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An Encouragement of Learning$

Yukichi Fukuzawa

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231167147

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231167147.001.0001

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(p.79) Section Eleven
An Encouragement of Learning

Fukuzawa Yukichi

, David A. Dilworth

Nishikawa Shunsaku

Columbia University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents the English translation of Section 11 of Fukuzawa Yukichi’s text Gakumon no susume (An Encouragement of Learning). Fukuzawa argues here that the theory of moral subordination of inferiors to superiors is only appropriate for the parent–child relation. Since parents love their children even more than themselves, the instructions and discipline, encouragements and scoldings which they give their children spring from loving affection. It is impossible for the same relation to prevail between adult strangers. Yet, however difficult it might be, attempts have been made to extend the theory of moral subordination to all human relations. This is the reason why tyranny has subsequently been practiced.

Keywords:   moral subordination, subservience, parent-child relations, moral subservience, tyranny

The Falsity of the Idea of Moral Subordination

In sect ion Eight I gave examples of harm done to women and children through the concept of the moral subordination of inferiors to superiors. I noted many such abuses that extend even outside of the family. To take up, in the first place, the origin of this theory, its form certainly is reducible to the principle of might makes right. But it does not necessarily arise from evil intentions. It consists rather in regarding people as ignorant and good people who are easy to control, i.e. who should be succored and guided by their total subservience to the commands of their superiors who are to handle all matters according to their own discretion. The minds of superiors and inferiors are supposed to be in perfect accord on the national level, the village level, or in a shop or household. All human relations are to be treated after the parent-child relation. For example, in dealing with children of about ten years of age, they should not, of course, be allowed to decide things for themselves. They should be clothed and fed according to the judgments of their parents. Only if their children are obedient should they have warm clothing in cold weather and good food when hungry. Food and clothing will then be in abundance as if rained down from heaven. The children will have these things when they need them, and thus live with complete freedom and security of mind. Since parents love their children even more than themselves, the instructions and discipline, encouragements and scoldings which they give their children will spring from loving (p.80) affection. The relation between parents and children will be very close, and their joy will be beyond compare. In other terms, their union will fulfill the moral relationship that is quite appropriate to this case.

Now, the advocates of the theory of moral subordination make an interesting case for extending the parent-child relation to all human relations. But there are grave objections to this. The parent-child relation can only be one between real parents, whose wisdom is mature, and their own immature children. It is impossible for the same relation to prevail with another person’s child. Again, when their own child grows up to over twenty years of age, the parents must change their attitudes towards the child. Still more is this so in the case between adult strangers. It is impossible that this latter relationship be based on the same principle. It is what is called “easier said than done.” Indeed, nation, village, government, or business companies are all relations among grown-ups and among strangers. Will it not be difficult to apply the principle of parent-child relationship here? Yet, however difficult it might be, the fancy that it would be extremely good to try seems to be a constant propensity of human nature. This is the reason why the theory of moral obligations based on the parentchild relation emerges in society, and the reason why tyranny has subsequently been practiced. Therefore, I say that the source of the idea of stratified moral relationships does not necessarily derive from evil intentions, but has perforce been the product of such fancies.

In the countries of Asia, the monarch has been called the parent of the people, the people have been called his subjects and children. The work of the government has been called the office of shepherd of the masses, and in China local officials were called the shepherds of such-and-such provinces. Since this word boku means to feed animals, it had the connotation of treating the people of single provinces as cows or sheep, and that name was publicly written on the notice boards. Was this not an extremely discourteous way of saying and doing things? But even though they treated their citizens as children or barn animals, the word originally did not necessarily have such an evil meaning. It had something like the idea of the care of children by their parents.

