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The First Opium War: China and Japan’ Differences Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2020

Book summary

The book “The Rise of Modern Japan” explores the rise of Japan to global power through industrialization, starting from the Tokugawa period to the present. The book offers detailed discussions of the most monumental periods in the modernization of Japan. The book offers primary sources to improve the reader’s understanding of Japanese history. To make the book interesting and to support the arguments made, the author includes maps, photos, Japanese art, and excerpts from various literary sources.

Some of the topics discussed in the book include the Edo Period, the Meiji Restoration, the modernization crisis, the cost of building a modern state, and the rise of militarism. The First Sino-Japanese War is discussed in detail and the role it played in the rise of Japan. The author discusses the topic from various perspectives including the treaty ports, the unequal treaties, and revision of the treaties, Japanese expansionism, and the origin of the war during the Meiji period. The author puts the war in a historical context by discussing the events that led to poor relations between Japan and China. The war is discussed in detail and provides insights into the role it played in the rise of Japan as well as the downfall of China.


The First Opium War and the Sino-Japanese War were supremacy battles that involved Japan and China and influenced their influence in the politics of Asia. The First Sino-Japanese War was fought between the Empire of Japan and China’s Qing Empire (Zachmann 64). They were fighting for the control of Korea. The Qing Empire’s loss was an overt indication of the empire’s failure to modernize its military forces and prevent other territories to form threatening its sovereignty (Cassel 72).

After the loss, regional supremacy shifted from China to Japan, an occurrence that was least expected because of China’s military and economic dominance in East Asia. The loss had severe political ramifications because the prestige of the Qing Empire and the supremacy of Chinese traditions in East Asia were undermined (Zachmann 64). The First Opium War was fought between the Qing Dynasty and the United Kingdom. The two entities fought because of their conflicting viewpoints regarding the treatment of Chinese nationals. Key points of conflict included trade, diplomatic relations, and administration of justice.

China and Japan took different approaches during both wars that had a varied political and economic outcome. The Meiji Restoration transformed Japan into an industrialized nation that embraced modernization, sent students to foreign countries to study, and welcome foreigners into the country (Cassel 77). In contrast, China remained weak due to military corruption and the prevention of foreigners from entering the country. The success of Japan in both wars marked a turning point in its industrialization while China’s loss and seclusion hampered its efforts to embrace industrialization.

The First Opium War

The First Opium War was fought between the United Kingdom and China and began after china attempted to smother the opium trade (Andree 50). Since the 18th Century, British traders had benefited from the illegal export of opium from India to China. However, they conducted it on a small scale until the early 1820s when it grew rapidly. The influx of immigrants into China had caused a rise in demand for opium. Conflicts between the United Kingdom and China emanated from trade imbalances.

The demand for Chinese goods in Europe was high while the demand for European goods in China was low because China did not allow Europeans to access its interior regions (Andree 53). The refusal by China to trade British goods and the demand to be paid in silver pushed British merchants to find ways to remedy the trade imbalance. As a result, the British India Company began to import opium grown in India into China and demanded to be paid in silver (Andree 55). British merchants then used the silver to purchase Chinese goods. The opium was then transported to China where it was sold to traders who transported and sold it inside China.

The expansion of opium trade led to low prices that increased local consumption. The drug became a menace as it penetrated all levels of society, compelling the government to respond swiftly (Lovell 72). The rising numbers of addicts were causing adverse economic and social disruptions that compelled the Chinese government to confiscate and destroy the consignments of opium (Andree 61). This move angered British merchants who lobbied their government for assistance.

They were only allowed to trade in the port of Canton. A few days later, British sailors killed a Chinese citizen, and the British government declined to hand them over to the Chinese government for trial. Britain’s primary goal was to increase its influence in China and when merchants lobbied the government for help, they agreed to assist because an opportunity for expansion into China had presented itself (Lovell 73). Hostility between the two nations led to attacks that began on the Chinese coast.

