Paths to Modernization
Geography: The Yellow River (Huang He), the Yangtse River (Chang Jiang) and the Pearl River are the three major river systems. A large part of the country is covered by mountains.
People: The Han are the dominant ethnic group. Other nationalities include Uighur, Hui, Manchu and Tibetan. Chinese (Putonghua) is the major language. Other dialects include Cantonese (Yue) and Shanghainese (Wu).
Food: Cantonese or southern cuisine is the best known. Wheat is the staple food in the north, while both rice and wheat are eaten in eastern China. Shezuan cuisine is fiery because of lot of spices.
Geography: The four largest islands are Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaidu. More than 50% of land area of the main islands is covered with mountains. The country is situated in a very active earthquake zone.
People: Japanese are the largest group in population. Ainu and Koreans are in minority.
Food: Rice is the staple food and fish is the major part of diet. Raw fish (sashimi or sushi) is popular around the world.
The Political System
An emperor had ruled Japan from Kyoto. But the imperial court lost power to shoguns by the twelfth century. The military dictator was called shogun. From 1603 to 1867, members of the Tokugawa family held the position of shogun. The country was divided into over 250 domains under the rule of the lords called daimyo. But the lords were forced by the shoguns to stay at the capital Edo (modern Tokyo). The samurai (the warrior class) were the ruling elites who served the shoguns and the daimyo.
In the late sixteenth century, three changes laid the pattern for future development. They are as follows:
- The peasantry was disarmed and only the samurai could carry swords.
- The daimyo was ordered to live the capitals of their domains, each with a large degree of autonomy.
- Land surveys identified owners and taxpayers and graded land productivity to ensure a stable revenue base.
The daimyo’s capital became bigger. By mid-seventeenth century, Japan had the most populated city in the world, Edo. There were also two other large cities Osaka and Kyoto and at least half a dozen castle towns with populations of over 50,000. This resulted in growth of a commercial economy and created financial and credit systems. The fast growing class of merchants patronized arts and theatre. Reading was very popular among people.
Japan imported luxury goods like silk from China and textiles from India, and hence was considered rich. Payments for imports were made with gold and silver. It put strains on the economy. This led Tokugawa to put restrictions on export of precious metals. Steps were taken to develop the silk industry in Nishijin in Kyoto to reduce imports.
Social and intellectual changes led people to question the extent of Chinese influence. People started to discover and respect their old Japanese culture.
The Meiji Restoration
Japan lay on the route to China which was seen as a major market by the USA. The USA also needed a place to refuel their whaling ships in the Pacific. In 1853, the USA sent Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858) to Japan to demand a permission of trade and open diplomatic relations with Japan. Thus trade relations with the USA started in 1854.
Perry’s arrival had an important effect on Japanese politics. The emperor, who had little political power, re-emerged as an important figure. A movement forcibly removed the shogun from power in 1868, and brought the Emperor to Edo. Then Edo was made the capital and renamed Tokyo.
News of colonization in India and elsewhere, and that of defeat of China by the British had instilled a real fear about colonization in Japan. Many scholars and leaders wanted to learn from new ideas in Europe. Some others thought of excluding Europe but were ready to adopt the new technologies from Europe. Some others were in favor of a gradual and limited opening to the outer world. The government launched a policy with the slogan ‘fukoku kyohei’ (rich country, strong army). They realized that in order to prevent colonization they needed to build a strong army and develop the economy.
The new government also worked to build what they called the ‘emperor system’. Officials were sent to study the European monarchies. Based on that, they planned their own model. The Emperor would be treated with reverence but he was also shown as the leader of westernization. Emperor’s birthday became a national holiday. He wore western style uniforms. Edicts were issued in his name to set up modern institutions.
A new school system began to be built from the 1870s. Schooling was compulsory for boys and girls. By 1910, schooling was almost universal. The curriculum was based on Western models. But by the 1970s, stress was placed on loyalty and the study of Japanese history. The government controlled the curriculum and selection of textbooks, as well as teacher’s training.
The Meiji government imposed a new administrative structure by altering old village and domain boundaries. The administrative unit had to have adequate revenue to maintain the local schools and health facilities. It also had to serve as a recruitment centre for the military. All young men over twenty had to serve in the army for a certain period. The army was modernized. A legal system was set up to regulate the formation of political groups, control the holding of meetings and impose strict censorship. But the government faced opposition in all these measures. The military and the bureaucracy were put under the direct control of the emperor. So, these groups remained outside the control of the government.
The army pressed for a vigorous foreign policy to acquire more territory. This resulted in wars with China and Russia. Japan was the victor in both the wars. Public demanded a greater democracy which was in contradiction with the government’s aggressive policies.