East Asia History Essay

2686 words - 11 pages

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H120 Introduction to the History of East Asia
Essay 3
Andy Ricci 622624
Word Count: 2018
H120 Introduction to the History of East Asia
Essay 3
Andy Ricci 622624
Word Count: 2018

Why do we sometimes refer to the events of 1868 in Japan as a 'restoration', but to those of the years following 1911 in China as 'revolutions'?


The Meiji Restoration of 1868 in Japan and the Chinese Revolution of 1911 were responsible for producing an enormous amount of upheaval in both countries. Both nations were immersed in social, political and economic backwardness. In this context, both political episodes should be construed as an attempt ...view middle of the document...

The centralization of power that ensued was pivotal in order to embark on the process of social and economic modernization. The Japanese political system had been influenced by the Shoguns (local feudal lords), which prevented the centralization of political resources and the configuration of a modern nation-state. The imperial declaration of 1868 expresses in an eloquent manner the political aims of the Meiji Restoration:

“The Emperor of Japan…shall henceforward exercise supreme authority in all the internal and external affairs of the country…Officers are being appointed by us to the conduct of foreign affairs. It is desirable that the representatives of the treaty powers recognize this announcement.”

The Meiji Restoration entailed the reconfiguration of the system of governance according to “Enlightened Rule”, combining a mixture of Western and Eastern values in order to create social advancement. In addition to this, it is important to take into consideration that the actions of Commodore Matthew Perry, who had negotiated a series of trade deals with Japan on behalf of the United States, were influential in the realization of the great disparities that existed between Japan and the Western nations in the economic arena. It should be noted that the Meiji Restoration of 1868 envisaged the creation of a system that resembled, to some extent, the constitutional monarchical system that operated in Western European countries such as the United Kingdom. This means that the Emperor of Japan was regarded as a political figurehead that could unite the nation.

However, the system of government itself was to be put in the hands of an oligarchical political leadership that would implement governance mechanisms geared towards modernizing the nation. This entailed the abolition of the feudal system and the establishment of a modern market economy. It pays to highlight that the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was also responsible for eliminating the system of the feudal division of society into four classes (gentry, merchants, soldiers and nobility). This system, similar to the caste system that operated in parts of South Asia at that time, also led to the establishment of land reform. The changes brought forward in the system of agricultural production was influential in increasing output and providing the tenanted farmers with a sense of ownership that was not present during the times of the Shogunate.

Most importantly, the Meiji Restoration also eroded the power of the samurai, the military noble class that was previously subsidized with the proceeds of tax revenue. Here we see a process that was similar to the one that unfolded in Western Europe after the abolition of feudalism. The erosion of the power of samurai class was geared towards instilling in the Japanese population a feeling of allegiance to the modern nation-state that succeeded the abolition of the Shogunate. Another important element that was brought forward by the Meiji Restoration of 1868...

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