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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2014 Abstracts

Duty, Loyalty, and Righteousness in Chinese/Japanese Martial Literature

Garrett Norris, University of Utah


In this abstract, I will summarize the major differences and similarities I have found between Chinese and Japanese concepts of loyalty represented in the the three classical texts I analyzed.

Chūshingura: Loyalty in Sacrifice
The loyalty or giri of a vassal to his lord in Feudal Japan is represented in Chuushingura as a bond of duty which transcends all other societal and interpersonal attachments. In defining the Japanese term giri, the idea of sacrifice is paramount to understanding how samurai loyalty was expressed, with death in battle or by one’s own had through ritual suicide being the ultimate expression of the giri between vassal and master. The sacrifices of the 47 Ronin to avenge their murdered lord serves to define the samurai hierarchy of loyalty from the perspective of the vassal.

The Three Kingdoms: Loyalty in Conflict
In The Three Kingdoms, conflict between duties constructs the hierarchy of loyalty. In comparison to the samurai unilateral model of loyalty, interactions within The Three Kingdoms archetypes a classical Confucian concept of an individual having multiple loyalties to maintain, with the inherent conflict between public (i.e. loyalty to the emperor and restoring the Han Kingdom) and private (i.e. avenging one’s sworn brothers) loyalties.

The Outlaws of the Marsh: Loyalty in the Margin
The Outlaws of the Marsh contains greater similarity to Chūushingura insofar as both texts carry the theme of a corrupt government that turns a blind eye to injustices and the call of noble warriors as independent moral agents to take justice into their own hands and revitalized the concept of duty and justice. From the rhetoric of the characters thus far, loyalty to the emperor is still the greater duty, while at the same time, the heroes routinely take liberty against the government.