chinese (De Bary 626).

Japanese writings from the historical documents of the Kingdom of Wei talk of the existence of a Queen by the name of Pimiko, who ruled the Japanese people. In the Nihongi account, we witness the presence of King Tarishihoko as the King, which is in conflict since Empress Suiko was a ruler at the time. The other differences that exist between the two accounts of Japanese history include: in the earliest records of Japan, it talks of Japanese people practicing music (De Bary 647).

The Nihongi clarifies that the Japanese people did practice tattooing while the other account only talks of people being fond of alcohol. The major difference between the two texts is the fact that the records from the Kingdom of Wei talks of the Japanese as having a well-defined language during the time of Pimiko as the ruler since the letter (message) sent to Liu Xia was well appreciated. This differs from the Nihongi, which clarifies the Japanese as barbaric based on account of the letter the Chinese Emperor received from King Tarishihoko.

The text refers to the primitive Japanese writing characters compared to Chinese writing. The title in which is referred to in the two texts, shows differences in that the Kingdom of Wei writings refers to the Japanese as people of Wa (Seth 34). The Nihongi referred to the Japanese as a Country.

The Constitution of Shotoku

The Constitution of Shotoku is a document that was used as a transformation from the Japanese leadership model of clan chieftains into monarchial institutions. This document was envisaged based on the Chinese model of leadership, where dynasties and monarchs ruled over other people. The Constitution of Prince Shotoku was influenced by religion, and it had seventeen clauses; thus, it is referred to as the ‘Seventeen constitution of Prince Shotoku.’

The influence of religion can be seen in the provisions of the seventeen Constitution of Shotoku. Chinese Confucianism spread to Japan during the early years of trade and as a result of social interaction between the Chinese and Japanese. The Constitution’s provision barring officials from gluttony and self-enrichment was influenced by Confucian ideas and teachings. This law shows the teachings of Confucianism, such as humanity and governance, influenced the creation of this law (Berthong 25).

Confucianism principles influenced most of the provisions contained in the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku. Teachings such as loyalty and governance, as taught by Confucius, are witnessed in this document by quotes such as “When you receive the imperial commands, fail not scrupulously to obey them.” Other major teachings of Confucianism, which include being gentlemen, were contained in the Constitution, with the Prince ordering his ministers and officials to behave in decorum (De Bary 648).

Most of the provisions in the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku were drawn from Confucianism, which spread to Japan earlier than all other religions. Benevolence, as taught by Confucianism, was encouraged in the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku; this is evidenced by a provision that required wise leaders. Confucianism seeks to replace aristocratic leadership by choosing leaders based on merit (meritocracy). Confucianism helped in shaping the way of life in the Wa country as leadership took a different role; we witness that the early writings of the Kingdom Wei, a woman was chosen to lead the Wa people (Ford 17).

This is a show that Confucianism teachings influenced the people of Wa to choose a wise leader according to the teachings as opposed to the practice of aristocracy. Buddhism is early Japan was introduced by the Chinese, who, through their Emperor Seong of Baekje, sent some monks to teach Japanese people on Buddhism (Antlöv 210). As written in the text, during the reign of Empress, Suiko sent officials and monks to visit the Chinese Emperor Yang and learn more about Buddhism. Prince Shotoku was made ruler by Empress Shotoku, and thus Buddhism was practiced by the Japanese people.

The popularity of Buddhism made some of the provisions to be included in the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku. The seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku directly encouraged Buddhism by encouraging people to respect the three treasures of Buddha; this was a call for the people to practice Buddhism as a religion. Buddhist teachings, such as Karma, influenced Prince Shotoku’s Constitution to draw some teachings from Buddhism.

The most important of these teachings was obedience to one’s superiors. Now, if a man is influenced by private motives, he will be resentful,” this rule was drafted to coincide with teachings of Karma (Berthong 26). According to the Nihongi, Empress Suiko sent envoys and monks to the Chinese Emperor to learn more about Buddhism; this was in the early years of the rule of the Empress.

The officials and monks later returned with deities and Buddhist scriptures, which were used in spreading Buddhism in the Wa Kingdom. The teachings of Buddhism gained acceptance easily in the Wa kingdom due to the ease of understanding the religion compared to the philosophical Confucianism. Another reason that made Buddhism gain ground in Japan was the fact that Buddhism practices were closely related to traditional religious practices (Ford 16). The Japanese culture had many deities who were worshipped according to events or happenings during the lifetime of the Wa people.

The seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku was heavily influenced by religion as most provisions of the Constitution dwell on the well being of the Wa people. Buddhism and Confucianism had the greatest influence in drawing of the Constitution; however, Shintoism also influenced the drawing up the proposition of this document. Shinto teachings mainly focused on spirituality, and it could be practiced together with Buddhism or Confucianism.

The seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku had provisions such as “Every man has his work. Do not let the spheres of duty be confused. When wise men are entrusted with office, the sound of praise arises.” This is in accordance with the teachings of Shintoism, which believe in the existence of many deities with different functions; therefore also human beings had different purposes and functions in the world (De Bary 649).

Shinto teachings of respect for all human beings helped the Prince to write the rule of respect in the Constitution. The Shinto religion is mainly based on faith. Thus the provision in the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku that calls on men to respect everybody’s thoughts was influenced by Shinto. The provision also called on people to keep faith in their Lord for everything to be fine.

The religions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism influenced leadership and the writing of the seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku. In Chinese leadership and dynasties, Confucianism played a key role in the establishment of new forms of government. When these religions were introduced in Japan, they changed the religious ways of the Wa people and influenced the governance of the people. The practice of Shintoism mixed with Buddhism gained ground during Empress Suiko and Prince Shotoku’s leadership (Antlöv 186). The seventeen Constitution of Prince Shotoku made it possible for the Wa people to practice Shintoism with Buddhism and Confucianism, a practice that is being practiced till today in modern-day Japan.


Histories of early Chinese and Japanese history show a rich culture dating back to early human civilization. Chinese and Japanese dynasties/kingdoms ruled over its citizens, and they were organized forms of government that relied on religion and social organization to rule. As the people of early China and Japan started to believe in religion, dynasties and rulers used this belief to come up with governing structures according to religion to appease the people. Documented history of Japanese history is recorded through Chinese writings during the reign of the Kingdom of Wei.

The Chinese had a more advanced and structured writing system that enabled them to record their history as well as that of their neighbors. In addition, the Japanese people documented their history through writings such as the Kojiki and the Nihongi; these writings were influenced by the Chinese way of writing. The Nihongi is considered as the oldest chronicle of Japanese history written by the Wa (Japanese) people; it mainly documented Japanese history, especially on the history of various kingdoms and culture. Religion played an important role in early Japanese history, and its influence continues to be felt up to today in Japan.

Works Cited

Antlöv, Hans, and Tak-Wing Ngo. The cultural construction of politics in Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. Print.

Berthing, John. “Confucian Piety and the Religious Dimension of Japanese Confucianism.” Philosophy East & West 48.1 (1998): 24-29. Print.

De Bary, William. Sources of East Asian Tradition: Premodern Asia. Boston, MA: Columbia University Press, 2008. Print.

De Bary, William. Sources of Japanese tradition: 1868 to 2000, Volume 2. Boston, MA: Columbia University Press, 2006. Print.

Ford, James. “Shotoku: Ethnicity, Ritual, and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition.” The Journal of the American Oriental Society 128.1 (2008): 14-17. Print.

Seth, Michael. “A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche” The Historian 70.1 (2008): 32-38. Print.