Monday, May 28, 2012

Heian Period Japanese Court: Uda Tenno and his son and heir, Daigo

I had a brief break from work this evening, so I've expanded and modified this entry, which was in rather rough form.   

Even being as brief as possible, the history addressed in these entries is complex, so I am withholding some of what I’ve learned in order to provide a framework facilitating evaluation and followup.

There are two interrelated aspects of the early Japanese court and political power with respect to which I will provide explanatory background in order to expose the faults and perhaps deliberate obfuscations in the book by Mr. Bialock. Both aspects can be tied to the intricately woven social fabric that evolved in relation to the custom of polygamous marital relations practiced by the court.

One aspect also had a direct impact on the court’s coffers, in that it enabled a reduction in the amount of allowance received by children of an emperor that were removed from the line of succession. Such children were given a family name of either Taira (clan name, Heike) or Minamoto (clan name, Genji). This policy was brought into effect by the Fujiwara, as I recall.

I am not aware of any other such names, and according to the standard historical account, the Taira served in the Kebishi (the capital city police force), and the Genji in the Palace Guard; both families evolved into clans that became the leaders of the Samurai.

The second aspect relates to having one of the Emperor’s sons named crown prince, i.e., the son who was to succeed the Emperor. The Fujiwara sought to marry as many of their daughters into the imperial family as possible in order to facilitate maneuvering to place one of the sons of one of their daughters on the throne.

These efforts to both have sons of other mothers removed from the imperial family—and thus from the line of succession—and to marry as man of their own daughters into the imperial family bore fruit for the Fujiwara by effectively doubling their leverage over influencing the succession to the throne. And when they did manage to have one of their grandchildren accede to the throne, they then proceeded to convert the court into a sphere facilitating an outright exercise of nepotistic prerogative, installing family members at high posts, regardless of their ability to perform the duties of officialdom associated with the post.

The case of the Fujiwara launched plot against Sugawara no Michizane represents perhaps the epitome of their success in achieving exactly that, and marks the beginning of the end of Heian Kyoto.

So, before even moving onto the nominal topic of the book, that is, the Tale of the Heike, it is necessary to elucidate the background of social development in Japanese society during the period under examination. Only then will the reader be able to comprehend the clan-like system and the place of the namesake clan—the Taira—of the Tale of the Heike.

Wikipedia is accessible and expedient means, and includes enough information to support the basic arguments I’m presenting (and facilitate fact checking for interested readers). I hope that it is apparent from the occasional reference I make to other books at relevant junctures, however, that I have studied the history to a level that enables me to engage recently published studies coming out of Western institutions of higher learning. It is necessary to try and limit the scope of argument from becoming expansive, while at the same time providing adequate reference to enable people to evaluate the remarks I make, many of which are highly critical.  

…Koko Tenno in 884. Koko was 55 years old but the regency still continued, as it did when Uda became emperor at the age of 21. It only lapsed when Mototsune died in 891 and Uda refused to appoint a replacement.
The office remained in abeyance through the reigns of Uda and Daigo, which is to say up to 930. However, it resumed under Fujiwara Tadahira, Mototsune's son, who was the grandfather of Suzaku Tenno, age 8. This time the office remained permanent, even outlasting the power of the Fujiwara clan. It was abolished in 1868 but revived again in 1889 in the Meiji Constitution, but it was taken away from the Fujiwara clan and restricted to the imperial clan...

As briefly as possible, here are some relevant passages from Borgen’s book. On p. 271:
“Another source of conflict, in this instance between Tokihira and Michizane, was their respective marital ties with the imperial family. As already noted, one of Michizane’s daughters became a consort of Uda’s in 895, Uda came to favor her… …another of Michizane’s daughters was serving as principle handmaid, the highest woman ofical at court. Finally, when Uda’s son Prince Tokiyo celebrated his coming of age in the eleventh month of 898, he took yet another daughter of Michizane’s as his wife. Members of the Fujiwara regents’ family… four of Mototsune’s daughters married into the imperial family, and over a century later, five of his descendant Michinaga’s daughters were to do so. For a Sugawara, however, such ties were unprecedented… 