Britain had superior weapons and was able to defeat China effortlessly. As a result, Chia agreed to sign peace treaties that facilitated the entry of Britain into China. China conceded to British demands and agreed to trade with Britain after signing the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 (Andree 62). China agreed to open the ports of Guangzhou, Xiamen, and Shanghai to foreign traders. In addition to opening five ports, China also ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain (Lovell 75).

Increased collaborations between foreign traders and Chinese merchants expanded trade into the interiors. As a result, missionaries took the opportunity to introduce Christianity to villagers, thus undermining the Chinese traditions. The missionaries were free to spread their teachings because they were protected by the privileges offered to diplomats by the treaty. The treaty did not meet Britain’s expectations of better diplomatic relations and trade with China. This dissatisfaction culminated in the Second Opium War.

Throughout the First Opium War, China made decisions that compromised its chance of industrialization and political as well as economic supremacy in East Asia (Andree 69). First, the decision to prevent foreign traders from accessing its interior regions hampered the growth of trade. Second, the decision to go into war with Britain undermined the sovereignty of the Qing Empire as well as the supremacy of Chinese traditions in the region (Lovell 76).

Britain overpowered china because of its superior weaponry. China should have taken advantage of Britain’s economic and political power to forge strong diplomatic and trade relations. Third, giving British citizens extraterritoriality and the status of most-favored-nation affected its sovereignty because other western countries began to demand similar privileges. Losing to Britain in war disparaged the Qing dynasty’s prestige.

China mitigated the loss by signing the Treaty of Nanking that is historically described as a monumental decision that China made during the First Opium War (Lovell 79). The treaty opened the Chinese market to global commerce and established diplomatic relations with Western countries. However, it opened more ports to foreign trade after the abolishment of the Canton system’s restrictions. The war was monumental to the Chinese people because it marked the commencement of the country’s modern history and rebellion against feudalism and imperialism. The Nanking Treaty opened up China’s market to global trade. However, it undermined its mechanism for foreign relations and trade control because its terms favored foreign traders more than Chinese traders (Lovell 82).

Opium trade grew rapidly in China because even though it was illegal, corrupt government officials allowed it to continue under their watch. A government crackdown on the smuggling was the main cause of the war. As mentioned earlier, the Nanking treaty opened five ports for trade and abolished tariffs. The abolishment of tariffs prevented the Chinese from hiking duties to protect local industries from being overpowered by foreign trade (Lovell 85).

The treaty also awarded extraterritorial privileges to foreign traders so that they could not be tried in Chinese courts. As a result, opium addiction doubled because foreigners were subject to their country’s laws only. The treaty did not address the opium menace that was affecting the social and economic wellbeing of China. After destroying opium consignments belonging to British traders, Britain compensated its traders using the silver taels China had paid as indemnity.

The First Opium War contributed greatly to the weakening of China as a sovereign state (Lovell 94). The war sparked rebellions that opposed the legitimacy of the Qing Empire. The defeats that China suffered weakened the Qing dynasty. However, it opened up China to foreign influence as the various treaties signed led to an influx of foreigners.

The Sino-Japanese War

The First Sino-Japanese War was fought between China and Japan and marked the beginning of Japan’s rise as a major power in East Asia and the world (Saya 43). Also, it revealed the weaknesses of China as a sovereign state. The war emanated from the need to control Korea that both countries expressed (Saya 43). Korea had closed its markets to outsiders except for the Chinese Empire. Conflicts between China and Japan began in 1876 after Korea opened its trade markers to Japan (Menton 56).

A treaty signed between Korea and Japan opened up three ports to Japanese traders. The move expanded trade between Korea and Japan as well as Western countries. The treaty was highly controversial because, before its signing, Korea was considered a Chinese subsidiary (Saya 44). The signing and implementation of the treaty were followed by an uprising against Japan. Before the war, Korea had been conducting trade with China for a long time. Its strategic location and the vast natural resources were major attractions to Japan. Japan’s interference in Korea’s affairs began in 1875. Korea used its modernized economy to compel Korea to embrace foreign trade and break its foreign relations ties with China (Menton 56).

