The role of Confucianism in supporting development and modernization in Japan and China is not clear-cut. Some authors argue that it provided an important support structure for modernization, others label it obstructionist, and still others believe that it had mixed effects in the two countries and in different eras.
In reading the course materials, and other literature, it appears that it might be most accurate to say that Confucianism had a mixed effect on modernization in China and Japan. Confucianism is not the only cultural element affecting modernization. It is the interaction of Confucianism with other cultural aspects that seems to create much of the differential effect in the two countries and in different eras. Chan (1993) gives a clear example of that in his brief discussion of the interaction of Confucianism and social mobility in the two countries. While Confucian orthodoxy devalued commerce in both countries, in Japan the limitations on social mobility forced merchants to concentrate on developing their businesses, while merchants in China were able to buy higher social status and leave commerce.
Before continuing this discussion, it is important to look briefly at what we mean by modernization. In order to assess whether or not Confucianism has contributed to modernization, it is essential to define modernization; for the purposes of this comparison, it will be defined in terms of Western modernization. Thus, modernization is seen as developing along the lines of the industrial revolution toward large-scale production, efficiency, the rule of the market, and greater individual freedom and democracy.
In popular terms, Confucianism would probably be summed up as comprising reverence toward the family and brief but meaningful expressions. There is much more involved than that. It is one of the major world religious traditions, providing its followers with a set of guidelines and practices most akin to tha...