j - IB2History

Compare and contrast the attitudes
of China and Japan to reform and
change during the period 1861 to
Thesis statement
• Although China’s attitude towards reform and
change were similar to Japan’s attitude to
some extent, there were fundamental
differences between the reform movements in
both nations. These differences outweigh the
Point of comparison: nature of the
• Both Japan and China realised that conforming to western ideas
and adopting western technology was the way forward.
– Feng Guifen (pioneer of the Self Strengthening Movement): “Why are
the Western Nations so small yet so strong? Why are we so large yet
so weak?”
– Japan: “Use the barbarian to control the barbarian”
• Both Japan and China saw modernisation as a way to reduce foreign
influence and ease tensions caused by the unequal treaties.
• Both Japan and China claimed to maintain/”restore” a traditional
– China: Tongzhi “Restoration”
– Japan: Meiji “Restoration”
Point of contrast: nature of the
• The Self Strengthening Movement was far more rooted in
– China wanted to reinvigorate Confucianism more than to
introduce Western ideas.
– Although there were attempts to reinvigorate Shinto and loyalty
towards the Emperor, the adoption of Western ideology took
• Reforms in Japan were undertaken by the central
government, for the benefit of the nation. The
uncoordinated reforms in China were undertaken by a few
leaders, unrelated with the central government. Whilst
reforms in Japan were well funded, reforms in China were
corrupt since there was little distinction between personal
and national gain.
Point of comparison: methods of
• Three areas of reform were common to both
– Economic: development of infrastructure, industries,
businesses, trade, etc.
– Education: western curriculum and western ideas
– Military: development of modern arsenals and
western military techniques
• Foreign aid was accepted by both nations, in the
form of financial and intellectual support.
• The political systems in both countries adjusted
to allow greater contact with foreign nations.
Point of contrast: methods of reform
• The Chinese populace was unwilling to adopt western ideas, since they
still had a superiority complex. However, the Japanese were more willing
to adopt western ideas.
• The changes in Japan were far greater. Unlike China, Japan’s reforms
Development of capitalism
Abolishment of feudalism and development of land ownership
Development of a semi-democratic system
Development of a western-style judiciary
Changes in social lifestyle and social tastes
Centralised military with conscription
• China’s reforms were limited to certain provinces that the scholar gentry
controlled. Japan’s reforms were nationwide.
• Japan, unlike China, saw imperialist expansion as a way to strengthen the
Point of contrast: hindrance factors for
• Certain hindrance factors created difficulty for reforms in
China. Since it was relatively easier in Japan, their attitude
towards change would have been more positive.
– China had a large population and a large landmass. Far reaching
reforms would take longer than Japan.
– Western encroachments in China were far more severe than in
• Another aim of the Self Strengthening Movement was to
quell civil war in China. Japan didn’t have such problems,
since the most severe case of civil war was during the
short-lived Satsuma Rebellion.
• The West wasn’t completely alien to the Japanese. Japan
had learned about Western ideas before China through
“Dutch Learning”.
• The differences between the reform movements in China and Japan
caused Japan to be more successful in modernising its country. This
highlights a clear difference between Japan’s positive attitude
towards modernisation and China’s negative attitude.
• Historians agree with this assessment but emphasise different
reasons why it is so.
– Joseph Levenson and Mary Wright emphasize the
incompatibility between China’s adherence to Confucianism and
– J.A.G. Roberts and Immanuel Hsu emphasizes the lack of
government support in China.
– Nigel Cameron emphasizes corruption in China
– Wakeman Jr. emphasizes the lack of development of capitalism
in China
• Some elements of the reform movements in China and
Japan were similar. Both saw it as a way forward, both
saw it as a way to reduce foreign influence, both
appeared to maintain traditional roots, both carried
out similar reforms.
• However, the attitudes to reform and change were
much more different. Japan’s changes were wider,
more centralised, more effective and less affected by
• Japan clearly had a positive attitude towards change,
compared to China, making them more successful in
the long-term.

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