Societies & Bushido

I discussed in my last article four major components that unite a region; they are physical barriers, social development, political union, and interdependence. However, within all these components one prominent aspect is embed in all four, and that’s a social structure.

Social structure can mean many different things to many different people. For example, Europe’s social structure in the 12th and 19th century present kings at the top of the social class, followed by priests, lords, merchants, farmers, and slaves. On the other hand, Japan had a rather different social structure than that of Europe in the same historical period. Unlike Europe, in which peasants were the lowest of the social class, the Japanese system placed merchants at the bottom.

Due to Confucian ideals emphasizing the importance of productive members in a society, farmers, hunters, and fishermen had a higher status than merchants in Japan (Szczepanski 2015). So what is a good social structure? Is there a specific best? What will work in the Middle East today?

The great philosopher Confucius summed up what a social structure is in five main points. He defined the social structure as five constant relationships most people have: First, that rulers should be benevolent, as subjects to be loyal. Second, parents should be loving, as a child to be obedient. Third, a husband should be caring and respectful, as a wife to be loving and understanding. Fourth, an elder sibling should be gentle, as a younger sibling to be respectful. Fifth, friends in society should be considerate, and younger friends to be reverential. (Bary 2008)

Nations, civilizations, states, and empires have one thing in common: society. It is societies that make up states, not states that make up societies. It is the relationship you have with your sibling, parent, spouse, government, and even your environment that reflects the strength of your society. A working social structure builds up on the basis of a strong society whose relationships are resilient.

The Samurai in Japan call this Bushido meaning “The way of the warrior”. Bushido is the code of conduct that a Samurai has between him and all those dependent on him, especially the Daimyo “feudal ruler”. As Hojo Shigetoki wrote in the thirteenth century, “When one is serving officially or in the master’s court, he should not think of hundred or thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master.” (Louis and Ito 2006) It is not only the master that the Samurai should be serving this great, but also parents.

In Bushido, family duty was a fundamental priority amongst anything else, as parents were the most recent link in the chain that connected to Samurai ancestry. Just as masters were respected, parents too commanded complete respect. According to the fourteenth century writer, Shiba Yoshimasa, “Even if ones parent’s are lacking in wisdom, if one will follow their precepts he will first of all likely not be turning his back on the Way of Heaven.” (Wilson 1982)

It is also said that a Samurai must always keep the awareness of his mortality in mind, as this constant reminder of death will prevent him from ever being lazy, disrespecting others, engage in futile arguments, indulge in unhealthy desires, neglect his duties, or form any unhealthy attachments with materialistic possessions. These are the primary reasons why the Samurai, until this very day, are highly respected and acknowledged. Their social structure and observance of one’s affairs towards the five main relationships of Confucius are highly embedded in Samurai culture and lifestyle.

For societies to function, all the attributes mentioned above must be taken into consideration and executed efficiently to achieve a working social structure. Don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you to wake up tomorrow with a Japanese Kimono claiming you’re a Samurai. I am sure many of the values and social structures that I mentioned are things you’ve already heard before in your life, especially those regarding parental relationships.

Note, I am not limiting the idea of a perfect social structure into a formula of A+B+C = Z, I am merely restating what history taught us. Societies that follow their own desires, develop bad habits, neglect the strive for knowledge, form unhealthy attachment to materialistic matters, and most of all, disrespect their own families, are fated to collapse. So what is the best social structure in the Middle East? Well, only what you do next after reading this article will determine that.

 

Bibliography

  • Bary, William Theodore De. Sources of East Asian Tradition: The modern period. 2. New York: Columbia University Press,, 2008.
  • Louis, Thomas, and Tommy Ito. Samurai Code of the Warrior. NEw York City: Fall River Press, 2006.
  • Szczepanski, Kallie. The Four-Tiered Class System of Feudal Japan. http://asianhistory.about.com/od/japan/p/ShogJapanClass.htm (accessed 2015).
  • Wilson, William Scott. Ideals of the Samurai. Black Belt Communications, 1982.

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