Zhu Shunshui Spreading China’s Culture to Japan
Zhu, a Chinese Confucianism scholar, helped to promote and advance agriculture, architecture, art, and medicine in Japan.
In 1659, as a Chinese merchant ship slowly disappeared into sea of fog while sailing to Japan from Fujian Province, another story along the Maritime Silk Road was born. The creator of this story was Zhu Shunshui (1600–1682), a scholar of the late Ming (1368–1644) and early Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.
The “Belt and Road” is China’s initiative. The historic Silk Road isn’t only an ancient commercial trade route connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, but also a road between the East and West for economic, political and cultural exchanges. Many Chinese envoys once stepped on this road during the past 2,000 years or more, writing legends in world diplomatic history, still commemorated by later generations along the Silk Road.
Zhu Shunshui spent his childhood in Yuyao and Songjiang in Zhejiang Province, a region with the most prosperous economic development in the nation at the time. The area's thriving economy also helped to bolster development in education, contributed to the accumulation of significant culture and invigorated the thinking of intellectuals, all of which had a major impact on Zhu's own growth. While taking in progressive thoughts and ideas, Zhu gradually established his lofty aspirations, and with diligence and talent, achieved high attainments in Confucianism, cultivating his moral character and martial arts.
During the era Zhu grew up in, the Ming Dynasty's decline had been accelerating. After Zhu Youxiao (reign: 1620–1627), also known as Ming Xizong, ascended to the throne, traitorous officials such as Wei Zhongxian monopolised imperial power and caused many injustices. They killed Donglindang, a group of scholar- officials who were their opponents, and completely drove them out of the Ming court. Zhu Zhiqi, Zhu Shunshui's elder brother, was framed and prosecuted by the traitorous officials was unable to realise his ambition of serving the country and its people. Ultimately, he was forced to live out the rest of his life while unemployed in Nanjing, an experience that strengthened Zhu Shunshui's desire to avoid an official career. He was determined to instead serve the country and its people through pragmatism and the study of knowledge.
Ancient Chinese imperial examinations mainly entailed content pertaining to the “Four Books and Five Classics,” and the articles candidates wrote had to follow certain rules and didn't allow for personal development, which inhibited people's thinking. By participating in the examination, people could neither learn practical knowledge nor save the country or its people. Therefore, Zhu had no interest in an official career and declined the court's appointment.
Zhu was a patriot and hated associating with traitorous officials. So as the Ming started to decline in 1644, Zhu began his journey to save the country. For fifteen years from 1645 to 1659, he travelled back and forth between Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province and An'nan (today's Vietnam) six times, and seven times between Zhoushan and Nagasaki, Japan. On the surface, Zhu seemed to be engaged in maritime trade. In actuality, he was making an effort to find military and financial help overseas in order to restore the Ming, showing his patriotism and national integrity.
On August 27, 1646, Zheng Zhilong, a military leader during the late Ming, surrendered to the Qing. 23-year- old Zheng Chenggong split with his father and recruited troops from his hometown, Anping Town, Fujian Province to resist the Qing and restore the Ming. Since the Qing troops were adept at naval battles, Zheng actively endeavored to train and expand the power of its naval troops. Zheng's troops defeated the Qing troops many times and took Xiamen and the surrounding islands under their control, which became a base for restoring the Ming. In May 1658, Zhu Shunshui invited Zheng to Xiamen to supervise the Second Northern Expedition. Although Zhu personally lead the charge, the battle eventually failed. From Zheng's defeat in Fujian, Zhu realised that “the rising Qing Dynasty was unbeatable, the lost land couldn't be recaptured, and defeated troops couldn't be revived. If they find themselves in the mainland, they must follow the Qing's rules.”
In the winter of 1659, 60-year- old Zhu left his country and went to Japan during the Tokugawa Bakufu Period (1603–1867). Tokugawa Bakufu adopted the policy of national isolation, and foreigners were not permitted to stay in the country, undoubtedly a blow to Zhu. At the time, Japanese scholar Andō Seian admired Zhu's erudition and scholarship and wanted to become his student. But after Andō Seian submitted a statement to the authorities in Nagasaki, Zhu was given special permission to live in Japan permanently. From then on, Zhu no longer left the country.
