At the beginning of the 19th century, both China and Japan were societies governed by Confucian tradition. In Japan, Meiji-era modernization made it a great power over the course of a generation, but in China efforts at modernizing reform over the same period produced political fragmentation and rendered it vulnerable to foreign encroachment. Why?
China, the so-called Middle Kingdom, was the center of civilization in Asia for hundreds of years. Leaders from far and wide came to pay homage to the Chinese emperor, and Chinese goods were bought and sold by traders who had discovered the exquisite nature of the territories products, including it’s silks and ceramics. Chinese learning and culture, including the tenets of Confucianism, spread beyond China’s shores and informed the cultures of such population groups as the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese. But China’s educated gentry, more concerned about poetry and peace than about weapons and war, failed to realize that in a new era power would equate to industrial strength and military prowess. Unlike Japan, China failed to continue in its scientific and technological modernization. The Japanese attitude towards the West was considerably different than the Chinese. The Japanese were able to accept the Western system of equal and independent states much easier than the Chinese. Unlike Japan, China thought of itself as the true civilization and thought that nothing could be learned from the “barbarians” of the West. The Chinese thought eventually the West would recognize that China was a superior nation and they would conform to the Chinese way of doing business. Japan never had a superiority complex like that of China; theirs was more of an inferiority complex. The Japanese had learned from China, Korea, and India’s interactions with Western powers that it was impossible to fight the West. Thus one of the biggest advantages that the Japanese had over the Chinese was they did not have to...
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