CHAPTER I
JAPAN IN THE EARLY
NINETEENTH CENTURY

Decay of feudalism--changing role of the samurai--growth of
merchant guilds--rural society

WHEN EUROPEAN explorers of the sixteenth century rounded the Malay peninsula and moved into Far Eastern waters they confronted a civilization quite different from those which they had found in India and western Asia. Over an area extending from Tongking in the south to Korea in the north they met with a culture which was in origin Chinese, its members looking to China as the heart of their international structure and the source of their dominant beliefs. It was not an entirely uniform culture, for the degree and nature of Chinese influence had varied with both time and place. Nevertheless the differences between one part of the region and another were no greater than those to be found within the boundaries of Europe, certainly not great enough to make invalid the application of a common label to the whole.

Japan was part of this civilization. From earliest times she had been affected by Chinese ideas, deriving from China many important elements of her culture: her written language, most of the literary forms which it employed, her concepts of kingship and family, the Buddhist religion, the tenets of Confucian philosophy. Even Japanese art, however original in detail or in treatment, remained recognizably Chinese in derivation. On the other hand, political relationships between the two countries had rarely been as close as this might seem to imply. Sometimes Japan had shown herself willing to accept an inferior status because of the economic benefits it could bring. Sometimes she had rejected it with scorn, even at the risk of

-1-

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