The Value of Education: A Comparison of Confucianist and Anarchist Objectives

A common element of Anarchism and Confucianism is the value both philosophies place upon education, and the role education held, whether theoretically or in practice, in propagating their objectives. In their chapter ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Choson Korea’, Deuchler explores the role of literature for ‘indoctrination’ in promoting Neo-Confucian ideals and virtues among elite women which proved to ensure the stability of the domestic realm, and subsequently the stability of the state and society functioning under Confucian hierarchy. Through exposure to works such as Elementary Learning (1189), Illustrated Guide to the Three Bonds (1432), and Instructions for Women (1475), virtues and morality were to be transplanted into the household, and women were to act as ‘the guardians of Confucian norms in the inner realm’ in Korea.[1] Too, Tocco in their ‘Norms and Texts for Women’s Education in Tokugawa Japan’ discusses the extent of women’s education within Tokugawa Japan, and provides example of a woman’s education as accessed through moral guides and texts whose foundations lay in Neo-Confucian ethical precepts which stressed the importance of filial piety and kinship. Both Deuchler and Tocco illustrate well how the education of women in preparation of their managerial and ethical domestic responsibilities came to play a role in the upholding of a Confucian hierarchical society and ideals of filial piety.

A direct comparison between Confucianism and Anarchism can perhaps be made in their conflicting objectives; the Confucian upholding of hierarchy versus the anarchist aims to dismantle hierarchy and those social institutions which serve it, namely state institutions, and familial structures. The value of education therefore is found and placed in competing goals.

Dirlik in Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (1991) emphasises the perceived importance of education among early twentieth century anarchists in achieving revolutionary change. Education is presented as an ‘instrument of revolution’, a tool to create a self-awareness/revolutionary consciousness which would in turn allow for a successful, conscious uprising to dismantle those institutions.[2] Education within anarchist philosophy is also presented as the equivalent of revolution, for there is no distinction made between process and goals of revolution: revolution is a necessary condition for the possibility of anarchist education, but revolution cannot be achieved without education. An anarchist education therefore taught truth and public-mindedness – freedom, equality, and the ability for self-governance – as the means and ends of anarchist revolution.

Kanno Sugako (1881-1911), a central figure in the early Japanese anarchist movement, clearly voiced the need for women to develop self-awareness, and is reflective of wider anarchist ideas on the importance of education in achieving this social consciousness:

‘For us women, the most urgent task is to develop our own self-awareness […] women with some education and some degree of social knowledge must surely be discontented and angry about their status.’[3]

Here she also suggests how education may allow for women to think critically of their status within society. Kanno implies the importance of education in achieving self-awareness, and suggests that this self-awareness of women’s status in society is not recognised to a great extent. Yet, she also suggests that some degree of education must be enough to make one critical of their status – perhaps even one of a Confucian grounding. This seems to conflict slightly with one argument presented by Deuchler, that Japanese women, through their ‘indoctrinating’ education, were complicit in and ‘contributed to the perpetuation of the Confucian system’ which in turn served to promote hierarchy and uphold patriarchy.[4] While this may be true on a macro-scale, their use of the term ‘indoctrination’ suggests those educated women themselves were uncritical, and it is this implication I find dubious. With little evidence written by women themselves proving as a limitation in their work, no outright rejection of a system which suppressed the visibility of women at this time does not necessarily mean there was no critique or ‘self-awareness’. Rather, it serves as a reflection on the success of the patriarchal system in limiting women’s purpose to the domestic realm.

Despite the value of education being found competing goals, both philosophies emphasised the importance of moral teaching. The moral aims of Confucian education however were confined within the family, and were to ensure good Confucian household and the teaching of children Confucian moral values, whereas moral education among anarchists aimed to achieve a public revolution of morality as to achieve its humanitarian goals. This apparent divergence from private teaching of filial piety towards a public revolution promoting equal respect across humanity is interesting, and raises the question of whether the popularity of anarchist ideals within China and Japan was viewed as, or came as a rejection of traditional values of Confucianism.


