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KwanseiGakuin University

Kwansei Gakuin University

Kwansei Gakuitt University


Social Sciences Rev'iew
Vbl. 6, 2001
Nishinomiya, Japan

The Seventeen-Article
Constitution
of ShotokuTaishi(604AD.)

HIRAMATSU Tsuyoshi'

I. Introduction
ha;ve been three Constitutionsin Japan, so far, The firstone is the
There
Seventeen-ArticleConstitutionof Shotoku [taishi(hereafterrefered to only as the
Constitution)of 604 A.D,, It was written by Prince Shotoku, who had been greatly
impressed by the ideas of Buddhism, which had justbeen introduced to Japan.
He intended, through the proclamation of the Constitution,to expound upon the
doctrineof moralily for public servants and t・o persuade oMcials and baronialfamilies
to exert themselves on behalf of the public, This corresponds simply to the public
service act of today's statutes. But it isthe law code which is often quoted to explain
the t・raditionalbehavior of Japanese people and the author believes it deserves to
be taken up now for discussion,
Prince Shotoku believedin Buddhism which was introduced in Japan in 538
A.D. and to maintain his beliefs, he defeated the head of a'powerfu1 clan who

stood against its introduction. In 594 he took the ofice of Regent tg''the Emperor
Suiko and issued a decree which helped Buddhism fiourish.In 604 he issu5d the
Constitution, Aspects of Chinese and Korean culture were introduced in Japan
together with Buddhism. Many Buddhist temples and Buddhist statues were built
and at the same time various ideas and opinions were being shaped, such as the
fundamental idea for the establishment of a, state. The fundamental ideas which
support the Constitutioncan be considered to be: Buddhism, Confucianisrn,and
Legalism, Buddhism is concerned with salvation from the hardships of life,which
include the suffering brought about by old age, illnessand death.
' Professor, Doctor of Law, Kwansei Gakuin University.

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Confucianism is a moral code, Its instruction pert・ainsto one's behavior,learningto


keep domestic peace, integrating indivlduals into the commiinit,y and becoming leaders
of the state, For these purposes one must・ learn the five virtues: Jin(benevolence),
Gi(rightuousness), Rei(propriety), Chi(wisdom), and Shin(sincerity), Confucianisrn
states that huinan beings were originally the lords of creation and bore these five
virtues innately,however through contact with tlie outside world, good and evil caused
changes to one:s beha;vior.Through discipline and moral principles, individuals can
return to the path of virtue.

Legalism is the ideology imported from China. It articulted the means to govern
the state t・hrough orders and regulations.
It was intended that through the enactment of the C()nstitution, the fundamental
principles for the ruling of government would be established. But in practice the
position of the Emperor was quite insecure as the powerfu1 families, related to him
by marriage threatened the position of the Ernperor.
After the death of Prince Shotoku at the age of 49, his son Ya,mashirono-Oeno-Ou
was involved in a power struggle over succession and was beaten by powerful rival
families. He reportedly said that if he had raised an army against t・hem, he could
have gained a, victory, but he did not wish to mobilize the farmers for his own
lnterests.

II. The idea of Wa (Solidarity


or Cooperation)

The most・ famous phrase in this Constitutionwould be the sentence ot' article 1:
Value Wa(solidarity or cooperation), and try to adapt to comiiiunity life,avoiding
conflict, Men are motivated by selfinterest. Few behave with fairriess and
objectivity. Hence' they disobey superiors and maint・ain feuds with neighbors.
When men of high and low discussmatters cooperatively and construct・ively,
things will proceed spontaneously by themselves to reason.
Considering the background of those days, it is a myst・ery why such phrase was
inserted in the Constitution,It was the time of an absolute monarchy and Prince
Shotoku was the ruler who was responsible for governing, At that time the position of
the Emperor was being challenged by the powerful clans. Persuading people to decide
matters by consensus under such circumst・ances would not be to his advantage. In
fact・, it is thought that this had put his leadershipin more danger, Another strange
fact coiicerning `tWa"
is that we canit find a corresponding idea,in Buddhism c)r in
Cenfucianismus. Therefore it was not somet,hing imported from China or India. It is
another mystery to discern whe.rc he ha,clcome up with such an idea. Consequently

