Japanese Seventeen-Article Constitution

(604)

Composed in the fourth lunar month (May in the modern calendar) of the year 604, the Seventeen-Article Constitution contains a series of moral admonitions drawn from Buddhist and Confucian ideals of sage government. The Seventeen-Article Constitution is considered to be the earliest Japanese articulation of the ethical foundations of government and an indigenous political vision for a centralized, bureaucratic Japanese state. Authorship of the constitution has been generally attributed to Crown Prince Shotoku, though there is some evidence that the text had been written by others and posthumously credited to him. Prince Shotoku oversaw the affairs of the early Japanese state for twenty-nine years in the capacity of acting regent for his childless aunt, Empress Suiko. He has since been hailed widely as Japan’s earliest native example of a wise ruler. Questions of authorship notwithstanding, the Seventeen-Article Constitution is considered an accurate reflection of...