5.8I: Reforms and Modernization in Japan, China, and the Ottoman Empire

team (2)

AP Theme

Social Interaction and Organization

Learning Objective 5J

Explain the causes and effects of calls for changes in industrial societies from 1750 to 1900.

Historical Development 1

In response to the expansion of industrializing states, some governments in Asia and Africa, including the Ottoman Empire and Qing China, sought to reform and modernize their economies and militaries. Reform efforts were often resisted by some members of government or established elite groups.


Industrialization Allowed Industrial Powers to Further Expand into Asia and Africa

After losing control in the Americas, European powers turned their attention to Africa and Asia. Their expansion into these areas ranged from outright control to indirect control over decisions made by native governments. 

The problem for African and Asian societies

At the end of the first half of the 19th century, China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire faced an expansionist Europe at their doorstep. Faced with industrial Europe’s economic and military might, these civilizations were on the verge of becoming European imperial possessions. 

Unequal treaties: While they maintained their formal independence, during the 19th century, Europe had managed to force China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire into signing unequal treaties that expanded European control over portions of their territory and economy.

Key term: Unequal treaties are agreements signed between nations. The more powerful nation forces the less powerful nation into an agreement that primarily only benefits the more powerful nation. 

Potential solutions to the European problem

Scholars in these societies debated strengthening their societies and stopping a European takeover. Modernizers thought that their societies should start European-style reforms to strengthen their societies. In most places, this meant industrialization to modernize their economies and military. 

Challenges in reforming their societies 

Traditionalists often resisted reforms because they saw them as challenges to their power. They worried that if their societies reformed, reforms would weaken their power.

A variety of external and internal weaknesses weakened China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire

How did industrial powers influence China?

Between 1839 and 1860, China fought a series of battles against the British known as the Opium Wars. After their loss in these battles, China  

  • Loses during the Opium wars had forced China to sign away control of specific ports to European control. 
  • China signed Hong Kong over to British control. The British controlled the territory until 1994.

How did industrial powers influence Japan?

Japan had closed off its ports to most European and American traders in the 17th century had managed to keep most European influence out of Japan. 

  • In 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Tokyo harbor with four gunboats seeking to re-engage Japan. 
  • Japan agreed to Perry’s request and opened two ports to refuel and provision American ships to preserve their independence. 
  • Later treaties required the Japanese to allow outside merchants and missionary activity into Japan.

How did industrial powers influence the Ottoman Empire?

The Ottoman Empire reached its peak by the end of the 16th century, right as Europe was strengthening. 

  • Ottoman military defeats resulted in them signing a series of unequal treaties called “capitulations.” 
  • These agreements granted Europeans various special privileges in Ottoman territories, such as exemption from Ottoman laws and the right to not be taxed by the Ottoman state. 
  • By the mid-19th century, the Ottomans lost substantial territory in Africa and eastern Europe.

What internal problems weakened China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire?

Internal weaknesses also made societies more susceptible to European expansion.

Qing Dynasty China


  • The central government lost power to local officials and landholders 
  • Unequal treaties limited the Chinese government’s power over territory and trade relationships  
  • Inefficient tax collection limited government revenue  
  • Public services did not keep up with population growth

Economic and technological 

  • Non-industrialized and lacked modern technological innovation
  • Chinese businesspeople mostly worked for the benefit of foreign traders  
  • Financial debts 

Society and culture

  • Chinese peasant anger pressure from local governments to pay increased taxes


  • Government corruption
  • Inefficient administration 
  • The forced opening of Japan resulted in political instability
  • Unequal treaties forced Japan to have low import and export taxes

Economic and technological 

  • Lack of industrialization and technological advancement

Society and culture

  • Unrest between old elite classes like the samurai and daimyo who saw their social status declining
The Ottoman Empire


  • Territory lost to European aggression and Nationalist movements in Eastern Europe (Balkan and Arab nationalism)
  • Inefficient tax collection limited government revenue
  • Unequal treaties 
  • Foreign merchants paid no taxes
  • Central government power lost to local government officials, and regional warlords 
  • Ineffective military

Economic and technological 

  • Position in commerce declined as Europeans increased control over trade
  • Lack of industrialization and technological advancement 
  • Intense competition from European machine-made products 
  • Debt from foreign loans

Society and culture

  • Merchant suffered due to less important position in global trade 
  • Artisan classes go into economic decline to cheaper industrial products from Europe

China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire Reformed Their Societies to Modernize and Strengthen Them

Governments began reforms to strengthen their societies against European influence.