He continues in the next paragraph (in its entirety):
In contrast, Tokihira’s relations with the imperial family were less than ideal, at least when compared to those of his predecessors Yoshifusa and Mototsune. At the time of the Ako incident, Mototsune had forced Uda to marry his daughter Haruko, who was Tokihira’s elder sister. Although she did not produce a son, she was named Daigo’s adoptive mother, probably on the day of his accession. This fabricated relationship alone was hardly satisfactory to Tokihira. That same day, Tokihira attempted to have his younger sister Yasuko (Onshi) accepted as a consort of the new emperor, but Uda’s mother, Princess Nakako (Hanshi) objected. Instead, she had arranged to have her own daughter Tameko (Ishi) selected as consort: Daigo was married to his own aunt. Less than two years later, however, Tameko die in child birth. Her mother heard rumors that it was due to Yasuko’s “angry spirit”,--such beliefs were then common, and once more Nakako blocked an attempt by Tokihira to have his sister named Daigo’s consort. Thus, whereas Michizane developed closer marital ties with the imperial family than any previous Sugawara, Tokihira was not able to retain what for the Fujiwara had become their customary close relationship with the reigning emperor. At the time, the rule of primogeniture was not followed, and the imperial succession usually went to the prince with the most powerful backing. A grandson of Michizane could have possibly become emperor, whereas Tokihira would have had trouble manipulating a blood relative into the imperial line. Tokihira’s comparative weakness in this respect gave him all the more reason to be suspicious of Michizane.

Borgen proceeds to details appointments to both honorary and actual high offices that made other members of the court from more well connected families envious. Michizane submitted two petitions to the court to be relieved of those titles, but was refused. He also outright rejected Uda’s moves to have him appointed chancellor, the highest public office after emperor.

On p. 275 Borgen writes:
    In the tenth month of 900, just one day after Michizane declined the title of general, he received a letter from Kiyoyuki, whom he had ordered to resume lecturing only four months earlier. The letter offered disturbing proof that his concerns were justified:

       Humbly, I, Kiyoyuki wish to state:
Superficial acquaintances who speak with familiarity are false. Those who today talk of the future are dishonest. No doubt I will have to endure accusations of falsehood and dishonesty, but I feel I must warn you to be cautious.
       While a student at the university, I secretly immersed myself in the occult sciences. Since ancient times, diviners have investigated the occasions when the mandate of heaven changes and retainers overthrow their lords. Most recently, the Classic of the K’ai-yuan Era (K’ai-yuan ching) has presented their theories in detail. Determining the years of such momentous events is as easy as pointing to the palm of one’s hand. This is something you surely know and I need not further explain...
       …It is my humble observation that you have risen above your status as a scholar and surpassed others to become a great minister. You have received imperial favor and flourished in your scholarly endeavors. There is no one whose virtue can compare with yours, except for Lord Kibi. It is my hope that you will know contentment and recognize your proper status. You ought to retire to the mountains and devote yourself to the beauties of the clouds and mist. Would it not be great for later generations to admire you for this?

On p.276:
…In his second petition declining his military title, Michizane had noted that there had been complaints about his promotions and that he wished to devote himself to “serving the flowers and the moon”. When Kiyoyuki suggested that Michizane was overly ambitious, he employed the same phrase—“to know contentment”—that Michizane had used three years earlier in his poem ensuring Tokihira that he was not ambitious. The phrase was adopted from LaoTzu and would soon reappear to plague Michizane.
    …Ten days after sending Michizane the above letter, Kiyoyuki presented to the court his prediction that a “revolution” (kakumei) was imminent. He was using the term in its Confucian sense of a change in the mandate of heaven, a disruption of the imperial succession… Then he supported the Chinese theories of numerology and astrology that supported his prediction and maintained that the fats of both Chinese and Japanese history proved his case…

Borgen goes on to elaborate the case that Michizane was the victim of a plot that was likely conceived and coordinated by Tokihira, employing Kiyoyuki, as a scholar frontman for leveling accusations against Michizane, lending an air of scholarly authority to the superstitions and fortune telling that served as the basis of the accusations, which aimed to have Michizane exiled from the capital, excluding him from sphere of the imperial court.

On p.283:
    …after Michizane was pardoned, Daigo burned the records relating to his banishment. Presumably Daigo did this to hide his own culpability for having participated in the impeachment of an innocent man. Had Michizane been guilty, he would not have needed to destroy evidence…

We can’t be sure exactly what motivated Daigo to basically betray his father Uda (Borgen pp. 278-9, 286, etc.), and collaborate in the conspiracy against Michizane.

