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History Essay Assignment

The Meiji Restoration does the fit the description of a classic revolution. A
classic revolution consists of mass-based uprisings that brought about radical
changes to the political and societal structure. The Meiji Restoration is often
regarded by many as a classic revolution due to its massive changes in the
political and societal structure. Even though there is indeed massive changes
in the two important factors, the lack of mass-based uprisings that led me to
believe that it is not a classic revolution. Another point of the Meiji
Restoration that differs from a classic revolution would be the extensive
economic changes that was so great that Japan changed from a little known
country to a super power that is known throughout the world. It is due to
these two points that suggests that the Meiji Restoration should be
considered a revolution in its own right, and cannot be considered as a
revolution in the classical sense. Even though there are arguments debating
on whether these points are indeed correct, there are several flaws in the
logic of the arguments, which will be discussed in later points. The Meiji
Restoration is not a classic revolution as not only were there radical changes
to the political and societal structure, but economic changes were also
prevalent, and mass-based uprisings were absent.
The Meiji Restoration brought about radical internal political changes and
societal changes as the event not only changed the ruling power of Japan but
also changed the power held by most of the society of Japan. Normally, the
transfer of power would go from Shogunate to Shogunate. However, due to
the Meiji Restoration, the power was transferred from Shogunate to Emperor,
and the Shogunate was completely eradicated from the societal structure of
Japan and a Provisional Government consisting of other clans were formed in
their place. Not only that, but the Samurais were also taken away from the
structure and Daimyos lost much of their powers. This can be seen from the
paper, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present,
where it is stated that top leaders of the new Provisional Government
consisting of leader from clans like Choshu and Satsuma abolished all
Daimyo domains and bribed Daimyos with yearly salaries for them to retire.
When the Daimyos relinquish their power, samurais were also incorporated
into armies and slowly eradicated from the system. Besides the figures in the
societal structure that lost power, other figures such as the Chonin gained
power and status due to the increase in trade with the foreign powers. This
can be seen in the Charter Oath signed by Emperor Meiji, rule 5, which states
that Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen
the foundation of imperial rule. One can see from these events that there
are many changes made in the society and politics, where power and status
were changed throughout the whole of Japan. However, arguments can be
made that the political changes were not as radical as it was believed to be.

The Provisional Government might just be another Shogunate that would


govern the country and use the emperor as a figurehead, which will show
that the changes were only in name and not political changes. After all, the
Provisional Government were the ones that abolished the samurai class and
took away the powers of the Daimyo. Furthermore, it was the Emperor that
wrote that letter to foreign powers hoping to from relations with them, yet it
was Iwakura Totomi, Junior Prime Minister of the Provisional Government that
went to other countries to discuss terms with them. Such can be seen from
the letter Emperor Meiji sent to President Ulysses Grant concerning Iwakura,
which states that the Emperor invested [him] with full powers to proceed.
Concerning these arguments, there are certain loopholes in them that shows
that the Emperor was indeed in control meaning that there was indeed
power transferred radically. For one, the Provisional Government actually
took back all the lands from the Daimyos because they believe that all lands
and people were subject to the emperors rule quoted from A Modern
History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. This shows that they
were still considered the lands as the emperors and not theirs, and were
merely consolidating all the power for the eventual distribution of it by the
emperor. Furthermore, the dispatching of the Junior Prime Minister instead of
the Meiji Emperor also shows that the Meiji Emperor is important in the
governing of Japan. If the Meiji Emperor actually went out of his country to
discuss terms with other nation, leaving his country in the hands of the
Provisional Government during his absence, one will definitely see his use as
no more than a figurehead as the Provisional Government will be running
Japan, even if it is for a short period of time. However, since he sent a
representative instead, it shows that the country needs his presence to
maintain order, ad shows that he plays an important role in the governing
and is not just a figurehead with no power. By establishing the fact that he
has power over Japan, one can safely say that Japan has indeed changed
politically as the Emperor is not just another figurehead as he was before.
The Meiji Restoration does not have any mass-based uprisings but has a
coup dtat. Around 80% of the Japan population consists of peasants.
Because of this, a mass-based uprising must be supported by them, who are
the majority, or else it would only be considered a coup dtat. Even though
there are protests by peasants once in a while against the Tokugawa
Shogunate, it was the middle-classed samurai and Daimyos who were the
ones leading the rebellion against the Tokugawa Shogunate. Not only were
these rebels the minority of the population, they were also the minority of
their class. This can be supported by maps that show the land area of Japan
during the 19th century. The rebellion, led by Satsuma, Tosa and Choshu, only
occupy a small area of Japan, whereas the Tokugawa Shogunate had more
supporters even in terms of feudal lords who govern the lands. This shows

