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Compare and contrast how China and Japan dealt with the arrival of Europeans.

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Beginning in earnest in the 17th century, European merchants were eager to get their hands on goods and products from China and Japan. Both Asian nations were reluctant to open up to these outsiders and strictly limited their access to their markets. Just a handful of Dutch ships were permitted into Japanese ports throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and given a modest trading post in Hirado. The Chinese limited European trading to just a few ports with very little access to the nation's interior.

By the mid-19th century, growing Western pressure forced both China and Japan to grant more access to foreign traders; however, the way it unfolded for each nation was very different. When the Chinese attempted to ban the import and sale of opium, they entered into a series of disastrous wars with Great Britain. The Chinese defeat led to a slew of one-sided treaties that forced them to allow certain European powers greater access to their country. This was a huge humiliation for China.


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Both China and Japan had faced similar challenges from the West (both faced severe challenges from Western imperial powers and ended up signing unequal treaties with the West, with the new foreign presence instilling new waves of domestic turbulence) but had responded in very different ways. The elites of both countries responded to the challenges posed by Western penetration by initiating reforms. In Japan, the Meiji regime chose to remake themselves entirely through Westernisation, while in China, the Qing government chose instead to hold on to traditional Chinese values and institutions. China’s efforts at reforms, including the Self-Strengthening Movements and the Tongzhi Restoration, were in essential traditional answers to traditional problems. There was no significant, large-scale industrialisation in China and the Machus displayed little willingness to abandon traditional imperial institutions that were incapable to dealing with contemporary problems. Chinese cultural pride was just too deeply ingrained, so much so that it became an impediment, blinding many Chinese and preventing them from recognising the need to learn from the barbarians and for fundamental change. On the other hand, Japanese efforts to adopt foreign technology to meet their military and industrial needs were largely successful. The Meiji regime, however, saw that military technology and industrialisation could not be separated from institutional structures that had produced and accompanied such developments in the West, and showed little hesitation in transforming or abolishing traditional institutions in favour of those that could give Japan the modernity it needed to survive. Overall, the Meiji Restoration was a tremendous success for the Japanese and allowed them to join the ranks of Western new imperial powers.