Richard J. Smith

Rice University


A. Japan's "Charter Oath," signed by the emperor in 1868:

1. Articles 1-3 call for freedom of occupation and public participation in government

2. Article 4 states: "Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of nature."

3. Article 5 states: "Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule."

B. Cf. the preface to China's official record of foreign affairs, Chouban yiwu shimo (A Complete Account of the Management of Barbarian Affairs), presented to the throne in 1880. Note that this document casts all of the humiliations of the Tongzhi reign--Western demands for an audience with the emperor on terms of diplomatic equality; the use of foreign troops to defend the treaty ports from the Taipings; the loss of Chinese territory to the Russians; the failure of the Alcock Convention; the establishment of an Interpreters College to train Chinese in Western languages in order to meet the needs of modern diplomacy; the belated establishment of Chinese legations abroad (related directly to a mission of apology sent by China to Great Britain after the murder of a British consular official in 1875); the limitation of Chinese Customs duties, and the establishment of the Imperial Maritime Customs Administration--in terms of imperial condescension. The preface reads in part:

We respectfully consider that after the Tongzhi emperor came to the throne and stabilized the policy, . . . the amphibious monsters were quickly driven away and His Majesty's awful dignity vastly overawed everything within the imperial domain. . . . [When the barbarians returned to China] they requested to have an audience, no different from the Xiongnu king coming to the court of the Han dynasty. When they departed they wanted to join up as auxiliaries on the flanks of the imperial guard, just as the Uighurs assisted the Tang. The relied on the [emperor's] jade axe to mark off the rivers, confer their borders, and settle their boundaries. They presented cinnabar and turned toward civilization. How could they be aware that control-by-light-rein of the imperial pattern was entirely carried out according to the emperor's design? As a means by which speech might penetrate to all countries, the [Interpreters] College began to instruct in common languages. The fame of our classic books was spread everywhere. His Majesty proclaimed his orders to dispatch envoys abroad. . . . the merchants' customs duties were fixed, and . . . with the emperor's grace and rewards extended to them, [the foreigners] became cultivated and learned elegance and etiquette. Inner [Chinese] and outer [foreigners] formed one family.


A. Terminology

1. The Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) was a "revolution from above;" involved the restoration of the emperor to his "rightful" place (by the Meiji oligarchs, who, in fact, held virtually all political power)

2. Tongzhi Restoration (1862-1874) designed to restore the traditional political, social, economic and cultural order; no revolutionary changes; the power of the gentry class only increased

B. Some comparative indices of modernization, 1868-1912


Constitution, 1889
Parliament, 1889
West. calendar, 1873
Conscription, 1873
Declaration of class equality, 1871
Compulsory education, 1880
Charter Oath, 1868


Constitution, 1912, nominal
Parliament, 1912, nominal
Western calendar, 1912
No conscription
No equality
No compulsory education

C. Other indices:

1. In Japan by 1896, there were 7,640 modern factories; in China in the early twentieth century, less than 300

2. In Japan by 1875, there were over 100 periodicals; in China by 1890, only 35 journals and newspapers

3. In Japan, by 1893, there were 2,000 miles of railway; in China in 1894, 240 miles of railway

4. In Japan, Rousseau was translated in 1877; in China, not until the 1890s

5. In Japan, Tokyo University was established in 1877; in China, Beijing University (China's first university) was not established until 1901

6. First modern banks in Japan: 1870s; in China, only one, in 1898

7. In Japan, unequal treaties abrogated in 1897; in China, 1943

D. Legacy of the Meiji Restoration (to Japan)

1. Marked the onset in "modern" times of an alternating pattern of admiration for, and negative reaction to, the West; replicated a time-honored pattern of cultural borrowing from China

2. The Restoration also catapulted Japan into modernity; though Japan never enjoyed true equality in Western eyes; repaid its cultural debt to China by serving as a model for China's belated modernization after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895

3. Japan perhaps learned its Western lessons too well; became an imperialist power itself; ironically, Japanese colonization of Taiwan in 1895 and Korea in 1910 contributed significantly to the modernization of these areas (education, economic infrastructure, etc.); and ironically, too, Japanese militarism eventually brought defeat --which once again involved the West (specifically the United States) in Japan's modernizing process

E. The Legacy of Meiji Japan to China

1. Advocates of change increasingly urged emulation of Meiji Japan; e.g.: Many of Liang Qichao's reformist ideas seem to have come from Japan (also many of Kang Youwei's)

2. Missions of investigation sent to Japan; some high-level, but still not as many high-level Chinese dignitaries to Japan as Japanese dignitaries to the West in the early Meiji; Japan anxious to help China (Okuma doctrine: the idea of paying back Japan's cultural debt to China)

3. Japan was a source of refuge and inspiration for reformers; the Chinese student movement in Japan during the first decade of the 20th century was probably the largest mass movement of students in world history up to this point; the first 13 Chinese students went to Japan in 1896; in 1899 over 100; by 1904 1,300; after the exams were abolished in 1905; a great surge (an estimated 20,000 Chinese students in Japan by 1906); produced the first generation of Republican leaders

4. Japanese translations popular in China; from 1850-1889, translations from Japanese sources accounted for about 15% of total foreign works translated; from 1902-1904, over 60%; many new terms were Japanese neologisms or repatriated Chinese terms with new Japanese meanings (geming [revolution] shehui [society], ziyou [freedom], mixin [superstition], etc.)

5. Japanese advisers in all realms of Chinese reform, from 1898-1911; military, legal, constitutional; very little legal reform; filial piety provision of Qing code still legally enforceable until the end of the dynasty

6. Qing announcement of constitutional program in 1908 (nine year program of preparation) taken directly from Japan's experience in the period from 1881-1890; like the Meiji constitution, the 1908 Qing outline constitution stated that the emperor shall remain "sacred and inviolable"--and shall reign over and "govern the Qing empire with His Majesty's unbroken line of succession [!!] for ages eternal;" even more power given to the Qing emperor than his Meiji counterpart