(p.81) First, the monarch was described as a sage and enlightened man; then, wise and virtuous officials were employed to assist him. These leaders were without any selfishness of mind or the slightest personal desires. They were pure as water, and straightminded as an arrow. They extended their own affection to the people, whom they cherished and loved. In times of famine they gave them food; in the event of fires they gave them money. Thus they relieved them in their sufferings, so that the people could enjoy peace and comfort in their daily lives. The moral influence of the superior class was as redolent as the fragrance which the south wind brings. The people, in turn, submitted like the grasses bending in the breeze. Or their docility was like soft cotton. Their innocence was like wood and stones. Superiors and inferiors could then sing of the great harmony in perfect unison. All this was the original intention of the theory. Indeed, it was an imitation of the conditions of paradise.

Nevertheless, if we consider the facts more deeply, the relation between government and people is not that of flesh and blood. It is in essence an association of strangers. Personal feelings cannot be the guiding principle in an association among strangers. It is necessarily based on the creation of a social rule and social contract. Even when they dispute over minute points of interpretation, if both of them abide by the rule, they will come to some peaceful agreement. And for this reason national laws are created. It may be essential to have the above hierarchy of enlightened monarch, excellent ministers, and docile people, but by entering what schools can such faultless sages be created? By what educational process can such splendid citizens be obtained?

The Chinese have in fact been concerned with these ideas since the Zhou dynasty. But from the Zhou to the present there never has been a time of peace and good government based on those essential ingredients. Has not the upshot been that China has been oppressed by foreigners, as witnessed again today? Not seeming to learn the significance of this, they are like persons who swallow the same inefficacious medicines over and over again. They employ an extremely artificial concept of “benevolent government.” These sages, who were not divine, would endeavor to blend injustice with benevolent (p.82) government, and thus force blessings upon the people. But when blessings turn into burdens, and virtuous rule changes into harsh laws, do they still sing of the great harmony? If they desire to sing, let them sing alone. No one will join them any more. For their original intention was itself too wide of the mark. China may be our close neighbor, but her situation is unendurably ridiculous.

This kind of behavior has not been limited to the relation with the government. It is universal—in merchant houses, schools, shrines and temples. Let me give just one example. In a business shop, the master is supposed to be the expert in all things. He alone handles the ledger. Then there are the clerks and assistants, who, while concentrating on their own tasks, do not know the management of the whole business. They only do the will of their noisy and blustering boss, who dictates their salary and their tasks. They cannot tell how the business is going from looking in the ledger. Day and night they just look at their master’s expressions. They can only surmise that the business is going well if he is cheerful, or suppose it is not when he is gloomy. They themselves have no other cares, except secretly to manipulate the books which they have charge of in order to embezzle funds. Even the eagle-eyed boss does not catch what is going on. Although he thought that a certain servant was completely trustworthy, when the records are checked after he absconds or suddenly dies, the books show that he has gouged out a hole of embezzled money as big as a cave. Only then does the master of the shop sigh over how untrustworthy men are. But the cause does not lie there. It comes from his own original despotism over all things. Since he and the servant were adults who were completely unrelated to one another, the cause of the trouble can be said to have been due to his own indiscretion of not promising a fairer share of the business to him, whom he in fact treated like a child.

This kind of poisonous atmosphere creates the sick condition of swindling and subterfuge prevalent among men because of the above stress on moral subservience practiced in an exclusive and tyrannical way. I call people who are infected with this sickness “pseudo (p.83) gentlemen.” In the feudal age, for example, the retainers of a daimyo were all on the surface loyal retainers. In outward form, they were true to those moral relations between superiors and inferiors. They performed every act of deference to their lord and kept their prescribed distances when bowing. At the anniversary of his death they observed abstinence. At the birthday of a young lord they wore ceremonial dress. At the New Year observances and visits to the grave of his ancestors, no one was absent. According to their own way of saying it, “poverty was the constant way of the warrior,” or “loyalty and patriotism,” or “sacrifice one’s life for one’s lord.” They made such statements of great dedication that in times of crisis they would have the spirit to rush off to die in battle. Ordinary people may have been taken in by all this, but if we quietly consider it from another point of view, they were, as might be expected, pseudo gentlemen.