Zhu lived in Japan for 23 years. He facilitated extensive exchanges with local people from all walks of life, won respect from Japanese scholars and was honoured as “Japan's Confucius.” In 1665, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the daimyo of Mito, admired Zhu's talents and invited him to be a senior lecturer. Zhu was transferred to Edo, today's Tokyo, to recruit students and teach Confucianism. His lectures were popular, even the elderly attended carrying walking sticks. , Japanese scholars came to ask for his advice from all walks of life. Tokugawa Mitsukuni thought highly of him and also sought his advice on national policies, the system of rites, as well as cultural and academic issues.
Before heading to Japan, Zhu experienced many trials and tribulations, but never gave up. After arriving in Japan, his profound, extensive education, practical knowledge and virtues were valued by Japanese scholars. He was dedicated to spreading
Chinese culture in a foreign land and made outstanding contributions to the friendly exchanges between China and Japan.
In Japan, Zhu delivered public lectures about China to Japanese students. The teaching materials he used were all written in Chinese, which he required his Japanese students to read. He required that “their pronunciation should be no difference than native Chinese” and made them recite what they had learned. Zhu aimed to enhance his students' oral training while strengthening the practical application of their language skills. He attached high importance to, and set strict standards for, the compilation of Chinese textbooks which he revised personally, demonstrating his responsibility as an educator.
At that time, many merchant ships came to Japan from Fujian Province, making it convenient for a lot of Japanese people to learn the southern Fujian dialect while also learning the official Chinese language. However, Zhu believed that in teaching Chinese the aims should be clear, and that targeted groups and dialects should not be mixed with the official Chinese language.
Zhu also emphasised the teaching of Chinese characters and vocabulary terms, and he answered all the questions the Japanese had about Chinese pronunciation in great detail. The book Zhu Shunshui tanqi (“Zhu Shunshui's illustrations on fantastic language”) recorded a total of 1,084 Chinese vocabulary terms in 12 categories that Zhu relayed to his student Jinjing Hongji. Zhu's involvement in Chinese language teaching was highly valued and represented the highest standard of foreign language teaching at the time. Under Zhu's careful instruction, some Japanese, including Tokugawa Mitsukuni, became the earliest Chinese scholars in Mito. These scholars laid a solid foundation for the formation of the Mito School and promoted China-japan cultural exchange.
Zhu's political aspiration was to establish a society with Confucianism at its core, in which talented people could be elected and appointed, and where governmental and educational systems were both arranged well and morally enlightened. To promote his political positions, he gave priority to running schools and cultivating talent. He drew lessons from the fall of the Ming and knew the importance of education. He said, “Respecting education and promoting learning is fundamental to building a stronger country, cultivating and electing talented people, and is a necessity for governance.” He wrote the article “Xuexiao yi” (“On Schools”) which introduced the general makeup of schools in central and local places during past Chinese dynasties, and explained the role schools played to promote social development.
In 1670, Zhu, during his 70s, wrote the book Xuegong tushuo (“Drawings of schools”) at the request of Tokugawa Mitsukuni. The book summarises how schools, as places of study since ancient times until now, served, and how it became the source of Japanese school system. Tokugawa Nariaki, the ninth daimyo of Mito, established Japan's first school according to the specific records in Zhu's book. With regard to teaching practices, Zhu hated the imperial examination system as well as the talent selection and appointment systems adopted by the late Ming. He believed education should emphasise application and pragmatism and promoted the combination of both academic learning and practice of martial
arts. Zhu cultivated a lot of talented people versed in these disciplines, and taught based on his students' aptitude.
Liang Qichao, a modern Chinese educator, accurately described Zhu's contributions to Japanese education: “[He] exerted a high degree of influence on the Japanese with his inviting personality, practical and vast knowledge, and affectionate emotions.” His teaching theory, thoughts and practices had a greatimpact on Japanese education.
