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During the 19th century, after a long period of independence, China and Japan came under pressure from west saying to open foreign trade and relations, however the two states response to the west was completely different even though the two civilisations was much similar.The Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States already created a line between them and the West, leaving the two asian countries behind in military and technology practice, they had no power to stand up for themselves during that period. So they had to sign a unequal treaty which was forced them to open their ports and cities.
The responses to the west in 19th century was that, Japan allowed western pressure to open trade but China refused to do that, and because of that japan was successfully modernized when china failed in doing so. As the both countries responses were totally different they had limited commerce with the west. China welcomed foreign trade but the western merchants had no advantage and were iced to canton where they were only allowed to deal with the Co-hong, who is a group of traders. Japan was even more tightened, allowing marketing only with the dutch, who also had only one place Dejima.
The situation was not very like by the western nations because they did not have much privilege dealing with the two countries. However the Britain sent a guy called Lord Napier to concern with the Chinese saying to open more trade. The chinese government refused the request and more problem arose between the two nations. Chinese troops surrounded the merchant’s area in canton. Tensions reduced itself, however the situation was caused by the British illicit trade in opium. In 1839 the new imperial commissioner Lin Tze-hsu went to canton and confiscated over 20,000 chests of opium from the british. Disagreements and refusal between the British and Chinese accusing a sailor of murder, led to armed ocean battle.
This was the beginning of a opium war. This resulted in china’s defeat and and establishment of a system of unequal treaties. Japan on the other hand was much more responsive to to the demands from the west in 1853 Commodore Perry was sent be the united states saying to open its ports and after he returned the next year the japanese government already accepted to negotiate with him. This was a completely different response from both the countries which is unexpected. After a long solitude of china and japan came to an end, they had to sign The Treaty of Kanagawa by Japan and The Treaty of Nanking by China , but china’s treaty was signed after a huge military loss and under many hindrance than Japan had.
The reason for this huge difference between the two nation is because the western nation did not force much on japan to end its isolation until the 1850s, more than a decade after the first opium war in China. This was caused because they had already engaged with other part of asia and lacked in resources and demands for western goods decreased Japan’s interest to the west. Japan had the information of what was happening in the opium war. The dutch repeatedly warned them through nagasaki that they have to agree to foreign demands. Therefore japan had the opportunity to see the result of China’s disagreement of western demands before it was their turn to respond to the west nation. China, on the contrary had no idea and there was no any previous example that the can look to so they had a great loss than Japan had.
The other reason for the difference is that china did not have any idea of what would happen and China’s authorities did not want scholarly dissent , wanting people to limit themselves from following orthodox text. Those text was copied repeatedly since the qing dynasty. And also they were the only source to know about the west because contacting with foreigners was restricted to the Co-hong in canton. That is why the chinese official could not understand that had been happening and great changes in the west during the industrial revolution, they did not face simple barbarians. As a result China was caught by the West by surprise and the ways of managing foreign relations which had worked reasonably for four centuries became useless.
Japan was intrested in gaining knowledge about and from the west compared to China. Although western books was banned since the 17th century due to fear of christian influence from 1720 the laws were properly followed until the dutch studies gained respect increasingly . And by the end of 18th century there were student of the west in every part of Japan. Even though Japan had less contact with the West, it was limited to the Netherlands. The shogunate were allowed only to promote learning about the west. They created the institute for the investigation of Barbarian books which in 1811 was an office in charge of translating western text, and by 1857 there was establishment of school on Western knowledge and languages. Scholars of western knowledge were allowed to raise their voices and opportunities to give in information freely.
Another difference between the responses of the two countries to the west is that Japan was competently modernized and also became an industrialized power, while china failed to do so. After the fall of shogunate and the start of Meji restoration in 1868. Japan’s new leader came up with the idea of making Japan a world power so that they wouldn’t need help to modernize their own country with the help of the west. Hence, foreign technicians were brought to japan and alot of japanese were sent to western countries to learn from them. Feudalism was put to an end, new taxation and coinage system started, and western infrastructure and institution were established. China tried western innovations and tried to modernize as well after the Taiping rebellion in 1864 but this happened to on such limited scale compared to Japan. Although railroads and new weapons and other western innovations were brought in, only a small part of the population was affected and didn’t really change the life of the chinese. China’s ruler failed to know that the achievements of the west need deep structural changes and to modernize it needs to change traditional institutions and ways of thought. Thereupon modernization in China was occurred only at a very superficial level.
So, in conclusion, as you can see how different the responses of the two countries were to the west in 19th century. Japan yielding the western nations trade relation and successfully modernized, at the same time China refusing the western power nations trade relation and remained undeveloped in the past. But China was faultless as it did not have any knowledge about the west or any one to guide them to the right way but Japan could look at China and get more knowledge about the west by looking at China’s result.

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