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Contact with the West Brings Changes in Asia (the East)

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In July 1858 a small fleet of American warships steamed into Tokyo Bay in Japan. The commander, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, had served during the War of 1812 and the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848). Perry’s voyage into Japanese waters did not mean that Japan and the United States were at war. Instead, Perry was bound on a peaceful mission, although it was expected that a show of force would help him to accomplish his purpose. For years American and European ship captains had tried to enter Japanese ports to trade and obtain supplies, but without success, for the Japanese mistrusted Western peoples and Western ways, but the Japanese were impressed by Perry’s steamships (the first they had seen) and by the big guns these vessels carried. The Americans were allowed to land and present their request that Japan begin to trade with the United States. Then Perry sailed away, giving the Japanese time to make up their minds. When he returned some months later in 1854, the Japanese rulers agreed to a treaty whereby American vessels could trade and obtain supplies in two Japanese ports. Within a few years, more generous terms were granted both to Americans and to Europeans. Perry’s voyage showed how keen was the interest of Western nations in trade with Asian countries even in the mid 1800’s. Later, as Western nations became more and more industrialized, the same scramble for trade took place in Asia and the Pacific as in Africa. Countries sought greater trading privileges, or areas which they could control, or outright colonies. There was, however, one major difference between imperialism in Africa and imperialism in much of Asia. In many parts of Africa the colonizing powers could ignore the Africans. Statesmen could sit around the table with explorers’ maps …

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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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