Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The Meiji Restoration was the movement of Japan in the 1800s toward a modern nation. It was the reaction of the changing times as the West moved into the East and began to force changes. Seeing how China fared so badly against the European forces, Japan opted to reinvent itself. Instead of caving in and letting Europe control them or fighting against the forces and having similar results the hard way, Japan decided to make a new nation that was more compatible with dealing with the West. A new government was created during this time as well as new economic policies. The genius of the Meiji Restoration was in the simple fact that the new regime did not try to make changes overnight nor did it refuse to learn from its mistakes. Changes were gradually implemented to lessen the shock to the nation. If changes did not get the desired effects, they were modified. Success was to be had even if it took a few decades. This allowed the nation to experiment with new formats and processes as well as being open to becoming one with the world. There was resistance, but they were determined not to get lost in the steamroller of colonialism. (1)
Siam, modern Thailand, was another country who was able to hold off colonialism while bringing its people into a new world. King Mongkut and his son, Chulalongkorn, were determined to move their nation forward. They explored modern science, politics, and the arts. Just as the rest of Asia found itself faced with European dominance, they found themselves able to redirect the focus of those powers to argue amongst themselves. This allowed Thailand to continue its own path of development. While bringing the nation forward, the people wanted a completely democratic government. The monarchy felt the nation was not ready for such a move, but the government changed despite the feelings of the royal family. Thailand’s people took control and surged forward. Many think now that being so far removed from such influences of the Europeans before making the move toward democracy has hurt the nation and its ability to have an effective democratic government. (2)
Both Japan and Thailand saw the benefits the West could bring to them. Though they did not want to become a European colony or lose their identity, they saw that the future was changing and was willing to embrace those changes and modify them to fit their people better. Japan took an early approach and changed leadership but did so in a manner that would have more lasting and beneficial effects. Thailand refused to change leadership but allowed the leadership to grow and develop the nation. Each one saw the silver lining of the future and the influence from the West, but each one took a different approach to the same end. Japan moved early to replace leadership and move forward. Thailand tried to keep the old leadership with a new direction. In the end, Japan’s movements were more successful though both were highly successful in not being swallowed up by the European colonialism wave.
(1) Mark Borthwick, Pacific Century: The Emergence of Modern Pacific Asia, Third Edition, (Westview: New York, 2007), 117-123.
(2) Ibid, 319-324.