The Only Imperial Power in Asia during the 19th Century


In the nineteenth century, China, Korea, and Japan, as well as other Asian nations faced European imperialism. However, only Japan transformed its traditional society and became the only country in Asia that had colony outside. In my point of view, the Japanese success is depending on determination of the government and the strength of it reform. So what makes Japan have the determination to reform the whole traditional society entirely? Opium War: In 1840, Britain started the Opium War in China. Because of corruption of the Chinese government and Advanced British army, in the end of the war, China was defeated.

Japan shocked. China, a wealth and strong empire, an advanced country Japan learned from for thousand years, failed in a war with a real empire. Japanese contemplated and hesitated. What they should do when they have to face those strong enemies. I think that one of the reason why the Black Ships arrived in Japan in 1853 and forced Japanese to accept them, and Japan did so, even with welcoming attitudes. Besides, at that time, Japan didn’t have ability to defeat those aggressors. More and more western countries came to Japan with new technologies, new products and new work system, etc. Japan is closed for too long time.

After saw all those achievements from Industry Revolution by Japanese’s own eyes, they found the distance between themselves and advanced western countries. All those new things cause the fail of Tokugawa Bakufu. Meiji Restoration started. Government during Meiji Restoration: In April 6 1868, the Oath in Five Articles was published and became the basic guiding principle of the government. Meiji period began. The new government of Japan applied a lot of policy during that time. They changed the traditional society structure. Samurai was no more the lords. Businessman had more attention than before.

Government also support a lot industry to get start, the earlier one is filature. In 1882, Japan Central Bank was set. Under the slogan of “Enrich the Country, strengthen the military”, in 1871, the new government set Iwakura Diplomatic Delegation to visit 12 countries in the Europe and America for almost 2 years. There were 49 government officials in the team, almost half number of the all officials in Japan government. To pay the expense of this trip, the new government used 2% of its GDP of that year. I think that this is part of the reason why Japan reformed its whole society system entirely and learned it from western countries.

On the other side, 58 years after Opium War, China also had a restoration, called The Reform Movement. It was supported by the Emperor Kuang Hus, but it didn’t get support from the government officials, even not from his mother, Empress Tzu Hsi who had real power of China. Most changes and policy applied in China were surface work, didn’t change from the basic principle like what Japan did. The most obvious difference of it was that in 1890, The Constitution of the Empire of Japan was published. All those caused the failure of reformation in China. People in the Meiji Restoration:

Shibusawa Eiichi, was a Japanese industrialist, founded more than 500 hundreds of modern corporations in Japan, He was a member of Tokugawa Akitake’s Delegation to the Paris World Exposition. In this trip, he observed modern European societies and culture for the first time. When he visited Belgium, the king told him the importance of steel industry and hoped Japan can buy from Belgium. Shibusawa Eiichi was so surprised; he said that a king is to sell his country’s product even when meeting guests from other place. He realized the importance of industrial of a country.

Therefore, he decided to stay in European for studying. He came back to Japan in 1868 with his new thought, and got a job in economic department of Meiji government. He became a driving force in the building of a modern Japan as head of the Kaisei Kakari, or office of the Ministry of Finance in charge of reform. Okubo Toshimichi is regarded as one of the main founders of modern Japan. During Meiji Restoration, he was a Finance Minister, enacted a Land Tax Reform, and prohibited samurai from wearing swords in public, even though he was one of them. We can see his determination of changing Japan from very basic.

The greatest achievement of him was the establishment of modern governmental structures. For a time he was the most powerful man in Japan. On 14 May 1878, he was assassinated by samurai. Summary: In my opinion, Japan became the only imperial power in Asia during nineteenth century, because the way it reformed. Japan’s restoration was not only applied on industry like China, but also on government system and society structure. The development on its society structure and police system helped Japan have much faster progress in industry than any other countries at that time.