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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

In the proportion already noted


All

these facts, though already familiar to the reader, find a fitting place in the context of the great political development of the Daika era. For the main features of that development were that the entire nation became the public people of the realm and the whole of the land became the property of the Crown, the hereditary nobles being relegated to the rank of State pensioners. This metamorphosis entailed taking an accurate census of the population; making a survey of the land; fixing the boundaries of provinces, districts, and villages; appointing officials to administer the affairs of these local divisions, and organizing the central government with boards and bureaux. The system of taxation also had to be changed, and the land had to be apportioned to the people. In former days, the only charges levied by the State on the produce of the land were those connected with religious observances and military operations, and even in imposing these the intervention of the heads of uji had to be employed. But by the Daika reforms the interest of the hereditary nobility in the taxes Avas limited to realizing their sustenance allowances; while as for the land, it was removed entirely beyond their control and partitioned among the people, in the proportion already noted, on leases terminable at the end of six years.

Of course, whatever political exigency may have dictated this short-tenure system, it was economically unsound and could not remain long in

practice. The measures adopted to soften the aspect of these wholesale changes in the eyes of the hereditary nobility whom they so greatly affected, have been partly noted above. It may here be added, however, that not only was the office of district governor--who ranked next to the provincial governor (kokushi)--filled as far as possible by former kuni no miyatsuko, but also these latter were entrusted with the duty of observing and reporting upon the conduct of the new officials as to assiduity and integrity, to which duty there were also nominated special officials called choshu-shi. By the aid of these and other tactful devices, the operation of the new system was guaranteed against disturbance. Nothing was deemed too trivial to assist in promoting that end. Even such a petty incident as the appearance of a white pheasant was magnified into a special indication of heaven's approval, and a grand Court ceremony having been held in honour of the bird, the Emperor proclaimed a general amnesty and ordered that the name of the period should be changed to Haku-chi (White Pheasant). Something of this may be set down frankly to the superstitious spirit of the time. But much is evidently attributable to the statecraft of the Emperor's advisers, who sought to persuade the nation that this breaking away from all its venerable old traditions had supernatural approval.

There was, indeed, one defect in the theory of the new system. From time immemorial the polity of the empire had been based on the family relation. The sovereign reigned in virtue of his lineage, and the hereditary nobles owed their high positions and administrative competence equally to descent. To discredit the title of the nobles was to disturb the foundation of the Throne itself, and to affirm that want of virtue constituted a valid reason for depriving the scions of the gods of their inherited functions, was to declare constructively that the descendant of Amaterasu also held his title by right of personal worthiness. That was the Chinese theory. Their history shows plainly that they recognized the right of men like Tang or Wu to overturn tyrants like Chieh of the Hsia dynasty, and Chou of the Yen dynasty. The two Japanese Emperors, Kotoku and Tenchi (668-671), seem to have partially endorsed a cognate principle. But nothing could be at greater variance with the cardinal tenet of the Japanese polity, which holds that "the King can do no wrong" and that the Imperial line must remain unbroken to all eternity.


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