Age of Imperialism: Japan & China

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The nineteenth century was a turbulent time of western imperialism and a major Asian power shift. European powers and the United States had a destabilizing effect on the region and the choices Japan and China made in response their imposing expansion was a major contributor to the trajectory of their respective futures. Social factors, such as the differences in national and religious unity, also played a role in the how the two nations emerged from the Age of Imperialism.

European trade with China was historically restricted. In 1793, emperor Qianlong denied King George III's request for fewer trade restrictions by declaring, “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance... There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians” (Qianlong qtd in Strayer 882). This restrictive trade policy remained in effect until the Treaty of Nanking was reluctantly signed in 1842. In the 1830s, illegal British imports of opium to China had increased from 1,000 chests to more than 23,000 at the cost of millions of Chinese citizens addicted to the substance (Strayer, 885). In response to the growing problem of addiction, the import ban on opium was determined to be inadequate to protect Chinese interests which resulted in the government banning opium altogether in 1836. Unswayed by the new law, British merchants and Chinese opium addicts continued to conduct business as usual because the corrupt Chinese officials were happy so long as they received their cut of the money.

The opium trade led to three distinct problems within China. First, the sheer number of addicted citizens was a detriment to the country. Next, China was losing the stockpile of silver they had accumulated over the past ce...

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...e did not pursue an agenda to protect themselves against European interests. Japan, on the other hand, chose to bide their time, learn from their oppressors and use that knowledge to throw off their shackles. Furthermore, Japan successfully started an Industrial Revolution which gave them a high degree of economic freedom whereas China experienced an economic collapse with no means to stimulate production. China did not wake up to the fact that it needed to change with a changing world until it was too late and suffered the consequences of their arrogance. Japan chose to embrace the ideals that led to Western success and reaped the benefits of that decision.

Works Cited

Strayer, Douglas. Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources.Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2011. 877-903. Print.

Ch'ing China: The Opium Wars. Richard Hooker, 1999. Web. 2 Jul. 2011.
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