The Chinese Self-Strengthening Movement

The Self-Strengthening Movement was a movement in which the Qing dynasty in China attempted to modernize the Chinese government, military, and educational systems to better compete with industrialized powers.


  • Overhauled the Confucian examination system to recruit candidates better equipped to handle China’s modern challenges 
  • Attempted to modernize Chinese military

Economic and technological 

  • Attempted industrialization  (steel, textiles, armament, and shipbuilding  factories)
  • Repaired dyke and irrigation systems  to restore rural economic balance

Society and culture

  • Dismantled old Confucian based social system (social roles and classes)
  • Sent scholars, westerns, and engineers to the industrialized nations to study
The Japanese Meiji reforms

The Meiji reforms were political, economic, and social reforms that sought to transform Japan from a primarily feudal and agricultural society into an industrialized power.


  • Recentralized Japanese government under the Meiji Emperor 
  • The power and privileges of the daimyo, shogun, and samurai ended 
  • Legal equality granted to all citizens 

Economic and technological 

  • Successful state-guided industrialization
  • The state built and owned modern industrial factories 
  • Built modern infrastructure (railways, telegraph, and postal system)

Society and culture

  • Dismantled old Confucian based social system (social roles and classes) 
  • Studied and mimicked  western science and technology-sent Japanese to the west to study
  • Western fashions and culture became popular
The Ottoman Tanzimat reforms

The Tanzimat reforms were a series of government policies that attempted to strengthen the weakening Ottoman Empire.


  • Created new military and administrative  institutions 
  • Ambassadors sent to and received from Europe to train officials in modern administrative techniques 
  • Re-centralization of the state 
  • Western law codes–legal equality for most citizens
  • 1908 Young Turks Revolution resulted in experimentation with democratic governance

Economic and technological 

  • Attempted industrialization 
  • Built factories that produced cloth, paper, armaments, telegraphs, steamships, and railroads
  • Built modern mining operations

Society and culture

  • Established educational institutions, including for some women
  • Studied and mimicked  western science and technology–sent Ottomans to the West to study

Some Elites Groups Resisted Reforms and Modernization

Members of elite groups often resisted political reforms, which they viewed as threats to their power.


Various groups in China resisted reform. 

  1. The Chinese ruling family: Chinese empress Cixi herself was never wholly dedicated to her own government’s reforms. In one instance, she refused to allow the building of a railway because she thought it was too loud. Cixi also resisted reform where she felt change might threaten her power. 
  2. Confucian scholar: Many Confucian scholars who had dominated the Chinese bureaucracy for thousands of years resisted reforms, especially when scholars thought reforms went against traditional Chinese culture. Confucianists viewed western ideas as “unorthodox” and inferior to the ideas of ancient Chinese “sages” such as Confucius.
  3. Rural landlords: The powerful rural landlord class resisted reforms because they worried reforms would shift power to the cities.


The samurai had traditionally held a place of high status in Japanese society. As the Meiji reforms successfully transformed japan, they became angry at their loss of power and status. The samurai were particularly angry at losing their position as its military elite. 

The Samurai made their last stand against Meiji modernization in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion. During the rebellion, samurai leader Saigō Takamori fought to restore the power and status of the samurai. He argued that the new Japanese government was betraying traditional Japanese culture. Many of his forces were unemployed samurai. Ultimately Takamori’s forces lost to the Meiji government’s superior military capability. 

The Ottoman Empire

  • Various old elite groups also resisted reform in the Ottoman Empire. 

