During the 19th and 20th centuries, much of the western world had at the very least, begun to modernize. Countries on this side of the globe were becoming booming metropolises. Trade with many other nations brought lots of new things to these western countries and also resulted in the Europeans observing a good deal of places that were not yet modernized. These observations later lead to the western nations wanting to make changes. They began trying to do this by setting up spheres of influence, sending missionaries, proposing treaties and other agreements, and in some cases, completely taking over. Some countries fought back, and resisted modernization, and others submitted to the inevitable changes that were coming their way.
China and Japan are great examples of this, both countries were strongly opposed to Western influence but in the end, the two countries reacted to the changes very differently. Prior to western contact, China and Japan held the belief that they were superior civilizations. Both countries felt that any contact with westerners would corrupt their perfect societies. Also, because they felt they already were perfect, they didn’t think modernization was necessary. The people of both countries were comfortable with their traditional, more old fashioned ways of life and saw no reason to change.
The westerners however, would not take no for an answer, they were determined to make China open ports to them so they could trade and work to modernize the country. The westerners were very interested in obtaining silk and tea from China but the problem was, the westerners didn’t have anything the Chinese wanted in exchange besides gold and silver. This resulted in an unfavorable balance of trade. To fix this, the westerners really needed something the Chinese wanted so they began growing opium in India and illegally smuggling it into China. The habit of opium smoking caught on quickly and as a result, the western people were making a great deal of money.
Overtime, more than 12 million people developed addictions to the drug. Seeing how this substance was harming China’s people, the government made opium illegal and wanted it out of their country for good. The westerners opposed this decision and not long after, took China to war and conquered them. Following the war, the Treaty of Nanjiing was signed and the Chinese were forced to open up more ports and allow westerners into their country. This eventually lead to the modernization of China.
Next on the western nations’ list was Japan. It all started with commodore Matthew Perry, he sailed to Japan and requested that the Japanese aid people of the US and Europe if they came to the shores of the country. Only a year after Perry first made his request to the Japanese, the Great White Fleet made a voyage back to Japan to reiterate the request. The Japanese, unlike the Chinese did not fight back, but agreed and the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed which opened ports for trade and ensured fair treatment and extraterritoriality for sailors. Now that Japan had opened up its shores to the westerners, the next thing they wanted to do was get Japan to modernize. Again, unlike China, Japan did not put up a fight, but decided to accept the inevitable changes that were soon to come. So, the Japanese began studying and adopting the western way of life and ended up modernizing in a period of three short years.
In conclusion, although in the beginning, both China and Japan were firm believers in isolationism and did not want anything to do with western countries, once faced with the issue of western contact and modernization, the two countries responded very differently. China fought back and had to overcome many hardships and fight in terrible wars that cost many people their lives which left a lasting and devastating impact on the country. Japan on the other hand, accepted the change and avoided a great deal of violence and struggle. Although China and Japan had very different responses, it is clear that western contact and modernization changed both countries forever.
Courtney from Study Moose
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