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Confucianism and Japanese Growth


Many factors helped aid in the dynamic growth that occurred 
in Japan and the four little dragons during the post-World War 2 
period. Some of these factors were situational factors unique to the 
time but some of the factors were cultural. The legacy of Confucianism 
in Japan and the four little dragons helped to further the goals of 
industrialization that these nations had. The traditions of 
Confucianism provided for Japan and the four little dragons both a 
pliant public and a model for choosing competent leaders. 
 Confucian traditions placed an emphasis on the values of the 
group over the individual. This helped industrialism by creating a 
pliant populace who were willing to accept long hours and low wages 
and not question government policies. The traditions of Confucianism 
taught workers not to question authority. These traditions carried 
over into the post war period and allowed authoritarian regimes in the 
four little dragons to go unquestioned by the public. This lack of 
dissent allowed the four little dragons to have stable governments 
which were critical to investment and industrialization. The stability 
of these nations was a direct result of Confucian values being 
indoctrinated into the population. Confucian placement of the group 
over the individual and strong belief in filial piety also caused 
families and local communities to accept social responsibility for 
members of their community. This safety net that was provided by 
communities and families allowed the government to limit it's spending
on social welfare programs and thus channel more funds into 
infrastructure and industry. Confucianism also placed an emphasis
on self-cultivation which has helped East Asian Countries to have a 
skilled and ambitious work force. The tradition of self-cultivation 
like the work ethic that Max Weber credited Protestantism of producing 
lead people to strive to acquire new skills, speak foreign languages, 
and in the offices and businesses of Japan, drive workers to strive 
with in their firms to improve group performance. 
 Confucian traditions also placed emphasis on the creation of 
a meritocratic elite and the use of entrance exams. These traditions 
were in place before World War 2 in the East Asian countries but they 
helped aid in the carrying out of the industrial policies of the 
post-war government of Japan and the little Dragons. The traditional 
system of a meritocratic elite was adopted in the post war years in 
the form of meritocraticly chosen bureaucracy that made and carried 
out many government policies. This elite was free from many of the 
strains of politics and thus was able to carry out policies that 
democratically elected leaders might not be able to pursue do to the 
changing feelings of the electorate. Also these bureaucrats because 
they were meritocraticly chosen were the most able members of society 
and thus very skilled at handling industrial policies. The system of
entrance exams in Asia countries helped to create skilled and 
proficient workers for industry. The entrance exams were able to
target the most able young people and channel them into higher 
learning, and the entrance exam system was also able to create
intense competition among young people spurring students to both 
acquire knowledge and disciplined work habits. These disciplined and 
knowledgeable workers were critical in providing the workers that made 
East Asian Industries successful. 
 Confucian traditions were not the sole cause of 
industrialization in Japan and the four little dragons. An analysis of 
other Asian nations such as Thailand, China, Vietnam, Burma, and Laos 
show that many nations with the same shared history of a Confucian 
values have not yet industrialized. Confucianism along with other 
circumstances such as situational factors, timing, domestic industrial 
policy and luck played key roles in allowing Japan and the four little 
dragons to industrialize. Some of the situational factors were the 
presence of U.S. aid and leadership which gave many nations such as 
Japan a jump start on industrialism, the feeling of urgency among 
countries such as Taiwan and South Korea who felt that if they were 
not able to build up their economies they would be over ridden by the 
communists, the presence of the Japanese model of industrialization
which aided Taiwan and South Korea in what types of economic policies 
to follow. But these factors alone also do not account for the rapid 
rates of growth in East Asia. A large role was played by the 
traditions of Confucianism which created a pliant and stable populace, 
skilled and eager workers, and a meritocratic bureaucracy that were 
skilled at formulating and carrying out economic policy. 
Confucianism's traditions are manifested not only in the temples of 
East Asia but also in the rapid rates of growth this region has 



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