Russia and Japan

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During the nineteenth century, Western Europe went through a marvelous era of industrialization and imperialism. This period of social, political, and territorial advancement caused a dramatic ripple-effect around the world, giving other countries such as Russia and Japan motivation to modernize. By 1914 Russia and Japan had managed to launch significant programs of industrialization and to make other changes designed to strengthen their political and social systems. These two nations defied the common pattern of growing Western domination during the nineteenth century. In the process, Japan pulled away from other Asian societies, while Russia ultimately enhanced its power in world affairs. Japan and Russia did have some common characteristics in their responses. They had government sponsored industrialization, and both were able to modernize but not westernize. At the same time, change took distinctive directions in each society. Russia’s response emasculated social stability while Japan’s maintained greater social cohesion and Japan became a modern industrial state while Russia was not able to.

Both Russia and Japan required industrializing in order to avoid being colonized by Western powers. They needed capital, were unfamiliar with new technology and needed someone to restrain foreign advisors. The government stepped in for both countries to industrialize. In Japan, Emperor Meiji created a Ministry of Industry in 1870 as well as state banks to finance his industrial campaign. New railroads, steamships, ports, and canals were constructed every year. Huge corporations called zaibatsu, sponsored largely by the state, dominated Japan economically. In Russia, state-sponsored education rose literacy rates. The Trans-Siberian railroad network was built. The government created the duma as the national parliament and started the Stolypin reforms. Peasants gained greater freedom from redemption payments and could buy and sell land more freely. But eventually...
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