Essay on Challenges From the West in the 19th Century

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1497 Words
Date:  2022-06-05


Following a long duration of isolationism in the 19th century, both Japan and China found themselves under duress from the western to open up relations and international trade (Huters, 2017). The dynamics in industries across Europe and the US had formulated a large gap between China and Japan and the west. The industrial revolution in western countries had left China and Japan behind in terms of military and technological advancement. In the 19th century, the two Asian nations were less powerful to stand up to the European states and ultimately they were forced to sign unequal agreements that saw them open up their cities and ports to international traders. Besides, the process of signing these agreements occurred in each state and their response to the process was different. The intellectuals in both China and Japan reacted to the challenges brought by west intrusion through initiation reforms. The question remains how two civilizations consequently alike to each other responded so diversely to same historical circumstances. On that note, this literature focuses on the main differences in China and Japan's reaction to the west during the 19th century. The article presents the reasons for the disparities in the original response regarding china's limited comprehension of the western and the chronological timing of the west invasion.

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Differences between China and Japan and Their Unique Reactions

To begin with, the way Japan and China responded to the western raising pressure to open up for trade was very diverse. Both nations had for a long time preserved isolationist trend with few trading activities with European nations. China welcomed international trade but European traders had no privileges in Chinese market and they were enclosed to Canton where they dealt with only a group of merchants. On the same note, Japan was stricter and they only allowed trade with the Dutch people who accessed only a single port. The strictness from both China and Japan could not be tolerated by the European states for a longer duration (Clark & Andrew, 2002). The most significant factor that caused different reactions in both China and Japan was chronological timing. European states did not pressure Japan to stop its isolationism till the beginning of 1850s. The reason why western nations could not force Japan was because they were occupied in other regions of Asia.

Additionally, Japan kept updated on what was occurring in the west following the Opium battle and the Dutch traders warned Japan that they would have to agree to international demands. Besides, Japan was in a position to receive first-hand information on the consequences China suffered due to defiance on west demands. Additionally, China had limited proof of European military supremacy and they did not have prior examples to serve as guidance. Another cause for differences in the reaction was that China had inadequate knowledge of the western as compared to Japan. This limitation was because Chinese government discouraged intellectual civilization and they preferred Chinese limiting themselves to orthodox texts. The preferred texts consisted of outdated perspective of the world and they were the only existing source of information about the western since the interaction with merchants was heavily restricted. It is evident that officials from China could not comprehend the massive alterations that had happened in the European nations following the industrial revolution. In contrast, Japan appeared intensively interested in gaining knowledge about the western nations than China. In 18th century, Japan encouraged students from European nations to study in various regions of Japan. Intellectuals of western knowledge were permitted to use and disclose information freely thus executives from Japan could make decisions founded on facts in place of intolerance. Another difference between Japan and China reaction to the west was that Japan effectively westernized and became industrialized nation while China failed to become modernized. Japanese leaders realized that Japan needed to become a superpower and they needed assistance from European nations. Japan brought in western technicians and a good number of Japanese were sent to Europe to learn their ways. Due to these changes, Japan abolished Feudalism and introduced fresh coinage and taxation system as well as setting up western institutions and infrastructures such as railways, roads and banks.

Major Events between the Western and the Two Asian Nations (China and Japan)

In 1834, Britain sent Lord Napier to China to intensify the pressure so that Chinese could open the trade. In retaliation, the Chinese authority dismissed Lord Napier's request and as a result, hostility arose between China and Britain where Chinese surrounded the foreigners' quarter in Canton. At first, tension had eased temporally but due to Britain illegal trade in Opium, the hostility increased. In 1839, the fresh imperial commissioner known as Lin Tze-Hsu appeared in Canton where he confiscated around twenty thousand chests of Opium from Britain (Mitchell, 2018). In November 1839, further confrontations surfaced concerning Britain's refusal to surrender to Chinese government a sailor who was accused of executing a Chinese citizen. This situation manifested the commencement of the first opium battles which resulted in Chinese defeat and the introduction of a system of unequal agreements. In 1853, United States government sent Commodore Perry to Japan to issue an ultimatum to open its ports. When Commodore Perry returned to Japan the following year, the Japanese government agreed to negotiate with the US. This event was completely different from that of Chinese whose idea of the non-Chinese world accepted no substantial disparity between the government and merchants (Racel and Masako, 2009). In 1867, Japan's decaying Tokugawa shogunate was overthrown by a civil combat that resulted to the Meiji restoration. The Meiji restoration was formed by extraordinarily powerful men who included Matsukata and Ito who was committed to development along western lines for the advantage of their country Japan.

Analysis of the Results

Both Japan and China conceded trade with Euro-American due to the military influence of the western countries. China was required to launch several ports and permit Christian missionaries to establish churches. In China, each major western power was established and merchants were permitted to stay free in the country. Through foreign influence, both Japan and China made political transformations where an administration with a foreign sentiment was introduced in China to push out the merchants in what is referred to as the boxer rebellion (Mesman, van IJzendoorn & Sagi-Schwartz, 2016). On the other hand, Japan likewise underwent political transformations where Tokugawa shogunate was replaced by a fresh administration which was known as Meiji restoration. Chinese government attempted to confront European acculturation using the boxer rebellion but in contrast, Japanese administration encouraged and even allowed European acculturation with the objective of one day taking over the Euro-American influence both globally and within its borders. Following the Euro-American influence, Japanese intellectuals were sent overseas and western personalities came to Japan in what is considered as a cultural exchange. Due to this cultural exchange, Japan developed and modernized as one of the global most spirited educational systems. The ruling class in China was an opponent rather than a supporter of development because they were mostly conservative. Through the influence of westernization, there arose a proponent of development in China's upper classes but their endeavors were thwarted by the popular population who saw innovation as dangerous to their country. The Chinese administrative class focused on sustaining the power structure and only used modernizations for political and personal aims. Japanese endeavors to utilize foreign technology to assemble their industrial and military requirements were largely triumphant.

The Meiji administration understood that industrialization and technology could not be separated from organizational structures that generated development in the west and thus Meiji administration showed little uncertainty in abolishing past institutions in favor of western institutions that could offer Japan the modernity it required to survive (Huters, 2017). Ideally, Meiji administration was successful for the Japanese since it permitted them to be part of the new western imperial influence. Japan's pluralistic political system, borrowing culture and dynamic elite were offered as the conditions behind Japanese more effective industrialization and modernization. In conclusion, although Japan is considered as having acquired more from interaction with western countries, China's recent economic rise has overtaken Japan in terms of political and economic influence in Asia.


Clark & Andrew F.. (2002) Review essay: the West and the Rest: Rewriting Global History.Journal of Third World Studies , Spring 2002, Vol. 19 Issue 1, p269-273, 5p, Database: OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson)

Huters, T. (2017). Bringing the World Home: Appropriating the West in Late Qing and Early Republican China. University of Hawai'i/Hawai 'i Press.

Mesman, J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Sagi-Schwartz, A. (2016). Cross-cultural patterns of attachment. In Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 852-877). Guilford New York, NY.

Mitchell, D. J. (2018). Expanding the "Strategic Periphery": A History of China's Interaction with the Developing World. In China Steps Out (pp. 37-58). Routledge.

Racel & Masako N.. (2009), Motivations for the 'Westernization' of Meiji Japan: A sin of omission in world history survey textbooksIn: World History Bulletin. Spring, 2009, Vol. 25 Issue 1, p8, 4 p.; The World History Association Language: English, Database: World History in Context

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