Could you please read my essay and give me some feedback? Thank you very much!
The prompt is:
The 1800s saw the steady decline of China as western countries gradually obtained concessions and control of extensive parts of the country. Japan, on the other hand, responded differently and began an extensive and intensive program of modernization. As a result, Japan not only kept control of its destiny, it also became a major world power. What do you believe made the difference in the reaction of the Chinese government to western encroachments and the Japanese reaction to the west?
Thank you in advance
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were particularly challenging for East Asian poles of power. China and Japan responded to western pressures in different ways, whose later implications entailed opposite political, economic and cultural consequences. Although the totally of the reasons that underlie the difference in the reaction of the Chinese and Japanese governments to western encroachments are far from being discovered, four main historical developments can shed light on the issue.
First, Japanese isolationism, which started in the sixteenth century with the advent of the Tokugawa dynasty, allowed the subsequent rulers to bar foreign political, economic, and cultural intrusions from permeating the Japanese archipelago. However, Japan did not stagnate because the traditional social stratification and institutions changed in reaction to the emergence of a new merchant class and to the Tokugawa centralization. Those two characteristics are not without reminding early modern European empires that later gave birth to the scientific Revolution and that spread Industrialization. Consequently, Japanese isolationism created the most beneficial conditions for the country to cope with the nineteenth-century Imperialism. China also isolated itself from western political and cultural influences but opened the Chinese economy to foreigners and awkwardly attempted to control the commercial penetrations of the western Imperialism, without success.
On the one hand, Chinese government favoured aggressive diplomatic and domestic policies rather than negotiations. Instead of altering the Chinese economic policies, the Qing dynasty preferred to be at war with Great Britain in 1839. The Western technological advances empowered the British to force China to accept Great Britain terms of commercial relations (Treaty of Nanjing in 1842). The Qing humiliatingly ceded territories to Great Britain (the island of Hong Kong) and opened its market to British traders (legalization of the opium trade). The Taiping Rebellion, which started in 1853 and which lasted eleven years before being crushed in 1864, did not incite the Qing into settling the peasants' plight. The first reforms to eliminate the European spheres of influence on the Chinese territory through the amelioration of the Chinese economy (policy of self-strengthening) only happened when the Qing dynasty was disintegrating. However, those efforts were not sufficient to prevent the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Once more, the Chinese government was unable to anticipate and tackle that peasants' revolt, which brought about a European repressive military intervention. Furthermore, even the Sun Yat-Sen's revolution in 1911 proved to be a failure as regards the creation of new institutions to change the Chinese society. Consequently, China entered the twentieth century and, vis-ŕ-vis industrialization, lagged far behind Japan at the same time.
On the other hand, taking advantage of the changes due to the isolationism under the Tokugawa and the unfortunate experience of China with the Europeans (both abovementioned), Japan managed to benefit from the nineteenth-century New Imperialism. Instead of taking the risk to definitively lose its privileges, the Japanese oligarchy initiated a wave of changes in the wake of the diplomatic and economic encounter with the United States of America. The westernization of Japan occurred during the Meiji restoration, which promoted industrialization in addition to the entire reform of the Japanese political framework without impairing the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie. The success of the transition was so encouraging and rewarding that Japan even took part in the craze for overseas expansion through the Sino and Russo-Japanese Wars. Consequently, Japan gained more and more confidence in its capacity to deal with Western powers, which entailed the continuation of its line of conduct with foreigners.
Furthermore, at the outbreak of World War I, Japan joined the Allies to pursue its expansionist foreign policy, which reinforced the links between Japan and Western countries. Indeed, the Japanese greed for German territories in the Pacific and in China, allowed Japan to overcome China as regards diplomatic and commercial relations with the West. Such a reaction, turned out to be a clever choice because the Allies eventually decided to recompense the Japanese government for its support during the conflicts. Accordingly, Japanese appreciated the returns of its political, economical, and cultural investments in the Western culture whereas China suffered from its tardiness in altering its political, economical, and cultural frameworks to adapt to the changing world.
Finally, the Chinese and Japanese management of the Western Imperialism highlights that those countries, which had a strong sense of their respective ethnicities and which had preserved their territorial unity, completely diverged in their manner of facing foreign pressures. One could argue that the practical approach of Japan was the best because that country benefited from a period of prosperity and expansion in addition to preserve its sovereignty whereas the Chinese experience was limited to enduring the assault of the Western Imperialism. However, one could advocate a different viewpoint and could support a nationalistic standpoint over the period. In this case, one could argue that Japan sacrificed its cultural exception to its integration in the nascent globalization of world affairs after having accepted to become a dependent sovereign state. China's inability to cope with its political and economic predicaments may have saved the Chinese nation from the first attempts of cultural standardization. In the light of those considerations, it becomes much more difficult to ascertain who were the winners and losers during this period.