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modernization in early China and Japan
Two Asian countries, China and Japan, have tried to postpone the process of modernization in the occidental sense of the word as long as possible. By definition, modernization comes along with openness. Governments become aware of the technological and scientific revolutions that happen in the rest of the world. China's continuity in culture and civilization was not necessarily a result of its refuse to let different cultures interfere with its one. On the countrary, China's history is closely linked with waves of migration, foreign Asiatic governments and by the time China became "the largest unified empire in the world," towards the end of the eighteenth century, the western world, especially Great Britain was attempting to expand its trading relations with China as well as the cultural exchanges that were by the time almost non-existent. Lord George Macartney, the emissary of king George III, on a diplomatic mission to Quianlong, presented the tartar emperor with a list of requests that were refused one by one. Macartney's report about his visit to the royal court were extremely precious in a time when Europeans knew very little about those parts f the world, the people that lived there, their customs, culture and civilization. Lord Macartney analyses the political and social aspects of the Chinese people and the nature of their government. He advances his opinion regarding the solidity of the present Tartar emperor and the probability of his appointing a successor as wisely as his predecessors that was to reign under similar circumstances: "The Chinese are recovering from the blows that have stunned them; they are awaking from the political stupor they had been thrown into by the Tartar impression, and begin to feel their native energies revive…In fact the volume of the empire is now grown too ponderous and disproportionate to be easily grasped by a single hand, be it ever so capacious and strong" (Macartney's Description of China's government, p. 102).
The passing from a mainly agrarian to that of an industrialized society allowed countries to reduce economic inequalities and changed societies. Gilbert Rozman remarks that modernization has inexorably reached every people in the world to a certain degree. If there is no certainty with regard to the amount of resources available for the whole world that make modernization possible in every country, there is certainty regarding the impossibility to return to the point before entering modernization in each particular case. As a country that constituted by the end of the eighteenth century the "largest unified empire in the world, China was slow in accepting western influences and the way colonial powers looked into entering China was not meant to reassure the Quinlong dynasties of the benefits the Chinese people would have from the extension of trade, cultural and scientific exchange between China and Europe. The answer the tartar emperor gives after Lord Macartney's visit is illustrative in the way the Chinese officials looked at the European expansion into their land. The British were eager to expand their trading posts in Asia and the fact that they were allowed a single one in Canton became completely unsatisfactory for their economic goals.
The emperor was only postponing what was bound to happen eventually. China finally opened and the terms under which it happened were anything but favorable to the country. The document that officially charges Lord Macartney as the "Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the King of Great Britan to the Emperor of China" is proving that the English, although lacking elementary knowledge about the Chinese culture, were aware that this Asian culture was an ancient worthy of being taught in the schools culture anywhere in Europe. From this official document, Macartney's mission resulted as one that was destined to bring the west meet the east in every aspect, not just economically. The declared intention was to establish and increase a "free communication with a people, perhaps the most singular on the Globe, among whom civilization had existed, and the arts had been cultivated thro' a long series of ages, with fewer interruptions than elsewhere, is well worthy, also, of this nation which saw with pleasure, and applauded with gratitude the several voyages undertaken already by His Majesty's command" (Macartney's Commission from Henry Dundas, 1792). Dundas, president of the board of the British East Indies Company and home minister was a man who knew that the Chinese represented more than a new source of wealth for the company over whose board he presided over and for his country, but his interests lay primarily in developing China's trade with Great Britain.
Giblert Rozman ironically refers to the "opening of China" to the influences of the West and calls it more a disaster than a blessing in the way of modernization. The intentions of the British, no matter how noble they were presented as the will to exchange cultural values between two civilizations, were rather mercantile and the best evidence to support this view is the scruples trade with opium for silver that took advantage of the corruptibility of the Chinese officials at the beginning of the nineteenth century and of the addiction that made people pay for opium with the precious silver. There were theories of international relations that were claimed to be used as the basis for signing treaties between China and some of the European powers that were unfair to the former. Once the west had made its move on China, the process became irreversible, just as the modernization process.
The process of modernization is considered to have begun in Japan with the end of the Tokugawa shogun's leadership. The year 1868 marks the beginning of a new era, known as the Meiji period. The emperor became the divine appointed leader of a country that was emerging from a feudal era. The Japanese civilization is renowned for its potential to innovate. They were no great inventors, but they were certainly intelligent and artistically talented people who new to adopt elements of civilization and transform them into their own distinct culture, bearing the unique features of the Japanese essence. The agrarian economy of subsistence soon became under the Meiji emperor an element of the past.
The emperor, advised by a group of people who had emerged from those who had planned and went through with the action of overthrowing the Tokugawa regime, undertook a series of reforms that successfully, although not without opposition, led to the unifying of the country and the creation of a government capable of leading it with a strong hand and the means to do it.
The primary goal of those who rebelled against the shogun was to open the country again, after three centuries of complete isolation. The western world had its share in the coup because of Commodore Perry who forcibly made the shogunate open the Japanese ports to foreign ships and cargoes again.
The Meiji regime was eager to embrace novelties in science and technology from the western world and thus it sent many scholars, people in the administration and others to learn in European schools and bring back European models they were ready to adapt to the Japanese system and spirit. Therefore, the Meiji period is considered by many a cultural revolution for Japan.
The westernization started in Japan on all level almost simultaneously: the educational system, Politics, the army, fashion only to name a few were all adapted after the new western models. The Japanese never claimed to have invented the wheel, but they certainly new how to seize the opportunity to take something new that could be put to use for the whole nation and make it a Japanese model completely adapted to the Japanese spirit.
Although, the Japanese started to climb the ladder of modernization and gave up on many customs, the Japanese spirit was never broken. The hindsight provides arguments for Japan's unbroken spirit with examples such as the Kamikaze, the air force pilots who entered missions that involved self-destruction or even, more powerful in its impact, the case of the people who committed mass suicide on the island of Saipan, during World War II, after the invasion of the American forces.
Nevertheless, the process of modernization during the Meiji restoration is considered as one of the most successful in the East. Some compare it to China and its response to the Western influences and domination and consider that the response from the Japanese part was in favor of the country's benefits and regardless of the personal interests each lord might have had at the time. The process of unification and the national conscience determined the oligarchs to put aside their personal interests and act according the nation's interests at that moment. On the other hand it is much to simplifying to consider the process of modernization more successful in Japan than the same process in China because the two countries were completely different in size, population, government etc.
Okakura Kakuzo wrote a series of books dedicated to presenting the Japanese culture…[continue]
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