Why should we understand China and Japan to be “renovating,” not “stagnating,” during the age
of European expansion?
China and Japan: States Under Renovation
● The West vs. The Rest
● East Asian States c. 1620s-1740s: Renovation, Not Stagnation
○ “There have been … two parallel developments of the human race, one on the
west of Europe-Asia, the other on the east …At the start, the Chinese seem to
have been fairly equal to the Westerners … Whence the decay on the east, the
increasing vigour on the west?”
■ The old narrative:
● While Europe expanded and developed, the previously powerful
states of Japan and China were stagnating, turning inward,
closing themselves off from the world.
■ A new narrative:
● From the 1620s through the 1740s, China and Japan were
carrying out important and productive internal reforms.
● Their rulers were focused on an era of productive internal reforms.
○ China and Japan: Upheaval to Renovation
■ Both had civil war/political upheaval in 1600s
● Qing and Manchu dynasty established
● Tokugawa Japan established
● Both in sensitive political situations
● Looking to strengthen and stabilize their regimes
■ As a result of this they limit their contact with West/ideas/commerce that
were seen as possible sources of destabilization of these new regimes
● Decided to focus on internal development instead
■ Preside for over 750 years
● Over rapid population growth, agricultural development,
strengthened political empires, increased internal economic