Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI THE MODERNISATION OF THE ECONOMY

A CASUAL observer in the middle of the nineteenth century might well have considered that the attitudes of the Japanese and the Chinese towards the intrusion of the Westerners conformed to the same pattern. Both peoples opened their doors with reluctance. In both countries the governments were compelled to yield by the pressure of superior force. Even though a sharp divergence in policy soon showed itself, and while the ultimate reaction of Japan was entirely different from that of China, the initial phase had, it seemed, many features in common. Yet this similarity was superficial. In nearly all respects, and at the beginning no less than in later years, the contrasts were more striking than the resemblances.

Even the causes which had originally led to the adoption of a 'seclusion' policy differed fundamentally in the two countries, and this difference itself accounts for many of the subsequent contrasts in behaviour. China, as the Emperor had informed George III's embassy in 1793, possessed everything that man could desire and had no need for foreign goods. Its Government was prepared to allow its merchants to deal with the importunate foreigners who naturally wanted to share in the benefits of a superior civilisation; but it saw no reason to encourage foreign trade and, in placing restrictions upon foreign intercourse, it was moved chiefly by a desire to preserve its national customs from contamination by the barbarians. The exclusion policy thus sprang from conservatism fortified by a consciousness of an immense superiority. With the Japanese the motives were quite other. Before the Tokugawa Shogun had established his authority at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Japanese had been an outwardlooking people.1 They had welcomed foreigners and had shown an intense curiosity about foreign ways. What led the Government in the middle of the seventeenth century to exclude foreigners from Japan (except for the few Dutch merchants who were allowed to trade at Deshima) and to forbid Japanese to leave the country, was fear--fear of foreign aggression and of the danger that foreign intercourse presented to the political régime.

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1
The Shogun, or military governor, controlled the central government during the period in which the Emperor held alòof from the administration of the country. The House of Tokugawa governed the country as Shogun from 1603 to 1868. The government of the Shogun was known as the Bakufu.

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