Free Essay: Political Order and Social Hierarchy in Late Imperial China, Tokugawa Japan, and Choson Korea

Published: 2022-05-27
Free Essay: Political Order and Social Hierarchy in Late Imperial China, Tokugawa Japan, and Choson Korea
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  History Political science
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1474 words
13 min read

Late imperial China was identified mostly by the Qing dynasty. These had both political and social ramifications on the Chinese people. After the Qing conquest of China, the Manchu Rulers imposed themselves to the Chinese. All Chinese men were forced to change their hairstyles. China was also divided into multi-ethnic groups in China Proper, Turkestan, Mongolia and Tibet. However, the Qing Empire ruled mostly the Hans, Manchus and other communities in China Proper. With time, this dynasty extended its dominion to Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang. To enhance the social equity in all the annexed regions, the rulers of Qing Empire advocated for the transfer of resources from the rich states to the poorer ones, instead of extraction resources to them. This is particularly an important governance lesson we can learn from the Qing Empire, that, there is need to share resources equitably in the nation by providing resources such as an equalization fund to cater for the marginalized areas.

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The social structure of late imperial China had negligible autocracy. However, the Manchus enjoyed certain privileges from the government. For instance, they were entitled to a stipend but not allowed to take up occupations other than military and farming. The hierarchical status was a four-class system, including scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants. There was a group also referred to as outcasts, including prostitutes, prisoners, and entertainers. However, this was not a hereditary caste system, and upward social mobility was possible through the undertaking of the civil service exam. This civil service examination was based on neo-Confucianism orthodoxy. The exam consisted of three levels of success, including the Highest Capital or Ace exam, the middle-level exam and the lowest prefecture exam. In late imperial China, the way to enable upward revision of social mobility was only possible by undertaking the civil service examination. This promoted unified social culture, restriction of arbitrariness and strengthening of the conceptions of social classes.

The above outlined social and political order was much different to that of the Tokugawa shogunate. Japan, during this time, witnessed the longest period of peace and stability, starting from 1603 to 1868.During this time, there was tremendous growth in urban culture and economy. Politically, their system was much different to the Qing dynasty that was headed by an emperor. The system was a feudal-style with hereditary social hierarchy. This is in contrast to the Qing dynasty in which the social hierarchy was not hereditary. Also, it was a one closed country, In contrast, the Qing dynasty comprised of some states annexed by successive emperors of the dynasty. Also, the economy of this political formation was agriculture-based, with the Kanto plain supplying 25 percent of the productive land.

In the Qing dynasty, there were mechanisms to ensure equity and fairness in the sharing of resources. However, the military government of the Tokugawa Shogunate was non-committal to an equitable share of resources and general social equity. The government openly practiced feudalism, something which in my opinion was oppressive and unacceptable in the modern world order. The Tokugawa had a very strict social code which was to be enforced on all citizens. Possession of guns was illegal, and only the Samurai were allowed to have swords. Also, just like the Qing dynasty, they implemented a hierarchical and hereditary Confucian inspired four-class system, including the Samurai, Framers, Artisan, and Merchants.There was also a group referred to as outcast, like in the Qing dynasty. The outcasts included the executioners and Undertakers.

In terms of government organization, the emperor had a ceremonial role, and the shogunate has an elaborate bureaucracy with up to five senior councilors at the top. The samurai served as magistrates, tax collectors, administrators and also as magistrates. Most of these roles were hereditary, for example, sons of guards became guards. This limited the employment opportunities. In my opinion, this was one of the earliest forms of economic and social injustices meted on the Japanese people.

Comparing the religious setups of the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa, the former was mostly a Buddhist society. However, in the Tokugawa, Christianity was illegal, and the presence of Christian groups in the society was a punishable offense. However, this did not deter the Japanese people from being converted to Christianity.Hideyoshi, an emperor of Tokugawa, began an elaborate plan in 1587 that would see Christian missionaries expelled from Japan. To deter European Christian missionaries from accessing Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate restricted Japan's international contact. Japanese people were barred from traveling overseas, and trade at Nagasaki limited with only the Dutch and Chinese. Japanese ships were also barred from leaving for foreign countries.

The economic growth of the Tokugawa shogunate followed a trend similar to that of modern-day China. There was a tremendous growth in agricultural production. This had a social impact on the doubling of the population between 1600 and 1700, growth in cities and emergence of wealthy merchants. It also boosted trade. During this time, there was a revival of Confucianism, an aspect common in the Qing dynasty. The Samurai turned to be scholar-bureaucrats, and there was a shift from the warrior ethics to the more attractive Confucianism, whose core principles were a sense of public duty, leadership through morality, amongst others.

Aside from the Qing Dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate, the Choson Korea was also one of the unique early political establishments. Joseon dynasty between 1392 and 1910 founded it.This dynasty had some similarities and differences compared to the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate. The earliest political formation in the Korean peninsula was the Joseon kingdom that existed between 195 and 108 BCE. This was followed by the Chinese-Han dynasty, which dominated between 108BC-313CE.There was the formation of three kingdoms between 313-668CE, including the Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla kingdoms. The unified Silla adopted the Chinese civil service examinations between 668 and 935CE.Joseon emerged between 1392 and 1910 to dominate Korean politics for close to 600 years. This dynasty witnessed a lot of kings, starting with the founding king, Yi Seongye.

The social aspects of the Korean culture changed tremendously during the Choson Korea. The Korean alphabet was introduced in 1443.This is a contrast to the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate who used syllabaries. The Korean language is arguably the unique in East Asia to date, as it is the only language with an alphabet. The main motive of the introduction of the Korean alphabet was to diversify learning to the common people. Comparing this to the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate, it was by far a better education system. The Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate focused on the education of the elite, leaving the common citizens uninformed. However, the elite criticized and hampered the spread of the Korean Alphabet as desired. The Joseon state adopted the Confucian moral order, just like the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate. However, their model was more perfectionist and required that the society adhered more closely to the classics than what the Qing dynasty did. Some of the cultures advocated included patrilineality, ancestor veneration, differentiating main wife and concubines, graded morning duties among others. Similar to the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate, the Choson Korea required the elite to lead by example and hence dictate the social order in the society.

The family set up in the three political systems was totally different.The Qing dynasty was by far the justest family system. It allowed all brothers in a family have equal rights in legal terms. It also allowed equal partible inheritance and exam participation. Arguably, the family system mirrors the modern family systems in most of the democratic countries in the world. The Korean model and the Japanese model, on the other hand, adhered to the classical rule of primogeniture where they discriminated against the younger sons and sons of concubines. In today's social order, this is unethical and a contravention of the universal bill of rights. The Korean model also banned sons of remarried widows and concubines from taking exams.

The social hierarchy of Choson Korea was different from that of the Qing dynasty and Tokugawa shogunate. It was mostly hereditary Yangban aristocracy in which there was cognizance of the presence of secondary status groups in the society. The intermediary group consisted of Professionals and Specialists. The other groups were commoners and the hereditary steps. This hierarchical system was mostly discriminative and hence not applicable in today's society.

Economically, the Choson Korea was not as advanced as the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate. They practiced agrarian agriculture with limited commercial activity. Monetization of their economy started in the 1650'sand it was controlled by wealthy merchants, just like in the Qing dynasty and the Tokugawa shogunate.

In conclusion, the Political Order and Social Hierarchy in Late Imperial China, Tokugawa Japan, and Choson Korea provide useful lessons to historians and in general the whole world on the importance of social justice and strong political institutions.

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