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Tag Archives: Pacific Ocean

Japan Meets the West 1853-1905

tokyo

The date was July 8, 1853; the place, Yedo, a sprawling collection of wooden houses overlooking an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Yedo, later known as Tokyo, was the chief city of the Japanese islands, off the east coast of Asia. It was larger than London or Paris, but since Japan had been out of touch with the rest of the world for centuries, few foreigners knew it. Yedo was also the residence of an official called the shogun, who theoretically governed the country in the name of the emperor. As they stared out at the bay that day, the people of Yedo could hardly believe what was happening before their eyes. In spite of a strong wind blowing seaward, four black ships were moving steadily toward them, trailing streamers of black smoke. Panic seized the onlookers and they rushed to defend themselves. The strange craft turned out to be warships from a distant land called the United States. They were commanded by an officer named Matthew Perry. Perry had not come to attack Yedo; instead, he bore a friendly letter from the American president to the Japanese emperor. He asked the shogun’s representatives to deliver it and sailed away, promising to come back. The following February, Perry returned, this time with seven black ships. The officials who greeted him enjoy the whiskey and other liquors he gave them and marveled at working models of a telegraph system and a steam locomotive. After a round of parties, talks began between the visitors and their hosts and on March 31, 1954, a treaty was signed between Japan and the United States. Although this treaty opened only two small Japanese ports to American traders, it was of great importance, for it cleared the way for many other treaties between Japan and the …

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The Powers Carve Up China 1841 – 1914

opium

China, that immense portion of East Asia bounded by the chilly Amur River and the hot jungles of Indo-China, by the Pacific Ocean and the Himalaya Mountains, was the most populous country on earth. For thousands of years, China had had a highly developed civilization. Its people thought of their land as the world itself; to them, it was the Middle Kingdom between the upper region, heaven and the lower region, hell, which was made up of all other lands. They considered foreigners nothing but barbarians. Only a few Europeans had entered China since the Middle Ages and the Chinese had scornfully refused to trade with them. The Europeans remembered China, from accounts like those of the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, as a land of fabulous wealth. They longed to lay hands on this wealth and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the imperialist powers managed to get some of it. Despite its size, China was very weak. In the family of nations it was like a fat old grandfather whose head was so full of old-fashioned actions that he could not understand the boisterous young people around him. The old man was sick, too — with “internal disorders.” For the Chinese were more and more discontented with their Manchu emperors. The Manchus were the latest imperial dynasty in a line stretching back over two thousand years. Their ancestors from Manchuria had conquered China in the seventeenth century and many of their subjects still thought of them as foreign barbarians. From time to time, the Chinese rebelled against them and tried to drive them out. China had troubles of its own even before the foreign imperialist came. The greatest uprising against the Manchus was the Tai-Ping Rebellion of 1850. Twenty million people died — as many as lived in …

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Japan, the “Source of the Sun” 3000 B.C.-A.D. 400

japan

THE Japanese islands — four large ones and many smaller ones — rise out of the Pacific Ocean to the east of China and Korea. They form a bow that bends from southwest to north for eleven hundred miles. The northern tip is at the same latitude as Montreal and the southern tip at that of Florida. Long ago, the people of the islands noticed that the sun always seemed to rise out of the ocean. They named their land Nihon or Nippon, “the source of the sun.” To the Chinese, on the mainland of Asia, the sun often appeared to rise from the direction of the islands. So they, too, called the islands “the source of the sun.” In their language, this was jih-pen. While the islanders continued to call their country Nippon, people in other parts of the world borrowed the Chinese name and called it Japan. Altogether, Japan is no bigger in area than Montana. It is so mountainous that only about a fifth of it can be farmed. Where the land is not too steep or rocky for farming, the soil is poor. Japan is fortunate in its climate. The southwestern part of the country has such a long growing season that farmers can raise two crops a year. Their main crop is rice, which yields more food per acre than almost any other food crop. The waters around Japan are full of fish. This is why Japan has been able to support a large number of people, even though it has so few natural advantages. The Japanese belong to the same Mongoloid race as the Koreans, Manchurians, Mongolians and Chinese. They are shorter and often darker-skinned than their neighbors and their men grow beards more easily. Because of their smaller bodies, some scientists believe that …

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The Coming of the Mongols A.D.1135-1368

mongol

IN 1135, Hangchow became the capital of the Southern Sung. Thereafter, the Sung kept an uneasy peace with their unwelcome northern neighbours, the Chin. Then, out of Mongolia came the mighty Genghis Khan, whose warriors and their descendants were to spread terror across Asia into Christian Europe and the lands of Islam. Before he died in 1227, Genghis had crushed the Hsi Hsia and all but crushed the Chin. His son, Ogodai, made a treaty with the Sung emperor, and the Sung and Mongol armies together put an end to the Chin. This alliance with a barbarian power turned out just as disastrously for the Chinese as Hui Tsung’s alliance with the Chin. The Mongols moved south against the Sung. When Ogodai died in 1241, his son Mangu took command. When Mangu died in 1259, a year after his cousin Hulagu destroyed the Abbasid caliphate in faraway Baghdad, his brother Kublai carried on. The Sung army resisted bravely. Both sides used cannon and catapults — huge engines which hurled rocks and bombs in the same way a crossbow hurled arrows. Some catapults were so big it took a hundred men to operate them. If the Mongols had not had such weapons, they might have been stopped. Much of South China consisted of flooded rice fields and canals and cavalry warfare would have been difficult if not impossible. In 1276, Kublai took Hangchow. Next he took Canton. In 1279 his men destroyed the last ships of the Sung fleet. Soon after this, the despairing Sung emperor flung himself from a high Cliff into the sea. Long before his victory was complete, Kublai had picked a name for his dynasty. Earlier barbarian conquerors had taken the name of a region or of a famous Chinese dynasty of the past. Kublai did not …

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