In addition to knowledge and culture, Zhu also brought Japanese people China's advanced science and technology. Liang Qichao said, “Zhu not only contributed to Japan's spiritual civilisation but brought a lot of benefits to its material prosperity.” In Japan, Zhu paid attention to agricultural production and the harvest of crops. Letters Zhu wrote to his Japanese friends contained the lines: “Good harvests are the main priority for a country” and “Food is the first necessity of the people. Bad harvests are terrible for officials.” When he saw that it was the rainy season, he wrote letters to a student to ask about the growth of crops. He also wrote letters to local officials to give them farming guidance, such as: “Most of the farmland is low-lying and the soil couldn't be preserved because of the water infiltration system, which is not suitable for growing crops. The farmland should be ploughed until there are no big clumps, and irrigation is necessary to soften and further level the field.” He valued agricultural technology and also conducted research on the subject.
Zhu also had achievements in architecture. At 71 years old, Zhu completed the book Xuegong tushuo as requested by Tokugawa Mitsukuni, who ordered craftsmen to construct an architectural model according to the ratio of 1:30. Zhu explained the construction methods to the craftsmen clearly, and the construction was completed in one year. The current Yushimaseido Seidō, known as the “Confucian temple in Tokyo,” was constructed in 1690 based on this model. Yushimaseido Seidō covers an area of 38,000 square metres, and at the shrine in Taiseiden (Hall of Great Achievements), the portrait of Confucius that Zhu brought to Japan is worshipped. Furthermore, based on the West Lake in Zhejiang Province and Lushan Mount in Jiangxi Province, Zhu designed the construction of the Korakuen Amusement Park in Koishikawa, Edo, and personally led the stone bridge construction.
Zhu possessed vast medical and pharmacological knowledge, and he introduced his positions with respect to curing diseases and taking medicine to the Japanese. He thought, “Medicines prescribed by physicians will benefit the body if they don't devitalise but are instead effective for preventing weaknesses. If pathogens enter the body, a fire deficiency will arise. Then, the first thing to do is to remove the “fire,” which is beneficial to the body. If physicians prescribe shenqi, a traditional Chinese medicinal formula, for patients without knowing the causes of their diseases, it is harmful. When prescribing medicine, physicians should be cautious and pay attention to deficiencies and excesses, chills and fevers, so as not to hurt the body.”
On April 17, 1682, Zhu Shunshui passed away at 83. Tokugawa Mitsukuni led students to attend his funeral and constructed a tomb for him on a mountain located in today's Kuji-gun, Ibaraki Prefecture. The funeral and the construction of the tomb followed Ming standards.
On the tomb, Mitsukuni inscribed the words “Monument of Ming Zhengjun, Zhu Shunshui.” The following year, Mitsukuni gave Zhu the posthumous title “Wen Gong” to eulogise his extensive learning and virtues, and visited the monument to pay his respects to Zhu as his student. In 1684, Mitsukuni constructed a Chinese-style memorial hall at Zhu's former residence and held sacrificial rites on Zhu's death anniversary to honour him. Mitsukuni showed reverence to Zhu when he was alive as well as after his death. He set an example for relationships between students and teachers from different countries.
It can be seen that, as a Chinese Confucianism scholar, Zhu promoted and advanced Japan's development in many fields: agriculture, architecture, art, and medicine. Zhu's glorious deeds in Japan also spread to China. At the end of 19th century and early 20th century, there was an upsurge of people who studied his works, and scholars researched on his thoughts and deeds. His patriotism influenced the younger generation of the late- Qing Dynasty.
Zhu spread Chinese culture throughout Japan and strengthened mutual understanding between the Chinese and Japanese. He enriched Japanese culture, promoted its development, was well-respected, and made outstanding contributions to culturalexchange between the two countries. For centuries, Zhu's stories have been widespread in Japanese, and he's still remembered today, remaining a true cultural envoy.
” Portrait of Zhu Shunshui”