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Constitutionof Shotoku TaishiC604 AD.) - 111

we are obliged to draw the inference that this idea could have been the traditlonal
decision-makingmethod of the Japanese people from that era. This method is still
used today. In Japan this sentence has been understood in conjunction with the
followingsentence `tmen
should try to adapt to coimnunity lifeand avoid conflict・s",
It has been often quoted to explain the group-oriented behavior of the Japanese in
contrast with Europeans who act individual}y and use truth or just・ice as the criteria

for their behavior,Such interpretationsof "Wa"


had been employed favorablyby the
feudallords in the Middle Ages, since they were able to dominate the majority with
justa small ruling class, The word "Wa" is regarded as the keyword to explain t・he
behavior of the Japanese people, namely swimming with the t・idewithout principles
or making decisionsumanimously. The current decision-making process in Japan,
the process of obtaining permission from senior executives for a plan
"Ringi"
means

by circulating a draft proposal prepared by a worker in the organization. This can


be viewed as a formality, when decidingmatters by consensus. Hence we can see a
decisive difference from the decisionmaking processes of the European Community.
If we use this key-word to elucidat・e upon some seemingly imreasonable decision-making
in modern Japan, we can clear up some mysteries surrounding t・hesedecisions,For
example, why did Japan embark upon the path that-caused World War II against
China and the United States? Decision-makingby Wa(consensus) means that no

person weuld bear the responsibility for the decision.The reasons fbr this and other
recently made unwise decisions, become obvious after their failure.The failurecould
also be attributed to the decision-making process, Accordingly it is very important
to elucidate the meaning of this art・icle.
Here it is explained that・when people act thinking only of immediat・e profits and
their own selfinterests, the interests of the comrnunity are not served, Thus men
should think a great deal about the "Wa" of the people. It is not clear what was
intended by It is possible to consider its meaning or truth, hence
"Wa",
as reason

the next sentence asserts that


CLall
men conduct themselves motivated by selfinterests
and few behave with fa・irness and objectivity, Then it is possible to understand this
the same as ,"the trut,h shall you free"(John 8: 32).
.
with meaning make

In Europe and America the Bible is truth, For example, there is a famous phrase
in the Bible, "[Eb him that smiteth thee oii the one cheek offer also the other;'(Luke
6: 29 and Matthew 5: 39). It・is the wisdorn of God that human beings can not・
understand his wisdom, But human beings are given reason from God and the reason
is interpreted as the mental capacity t・oknow God's will. Huma,n beings who have
the ability to know God's will are subject to a moral code of their own initiative.
In Europe where majorit・y rule has been accepted, t・he goal is t・o decide matters
by the, truth, But since the t・rut,hcannot be realized by hurnans, rnajority rule, is

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l12 HIRAMATSU Tsuyoshi

considcred one of the ways' toward realizing the truth. As truth


God's will, was

it was irriportantto also respect the minority opinion. Consequently t・he idea of
"volont6
g6n6rale" as the goal of legislation
has come into existence, It was in the
best interests of the community and of intellectualst・o take a broad and timeless
view of matters. 1]hesematters are regarded today as justice
and at the same time,
as the ob,jects of legislation.
Under such a perspective the concept of
`CWa",
interpreted as respect for consensus

in constrast with the idea of reason in Europe, be regarded


can as a commonplace
concept. It functionsonly to justify
the politicsfo11owingthe prevailing opinions
without questioning the quality of decisions. Public opinion has been rnunipulated
and therefore, as is often stated, there has been no farsightedpolitics in Japan.
According to critics, Japan's economy has been top-ranked, but its politicshas been
t・hird-rate. This is not unreasonalble.
However it is also possible that such commonplace interpretationsof had been "Wa"

distortedfbr the sake of the ruling class during the age of feudalism, When we
interprete to t・he Constitution,it means that we should not settle
"Wa"
according

conflicts by t・he use of armed force,but through const・ructive discussion. Then we


would be able to get to the truth by way of reason. And if we decide matters on
the basisof reason, things should proceed spont・aneously and the truth will be the
result. This comes from a document l400 years old that contains the same teaching
as the Bible,and it is still applicable to the moral code of today. .

