If Confucianism Drives East Asian Supplementary Education, Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Confucius?

Early on in my research on juku, I frequently asked interlocutors (primarily, 塾長) why there are no juku in Canada (exaggeration/simplification, of course), but juku are prevalent in Japan? There is a small stock of answers I typically get to this question:

  1. examinations and competition for entry into next levels of education
  2. CONFUCIANISM (i.e. East Asia is heavily influenced by Confucianism which makes people pay for supplementary education
  3. Confucianism (i.e. the Confucian (more historical than moral/philosophical) tradition of exam-based entrance to positions of authority/prestige coupled with the veneration for knowledge)

Understanding these answers and trying to see empirically what these answers suggest, as well as coming up with answers of my own to that question, are central to my project on juku and will be topics that I will continue to write about.

Here, I simply want to point out that despite claims of the importance of Confucianism to education systems in Japan (and across East Asia) I have never seen or heard a discussion of Confucianism in a juku setting. I have not observed any reading a Confucian text, nor summarizing Confucian precepts, nor discussing the impact of Confucianism. This general absence is true across different school/juku subjects, especially Japanese and social studies, incl. history.

Elsewhere, I have begun writing about the history of juku, and I would note in this context that there are few institutional continuities between premodern and even early modern forms of juku and what we have come to know as juku since the 1970s.

This absence may or may not be the same in other East Asian countries (esp. S Korea and Taiwan where the impact and contemporary relevance of Confucianism seems higher).

Now, at some level we may classify European education systems as Judaeo-Christian and note that that doesn’t imply that the Bible is ever read in class, but there certainly are discussions of Judaeo-Christian morality and discussions of the impact of Christianity.

So, while the Japanese and other East Asian education systems are clearly influenced by Confucianist notions of examinations and learning-as-knowledge-of-classics, this impact is at a fairly abstract level, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a direct link between Confucianism and the prevalence of juku in contemporary Japan in my mind.

One response to “If Confucianism Drives East Asian Supplementary Education, Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Confucius?

  1. Pingback: Two Immutable Laments about Juku at Jukupedia • Shadowing Education • 塾ペディア

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