Along with a parallel deterioration of the courts

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Unformatted text preview: i was first received at court. A brilliant scholar, litterateur, and gifted writer in Chinese, Kûkai has been ranked along with Saga and Tachibana no Hayanari (d. 842), who headed the mission that Saichò and Kûkai accompanied to the continent in 804, as one of the three “great brushes” or calligraphers of the age. Kûkai had visited Ch’ang-an, the wondrous capital of T’ang, and had returned not only with many books and works of art but also with knowledge of the latest Chinese fashions, including the vogue for esoteric Buddhism. A contemporary observer might well have judged, from the preferences of such luminaries at court as Saga and Kûkai, that Japan of the early ninth century had indeed become a miniature model of China. We can see in retrospect that the Japanese did not slavishly copy Chi- The Court at Its Zenith 57 nese civilization; some important institutions never took root in Japanese soil and others were considerably remolded to suit the native setting. In addition to abandoning the fundamental Confucian principle of government by merit, the Japanese also ultimately rejected the T’ang “equalfield” system of land distribution. Within a few centuries, nearly all agricultural land in the country had fallen into the hands of the aristocracy and religious institutions as private estates. Along with a parallel deterioration of the court’s provincial administration, this process created conditions (as we shall see in the next chapter) that gave rise to a warrior class in the provinces in mid- and late Heian times. The most significant political development at court in the ninth century was the rise of a single clan—the Fujiwara—which was descended from one of the chief architects of the Great Reform and came to dominate the imperial family through marriage even more completely and for a much longer time than the Soga. Insinuating themselves ever closer to the throne, the Fujiwara in 858 assumed the office of imperial regent4 (held previously only by members of royalty, such as Prince Shòtoku) and within a century became the undisputed wielders of absolute power at court. Fujiwara mastery over the imperial family was to a great extent made po...
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