III. The Universal Significance of the Constitution

1. Contents of the Constitution


The Constitutionwas drawn up fbr the sake of the Emperor's officials to codify
the rules for conducting business,The Constitutioncontains not only the rules for
conducting business,but also ideas which have universal significance fbr mankind.
This idea was described by Dr,Udo Janson, lecturerin sciencc of religion at the
Universityof Freiburg and Mannheim. First of all I should Iiketo introduce the
contents of the Constitutionand then forward his theory, In Article 2 there are
the following sentence.

Sincerelyhold the three treasures in esteeml they. are the Buddha, the law and
t/hepriesthood, which are the finali'efuge of all beings and the supreme objects

of faithin all countries. All sorts of people livingin all ages have esteemed this
law, There a,re a few people who are extrernely evil, They wiil followwheii
t・hey, are reasoned with, If we do not rely upen the three treasures, how shall

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The Seventeen-Article Constitution of Shotoku 'l"aishi(604


AD.) 113

we touch their hearts to make them see clearly?".

Prince Shotoku was greatly impressed by the philosophy and ideas contained in
Buddhism and decided to use t・hem as the basisof a moral code for oficials and as

a philosophy of politics, The responsibilities of poltical Ieadersshould be greater,


then what was stated in Article 4 of the Constitution,

Propriety should be the basisof behaviorforministers and oficials. The Principle


of ruling consists propriety. When superiors
primarily of lack propriety, the
people will be disorderly, When people lackpropriety,they will commit misdeeds,

When oficials observe propriety, the organization will functionsmoothly. When


people observe propriety, the public order will be maintained and the state of
affairs will be administered to without any special effort."

This is an idea thatCenfucius preached. Propriety means the poltical, religious


and moral discipline
to maintain social order, Article 5, defers to the rules for the
conduct of judges. ,

In administering justice,
judgesshould rise above selfinterests and try cases

impart・ially,
Thousands of cases are brought to trial in a day, to say nothing

of years. Lately it is alleged that judgeswho adjudicate cases pass judgements


looking after their own interests and hear cases depending on the amount of

bribes. Consequently,the suits of t・herich would be cornpared to stones thrown


at the water, whereas the suits of the poor are the spray of the water caused

by the stone. Hence the poor do not knew where to turn. It is also brought
about by a lack in the vocational ethics of oMcials,

Article 9 and article 12 it is make clear the morality for administrators,

Where there issincerity, there is righteousness. Sincerityis the basis of everything.


Whether we do good or bad, suceed or not, depends on whether we conduct

ourselves with sincerity or not. If oflicials dischargetheir duty sincerely, there


should be not・hing that cannot be accomplished, But if oficials do not perform
their duty sincerely, nothing can be accomplished.
Local magistra,tes or the lordsof a manor should not taxes for their own
collect,

sake. There are neither two soverelgns, nor two Emperors, The people of the
country should regard t・he Emperor as their only lord. The officials appointed

by the government are all subjects of the Emperor, How may they presume t・o
levy taxes from people privately ln addition to othcial taxes?

Article 7 meiitions the instructions for rulers. Government e,xists for the public
'

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114 HIRAMArrSLJ Tsuyoshi

welfare. Thus a ruler should cultivate his mind to control his emotions. ' Iistent・o
other people's advice, and not be driven by selfishness nor act selfirighteously.

Each person has a duty to perfdrm. He should do his part and not breach the
regulations of his oMce. When wise men and sages are entrusted with public
oMce, there arises a voice of pra,ise,but from the wicked, disastersare multiplied.
In this world there are few who are endowed with inborn wisdom. Sainthood
is attained after long selfdiscipline. All matters of great or
state, whether
small, whether critical or pea,cefu1,will be peacefu11y settled when the wise hold
sway. Then the state can be lastingand free frorn dangers. Thereforethe wise
sovereign seeks good men for high ofices, and not good oMces for favoredmen.
In addition, Articles 10, 14 and 17 of this Constitutionstate the importance of

social solidarity and the necessity of cooperation among people.