Modernization forces within the Korean government were from Japan while support for conservatism was from China (Saya 44). Antagonism between China and Japan reached a high point when pro-Japanese reformed plotted a coup against the Korean government. The coup was unsuccessful because the King was rescued by Chinese military units. The Chinese troops killed several Japanese soldiers, and as a result, heightened tension between the two countries. The signing of the Li-to Convention averted the war after both nations agreed to withdraw their soldiers from Korean soil (Saya 48).

Japan’s embracement of Western technology had facilitated the implementation of a modernization program that gave it superior economic and social advantages over China (Menton 57). Its social and economic influence among young Koreans was growing rapidly, and relations with China were beginning to stabilize. However, the assassination of Kim Ok-Kyun caused outrage among the Japanese public and threatened the relations between Japan and China (Saya 65).

The situation was exacerbated by the involvement of Chinese troops in suppressing the Tonghak rebellion. Japan’s exclusion by Korea in the rebellion’s suppression was viewed as an overt violation of the Li-to Convention (Zachmann 68). Japan responded by dispersing 8,000 soldiers to Korea to intervene. China responded to Japans’ interference by sending more troops. However, they were unsuccessful because Japan sank the ship carrying the reinforcements. China was angered by the act and declared war in 1894. Japan troops were able to defeat Chinese troops on land and sea. They invaded several provinces including Shandong and Manchuria. China’s calls for peace culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki (Saya 63).

As a result, China recognized Korea as an independent nation and ceded control of several provinces. Also, it was agreed that China would open allow Japan to conduct trade on Chinese territory. The treaty was later modified after France, Germany, and Russia expressed fears of Japanese expansion into China (Menton 59).

In the Second Sino-Japanese War Japan fought a stronger China because they had the support of the United States, Germany, and the Soviet Union. The war gave rise to World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese troops. The war was a rebellion against the Japanese policy of expanding its influence in the region to exploit the resources and carry on its industrialization program. Japan fought against a stronger China and surrendered in 1945 after bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. China played a key role in defeating Japan, and as a result, became a member of the United Nations Security Council.


The First Opium War and the First Sino-Japanese War marked critical periods in the history of Asia. Japan and China fought to maintain their sovereignty and reiterate their position of power in the East Asia region. In both wars, Japan emerged victorious because of its superior weaponry that was made possible by modernization. After the First Opium War, China’s military ability was a weakened and paved way for defeats in other wars. The success of Japan in both wars marked its rise as the most powerful Asian country during the 19th Century. Japan avoided conflicts with other countries by closing its trade markets to foreigners.

However, this stance changed after Shogunate was overthrown. The Meiji Restoration marked the beginning of modernization as Japan opened its markets to foreign traders and sent its scholars to Western countries to explore their culture. The First Sino-Japanese War was caused by the Japanese and Chinese strategy of acquiring Korea for territorial expansion. Korea was rich in natural resources that both countries wanted to exploit. Japan was particularly interested in Korea because the natural minerals would come in handy in implementing its industrialization program.

Works Cited

Andree, Cornelia. The First Opium War and Its Impacts on China. New York: GRIN Verlag, 2013. Print.

Cassel, Par. Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth Century China and Japan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Lovell, Julia. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams, and the Making of China. New York: Pan Macmillan, 2011. Print.

Menton, Linda. The Rise of Modern Japan. New York: University of Hawaii Press, 2003. Print.

Saya, Makito. The Sino-Japanese War and the Birth of Japanese Nationalism. New York: I-House Press, 2011. Print.

Zachmann, Urs. China and Japan in the late Meiji Period: China policy and the Japanese Discourse on National Identity, 1895-1904. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

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