Confucianism was incredibly useful to East Asian rulers, as it provided an ideology that in many ways worked in their favor. Not only did it provide social stability, but it also created loyalty through education. The prevalence of these notions can be most clearly seen in China, Korea, and Japan. In China, a meritocracy was created, forever changing social restrictions and slowly dissolving the aristocracy. In Korea, although the aristocracy was still kept intact, a meritocracy within the upper, yangban¸class was formed. In Japan, although a meritocracy didn’t develop like that of China, the education system cemented loyalty among the upper classes. Confucian ideology became extremely popular throughout all three cultures and dominated the way all tiers of society functioned, beginning with the rulers at the top with concepts of educated officials and legitimacy of rule through the Mandate of Heaven.
The ideology was especially beneficial to rulers as it created an educated government where loyalty and goodness were of great importance. As Confucianism placed great stress on education, the value of education suddenly skyrocketed within East Asia. This was due to the belief that education was the “only true assurance of virtuous behavior.” Mencius, in fact, argued that people are born naturally good, but in order to maintain their virtuosity, they need education, therefore education becomes a reinstatement of goodness within a person. Not only that, but Confucianism also taught loyalty and obedience to be cardinal principles, along with filial piety and fraternity. However, loyalty and obedience were of key importance to rulers as they were necessary components to hold power. Furthermore, the Mandate of Heaven was also another concept Confucianism supported that applied directly to rulers. Although this notion was not popular in Japan, as the emperor was believed to be a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, in China and Korea, it was well applied as it gave a ruler justification for his rise to power.
Of the three cultures, China had by far established the most Confucian society. When the founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, came to power he placed great stress on ability and education rather than on inherited status. He established an examination system, which was essentially a prelude to the civil service examination system that would soon follow. By establishing this focus on education, a meritocracy was put into place, where official positions were held by a new scholar-gentry class that was accessible to peasants and commoners. This not only gave the people hope of climbing the social ladder, but it also created a government that was ruled by the best and the brightest. Although, the sons of already rich families had obvious advantages, as they could easily get time off work and could be taught by private tutors.
Nonetheless, commoners also made their way into the gentry class albeit slowly. This was revolutionary...