Refrainfrornanger and do not appear angry, Do not resent conflicts of opinions,
Every person has his own ideas, Do not force one's ideas on others. If they
are wrong, then we may be right. If they are right・, then we may be wrong.
We are not absolutely wise and they are not absolutely foolish,Both of us a,re
nothing but men, No one is wise enough to judgewhich of us is good. The
wise and the foolishchange places like a ring which has no end. When others
losetheir temper, let us dread our own・ faults,and though we may be sure that
we are right, let us iron out our differences of opinion and work together.

OMcials should beware of jealousy.


If you envy the success of others, others in
t・urn will your success a・nd so a vicious
envy circle is perpetuated. If we find
others exceed us in wisdom, we are not pleased; if we find they surpass us in
ability, we become erivious. But, truly wise men seldom appear in this world;
perhaps there is one wise man every fivecenturies and maybe one sage every
ten centuries, Without securing wise men and sages, how shall the country be
governed in good order?
It is in general not good to decide matters by one's own discretion.They should
be examined closely with many people. Trivial matters are not import・antand
need be discussed with
not many people. When you decide important matters
independently, you rriust be vigilant, so your decision is not・ faulty. If you consult
with many people, then all perspectives of t・hematter will becorne clcar and the
truth will be perceived,

2. Significance
of t・he Seveiiteen-ArticleConstitution:
The new interpretation of t・he

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The Seventeeii-Article
Constitution
of Shoteku feishi(604
AD.) 115

Constitutionby Dr.Udo Janson


The 17 ArticleConstitutionstresses the importance of sympathy, tolerance, and
sesitivity towards ot・hers, and solidarity of community to promote the welfare of

people.by controling human weaknesses such as avarice, anger and jealousy.


Prince
Shotoku realized that this goal could not be attained without having a religious

basis.Janson
interprets the thought of as the thought of solidarity has a
"Wa"

which

religious origin and isalso the central concept・ in Christianity,[Udo Janson,Juushichijou


Kempo no Fuhenteki-Igi, te Seiji"Vol,50 No2, June 1999]
"Hou

no

Janson cited the eorresponding sentences from the Bibleand argued the thought of
solidarity is one of the centraJ themes in Christianity,
In the Sermon on the Mount in the New [[kestament, "All
things therefbre whatsoever

ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this
is the law of the prophets".(Matthew, 7: 12). Janson explains that after this
sentence(according to Janson,this sentence is generally ommitted), it is written that
for one's existence and happiness, and fbr fu11filing
one's religious obligations, too, it
is enough to do good to others. Thus, in Christianity mutual respect and support

of the people are als6 the fundamental norm,


According to Matthew, the importance of this norm is emphasized furtherin the
Last Judgement against people who did not practice solidarity, and did not know
(Matthew
"Wa".
25, 31)

Then shall the King say unto his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my
them on

Father,inheritt・heKingd6m prepared for you from t・he fbundationof the world:


for I was hungry,and ye gave me foodlI was thirsty,and ye gave me drink; I
was a stranger, and ye took me in;naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and
ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto rne. Then shall the righteous
answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or at thirst,
and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or
naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came
unto thee? And the king shall answer and say unto them, VerilyI say unto
you, inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren,even these least,ye
did it unto me,
Then shall he say also unto them on the lefthand, depart frc)mme, ye cursed,
into t・he eternal firewhich is prepared for.thedeviland his angels: for I was
hungry, and ye did not give me t・o eat; I was thirsty,and ye ga;veme no dr!nk;
I was a stranger, and y,etook me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick,
and in prison, and ye visited me not, [["heii shal} they also answer, saying, Lord,

