East Asia, The Modern Transformation notes

for The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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Page 2
Notes from

East Asia, The Modern Transformation
by John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig

America had made a treaty with China in 1844, with provisions for renegotiation in 1856, but the Chinese refused to negotiate. The U.S. in that time had a considerable naval presence in China, as evidenced by the Perry attack on China in 1853-1854. Victory in Japan, followed by Japanese treaties with other Asian nations, encouraged them to press for more advantage in China. Lord Palmerston of Great Britain found a pretext when Chinese police caused a British flag to be lowered from a Chinese-owned boat. The war, joined by the French Empire, lasted 4 years, with a treaty signed in 1858 giving the British and French empires the right to permanently have ambassadors residing in Peking [Beijing] with their monarchs on an equal basis with the Chinese monarch. America secured an identical treaty on the tails of the British. The Chinese reneged on the treaties, so another war was fought in 1859-1860, resulting in the Franco-British seizure of Peking. In addition to confirming the 1858 treaties, the British grabbed Kowloon Peninsula and received an indemnity. In effect the entirety of China was opened to the Western powers. [169-171]

The imperialist powers supported the Manchu dynasty against the Taiping Rebels. Frederick Townsend Ward of Salem, Massachusetts led a mercenary army including foreign soldiers against the Taipings from 1860 to 1862, nominally as a Chinese imperial officer. Then the British officer Charles George Gordon took his place with great success.

In contrast to China, the Japanese economy had some modern characteristics, like a credit system and a rice futures market, before Western intervention. The farming system was commercialized and quite efficient. The population around 1700 was likely around 30 million. Standards of living were rising, but the aristocracy was losing out to the new class of merchants and bankers, resulting in the cutting of stipends to the samurai class. "Actually the Japanese capacity for saving and investment was to prove unique in the modern world. Wide familiarity with long-range economic investment, the goal-oriented nature of society, and a tradition of frugality and pride in simple living may account for this phenomena." [190-191]

Opposition within Japan to American and other Western interference continued after Perry's successful raid, led by the Choshu nobility. There was a complex struggle between the Shogunate, the nobility, and the Imperial house, including peasant and samurai revolts. Under pressure, in 1862 the shogunate agreed to expel the westerners, setting June 25, 1863 as the action date. But an embassy to the U.S. in 1860 to exchange ratifications of the Harris treaty came back with the opinion that military resistance was futile. Choshu tried to do the expulsion alone, firing on American, French and Dutch ships in the Strait of Shimonoseki on the appointed day. On July 16 an American warship retaliated, shelling forts and sinking two Western-style gunboats the Choshu had recently purchased. On July 20 the French landed soldiers who destroyed the Japanese forts. The shogunate and Choshu/imperial forces fought in Kyoto, with the shogunate victorious. Choshu continued to fire at foreign ships, so in September 1863 a 17 ship combined English, French, Dutch and American fleet destroyed the forts along the Strait and forced Choshu to agree to leave the Strait undefended; an indemnity of $3 million was levied on the shogunate, even though it had opposed the Choshu plans. In return for reducing the levy the shogunate singed a new treaty in June 1866 ending restrictions on foreign trade and reducing the import tariff rate to 5%. By this time even the vehement anti-foreign parties in Japan felt a new strategy was needed. [216-219]

In a civil war between imperial (really Choshu and Satsuma and allies) and shogunate supporters, the supporters of the Emperor won out in 1868. By that time the imperial faction, while anti-Western in rhetoric, had realized that to not become a colony of the barbarians (Westerners) as much of Asia already had, they would need a Western-style military. That in turn would require a Western-style industrialization effort, Western education, and other departures from tradition. [225-227]

The new Japanese government had to issue new paper money in order to cover its expenses. In 1869 there were over 1500 varieties of paper money in the country. But confidence was restored in the 1870s as the economy expanded as feudal restrictions were abolished and foreign trade increased. The decimal system was adopted in 1871. Taxes and banking were also reformed. [234-235] In 1882 the Bank of Japan and a European-style banking system were created, the earlier America-style system having proven inadequate. By 1886 paper currency was on par with silver currency. [259]

Despite considerable missionary efforts, Christianity was not a part of Westernization. Though it became a recognized religion, in 1889 there were only 87,000 Christians in Japan.

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