However, in light of Daigo’s apparent blatant disregard for a fundamental principle of Confucianism (i.e., fidelity between father and son), it would be difficult to say that he represented a paragon of Confucian virtue. It would seem questionable, too, as to whether it would be appropriate to characterize him as a “sagely king” in some sort of Daoist sense, as Bialock attempts to do. I suppose it depends on the interpretation of Daoist “sageliness”, but as with most other “points” made in the book, Bialock makes no definitive statement as to his interpretation of critical terms. Moreover, he provides no catalog of concrete definitions for sageliness found in Daoism through the ages, so it is nearly impossible or an uninformed reader to judge the verity of his statements. Among the too-many-to-count spurious statements I find in Bialock’s text, there are several related to well-studied aspects of Japanese history that can serve to illustrate what I’ve described above.

A first startling set of assertions by Bialock is found on p.49:
    …yin-yang knowledge and omen-lore derived from the weft-texts also appear to have informed the symbolic code of Suiko’s cap-ranks and the Seventeen Articles, The Seventeen Articles attributed to Shotoku Taishi, for example, reveal an extensive use of yin-yang symbolism and numerological theory in their construction and content that exceed a merely formal or ornamental function. 

He then drops the names of a couple of Japanese scholars, and makes some inane comments on their esoteric observations about the number seventeen with respect to the Articles. It would seem to be such a trivial point, even assuming that there were a semblance of historical veracity to it, as to be simply an obvious part of the cultural background, not the foreground as defined by the intentional promulgation of the Seventeen Articles.

In other words, Bialock makes the ludicrous statement in the above-quoted passage that: 

     The Seventeen Articles... reveal an extensive use of yin-yang symbolism and numerological theory in their construction and content that exceed (s) a merely formal or ornamental function”,

and then he provides no concrete grounds for making such an astounding yet inaccurate assertion about one of the crowning accomplishments of one of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history. The extent of the "symbolic code" he claims to be hidden in the cap-ranks system and Articles is limited toexceed a merely formal or ornamental function the number seventeen and associations with the color scheme of the cap-ranks system; accordingly, though he makes an explicit claim that the "symbolic code" he has uncovered is of a degree of import that "exceed (s) a merely formal or ornamental function", it remains a mystery to the reader as to exactly what contribution to the content of the cap-ranks system or the Articles the supposed "symbolic code" makes.

In fact, insofar as Bialock falsely assigns credit to "yin-yang symbolism and numerology" while denying the prevalent roles of Buddhism and Confucianism, his assertion is implicitly hostile to Confucianism and Buddhism, of which the overwhelmingly tangible influences in this extremely important historical document are plainly evident. I find the aforementioned assertion of Mr. Bialock to be delusional and basically bigoted.

He proceeds to attempt to deny Shotoku Taishi credit for creating the cap-rank system (adapted from a Chinese model), and calls the authorship of the Seventeen Articles into question. These covert slights are repugnant, and I find it hard to believe that Stanford University Press published this book as it is. 

First, he refers to the cap-ranks in the above-quoted passage as “Suiko’s cap-ranks”, attempting to assign credit for the system to Suiko, the Empress for whom Shotoku Taishi was regent. Then, on p. 50:

    …whether we accept Okada’s and Takigawa’s view that the dating of the constitution’s promulgation to a revolutionary year was a deliberate strategy of its putative framer, Shotoku Taishi…it is reasonable to assume that yin-yang cosmological principles…played a role in shaping its conception of ancient royal authority, although it doesn’t rule out Takeda’s arguments that more Confucian-like principles were also a factor.

It would appear that he is referring to Shotoku Taishi as a “putative framer” as opposed to the author because he wants to deny the fundamental Buddhist and Confucian principles underpinning the Seventeen Articles, because he wants to covertly assert that it was more of a document in which “yin-yang cosmological principles…played a role in shaping its conception of ancient royal authority“. 

It is plainly evident, however, that the Seventeen Articles (often referred to as a constitution) are not primarily about “royal authority”, but about ethical behavior, propriety, social harmony, etc. 

In a footnote (p. 336) to the above-quoted passage, Bialock states:
"...It is my feeling that the arguments of Okada, Takigawa, and Takeda, valuable in their details, continue to be colored by the false opposition, discussed earlier, between a rationalizing Confucianism and a more mystical trend exemplified in the weft-texts. As I will argue in Chapter 3, however, we are dealing rather with a clash between competing symbolic orders (one premised on binary and the other on circular logic), which partly accounts for peculiar workings of defilement in relation to in-yang five agents principles."

