Although China and japan are similar when it comes to cultural independence, japan however, was interested in technological advancements influenced by the westerners causing interaction, while china stayed isolated causing a power shift, meaning Europeans were able to gain power and control over most of Asia and Africa during the nineteenth century. For 250 years, japan stayed isolated and independent without a need for industrialization.
In the 1600’s, japan closed off all connection with Europe and expelled all catholic Christians from Japan because the Japanese felt there was no need for industrialization and they wanted to keep old customs and beliefs rather than acquire new ones that originated elsewhere. Japan, however did trade with the Dutch because they were protestant and not catholic Christians. The limited contact with Europeans in the seventeenth century limited westerners to a single port in japan and zero protection for shipwrecked sailors.
The centuries of peace in japan contributed to a burst in economic growth, commercialization, and urban development; meaning the Japanese were ready for industrialization. Although the Japanese were content with their isolation and found no issues with it, the merchants however; stopped benefiting from the Japanese because the middle men could no longer sell Japanese goods to Europeans for higher prices which caused a loss in business; meaning loss in profit. Everything changed in the mid-nineteenth century.
The benefits of industrialization led to such a degree of Western military superiority and dominance that Asia could be (and was) forced out of its isolation, and opened for western trade and exploitation. During this crucial period of history, the Chinese continued to underestimate the challenge posed by the West, and so met it with aggression. They were severely beaten by the British in the Opium War (1839- 1842), and made to sign a series of humiliating ‘unequal treaties’; which are similar to the treaties Japan signed in 1854.
Plus renewed hostilities broke out against Britain and France between 1856- 1860, which further weakened China. The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900) was a desperate attempt to oppose imperialism and drive out the foreigners, but it was eventually crushed by a multi-national force, and China made to pay even more indemnities. Essentially the Chinese tried to resist but the Europeans responded with superior military force and got humiliated while the Japanese, faced with the US Navy in 1853, just backed down and decided to learn from the West by copying them.
Commander Mathew Perry, an officer of the highest rank in the navy of the United States sailed into Edo, japan in 1853 with a letter for the Togugawa family with four demands and requirements for the exchange of western technology, ending japans isolation. The Japanese had apparently learnt from the mistakes of the Chinese, and did not directly oppose the West. Instead, they adopted a policy of procrastination. They thereby succeeded in postponing the first of their own set of ‘unequal treaties’ until 1858.
With that minor exception, Japan’s policy successfully avoided the conflicts with the West that so plagued China throughout the nineteenth century. Eager fascination with everything western after the samurai lost their ancient role in japan caused a combine foreign and Japanese trade due the U. S threatening force of action if japan didn’t do as they said. Japan surrendered and signed the treaty in 1854 giving the U. S. access to two trading ports and protection if sailors were to shipwreck on Japan territory.
The Japanese had no navy with which to defend themselves, and thus they had to agree to the demands. Around the warring states period japan stayed vulnerable because of no direct military forces meaning the United States was stronger and more capable in defeating japan. The westerner’s threats for destruction caused humiliation and surrender of japan forces. Humiliation capitulation caused a brief Civil War between westerners and the Japanese in 1868 because samurai’s sought to save Japan after eliminating the shogunate.
Samurai reformers in 1868 overthrew the Tokugawa in the name of the Meiji emperor. They then began a series of drastic reforms designed to modernize Japanese society, by selectively adopting the features of western civilization that enhanced national power. Feudalism was abolished in 1871, and two years later military reforms created a peasant conscript army replacing the samurai as a military class. The State took over Japanese industries and modernized them. It established new factories, mines, railroads, banking and postal systems.
In contrast, the Chinese elite had effectively ignored the problem posed by Western expansionism up until 1858, but their defeat in the Second Opium War forced them to take some steps to strengthen their regime. Thus began a series of rather feeble reforms, called the ‘Self-Strengthening Movement’ (1860-1895), which sought the preservation of Chinese civilization by grafting on Western mechanisms. Although these reforms were state-subsidized (as in Japan), they tended to be agricultural in focus – thus reinforcing the importance of the gentry class. This was in stark contrast to the abolition of their Japanese equivalents, the Samurai.
Some new industries were developed (such as steel works) but these remained largely dependent on foreigners for machinery, materials and expertise. These superficial reforms were doomed to failure from the start, because their aim was not really reformation at all, but rather consolidation. The gentry leaders “had no interest in creating a modern industrial society”, hence China’s utter failure to achieve that end through these ‘reforms’. The failure of the Self-Strengthening Movement was highlighted by the Chinese defeats of 1885 (to France) and 1895 (to Japan).
The Qing dynasty was finally overthrown in 1911, and replaced with an ineffectual republic. This was effectively an autocracy under Yuan Shih-k’ai, which fell into anarchy after his death in 1916, as rival warlords divided the country up amongst themselves. The 1911 revolution also spelled the end for Confucianism, as the “New Culture” movement embraced the West and sought a complete revamp of Chinese society. This attitude soon soured however, leading to a boycott of Western products and democratic ideas due to the treatment of China by the Western powers after World War I.
By 1920, China was adrift; its traditional political and social systems cast away, and no viable alternatives had yet been found to replace them. Meanwhile, Japan was well on its way to becoming a respected world power especially after its 1889 constitution provided the oligarchic regime with the legitimacy of a “parliamentary facade”. During the years of the Meiji reforms, Japan had recognized its geographic parallels to Britain, and so set about developing a strong navy and becoming “the Britain of the East” with remarkable success.
Military victories over China in 1895 and Russia in 1905 forced the West to take the Japanese seriously. By 1899, Japan had abolished extraterritoriality, and by 1911, the unequal treaties were gone for good. Japan emerged from World War I as a major power with new (Chinese) territories and a permanent seat on the council of the League of Nations. The pattern for China and Japan’s comparative responses to the West between 1800-1920 was set in the centuries preceding this period. Japan recognized the threat being posed, and so responded quickly and decisively.
But China, in its arrogance and self-interested leadership tended to respond inappropriately, or be overly complacent. When the need for reform could no longer be denied, Japan accepted the need to modernize whole-heartedly; whereas China tried to preserve its traditional Confucian culture and social structure. China met the challenge of the West by resisting the West, but to no avail. Japan, in contrast, used the West by using their technology and advancements to modernize and industrialize. By 1920, the remarkable rise of Japan was as undeniable as the tragic fall of China.