For if there was a retainer of a daimyo who discharged his office well, why was it that his family became rich? With a fixed hereditary stipend and wages for his office, there was no reason for him to have even one sen of extra income. It was therefore very strange that he should have money left over after balancing out income and expenses. It was certain that he had cheated his lord out of his money, whether through perquisite or bribery. I will give some conspicuous examples of this, as follows. It seems to have been almost a regular rule in the families of the three hundred feudal lords that the head official in charge of construction would demand a kick-back from the carpenters; and the finance officials took presents from the townsmen under their patronage. Was it not extremely improper for loyal retainers who had pledged even to die for their lord by risking their lives in front of his horse to take commissions for buying things? They should be called pseudo gentlemen plated superficially with gold. Some rare honest official might gain a reputation in the domain as an honorable retainer par excellence for being above bribery. But he was in fact only doing his job without stealing. It was no cause for praise just because he had not set his heart on robbery. He who was an ordinary person stood out only by contrast with the rest, who were the pseudo gentlemen. In the last analysis, the cause of the abundance of those pseudo gentlemen was the ancient wild fancy that the people of the land were all docile (p.84) and easily controlled. This error finally led to despotism and oppression. The dog ultimately bit his master’s hand. Indeed, the theory of moral subservience is the most unreliable one in the whole world, just as the worst poisons are despotism and suppression. They are indeed horrible.

Some may say that the examples of evil people’s insincerity are limitless, but not all people are like this—Japan has been a just country, in which from ancient times there have been many examples of loyal retainers who have given their lives for their lords. To this I answer that so it was. We have not been without examples of loyal retainers since ancient times. But their number has been so small that the accounts do not tally. The Genroku Period, for example, can be called the period when the flower of chivalry was in full bloom. At that time there were forty-seven loyal samurai in the Akō clan with its 70,000 koku income. In a domain of 70,000 koku there were about 70,000 people. If there were forty-seven in 70,000 there should have been about 4,700 in seven million. But chivalry also declined with the changing of the seasons of history, as people also say, and truly, too. Therefore deducting thirty percent from the supposed chivalry of the Genroku Period, for seven million people the proportion should be about 70% of 4,700, which is 3,290. If the present population of Japan is about thirty million, the number of loyal people should be 14,100. A child of three can calculate that this number is not enough to protect present-day Japan.

According to my above arguments, the concept of moral subservience has been an utter failure. Let me say a few more words on the subject. Meibun, or the theory of moral subservience, is an empty concept, and the concepts of “high” and “low,” and “noble” and “base” are equally useless. Now if these ostentatious names and the actual responsibilities truly corresponded, and people really fulfilled their duties, I do not think I would have any objection to them. That is, the government is the country’s counting room, and has the duty to rule the people. The people are the country’s financiers, and have the duty financially to support the government. The duty of civil officials is (p.85) to confer and decide upon the laws of the government. The duty of military officers is to go out and fight according to their commands. In addition, there are set duties for scholars and townsmen. But if an upstart of superficial learning hears that his duties were unnecessary and forgets them, or breaks the law as a citizen; or if the government meddles with private industry; or if soldiers discuss politics and start wars on their own; or if civil officials submit to brute force and obey the command of military officers—if such things were to happen, the country would be in great turmoil. There would be anarchy and lawlessness, caused by superficial knowledge of independence and freedom. Meibun or “moral subservience” and shokubun or “one’s duty” may look alike in written characters, but they are completely different in meaning. Scholars should not misunderstand this distinction.


() [The word Fukuzawa is referring to is boku 牧, which literally means “shepherd.”]

() The name Chūsuke 忠助 is used, playing on the literal meaning of “loyal servant.”

() Meibun 名分 is a Confucian idea of moral obligation according to one’s “name” or station.

() The original Chinese character shokubun 職分 literally means “one’s (professional) duty.” Fukuzawa also discusses it in the Section Four, “The Duty of Scholars,” and Section Seven, “The Duties of the Citizens of the Nation.”