Why Did Japan Succeed in Modernising and Industrialising in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries While China and Korea Failed to Do so?

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Why did Japan succeed in modernising and industrialising in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries while China and Korea failed to do so?

During the late nineteenth century, China, Japan and Korea all had the opportunity to modernise and industrialise. The leaders of each country had died which provided a fresh start for new leaders and new ideas of reform but it was only Japan who succeeded to successfully modernise and industrialise due to a number of factors, leaving its neighbours China and Korea behind. In this essay I am going to discuss the reasons why Japan was able to modernise and why China and Korea’s attempts failed. First I shall discuss the reasons why China’s attempts at modernising and industrialising failed. During the 1860s, China had faced challenges such as the Opium and Arrow wars and the continuing encroachment of Russia. Internal crises lead to the emergence of regional authorities and consequently, the weakening of central authority. Plus, China’s sheer size and scale compared to Japan made any attempts to carry out reform and modernise the country even harder; Japan was a smaller island and could respond to situations faster. After the death of the emperor Xianfeng the appointment of a new emperor, Tongzhi, meant for an opportunity for a new start and an attempt at modernising and industrialising China; the ‘Tongzhi Restoration’. Part of the restoration included the Self Strengthening Movement to modernise military technology and restore China’s political strength, however the “the absence of central direction proved to be the fatal flaw in the Qing modernization program” (Cohen, 2000, 285). China’s attempt at self strengthening to modernise failed due to a number of reasons. Cohen (2000, 285-286) argues that it was the strong conservative opposition who wanted to preserve China and the fact that the scholar-gentry bureaucracy remained in place which slowed down China’s progress. China’s modernisation was “inspired by Western examples yet had to be superimposed upon old institutions” (Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig, 197, 592) which strongly slowed down the need and demand for modernisation. Most of the scholars which were sent abroad to study Westernisation settled down and remained there. The ones who did return to China found it difficult to fit back in with the strong Confucian based society and so the program turned out to be ineffective. The strengthening of regional authority showed a weakening in the central authority as it was not the government army who defeated the Tai’Ping during the rebellion, but rather Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang who developed their own regional armies which defeated the Tai’Ping (Cohen, 2000, 274). Similarly, Prince Gong’s authority was also weakening due to the constant conflict between himself and the Empress Dowager Cixi and so China did not progress. Eventually, Prince Gong was put aside from political authority and Cixi resumed control. Yet despite Cixi’s charisma and power, she lacked the ability to control foreign affairs and military strategy, thus there was no national leadership being provided and the self strengthening movement failed (Cohen, 2000, 286). Furthermore, as a result of the Sino-French war, China lost rule over Vietnam which showed that China could no longer hold authority over the things it was interested in. This undermined the whole movement of self strengthening leaving a weak central authority, adding to China’s failure to modernise. China’s humiliating defeat on both land and at sea in the Sino-Japanese war shows how China was lacking in its efforts to modernise. The Japanese were “better equipped, better led and more united than China” (Schirokauer 1993, 216) which shows that a shift in balance of power in Asia had now moved from China to Japan. Due to the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China had to renounce all control over Korea and hand over the Pescadores and Taiwan to Japan. Furthermore, China was also forced to open seven...
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