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The Chinese and Japanese civilization

The Chinese and Japanese civilization had been separated from the Western world, the national culture and mentality being strong. It was only in the 19th century when both nations had to face some important challenges, which ended differently for each of them. In this paper I intend to argue that Japan raised its strength internationally, whereas China’s international status declined. I’m also going to observe the reasons for the outcome, which are tightly connected to the countries interaction with the Western civilization.

Interests from different spheres made a great impact on the development of the two countries- economical, political, cultural and so on. First of all, I would like to observe what factors caused China’s decay in the middle of the 19th century. One of the factors is of purely cultural nature; it refers to the conservative attitude toward national traditions. The matter is that, the attachment to traditional lifestyles and mentality was stronger in China than in Japan, Chinese were more reluctant to undergo Westernalization and industrialization.

Besides, there occurred a few political affairs, which undermined the power of the state. The first one was the so-called Opium War (1839-1842). Like almost war it sparked because of financial interests. In 18th century China’s three-way trade balance with Britain and India was positive for China. She exported tea to Britain, and imported Indian cotton, and received significant amount of British silver, which spurred the local market. When at the beginning of the 19th century Britain started importing huge amounts of Indian opium to Chinese market, the trade pattern broke and silver started to flow out of China.

Moreover, opium produced negative impact on Chinese culture, which urged the Chinese authorities to ban exportation of opium, close the dens and execute the dealers. Naturally, it led to confrontation with Britain, which grew into Opium war, which ended in Britain’s favor in 1842. China was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking, one of “unequal treaties”. The Treaty of Nanking ruined the conventional trade models, and insisted that the Chinese allow the British to build a deep-water port at Hong Kong.

It also demanded that the Chinese compensate the British a huge remuneration, and it forcibly unlocked five Chinese ports to western trade. “British citizens were to be allowed to settle in these ports, and would be subject to British, not Chinese law while there. The British also gained “most favored nation” status with the Chinese — any trading rights or privileges gained by any other nation would also be offered to Britain. The Treaty of Nanking was followed by similar treaties with the U. S.

and France” (19th Century China and Japan, 2005) This was the beginning of Hong Kong’s colonization, which only ended with the Handover in 1990s. The outcome of the war was oppressive for China: the flow of opium was restored but other types of traded wouldn’t develop well, which irritated invader merchants. The second war started in 1956, which ended with the capture of Peking and signing a number of other humiliating treaties. At the same time, China was having troubles with Russia. Overall, these events were of two-fold character.

First, they opened China to external influence; second, they led to further weakening of the internal integrity and stability. The latter was marked by a succession of rebellions between 1950 and 1873 (Taiping Rebellion, Nien Rebellion, Moslem Uprising), which were unprecedented in scale. These meant more severe threat to the dynasty than western intrusion could present. The overall decrease of population due to the rebellions was over 60 million; 20-30 million were killed in the Taiping rebellion alone.

Loses from the rebellions, united with loses from deluges and famine, caused China’s population to drop by 60 million. After 1873 until the beginning of the 20th century China took efforts to recover from the blow it had received. The most significant role in stabilization was performed by a few skilled governor-generals, who were devoted to the dynasty and wanted to modernize China, borrowing Western achievements in military, social and agricultural areas.

However, compared to Japan’s progress during the same period, China was only surviving, and unlike Japan, not bridging the gap with Western world technology. By the late 1890s, China’s constancy had been generally recovered. After China’s overcome by Japan in 1895, a series of reforms were conducted, but China showed not capable to stop outside states from beginning to divide its lands. Like China, Japan had been isolated from the Western world for centuries until the 19th century’s expansion. The country was decentralized, which allowed.

“The arrival of Commodore Perry, whose warship sailed into Edo’s main harbor and took the Japanese totally by surprise, announced the Western technological edge to the Japanese. Perry’s action led to wide-spread changes in Japan. In 1858, the main bakufu government, ignoring the emperor’s command, signed a commercial treaty with the U. S. The Samurai (the lower level warrior class) were frustrated at the emperor’s exclusion, and the implied belittling of Japan in the treaty, and staged a revolt; which led to civil war” (19th Century China and Japan, 2005)

After the sequence of internal wars, which finished in 1868, Japan instituted a new federal government, ruled by the emperor, and they started absorbing Western thought and technology. The emperor labeled his reign the “Meiji” or “glorious” period. As with preceding assimilation of Chinese culture and technology, some Western adoptions were more successful than others — Japan’s parliamentary system, the Diet, was always comparatively weak, and fell to military governance in the 1930s, although this development was assisted by the Great Depression.

In fact, Meiji period (1868-1890) in the Japanese history marked was marked by further modernization and Westernization of the country. The aim was to centralize the power and develop the political system on the basis of Western system. Political parties were to fill the niche of democracy, the bulk of power, however, was given to the emperor. The Japanese constitution of 1889 was based on the Prussian one, which was least liberal in Europe. Here are some opening articles: Article 1. The Empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal. Article 2.

The Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by Imperial male descendants, according to the provisions of the Imperial House Law. Article 3. The Emperor is sacred and inviolable. Meiji changes contributed to Japan’s transformation into a world power. “Early reforms modernized the Tokugawa economy, as occupations were freed from hereditary or traditional restrictions, trade barriers were abolished, and commercial ventures were encouraged. More food and better hygiene led to population growth in this period; and the Meiji government used this surplus population to develop an industrial sector in Japan.

” (19th Century China and Japan, 2005) In terms of politics, the time 1899-1901 indicated the peak of Meiji political growth. Japan got rid of some of the consequence of the “unequal treaties” by recapturing control of the tax issue. They expanded acknowledgment as a world power with their victory over China and Russia 1904-5. “Turn-of-the-century Japan was determined to be a European-style player on world scene, and was ready to establish itself through demonstrations of military might and colonization”

To sum up analogies and divergence between mid-19th century Japan and China, it is important to note that the former was better at coping with the consequence of Westernalization. It was able to act more flexibly whereas Chinese cultural traditions turned to be stronger, and it was incapable to adjust its rigid economical and political structure to the new demands. That’s why it only took 15 years for Japan to defeat Tokugawa dynasty, whereas 70 years were not sufficient for China to recover after Opium War.

Japan was successful in reforms which eventually led it to the internationally recognized position as a dynamically developing strong power, although it didn’t rejected its traditions like strong emperor power. At the same time, Chinese loss in external wars to Britain and Japan and in internal wars to numerous bloody revolts led it to weakening and decay.


1. Emergence of Modern China, 2005. http://www-chaos. umd. edu/history/toc. html 2. The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, 2005. http://history. hanover. edu/project. html 3. 19th Century China and Japan, 2005. http://www. loyno. edu/~seduffy/meiji. html

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