Confucian Values and Japan’s Industrialization

Many factors helped aid in the dynamic growth that occurred in Japan and
the four little dragons during the post-World War 2 period. Some of these
factors were situational factors unique to the time but some of the factors were
cultural. The legacy of Confucianism in Japan and the four little dragons helped
to further the goals of industrialization that these nations had. The traditions
of Confucianism provided for Japan and the four little dragons both a pliant
public and a model for choosing competent leaders.

Confucian traditions placed an emphasis on the values of the group over
the individual. This helped industrialism by creating a pliant populace who were
willing to accept long hours and low wages and not question government policies.

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The traditions of Confucianism taught workers not to question authority. These
traditions carried over into the post war period and allowed authoritarian
regimes in the four little dragons to go unquestioned by the public. This lack
of dissent allowed the four little dragons to have stable governments which were
critical to investment and industrialization. The stability of these nations was
a direct result of Confucian values being indoctrinated into the population.

Confucian placement of the group over the individual and strong belief in filial
piety also caused families and local communities to accept social responsibility
for members of their community. This safety net that was provided by communities
and families allowed the government to limit it’s spending on social welfare
programs and thus channel more funds into infrastructure and industry.

Confucianism also placed an emphasis on self-cultivation which has helped East
Asian Countries to have a skilled and ambitious work force. The tradition of
self-cultivation like the work ethic that Max Weber credited Protestantism of
producing lead people to strive to acquire new skills, speak foreign languages,
and in the offices and businesses of Japan, drive workers to strive with in
their firms to improve group performance.

Confucian traditions also placed emphasis on the creation of a
meritocratic elite and the use of entrance exams. These traditions were in place
before World War 2 in the East Asian countries but they helped aid in the
carrying out of the industrial policies of the post-war government of Japan and
the little Dragons. The traditional system of a meritocratic elite was adopted
in the post war years in the form of meritocraticly chosen bureaucracy that made
and carried out many government policies. This elite was free from many of the
strains of politics and thus was able to carry out policies that democratically
elected leaders might not be able to pursue do to the changing feelings of the
electorate. Also these bureaucrats because they were meritocraticly chosen were
the most able members of society and thus very skilled at handling industrial
policies. The system of entrance exams in Asia countries helped to create
skilled and proficient workers for industry. The entrance exams were able to
target the most able young people and channel them into higher learning, and the
entrance exam system was also able to create intense competition among young
people spurring students to both acquire knowledge and disciplined work habits.

These disciplined and knowledgeable workers were critical in providing the
workers that made East Asian Industries successful.

Confucian traditions were not the sole cause of industrialization in
Japan and the four little dragons. An analysis of other Asian nations such as
Thailand, China, Vietnam, Burma, and Laos show that many nations with the same
shared history of a Confucian values have not yet industrialized. Confucianism
along with other circumstances such as situational factors, timing, domestic
industrial policy and luck played key roles in allowing Japan and the four
little dragons to industrialize. Some of the situational factors were the
presence of U.S. aid and leadership which gave many nations such as Japan a jump
start on industrialism, the feeling of urgency among countries such as Taiwan
and South Korea who felt that if they were not able to build up their economies
they would be over ridden by the communists, the presence of the Japanese model
of industrialization which aided Taiwan and South Korea in what types of
economic policies to follow. But these factors alone also do not account for the
rapid rates of growth in East Asia. A large role was played by the traditions of
Confucianism which created a pliant and stable populace, skilled and eager
workers, and a meritocratic bureaucracy that were skilled at formulating and
carrying out economic policy. Confucianism’s traditions are manifested not only
in the temples of East Asia but also in the rapid rates of growth this region
has experienced.


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