The Seventeen Article Constitution was written in a period of Chinese expansionism. Previously insulated from Chinese cultural and political influence because of geographical separation by the sea, the Japanese rulers noticed the Chinese with more concern as they made forays into the Korean peninsula. With a desire to consolidate their own government in a more structured and unified form, Shotoku sent his missions into China to study the centralized structure of the Tang kingdom. The results of these missions had a great influence on the constitution Shotoku was going to write. Even though there is no evidence that the constitution was promulgated practically as a law, it remained a guideline for how the rulers expected the standards of statehood to be and set the direction for future reforms, such as the Taika reforms (Lu 23).
Two of the key precepts of the constitution were the rights of the sovereign and the establishment of a bureaucracy. These were both designed to change the then current structure from being clan-based to that governed by a central monarchy. In espousing the powers and rights of the monarchy, the constitution made undiluted references to the monarch being “likened Heaven” and if not obeyed “ruin will be automatically result” (Lu 24). The reference to the monarch being like heaven itself was borrowed from the Confucian descriptions of imperial government in China which emphasized the monarch’s status as being the link that creates “harmony” between “what is above” and “what is below” resulting in prosperity if obeyed (Kasulis 86). Supplementing the monarch based central government was the idea of a bureaucracy which was selected on merit rather than heredity. It may be pointed out that the entire Confucian theory was not used in the constitution and in the adaptation some elements were skipped. For example, in Confucianism, if the monarch did not rule as he was