An entrance test to Japanese universities: social and historical context
Modern life has been so greatly influenced by western civilisation that for many people 'modernisation' is virtually synonymous with 'westernisation'; and yet, certain features fundamental to modernity come not from the west but from the east. Consider, for example, institutional bureaucracy. It was in East Asian societies that such bureaucracy first arose out of the notion that the persons who lead should be the most able. The selection of leaders, it was thought, should be based on individual worth, not on endowed wealth or status. Of course, such meritocratic ideals existed outside East Asia as well. Plato, for example, in The Republic describes how society should choose its 'guardians':
... so we must introduce our Guardians when they are young to fear and, by contrast, give them opportunities for pleasure, proving them far more rigorously than we prove gold in the furnace ... And any Guardian who survives these continuous trials in childhood, youth, and manhood unscathed, shall be given authority in our state. (Plato 1987, p. 180)
Through these 'trials' individuals were to be selected for their superior attributes of mind and body.