Bureaucrats and aristocrats, the former evident in the government in the Tang dynasty (617-907) and the ladder pronoun in the government of Heian Japan. Both are different in many different aspects, such as within government, government structure, law, economy, and society. A bureaucrat can be defined by the following: an appointed government official with certain duties and responsibilities defined by disposition in the bureaucracy. A bureaucrat is more dependent on the government than an aristocrat because official power comes from official appointment through the bureaucracy (Class Lecture, Oct. , 97).
Bureaucracy first replaced aristocracy in the Tang dynasty, under the rule of Empress Wu (625? -706? , r. 690-706) bureaucracy was expanded by furthering expansion policies and supporting the examination system. Positions in government were filled through the examination system, and people who passed were called the literati. When one held this title of literati, you were considered intelligent and were considered to have high status (TA session, Oct. 28, 97). “They were a group of smart guys with a good education. ” (Steve, TA session, Oct. 28, 97).
This of course deprived the hereditary aristocracy of power ‘they had enjoyed during the period of division, when appointments had been made by recommendation, and opened government service to a somewhat wider class of people… ‘ (Schirokauer, p. 103). For the first time, men who entered office through examination could attain the highest office, even that of Chief Minister. Examination graduates earned (earn being the operative word) prestige, and even though officials still entered government by other means such as family connections, at the same time the literati and thus the bureaucrats were gaining authority, jurisdiction, and power.
And thus, one could see this shifting of supremacy from the aristocracy to the bureaucracy. Government in the Tang dynasty was regulated by the Tang legal codes, a system of laws written by legalists which consisted of a system of rewards and severe punishments (TA session, Oct. 28, 97). These legal codes were administrative: reporting what the state could do and what the subjects could not do. This is an important point in that, this showed the subjects possessed little power, the Tang legal codes are the opposite of any laws of present day, these legal codes protected the government and not the people.
Government needed the subjects only to provide for taxes (revenue), labour (grain) and military (soldiers) reasons. ‘A dead subject was not as useful as a living subject. ‘ (Steve, TA session, Oct. 28, 97) The fundamental tasks of the central government were accomplished by Six Ministries; personnel, revenue, rites, war, justice, and public works (Class Lecture, Oct. 16, 97). In addition to these ministries, there was a censorate or in other words, an Inspector General who was in charge of internal affairs, making sure there was no corruption in the government.
All this thus showed the power of the bureaucratic government. Shifting gears now, we come to Heian Japan (794-1156), and aristocratic society, and radically different from that of the bureaucratic society of the Tang in China. An aristocrat can be defined by the following: someone who has high status in power due to their family background: independent of government and emperor because of their independent power base in form of land holdings and their inheritance. The aristocracy, not the imperial power, dominated the age of Heian Japan.
For example, the Fujiwara family gained political and economic superiority, and reduced the throne to ‘an impotence reminiscent of the days of Soga domination’ (Schirokauer, p. 156). Emperors did not control they were controlled, and this is most evident by the concept of regents. In 858 Fujiwara Yoshifusa (804-72), Grand Minister since 857, placed his own eight-year old grandson on the throne and assumed the title of Regent for a Minor (sessho). A regent can be defined as: when a king is born to young to rule, someone in government rules in his place (TA session, Oct. , 97).
Later, Yoshifusa’s nephew Mototsune (836-891) served as regent when the emperor was no longer a minor and this sort of regent was called kampaku, a regent for an adult emperor. ‘It was as regents that the Fujiwara institutionalized their power. Intermarriage with the imperial family was manipulated by the Fujiwara to gain status and power and marriage politics were thus a big part of the inheritance of status and land in Heian Japan. Michinaga (966-1027) was very skilled at marriage politics, he married four of his daughters to emperors.
And these emperors who were sons of Fujiwara mothers and married to Fujiwara spouses did not resist the influence of this great family (Schirokauer, p. 157). Marriage politics and control of the emperor were thus an example of the great command, power and status that the aristocrats carried, and possessed. Another example of the aristocratic gain in power can be characterized by two terms; shoen, and, shiki. Shoen first appeared in the eighth century and were private land holdings outside of government control.
Most were aristocrat land holdings and they enjoyed tax exemptions and had immunity from government inspections within the boundaries of the shoen. There were four levels of people associated with a shoen. They were the cultivators, resident managers, central proprietors, and the patrons. Because the proprietor was usually an absent landlord, he required administrators and they assumed most duties of governance as well as fiscal rights which once belonged to the central government.
These rights called shiki entitled the holder to a certain portion of income from the land, and could be sold, bought, inherited by both men and women. In 1072 the revival of the imperial family begun by Go-Sanjo and was continued by Shirakawa. He later enjoyed great power as a retired emperor (In). Later Toba (r. 1107-1123; In, 1129-1156) and Go-Shirakawa (r. 1155-1158; In, to 1192) also served as retired emperors. (Schirokauer, p. 162). But the despite this resurgence of imperial power, the Fujiwara and thus the aristocrats still held tremendous power.
For another 700 years until 1869, the imperial family and the Fujiwara remained in Kyoto and the Fujiwara still provided most of the regents. This steady loss of power by the government and thus the gaining of power of the aristocrats was very apparent in Heian Japan. ‘The period of Fujiwara ascendancy can therefore be considered a time of deterioration in government… ‘ (Schirokauer, p. 160). What affected the lives of the people on the shoen were decisions made by the aristocrats, not the government.
And thus one can see the differences between the bureaucratic government of the Tang and the aristocratic government of Heian Japan. In a bureaucratic government, government was controlled by the officials and a majority of them gained their status through passing examinations. In an aristocratic society, you had government controlled by the imperial emperor, but in the background there were aristocrats acting as puppeteers controlling the moves and actions of the emperor. Power was gained not by earning it, but rather by inheriting it.