Well, arguments in a scholarly work are not generally left at the level of "feeling", and I don't recall any substantial comparison of "rationalizing Confucianism and a more mystical trend exemplified in the weft-texts", at least nothing that would support his critical statement that the observations of the three Japanese scholars he cites are "colored by the false opposition". Instead, he tells us what we are really dealing with is "however, we are dealing rather with a clash between competing symbolic orders (one premised on binary and the other on circular logic)", although he avoids the use of that taboo term "really", because he is a dealer of the field of the symbolic order, not a scholar attempting to approach truth and elucidate reality. Of course, he would probably claim that it is the "competing symbolic orders" that constitute reality, nothing more. Would there be a little "circular logic" in that, Mr. Bialock?

In relation to the cap-ranks system, he states on p.49:

…Okada and Takigawa further argued that the moral qualities assigned to the six pairs of twelve cap-ranks, in the order of toku (virtue), jin (benevolence), rei (courtesy), shin (sincerity), gi (justice), and chi (wisdom), were arranged to accord with in-yang five agents principles rather than the Confucian order of virtue, benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, and sincerity; and that the distribution of the five colors likewise harmonized with yin-yang principles in an arrangement intended to ward off calamities and assure good fortune…

Here, too, as the Wikipedia entry (link provided below) states:
."..was adapted from similar systems that were already in place in Sui dynasty China,Paekche and Koguryŏ. The officials wore silk caps that were decorated with gold and silver, and a feather that indicated the official's rank. The ranks in the twelve level cap and rank system consisted of the greater and the lesser of each of the six Confucian virtues: virtue ( toku), benevolence (jin), propriety ( rei), sincerity ( shin), justice ( gi) and knowledge ( chi).
The primary distinction between this new system and the old kabane system by which a person's rank was determined based on heredity, was that the cap and rank system allowed for promotion based on merit and individual achievement (my emphasis)..." 

The system was introduced to promote meritocracy, not “too ward of calamities and assure good fortune”. It is also highly likely that Shotoku Taishi did not want to completely mimic the Chinese system, and adapted it accordingly, which would account for the slight variation in the order of the ranks.

The differences held up by the above-quoted text would seem to be so trivial as to be somewhat desperate in an academic context. What would be the motivation—even on the part of Japanese scholars—to make such unsubstantiated claims. I don’t think anyone would find it objectionable to state that there may have been some degree of consideration given to other schemas of knowledge in putting the finishing touches on the system. Bialock, however, completely neglects the Confucian context and content with regard to promoting meritocracy in officialdom, which I find indisputable, and instead seems to be intent on imbuing the official enactment of the cap-ranks with the character of a superficial ritual “intended to ward off calamities and assure good fortune…”, as opposed to securing a foundation for the future stability and prosperity of society.

What is at issue here is the recurrent theme of meritocracy versus nepotism. One of the hallmarks of Confucianism is meritocracy, whereas the positions supported by Bialock fall under the heading of nepotism promoted in conjunction with religious affiliation by some priest caste or another. Is Bialok a Freemason? A member of some Kabal? Considering the thematic parallels between his work and that of John Dougill, for example, I would say that the possibility can't be ignored.


Here is the link to the Wikipedia entry on the cap-ranks.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the Seventeen Articles, followed by translations of the first two of the Seventeen Articles, from among the numerous versions available online.

(1) Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided. Everyone has his biases, and few men are far-sighted. Therefore some disobey their lords and fathers and keep up feuds with their neighbors. But when the superiors are in harmony with each other and the inferiors are friendly, then affairs are discussed quietly and the right view of matters prevails.
(2) The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood; should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things. Few men are so bad that they cannot be taught their truth.
I  Harmony is to be valued, and an avoidance of wanton opposition to be honored. All men are influenced by class-feelings, and there are few who are intelligent. Hence there are some who disobey their lords and fathers, or who maintain feuds with the neighboring villages. But when those above are harmonious and those below are friendly, and there is concord in the discussion of business, right views of things spontaneously gain acceptance. Then what is there which cannot be accomplished!

II  Sincerely reverence the three treasures. The three treasures, Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood, are the final refuge of the four generated beings, and are the supreme objects of faith in all countries. What man in what age can fail to reverence this law?  Few men are utterly bad. They may be taught to follow it. But if they do not betake them to the three treasures, how shall their crookedness be made straight ?

