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Comparing Japan and Russia’s Response before 1914 Essay

In the early 19th century Russian rulers did anything in their power to keep the “French plague” from infiltrating Russia. The “French Plague” was a gradual move towards freedom and a more influential say in government. Russia avoided the “French Plague” by a period of isolation and oppression of their people. Japan also had a long period of isolation. The Japanese believed in the Mandate of Heaven or that there culture was the best. Because of their ethnocentric culture, only one Japanese port, Nagasaki, was open to traders once a year. During the late 19th century, both Russia and Japan were forced to make reforms and modernize by industrialization. They both had to do so rapidly because of Western interference and the West’s increasing power in trade. During the early 20th century, Russia and Japan had managed to reform, industrialize, and make sufficient changes to build powerful nations, although they still couldn’t compete with the West’s supreme military and technological strength.

The industrialization process for both Russia and Japan began during the same time period because of this they both shared many similar industrial responses, but also contrasted in many ways. Both Russia and Japan had some common characteristics, which explained how they kept independent from Western interference for such a long period of time. The two nations both new that learning from outsiders could profit them and not necessarily destroy their culture. Industrialization was easy for them because they followed a system of borrow and improve from other countries. Through Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate and Russia’s tsarist empire, both nations improved their political success. Instead, they used the state to pay for changes that in the West was backed by private businesses. In both Russia and Japan their rulers received more power.

By emancipating the Russian serfs and the peasant class, both nations had a large labor force. Besides similarities there were also many differences in both nations responses to industrialization. Women were treated very differently in both Russian and Japanese societies, in society and in the home. The education of their people was another contrast because in Japan the literacy levels were higher. In Japan, market forms were more extensive going into peasant agriculture. As Russia possessed more land they automatically had more natural resources then did Japan. Japan and Russian responses to government reform was also a major factor of industrialization.

The similarities between Russia and Japan were many. Russia and Japan were able to industrialize so easily because of past imitation experience. Japan copied from China and Russia from the Byzantine Empire. Japan took the Confucian system from China and other scientific and medical knowledge. Russia borrowed its bureaucratic rule from Byzantium. They felt that taking from other cultures would not destroy their own. During industrialization, both Japan and Russia managed to keep their own cultures and religions despite their increased borrowing from the West. In the West private businesses backed entrepreneurs, where as in Russia and Japan the entrepreneurs were provided for by the state because of lack of technology and resources. Russian landlords happily took advantage of Western markets for grain, they increased their exports by tightening the labor obligations of the serfs. Russia’s agricultural society was based on serf labor.

The Crimean War fought on the Black Sea between the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France against Russia. The loss was a huge blow to Russia whom realized that they needed to drastically improve their technology and their military. Tsar Alexander II knew that the only way to develop a mobile labor force to industrialize was to free the serfs. The emancipitation of the serfs in 1861 fulfilled Russia’s need for cheap flexible labor. Japan similarly needed a larger labor force to industrialize. In Japan the peasants whom were kicked off their land moved to cities to work in factories. The samurai, who were replaced by technology and armies, became another part of the labor force when they were no longer provided for by the state. In both nations the political power was centralized.

The tsar appointed zemstvoes, or local political councils that regulated roads, schools and other regional policies. The zemstvoes undertook important inquiries into local problems. They owed the tsars complete and utter loyalty. In Japan in 1871 when the new Meiji government took over they abolished feudalism, replacing the daimyos with a system of nationally appointed prefects. Prefects are district administrators who are picked from different regions. The prefects like the Russian zemstvoes owed complete loyalty to the emperor. The Meiji rulers began to widen the power of the state to effect social and economic change.

Another similarity was that both Russia and Japan improved their military. Russia’s officer corps was reformed by promotion by merit and newly organized essential services. Peasants were able to be recruited and they learned new skills from their military service. In Japan a stronger military unit replaced the samurai with weapons, advanced technology, and a high sense of organization.

Industrialization was part of the greater process of change. The trans-Siberian railroad connected European Russia with the Pacific Ocean. The railroad directly expanded Russia’s coal and iron sectors. The Railroad also fueled the export of grain to the West, which became necessary to earn foreign currency for advanced Western machinery. As a result of the railroad, Siberia was opened to development and brought Russia into a more active Asian role. Factories began to be built in all cities by the goods that were transported by the railroad. In Japan also there was attention focused on making the conditions necessary for industrialization. State wide railroads were built across the country and rapid steamers connected the islands. Agricultural output was raised by new methods to feed the people of the growing cities.

There were also many differences in Japan and Russia’s response to industrialization. The literacy rates in Japan were much higher then that of Russia. Japan followed the Confucian teachings. Commoner schools or terakoya provided reading, writing, and the basic Confucianism to ordinary people. During the mid 19th century over 40% of all men were literate and about 15% of women were too. There were also Dutch study schools in all the major cities teaching the students to throw out Chinese influence and to adapt the West’s. Where as Russia’s educational reforms weren’t as progressive and were very limited. Schools were spread out unevenly although there were some attempts for a state sponsored education.

Women’s position both in the home and in society varied between the two nations greatly. Women in Russia had a chance to get a greater education and some even progressed far enough to get jobs in medicine. In Russia during the 1860s-1870s, women started taking more control over the home scene particularly in urban work areas. In Japan, women’s position in society was the exact opposite. Women were treated as inferior while the men were honored. Women were also forced to work in sweatshops or were sold into service by farm families.

Russian and Japanese reforms in government were also different. For Russia to reform the government against the tsars there were many revolts and in Japan it was mostly agreed upon. Most high-class business people wanted to have a greater say in government in Russia, they wanted to enact liberal reforms. The intellects, or intelligentsia, became very active when the educated youth started some revolts. The anarchists of Russia wanted to destroy all forms of government, especially the tsarist autocracy. The anarchist radicals soon resorted to violent means of getting their point across, resulting in terrorism. . As a result, many revolts and acts of violence persisted in order to gain reform and to abolish the czarist regime itself, Russia, as a nation was severely unstable.

This resulted in the creation of the Duma, or known as the Russian national parliament. Japans approach to government reform was different. They reformed in a more or less gradual and peaceful way. Meiji rulers traveled to discover up to date political reforms. In the year 1884 they constructed a conservative nobility, with former nobles and Meiji leaders would run a House of Peers (modeled after Britain). The bureaucracy was opened to talent by civil service examinations. Finally in 1889, the constitution was passed allowing Japan’s emperor limited power in the Diet, the new parliament. Parliament could advise government but not directly control it.

Finally, Russia and Japan responses to industrialization differed because of the natural resources they possessed. Russia contained abundant amounts of coal and iron, both necessary for industrialization such as trains of the time. Russia naturally had more resources because of the amount of land under Russian rule. By 1900, Russia had surged to fourth rank in the world in steel production and was second to the United States in the petroleum production and refining. Where as Japan and was dependent on the West for there industrialization needs. This was a disadvantage for Japan their success depended on the world trade market.

The beginnings of industrialization in Russia and Japan, contributed greatly to the World’s trade market and cultures. Both Russia and Japan modernized in there own unique way, Russia with revolutions and Japan with their nationalistic reforms. Without their rapid industrialization and influence on world affairs, today as we know it wouldn’t be the same.


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