History of Japan and China




History of Japan and China


Between the period of 1840 and 1910, Japan and China experienced a fundamental reform from the encounter of the West, yet the approaches that Japan and China took toward the face of the West were completely different. Despite contact with European countries since the 1600s, both China and Japan had consistently resisted adopting European ideas, with a few exceptions, such as technologies. Nevertheless, after Japan was forcibly opened to the west in the 1840s, they had undergone a significant reform in terms of political developments and industrialization, so-called Meiji Restoration. On the other hand, China in 19th century continued to see western ideas with doubt and derision and believed that they were still the center of the world amidst a changing world. In the end, Japan, accepted the reform, went from a third-world country to a dominant country in the world, whereas China, refused to change, went from a world first empire to so-called watermelon that other nations were eager to get some benefits from the country. Due to this difference in undertaking the coming of the Western countries, the positions of Japan and China in the world had changed throughout history. China and Japan experience an ideology (Confucianism) which affected all aspects of life in the two countries. Both countries employed the legacy as the state ideology, which saw them shape their society. On evaluating the historical background of Japan and China there are several aspects that seem to converge while others diverge in terms of reforms implemented in both nations. Confucianism is even prevalent in China and Japan today

Meiji Restoration

Meiji Restoration was a political revolution that returned control of Japan to direct imperial rule under Emperor Meiji and brought about the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate (the last Japanese military government that existed from1603 to1868. This was during the beginning of a period of major social, economic and political called the Meiji period (1896-1912). The revolution brought about westernization and modernization in Japan (Swale 15). The restoration leaders adopted wealthy country and strong-arm slogan, which helped them create a strong nation. The first goal of the feudal government whose leaders were young Samurai’s was to dismantle the old feudal regime. They were able to accomplish this mission by 1871. They abolished all feudal class privileges and in the same year, they formed a national army and replaced them. This period saw Japan change to a very strong market economy although it left the Japanese with a relentless Western influence (Swale 18).

Japan was slow in industrialization and political development. They knew that combining the western advances with their strong economic values would strengthen their industries and continue promoting enlightenment and civilization to its people, through the ideas and ethics copied from the West. Meiji Revolution accelerated industrialization in Japan leading to the rise of a strong military power by the year 1905. Japanese army continued to grow strong (Swale 21).

Sino-Japanese war

Their military was strengthened the major reforms that took place and this showed a growing world power. This clearly came out when the Japanese military won the Sino-Japanese war against China. The Sino-Japanese war, a conflict between the China Republic and the Japan Empire, was Asia’s largest 20th Century war. It was because of the Japanese aiming to dominate China military and politically to secure its raw materials and other economic resources. In 1944, Japan launched a massive attack and defeated China. Japan won the war against the China, which surprised other nations. This made the United States government to come between the two to stop the war (Waley 40). After the war, Japan continued to grow drastically in terms of modernization and industrialization, which allowed a colossal increase in infrastructure and production. There was introduction of Industries such as the spinning mills and iron smelters, which they sold to their entrepreneurs. In addition, their companies became consumers of the Western technology and used it to produce cheaper items that would sell in international markets. This saw the growth of industries and rural-urban migration. Great development were noted especially when the Japanese used their coal to build their national railway line and steamships. The changes in China were slow considering the effects the war had on them (Swale 21).

Change in China

China’s industrial growth took a long period compared to Japan. This is because China employed 60% of its labor force in agriculture instead of involving themselves in activities like development of infrastructure or even building transport systems (Elman, Ooms, and Duncan 33). China’s economic growth was rapid but the productivity growth was slow. China’s industrialization started growing in 1920`s. People transformed from the agrarian economy to modern communist societies through industrialization. Political stability was restored in the late 1960`s following the cultural Revolution (Swale 24).

The Opium War

The opium wars commonly known as the Anglo-Chinese wars were two wars in the mid 19th Century. The first Opium war was between Britain and China (1839-1842) and the second war was between China and France (1857-1860) (Waley 40). The wars arose from China’s attempt to suppress the opium trade and as a result caused serious economic and social disruption in the country. The first Opium war marked a new stage in China’s relation with the West. The military signed treaties thus opening ports to foreign trade. Opium trade continued flooding into China (Waley 41). The country signed a treaty under Canton system, which allowed Britain to venture deeply into China’s interior. The opium wars saw China sign several treaties, which allowed them to open to different ports for the west convenient access. As the wars unfolded, it became clear that China’s relationship with the rest of the world was challenged (Waley 52).