Bialock claims that an object of the book is to explore the neglected influence of Daoism and the like in the affairs of the Japanese court. Although he quotes Borgen, he makes no reference of the K’ai-yuan ching used by Kiyoyuki and Tokihira. His reasoning for selecting to address or neglect various relevant historical factors demonstrates a lack of scholarly rigor, at the very least; at the worst, it represents the effort of an ideologue trying to support some hidden political agenda on an academic level through highly flawed scholarship.

Borgen has demonstrated the deception and lies employed by such people under the guise of religion to further their political agenda in order to serve their private interests, at the expense of individuals such as Sugawara no Michizane, whose meritorious contributions are also described by Borgen and who was basically a scholar exerting himself in the service of the truth that sought to advance the public interest.

Insofar as Bialock appears determine to elevate and applaud the role played in the political sphere of Daoism (i.e., primarily of the alchemical type), divination, and other practices which fall under the rubric of religion but are manifestly based on forms of what can only be characterized as superstitions in academic discourse, it can be said that he adopts a position that basically supports the type of people like Fujiwara Tokihira, who was the leader of the conspiracy against eminent scholar Sugawara no Michizane.

Furthermore, Bialock doesn’t explicitly tie the use of such superstition-based teachings to the Fujiwara’s quest for political power, though he does mention that members of the Fujiwara were students of Daosim, were in possession of libraries, etc., as if to portray them as scholars, instead of the power hungry priest caste that they basically were. 

Bialock continually tells the reader, in prefatory or followup remarks, what it is that he is going to explain in the text or what he just explained. Apparently, either he doesn’t think that the readers can “read” for themselves, or that they won’t arrive at the meaning at which he intends to send them. The comments seem a bit neurotic, but what would the fact that the reader doesn’t understand the meaning intended by the author of a text would mean to someone as influenced by Derridea and Foucault as Mr. Bialock would seem to be. But I digress.

Bialock also makes a couple of disclamatory like statements early in the book.
On p.9:
As a literature specialist with cross-disciplinary interests, I have drawn on a number of approaches from the fields of literary and cultural studies, which sharply distinguish my work from the approach of man historians who have covered the same material and time periods… In focusing on representation and performance rather than a narrative of “facts” and “events,” I am interested in the ways in which power and authority are mediated through a variety of symbolic practices that cut across the false barrier that has been erected between “documents,” which are held to transmit “facts” and reliable “evidence,” and “literature,” which is treated as an epiphenomenon.
On p. 34:
…As a literature specialist with a strong interest in ritual, ceremonial, and symbolic activity, I am less concerned with the historian’s concern with provable realities than with how power gets expressed in narrative, ritual, and symbolic thinking about space…

There is too much to unpack in these statements, but I have chosen passages from Bialock’s text that address renowned historical personages and their deeds, as well as well-studied period of Japanese history and written records. I have limited the scope of passages that were selected in order to more easily illustrate the flaws and fallacies in his interpretations and assertions.

Although I have nothing against novel interpretations of historical records, literary and other art works, and so on, Bialock claims to being doing that while he provides extremely little support for his assertions; moreover, he neglects what has been established by scholars over the years to an extent that he basically seems intent on effacing history, not contributing to an enhanced understanding of it. In fact, it could be said that he offers interpretations that attempt to supplant history with a delusional, parallel universe type of esoteric world that is grounded in another world, not this one. I will explain that statement in the future entry that will address Bialock’s discussion of the Tale of the Heike.

In relation to the history of the Seventeen Articles, etc. more needs to be said at this juncture about Shotoku Taishi, so I will expand a little on what I’ve said above, and add a reference:

In the corresponding Wikipedia entry at the above-posted link:
 His parents were relatives of the ruling Soga clan, and was involved in the defeat of the rival Mononobe Clan.

The following is from the Wikipedia entry on the Mononobe:
“The Mononobe were opposed to the spread of Buddhism…. The Nakatomi clan, ancestors of the Fujiwara, were allies with the Mononobe in this.
The Mononobe, like many other major families of the time, were something of a corporation or guild in addition to being a proper family by blood-relation. While the only members of the clan to appear in any significant way in the historical record were statesmen, the clan as a whole was known as the Corporation of Arms or Armorers.”

Basically, one could venture an interpretation to the effect that efforts against the combination of superstition and violence used for political purposes in Japanese society can be traced to the struggle between the Soga clan and their adversaries from two nativist priest castes, the Mononobe and the Nakatomi (from whom the Fujiwara were derived). 

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