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116 HIRAMATSU Tsuyoshi

when saw we thee hungry, or at thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in


prison, and did thee? Theii shall he answer
not minister them, sa,ying,
unto

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it・not unto one of these least,you
did it not unto me, And these shall go away into eterna} punishrrient:but the
righteous int・oet・ernal life

According to Janson, it is decisivefor one's eternal welfare whether tha.t one is a


humanitarian to his neighbors. Whether one liveswith a sense of solidarity or not,
forms people or not, One must t・he necessity
"Wa"
whether one with other consider

of interdependenceand mut・ual aid, and treat men without discrimination.These


are the decisivedifferences among human beings.
The themes of the Constitutionare based upon the idea that primitive experience
is fundamenta,1to human beings and the reasons for existence are also consistent

with the love of one's neighbor and solidarity, which is activated by Christianity as
a fundamental proposition for people, As a human being has social a;wareness, one

can realize - through the experience of mutual assistance - the fundamental equality

of human beings,
We can conclude, perhaps, that the ultimate aim fbr drawing up constitutional la;w
exists as the basisof social solidarity,

Appendix

The Seventeen-Article Constitution


of Shotoku Taishi
translated by Tsuyoshi Hiramatsu'
Article1: Value Wa(solidarityor cooperation), and try to adapt to community life,
avoiding conflict.Men are motivated by selfinterest, Ilew behave with fairnessand
objectivity, Hence they disobey superiors and maintain feuds with neighbors. When
men of high
low discussrnatters
and cooperatively and constructively, things will

proceed spontaneously by themselves to reason.

Art・icle
2: Sincerelyhold three teasures in they are the Buddha, the law
esteem,

and the priesthood, which are the final refuge of all beings and t・he supreme objects

of fa,ith in all countries, All sorts of people livingin all ages have esteemed this
law. There are a few people who are extremely evil, They will followwhen they
are reasoned with. If we do not, rely upon the three treasures, how shall we touch
thelr hearts to make them see clearly?

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The Seventeen-Article Constitution of Shotoku rl"aishi(604


AD.) 117

Article 3: The order of the Emperor should be obeyed faithfu11y,The Emperor is


compared to the heavens and the people to the earth. Heaven covers the earth
in perfect order. As the seasons change regularly, all creatures are revitalized, If
the earth att・empts to cover heaven, perfect chaos will reign, When the Emperor
advocates, people should listen. When the Emperor acts, people should follow.
Everything will result from this cause. Therefbre, when a man takes orders, he
should obey. If not, he will ruin himsel£
Article4: Proprietyshould be the basis of behavior fbr ministers and oMcials.The

principle of ruling consists primarily of propriety. When superiors lack propriety, the
people will be disorderly. When people lack propriety, they will commit misdeeds.
When oflicials observe propriety, the organization will functionsmoot・hly, when people
observe propriety, the public order will be rnaintained and state affairs will be
administered to without any special effort.

Article5: In administering justice,.judges


should rise above selfinterests and try
cases impartially, Thousands of cases are brought to trial in a day, to say nothing

of years. Lately it is alleged that judges who adjudicate cases pass judgements
looking after their own interestsand hear cases depending on the amount of bribes.

Consequently,the suits of the rich weuld be compared to a stones thrown at the


water, whereas the suits of the poor are the spray of the water caused by the stone,
Hence the poor do not know where to turn. It is also brought about by a lack in
the vocational ethics of oracials,

Article6: It is the teachings unchanged since old times to punish vice and encourage

good. So one should not conceal good conduct from the public, whereas one should
never failto rectify vice when one happens to see it. One who flatters or deceives

would be compared to a snake in one's bosom which in the long run ruins a nation
and people. One who plabrsup to or fawns upon one's superior habituallyto refer
to faultsof a subordinate, and before a subordinate slanders the superior. Such
kinds of people lack in fidelity to the Emperor and in benevolence to the people,
and result in the source of rebellion.

