East Asia in the 20th century was a continent dominated by a westernized, aggressive and nationalist Japan. This week we learned of the last dynasty of China, the Qing and the factors that led to their downfall and thus the dissolution of the state. With the impact of European ideas of identity, the Manchu Qing were quickly seen as distinct and a minority within the large Chinese population they ruled. Combined with the Opium wars, which placed China firmly under Western control through forcing Opium into China as a replacement of the depleted silver the West could no longer provide. The opium wars showed the population about the true weakness of the Imperial government in contrast to the West, which was directly shown by the opening up of embassies in Beijing. China’s fall as the hegemon of Asia resulted in resentment within the population, one aspect of which was shown by the people led boxer rebellion which sought to drag Westerners out of China because the government could not. The eventual overthrowal of the imperial government was expected after the humiliation placed on the nation.
In contrast Japan, who had been under Chinese hegemony reacted in a completely different way to Western Imperialism. Instead of open defeat by Western powers, they used the fact that the United States was able to open up the country by force as a means of rationalising the need to modernise. Like China, Japan too overthrew their government but in direct contrast to them, it was by the elites in order to perserve the cultural traditions through the ascension of the Meiji Emperor as the head of state. Japan was able to selectively keep their sense of cultural identity while still modernising in order to not be colonised and dominated in a Western controlled world. Through this then Japan was able to quickly militarise and consolidate an Empire by invading and subjugating Korea and even going further and starting to colonise their former overlords by taking over Manchuria.
The key difference between the two countries was the nature of their response to a Western dominated world. While Japan modernised, knowing that not doing so would allow it to be dominated, China, who was eclipsed by multiple issues across the nation, from the worst civil war humanity has ever seen to the racial tensions spread out across it’s society, was unable to do the same. Resulting in Japan overtaking China as the premier Empire in the region.