History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 1998: Q.7
Q.7 The years 1853-1894 witnessed the transformation of Japan. Explain.
Japan was a feudal state which was in seclusion with Emperor just as a figurehead and real power lying with Shogun, who was originally the chief officer of Emperor but had managed to monopolise the power.
Opening of Japan to Western exploitation
Japan had wrapped herself in rigid seclusion but in 1853, her veil was opened by the USA when US Navy appeared in Japanese waters to demonstrate strength, demanding protection for American sailors and allowing American ships to put into Japanese ports. Japan was forced accept the treaty to throw open two ports to Americans. By 1867, almost all European nations concluded treaties with Japan by which they secured commercial rights, open ports, extra-territorial rights and control over tariff.
Restoration of Meiji Emperor
The opening up of Japan by foreigners gave rise to anti-foreign movement which soon developed into agitation to abolish the Shogunate, who was blamed for allowing foreigners. Many of the feudal lords with strong anti-foreigner sentiments demanded that actual power of the state be restored to the Emperor. In 1867 Shogunate was abolished and the imperial authority was restored, thus started Meiji era.
Internal reconstruction of Japan
Centralisation of authority
The abolition of the Shogunate paved the way for centralisation of authority which was the first need of the state. Next step was the abolition of feudalism.
Abolition of feudalism
The feudal lords voluntarily surrendered to the Emperor their fief and became in the eyes of the law ordinary subjects. The old warrior class Samurai also gave up their class privileges.In one stroke, feudalism was abolished which gave the way for the organisation of the state on a national basis.
A change so sudden and inspired by such unselfish patriotism is rare in history.
With the end of feudalism, fighting ceased to be privilege of the warrior class, the Samurai. This was substituted with national army which recruited from all section of society.
As a result of nationalisation of army, an important social change took place. The old distinction between warrior class and the commoners disappeared. Everyone became equal in the eyes of the law.
Westernisation of Japan
Japan studied the affairs of Western Europe and adopted Western institutions and technology.
A new constitution was framed on Prussian model with Emperor as head of State and a representative assembly with two houses. This avoided excess of democracy yet encouraged talent of every class for the service of nation.
New code of law
New legal codes based on France and Prussia was built. Objectionable features of old laws like use of torture was abolished. Japan hoped that new codes would help in knocking out extra-territoriality
Progress of education
Compulsary elementary education was introduced for both boys and girls. Universities and technical schools on Western lines were founded under state supervision and emphasis was led on vocational education. Foreign teachers were invited and englsh was made compulsory in schools.
Army and Navy
The army was nationalised, reorganised on Prussian lines, equipped with modern weapon and compulsary military service introduced.
Steps were taken to build navy on British lines.
In an amazingly short time, Japan equipped herself with railways, telegraphs, postal facilities, steamship. Mines were developed and new industries involving machinery and large scale production were introduced. The currency was reformed, banking sector developed and international commerce increased several folds.
Hence by 1894, Japan practically completed the transition period of her history which had started from 1853. Japan was transformed from a backward feudal state to a modern state.