Last Updated 13 Apr 2020

The Social Organization

Category Organization
Essay type Research
Words 1322 (5 pages)
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The late Professor Fiske, in his Outline of Cosmic Philosophy, made a very interesting remark about societies like those of China, ancient Egypt, and ancient Assyria. "I am expressing," he said, "something more than an analogy, I am describing a real homology so far as concerns the process of development,--when I say that these communities simulated modern European nations, much in the same way that a tree-fern of the carboniferous period simulated the exogenous trees of the present time. So far as this is true of China, it is likewise true of Japan. The constitution of the old Japanese society was no more than an amplification of the constitution of the family,--the patriarchal family of primitive times. All modern Western societies have been developed out of a like patriarchal condition: the early civilizations of Greece and Rome were similarly constructed, upon a lesser scale.

But the patriarchal family in Europe was disintegrated thousands of years ago; the gens and the curia dissolved and disappeared; the originally distinct classes became fused together; and a total reorganization of society was gradually [230] effected, everywhere resulting in the substitution of voluntary for compulsory cooperation. Industrial types of society developed; and a state-religion overshadowed the ancient and exclusive local cults. But society in Japan never, till within the present era, became one coherent body, never developed beyond the clan-stage.

It remained a loose agglomerate of clan-groups, or tribes, each religiously and administratively independent of the rest; and this huge agglomerate was kept together, not by voluntary cooperation, but by strong compulsion. Down to the period of Meiji, and even for some time afterward, it was liable to split and fall asunder at any moment that the central coercive power showed signs of weakness. We may call it a feudalism; but it resembled European feudalism only as a tree-fern resembles a tree.

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Let us first briefly consider the nature of the ancient Japanese society. Its original unit was not the household, but the patriarchal family,--that is to say, the gens or clan, a body of hundreds or thousands of persons claiming descent from a common ancestor, and so religiously united by a common ancestor-worship,--the cult of the Ujigami. As I have said before, there were two classes of these patriarchal families: the O-uji, or Great Clans; and the Ko-uji, or Little Clans.

The lesser were branches of the greater, and subordinate to [231] them,--so that the group formed by an O-uji with its Ko-uji might be loosely compared with the Roman curia or Greek phratry. Large bodies of serfs or slaves appear to have been attached to the various great Uji; and the number of these, even at a very early period, seems to have exceeded that of the members of the clans proper. The different names given to these subject-classes indicate different grades and kinds of servitude.

One name was tomobe, signifying bound to a place, or district; another was yakabe, signifying bound to a family; a third was kakibe, signifying bound to a close, or estate; yet another and more general term was tami, which anciently signified "dependants," but is now used in the meaning of the English word "folk. " ... There is little doubt that the bulk of the people were in a condition of servitude, and that there were many forms of servitude. Mr.

Spencer has pointed out that a general distinction between slavery and serfdom, in the sense commonly attached to each of those terms, is by no means easy to establish; the real state of a subject-class, especially in early forms of society, depending much more upon the character of the master, and the actual conditions of social development, than upon matters of privilege and legislation. In speaking of early Japanese institutions, the distinction is particularly hard to draw: we are still but little informed as to the condition of the subject [232] classes in ancient times.

It is safe to assert, however, that there were then really but two great classes,--a ruling oligarchy, divided into many grades; and a subject population, also divided into many grades. Slaves were tattooed, either on the face or some part of the body, with a mark indicating their ownership. Until within recent years this system of tattooing appears to have been maintained in the province of Satsuma,--where the marks were put especially upon the hands; and in many other provinces the lower classes were generally marked by a tattoo on the face.

Slaves were bought and sold like cattle in early times, or presented as tribute by their owners,--a practice constantly referred to in the ancient records. Their unions were not recognized: a fact which reminds us of the distinction among the Romans between connubium and contubernium; and the children of a slave-mother by a free father remained slaves. * In the seventh century, however, private slaves were declared state-property, and great numbers were [233] then emancipated,--including nearly all--probably all--who were artizans or followed useful callings.

Gradually a large class of freedmen came into existence; but until modern times the great mass of the common people appear to have remained in a condition analogous to serfdom. The greater number certainly had no family names,--which is considered evidence of a former slave-condition. Slaves proper were registered in the names of their owners: they do not seem to have had a cult of their own,--in early times, at least. But, prior to Meiji, only the aristocracy, samurai, doctors, and teachers--with perhaps a few other exceptions--could use a family name.

Another queer bit of evidence or, the subject, furnished by the late Dr. Simmons, relates to the mode of wearing the hair among the subject-classes. Up to the time of the Ashikaga shogunate (1334 A. D. ), all classes excepting the nobility, samurai, Shinto priests, and doctors, shaved the greater part of the head, and wore queues; and this fashion of wearing the hair was called yakko-atama or dorei-atama--terms signifying "slave-head," and indicating that the fashion originated in a period of servitude. [*In the year 645, the Emperor Kotoku issued the following edict on the subject:-- The law of men and women shall be that the children born of a free man and a free woman shall belong to the father; if a free man takes to wife a slave-woman, her children shall belong to the mother; if a free woman marries a slave-man, the children shall belong to the father; if they are slaves of two houses, the children shall belong to the mother. The children of temple-serfs shall follow the rule for freemen. But in regard to others who become slaves, they shall be treated according to the rule for slaves. --Aston's translation of the Nihongi, Vol. II, p. 202. ] About the origin of Japanese slavery, much remains to be learned.

There are evidences of successive immigrations; and it is possible that some, at least, of the earlier Japanese settlers were reduced by later invaders to the status of servitude. Again, [234] there was a considerable immigration of Koreans and Chinese, some of whom might have voluntarily sought servitude as a refuge from worse evils. But the subject remains obscure. We know, however, that degradation to slavery was a common punishment in early times; also, that debtors unable to pay became the slaves of their creditors; also, that thieves were sentenced to become the slaves of those whom they had robbed. Evidently there were great differences in the conditions of servitude.

The more unfortunate class of slaves were scarcely better off than domestic animals; but there were serfs who could not be bought or sold, nor employed at other than special work; these were of kin to their lords, and may have entered voluntarily into servitude for the sake of sustenance and protection. Their relation to their masters reminds us of that of the Roman client to the Roman patron. [*An edict issued by the Empress Jito, in 690, enacted that a father could sell his son into real slavery; but that debtors could be sold

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