George Macartney

Macartney mission 1792-1794 was the first major event in which British diplomats read the ideas of the European Enlightenment, written by French Catholic missionaries. His mission foretasted a problem with which educated Chinese and Qing politicians had to wrestle through out the nineteenth century(Anderson 104). The main objective of Macartney embassy was to herald Britain to China. The main goal of the embassy was to convince Chinese Emperor Qianlong to ease the trade barriers with Great Britain by allowing the European state to have a permanent embassy in Beijing. (Anderson 105). They also needed the emperor to allow them to posses a small island for the residence of British traders, outfitting of their ships and storage of their goods. They also were demanding reduction of tariffs on British traders. Despite their efforts, the Chinese emperor refused to grant several requests presented to him by Macartney. Macartney Embassy is important in today’s history because it shows how China missed opportunities from Britain to move towards economic growth. Britain also failed to understand diplomacy, culture and customs of Emperor Qianlong people. Macartney Embassy returned to their homeland without obtaining any concessions from China despite the fact that their mission was to be of great success to China (Anderson 106).

Taiping Rebellion

Taiping rebellion (1850-18640 was a radical religious and political upheaval which marked the most important event in China. It ravaged 17 Chinese provinces and took approximately 20,000,000 lives. The rebellion was the most devastating event in China’s history. Hong Xiuquan a leader stirred it in 1847 who failed imperial examinations. He believed himself to be the son of God and the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Hong held strong beliefs that he could reform China. One of his friends took his ideas and formed a religious group. Hong later joined him and three years later, he formed a rebellion. Hong proclaimed his dynasty in 1851 and assumed the title heavenly King (Waley 40).

Strong discontent with the Chinese government and bad Chinese governance brought him many supporters who consisted of the hunger stricken people, miners and the lower class people. His movement spread with great resentment throughout the country. The rebels were able to capture (the leader). They offered military help to Hong dynasty leading to a very strong undefeatable army. Their movement became popular and strong and this took the Chinese government millions of dollars to defeat them. His dynasty controlled over a third of the country. The rebellion ended in 1864. The western powers, particularly the British offered military help bearing in mind that its willingness to help could help establish foreign trade. The Taiping rebellion fell after Hong son took over. He was inexperienced and could not lead the troops to war (Swale 21).

Confucianism in Japan and China

Confucianism in both countries classified people according to their knowledge. It was believed that, only the   talented people   got the most prestigious and important jobs. The ideology helped China design its systems with political leaders as the most skilled and educated people in the country. Just like China, Japan believed that the level of individual education determined their projection for employment. Confucianism also emphasized on development of human relations. Family relationships were also valued in China and Japan but it was different in the ways the countries applied it to shape their economy (Elman, Ooms, and Duncan 33).

            In Japan, family relationships were highly regarded since they enabled the country to achieve a comparative advantage in many technological and industrial products. Based on this concept, high levels of education, the government and businesses developed corporate attitudes and productivity (Elman et al. 36). On the other hand, Chinese family relationships assumed more individual responsibilities than the Japanese familism. It focused on individual accomplishment rather then the promotion of harmony and social welfare among their culture. In addition, Japans culture did not support some aspects such as trust and loyalty compared to China.

Chinese Confucianism emphasized on respect for elders, courtesy, social obligations, good governance, harmonious family relationships and clear standards for governing the relationships among rulers, old and young, father and son, husband and wife among others. On the other hand, Japan Confucianism played a major role in the development of political and ethical philosophies. Confucianism to Neo-Confucianism, which gained more appeal since it brought renewed attention to man and secular society (Elman et al. 40).

Today, Confucianism concepts still serve as an important focus in China’s practices. Its concepts are clearly seen in modern Chinese and Japanese culture. Many homes in Japan still keep ancestral tablets, which remind them of their culture. In addition, people still exhibit Confucianism characteristics. They continue to hold strong believes in loyalty to company, lower rates of crimes compared to Western countries, strong education system, stable family structure and seniority system (Elman et al. 43).


Japan is one of the most leading economy countries in the world despite the disastrous situation it went through. It has transformed itself in many industries such as financial services and technology. China, on the other hand, possesses has the world’s largest population. It has around 1.3 billion people. The immense population makes it hard for China to provide an adequate number of services for the entire population. To solve the issue of the growing population, China implemented a law whereby each family has to have only one child. Major political and economic achievements have changed over the past decades. Despite the fact that wars weakened both nations, they took it as an achievement and through help from the Western powers like Britain and France; they were able to rise to modernization and industrialization. The Chinese and Japanese relations have been strained at times, but they still are able to work together to bring a more amalgamated environment. Today, China has the second largest economy followed by Japan, which comes third.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Aeneas. An Accurate Account of Lord Macartney’s Embassy to China: Carefully Abridged from the Original Work; with Alterations and Corrections, by the Editor. London: Printed for Vernor and Hood, 2004. Print

Elman, Benjamin A, John B. Duncan, and Herman Ooms. Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 2002. Print.

Swale, Alistair. The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.

Waley, Arthur. The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes. London: Allen & Unwin, 1958. Print.

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