The Janissary: The Janissaries were one of the most influential groups in the Ottoman Empire. When Sultan Mahmud II (1785- 1830) decided he wanted to reform and modernize the military, the Janissaries viewed it as an assault of their power and resisted. They had even resisted small changes, such as updating their military uniforms. In 1826 the Janissaries revolted when the Sultan. The mutiny was defeated, and the Sultan crushed and dismantled the Janissary. 

Nationalists: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of rising Turkish nationalism. As a result, the Ottoman state began to become more Turkish.  

    • Non-Turkish members of the multi-ethnic Ottoman empire grew increasingly anti-Ottoman. 
    • Arab nationalism began increasing as Arab tribes on the Arabian Peninsula began to agitate for separation from the Ottoman state. 
    • The Greeks, Serbians, Bosnians, and Bulgarians in eastern Europe also asserted their unique identities and resisted Ottoman control. 

Islamic scholars: Islam had always been the dominant religion in the Ottoman Empire. Islamic scholars had held prestigious positions within the Ottoman government. When the Ottoman State became legally secular under the Tanzimat reforms and democratic under the Young Turk revolution in the early 20th century, Islamic scholars saw their power and prestige diminished within the Ottoman administration. As a result, they actively began writing and preaching against the Ottoman government.

Outcomes of Chinese, Japanese, and Ottoman Modernization

Reforms of political and economic systems had mixed results. In Japan and Russia, reforms successfully industrialized their societies. Reforms failed to produce industrialized societies strong enough to survive in China and the Ottoman Empire. 

Why did the Chinese Self-Strengthening movement fail?

Despite some success with the modernization and industrialization of China’s political, economic, and military systems, the Chinese Self-Strengthening Movement failed. Reasons for the failure included the following. 

Resistance of elite groups: Many conservative Confucian elements within China opposed industrialization. Their opposition meant Empress Cixi’s government only half-heartedly tried to modernize. Powerful rural landlords also resisted industrialization, worried that the growth of urban, industrial, and commercial wealth would restrict their historical privilege. 

Failure to fully industrialize: The Chinese never successfully adopted industrialization, unlike the Japanese. As a result, they remained dependent upon industrialized powers for machinery, industrial technology, and expertise.

Outside powers: The Chinese national government could not prevent foreign powers from operating in China to advance their foreign agendas. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China in 1901, with the Qing dynasty unable to quell the rebellion, European and Japanese forces occupied the Chinese capital of Beijing and crushed the rebellion. The Qing dynasty finally collapsed in 1911, ending thousands of years of unbroken Chinese dynastic rule. 

Why did the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms fail?

The Tanzimat reforms failed to strengthen the Ottoman Empire. 

Limited Industrialization: Despite some success in opening modern factories, telegraph lines, and railroads, the Ottomans could never industrialize on the scale of other European powers. The Ottomans remained reliant on Western industrial powers for weapons and military technology. 

Unequal treaties: Western European exemptions from Ottoman tolls, tariffs, and taxes gained through unequal limited the revenue of the Ottoman stage. Lack of money prevented the Ottoman state not having enough money to complete necessary reforms and industrialization.  

Nationalism: Rising nationalism in the outer territories of the empire, especially eastern European Christian areas, rejected the Turkic and Islamic character of the modern Ottoman state. These nationalist movements resulted in territory breaking away from the Ottoman Empire. 

Following their defeat in World War I, the Ottoman Empire broke apart. The new country of Turkey came into existence on the Anatolian Peninsula. The British and the French supported various regional leaders and monarchies in the old Ottoman territories. These leaders were indirectly controlled by either the British or the french through the Mandate System.

Why did the Japanese Meiji reforms succeed?

Japanese modernization successfully turned Japan into a modern industrial power. By the start of the 20th century, Japan had begun building an empire of its own in the Pacific region.  

Reasons for successful Japanese modernization included: 

  1. Japan’s ability to modernize without relying too heavily on foreign capital and financing prevented them from becoming indebted to wealthier nations.

  2. Economic planners built heavy industry and infrastructure like railroads and consumer goods like textiles, increasing tax revenues available to the government.

  3. The military built a modern munitions and weapons industry allowing Japan to become a regional military power.

  4. The government successfully prevented conservative social, political, and economic forces from resisting modernization and industrialization.