that a minority of the people participated in the rebellion. However,


arguments can be made that the peasants do not need to support the
rebellion by participating in the fighting. This point can indeed be true as the
strict laws of Japan then forbids anyone to participate in work other than
their own, and thus peasants cannot train to be soldiers. This may be the
reason for the peasants to be unable to participate in the rebellion, and gives
the impression that peasants are unsupportive of the rebellion when in fact
they may actually vie for the idea of Toppling the Tokugawa Shogunate.
However, this arguments are not true. If the peasants were really into the
idea of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate, they would not be concerned
about the laws set by them regardless of the penalty. They will train and
ignore the laws set by the Tokugawa Shogunate as they were opposed to
them in the first place. Furthermore, the peasants did not share the same
views as the rebels. The rebels wanted to overthrow the Tokugawa
Shogunate because they find them incompetent. However, the peasants only
wanted the Tokugawa Shogunate to provide them with better living
conditions and less taxation. Such is the reason for the protests mentioned
earlier in the paragraph. This can be supported by the PowerPoint Slides on
Lesson 11, where it is stated that Peasants periodically engaged in rebellion
against government because of poverty, starvation, high taxation. Due to
this points, it can be seen that the peasants did not support the rebellion as
they have a different point6 of view. Without the support of the majority, the
rebellion is considered a coup and not considered a mass-uprising.
The most important reason why the Meiji Restoration is not a classic
revolution is because of the extensive economic changes that occurred after
the Restoration. Before the Restoration, Japan had no modern technology,
relying on horses and swords. However, after the Restoration, Japan relied on
steam powered machines and guns. This is supported by A Modern History
of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, where observers said that
Japan leapt at a bound into the 19th century. Industrialisation took place and
Japan was progressing at the same rate as all the other super powers in the
World at that time. Meiji Restoration was not merely a power struggle in
Japan, but rather is also the reason for the success Japan achieves.
Arguments may state that Japan would have still achieved the economic
changes, and that the Restoration is redundant in the economic situation.
After all, there was already trade between Japan and the foreign powers, and
the trade would eventually lead to new technology for Japan, even though
the Tokugawa Shogunate strongly disagree to trading and minimizes it. The
flaw in this argument was the lack of mentioning the situation the Shogunate
was in. The Shogunate was being forced by the foreign powers to do trade
with them, and if the Restoration had not happened, the Shogunate will still
be in power. The implications would be disastrous. Since the foreign powers

know that the Shogunate is helpless and cannot reject their demands, they
will want to keep them helpless. They might stop introducing new
technologies to Japan so that the Shogunate can never fight back and reject
their demands. Rather, they will resort to threatening in order to obtain the
resources from Japan. End result might be that Japan would essentially
become a footstool for the foreign powers to become more powerful, while
they still remain in their third-world state. From this, one can see that should
the Meiji Restoration not happen, the economic situation would not increase
at a slow rate but rather stop entirely after some time. That is why the Meiji
Restoration indeed changes the economy and is not redundant in changing
Japan economically.

From the above points, it can be seen that the Meiji Restoration is a
revolution as it is the reason for Japans rapid progress, but cannot be
considered a classic revolution due to the lack of a mass uprising.

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