Article7: Each person has a duty to perform. He should do his part and not breach
the regulations of his oMce. When wise men and sages are entrusted with public
ofice, there arises a voice of praise, but from the wicked, disasters are multiplied,
In this world there are few who are endowed with inborn wisdorn. Sainthood is
attained a,fter long selfdiscipline, All matters of state, whether great or s'mall,
whether crit・ical or peacefu1, will be peacefully settled when the wise hold sway.
Then the state can be lastingand freefrom dangers. Therefbre the wise sovereign

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118 HIRAMATSU Tsuyoshi

seeks good men for high offices, and not good offices for favored men,

Article8: Ministersand oMcials should go to the ofice ea,rly in the morning and
leave the oMce late. As government affairs are important and need carefu1 attention,
they are not completely disposedby the end of the day, Accordingly,when officials
come to work late,they do not・ serve urgent needs, when they retire from the oMce

early, they do not deal with business.


Article9: Sincerityis the basisof righteousness, In dealingwith all sQrts ef business,
men should dispose of everything sincerely, Whether we do good or bad, suceed
or not, depends on whether we conduct ourselves with sincerity or not, If oMcials
discharge theirs duties sincerely, there will be nothing that can not be dealtwith,
but if oficials do not perform their duties sincerely, nothing can be accomplished.

Article10: Refrain from anger and do not appear angry. Do not resent conflicts of
opinions. Every person has his own ideas. Do not force one's ideas on others, If
they are wrong, then we may be right, If they are right, then we macy be wrong.
We are not absolutely wise and they are not absolutely foolish.Both of us are
nothing but men. No one is wise enough to judge which of us is good, The wise
and the foolish change places likea ring which has no end, When others Iose their
temper, Iet us dread our own faults,and though we may be sure that we are right,
let us iron out our differences of opinion and work together.

Article 11: Judge one's merits and faults fairly,and mete out justice
without fail.
Lately men do not award prizes fbr achievements and do not laorblame for crimes.

OMcials who manage justice


should reward and punish.
Article12: Local oMcials or governorsshould not collect taxes for their own sake.
There are neither two sovereigns, nor two Emperors. The people of the country should

regard the Emperor as their only lord, the oficials appointed by the government
are all subjects of the Emperor, How may they presume to levy taxes from people
prlvately in addition to oficial taxes?
Article13: Oficialswho pursue government service should be acquainted with the
duties of their colleagues in their oMce, One might sometimes be absent from work

due to illnessor a tour of duty, If one knows the dutiesof an absent oficial, one

can perform his duties without any diMculty, The absence of the official in cha,rge

should not be an obstacle to the process of public service.

Article 14: OMcials should beware of jealousy,


If you envy the success of others,

others in turn will envy your success and so a vicious circle is perpetuateid. If we

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The SeventeeiyArticle Constitution of Shotoku Tbishi(604 AD.) 119

find others exceed iis in wisdom, we are not pleased, if we find they surpass us

in ability, we become envious. But, truly wise men seldom appear in this world;
perhaps there is one wise man every fivecenturies a,nd maybe one sa,ge every ten
centuries. Without・securing wise men and sages, how shall t・hecountry be governed
in good order?

Article 15: It is a principle of the community to work for the public good and
disregardprivate interest・s,
If one pursues private interests,then grudges will grow
against others, and when a grudge grows against others, it will be dificult to work

cooperat・ively with others. When one can not cooperate with others, the exercise
of pubic duties ca,n not be carried out. Thus
pursuing private interests leads to
breaking the rules and laws, Accordingly, people from all social standing should

cooperate. The spirit of this article is the same as Article 1.

Article16: It is a good teaching unchanged since old times that one should wait
for a favorableseason to call farmers into public undertakings, Winter is the
agriculural offseason and they are not busy, so one should mobilize farmers for public
undertakings. From Spring until Autumn isthe,period fbr agriculture and one should
not mobilize farmers,Without agriculture, how can we provide food or clothes?

Article17: It is in general not good to decide matters by one's own discretion,It


should be examined closely with many people. [[hrivial
matters are not important
and need not be discussedwith many peeple. When you decide important matters
independently,you must be vigilant, so your decisionis not faulty,If you consult
with many people, then all perspectives of the matter will become clear and the
truth will be perceived.

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