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Tarun Maheshwari asked: How was the Meiji period of Japan influenced by and in turn influenced the colonial developments in Asia?

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  • Pranamita Baruah replies: During the 19th century when many Asian nations were colonised by the Western powers, Japan too had to face a similar fate. It was forced to sign unequal treaties with the Western powers which granted the latter one-sided economic and legal advantages over Japan. As Japan had adopted an isolationist policy, closing itself to any outside influence, the interaction with the Western civilisation was an eye opener for the Japanese. It largely pushed Japan to turn itself into a democratic state emphasising on equality among all. Feudalism was brought to an end and boundaries among social classes were gradually broken down. Japan even introduced a European-style constitution in 1889 and took initiative to develop a parliamentary democracy. Rapid industrialisation also brought about drastic economic development within Japan. Thus, the political, economic as well as societal developments of the Western colonial powers had tremendous impact on Japan during the Meiji era.

    The Meiji period, however, also had a strong influence on the colonial development in Asia. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), Japan opened up and was determined to close the economic and military gap between itself and the colonial powers. To demonstrate itself at par with the West and to reap economic benefits just like the colonial powers, Japan colonised Korea and Taiwan. After Japan's victory over China in 1894-95, just like other colonial powers, Japan signed a treaty with China which gave them special rights on China's Liaotung Peninsula. Japan's emergence as a colonial power as well as a strong military and economic power can be treated as a significant development in East Asia during the pre-War era.

    Posted on April 25, 2014