Kanzen Choaku (勧善懲悪)

Kanzen Choaku is a compound word made up of four characters: 勧(kan), 善(zen), 懲(cho) and 悪(aku) and means encouraging good and punishing evil. It is an ideology or ethic in classical literature. The abbreviated word, Kancho, is also used.


The Kanzen Choaku style in literature is typical of the scenarios in period dramas, many Hollywood movies and special-effect films. In these scenarios, the virtuous one (e.g. justice or a good man) and the evil one (e.g. a villain, a bad man, or an abusive authority) are clearly distinguished. The scenarios always finish with evil being defeated by good and with evil being doomed or remorseful. In general, the stories finish with a so-called happy ending.

In the early modern age, the Edo period, political or moral ideologies seen in Confucianism and the influence of the political policy and the educational concept, which the Edo bakufu (a Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) set forth, gave rise to the ideology of Kanzen Choaku. Kanzen Choaku was often adopted in the literature of the late Edo period and especially can be seen in fictional novels, popular novels, kabuki plays etc. "Nanso Satomi Hakkenden" (The story of eight samurai dogs and a princess of the Satomi family in Nanso region) by Bakin KYOKUTEI is often referred to as a typical piece of Kanzen Choaku.

However, in his book "Shosetsu Shinzui" (The essence of novels), Shoyo TSUBOUCHI rejected the novels which encourage Kanzen Choaku (he called them "Kancho novels") claiming them to be outdated. In the book, TSUBOUCHI thinks it is more valuable to express human feelings in realistic novels.

Subject matter

The evil in Kanzen Choaku stories is often a person or an organization which generally has great power, disturbs the peace and dislikes justice. Abstract concepts of peace or justice are interpreted in different ways from person to person and their definition is not clear. Therefore the subject matter varies from piece to piece, but many aim to lampoon the period in which they were produced or are works of fiction.

Kanaku Choaku

In Kanaku Choaku, someone considered to belong originally to the evil side (e.g. bandit, hired killer, black-market lender, or woman trafficking broker) is put into a position in conflict with evil for many different reasons (e.g. the emergence of a feeling of justice or a chivalrous spirit against a greater evil, a peer's betrayal, a disagreement about the sharing of the spoils, a power struggle, or greed) and consequently punishes the greater evil (from the other's point of view). Kanaku Choaku is a combination of Kanzen Choaku and Picaresque and a variation of Kanzen Choaku. A Robin Hood figure is typical of Kanaku Choaku. In the Japanese TV drama series "Hissatsu", the setting is more sophisticated in that the lead characters are a lady-killer masseur and a police constable who kills people as a side job, and they battle a greater evil for money. However in Kanaku Choaku stories, both sides are not completely evil as the leading characters are psychologically good or tending towards goodness, for example they understand human feelings or punish someone evil who cannot be legally punished. In this sense, Kanaku Choaku can be regarded as Kanzen Choaku but with the punishing method being evil or the main character belonging to an evil side. Also in some works regarded as Kanzen Choaku, the "good" side indiscriminately kills evil people without mercy, thus the difference between Kanzen Choaku and Kanaku Choaku is not clear.

Example of Kanaku Choaku

Japanese TV drama series "Hissatsu Shigotonin" (The Professionals - Certain Death)

Various works about Nezumi Kozo (a Japanese chivalrous thief in the Edo period)

"Red Scorpion"

An American film starring Dolph Lundgren

"Naniwa Kinyuden - Minami no Teio" (Naniwa Moneylender's Episode - Sovereign of Minami)

Especially the made-for-video film starring Riki TAKEUCHI

"Black Angels" (a Japanese comic book)

Besides these, in various works of "Lupin III" of the animated cartoon version, lead characters of thieves often unintentionally defeat huge, nationwide or earth-scale evils.

[Original Japanese]