[1] Martina Deuchler, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Chosón Korea’ in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan R Piggot (ed.) Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), p. 152.

[2] Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley, 1991), p. 90.

[3] Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Pre-war Japan (Berkeley, 1993), p. 53.

[4] Deuchler, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Chosón Korea’ in Women and Confucian Cultures, p. 165.

Abandoning Family for the Cause – A Look at Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko

Though historian Arif Dirlik recognized anarchism as a body of widely varying ideas, he argues that all anarchist thought contains a ‘repudiation of authority, especially of the state and the family’.1 By this definition, anarchists must reject connection to their own families for the cause of total social revolution. While many would find this task difficult, looking at the lives of two anarchist thinkers, Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko, one can see why they may have been driven towards anarchist thought; at the least, one can see how the spurning of family could be so easily accepted by these revolutionaries. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not suggesting an individual must have had a difficult homelife in order to become an anarchist, but I would like to draw attention to its role in the lives of these particular anarchist women.

Both Kanno and Kaneko faced a great deal of hardship in their youth, which contributed to the shaping of their worldviews as teenagers and adults. In the case of Kanno Sugako, she lost her mother at ten, which soon left her at the mercy of a cruel stepmother.2 By the time she was fifteen, Kanno was the victim of rape by a miner who worked for her father. This experience, possibly encouraged by her stepmother, left Kanno with a deep-seated sense of shame, which she coped with by reading Sakai Toshihiko’s essay, ‘in which he counseled rape victims not to be burdened with guilt’.3 The comfort she found through Sakai’s work led her to read his other essays on socialism, therefore exposing her to the ideology for the first time. If it had not been for the cruelty of her stepmother and her sexual assault, Kanno may not have read any of Sakai’s works and may have been less likely to join in the movement as a young adult. What’s more, if she had grown up in a loving family environment, she would have been less likely to agree with the devaluation of family that is essential to anarchist thought. Instead, Kanno proudly claimed that ‘even among anarchists I was among the more radical thinkers’.4 That she found comfort in socialist/anarchist thought rather than in her familial network can only be taken as guiding her towards a more radical way of organizing society. However, how much of Kanno’s radicalism could be attributed to her personal background cannot be determined by this short of an examination.

As for the life of Kaneko Fumiko, she suffered through multiple years of poverty in her early childhood due to her father’s alcoholism before being put under the care of her grandmother.5 While living with her grandmother as Japanese colonists in Korea, Kaneko’s extended family treated her as little more than a maid and often physically abused her. This treatment compounded with her anger over ‘the arrogant manner in which the Japanese occupiers treated the native Koreans’.6 Like Kanno, Kaneko ‘s childhood experiences certainly primed her to accept the anarchist rejection of family’s authority in society. It is no wonder that she questioned why one should remain loyal to a person simply because they are a relative, when hers had always treated her so heartlessly. Instead, she would seek to revolutionize society to equally respect all people. This view in turn connects to her refusal to recognize the authority of the state. After viewing firsthand the abuses enacted on the Koreans, it is understandable that Kaneko would desire a nonhierarchical society based on mutual respect.

Anarchism’s tenet of individual abandonment of family as a central authority, according to Dirlik’s definition, doubtlessly drew in the loyalties of Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko. As two women who had received years long abuse at the hands of their biological families, it should be no surprise that they were drawn to a social framework that decentralized the family. While all anarchists may not have had comparable experiences, it remains intriguing that both of these Japanese anarchists did share this background. With more comparison of anarchist thinkers’ personal lives, we could learn more about why they were drawn to this seemingly impracticable social ideology. As for now, this observation is interesting but simply coincidence.

  1. Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley, 1991), p. 12. []
  2. For all biographical information found here see Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 51-2. []
  3. Hane, Reflections, p. 51 []
  4. Ibid., p. 56. []
  5. For all her biographical information see: Ibid., 75-79 []
  6. Ibid., p. 78 []