Black Ships Off Japan: The Story of Commodore Perry's Expedition

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Read Books, 2008 - History - 320 pages
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BLACK OFF JAPAN THE STORY OF Commodore Perrfs Expedition BY ARTHUR WALVORTH. INTRODUCTION: THE AUTHOR OF THIS INTERESTING, VALUABLE, AND TIMELY book treats the expedition of Commodore Perry primarily as the opening act in a continuing drama of Japanese-American relations, a drama in which the theme is the clash of two na tional cultures, the impact of American evangelism eco nomic, political, and religious upon the traditional con servatism of Japan. He is right to choose this treatment, to describe the expedi tion as an important and indeed a decisive episode in the for eign policy of the United States. This is no doubt where its immediate significance lies. But, for the student of general history, it has a further interest, for as well as being the open ing act in a modern drama it was, seen from another aspect, the culmination of a process which Has continued since antiquity. The story of the gradual penetration of Occidental civili zation is a long and fascinating one. It may be said to begin with Alexander the Great's invasion of India, an enterprise which, despite its magnitude, left but little trace upon an ancient and advanced civilization in which religious and so cial institutions had long ago been stereotyped. For many centuries to follow, the efforts of European peoples to estab lish closer relations with the great Asiatic communities re sulted in little more than a trickle of trade over land or sea routes and the journeys of a few Christian missionaries to the courts of Eastern potentates. Even in the great age of mari time discovery, when Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers forced their way all along the shores of Asia, their trading ventures and theirmissionary labors had but little effect upon the essential traditions of the Asiatic peoples whom they encountered. Indeed, it may be said that, on the contrary, from ancient times until the modern age Asia has exerted a greater influence upon Europe than Europe upon Asia. It was not until the nineteenth century that this trend was definitely reversed. Before that, although European influences continued to attack the strongholds of Asiatic tradition, they made but little impression upon its defenses. Because of some well-known features of her exclusion laws, we are apt to think of Japan as peculiarly sequestered. But we ought to remem ber that, until the great Occidental states brought their supe rior military or naval power to bear upon Asiatic peoples, those peoples all remained imperturbably confident in their own institutions. Their attitude is well illustrated by the opin ions of a great Chinese monarch, the Emperor Ch'ien Lung, who flourished in the eighteenth century. He received with great courtesy an embassy from England which came to nego tiate a commercial treaty. But he made it clear to the Ambas sador that although it was praiseworthy of the foreigners to try to partake of the benefits of Chinese culture, it would be quite impossible for them at such a great distance to acquire even the rudiments of civilized behavior; while as for trade, he added, China possesses all things in abundance, and we do not want your products. This was before the French Revolution had changed the political atmosphere of the West and before the Industrial Revolution had released in the world forces which the ancient cultures of the East could not permanently withstand. Thence forward they musteither submit to those forces or endeavor to turn them against those who had let them loose. This was the challenge which confronted all Asiatic countries in the nineteenth century. The Japanese were the first to take it up with vigor and purpose; and the way in which they met it is the substance of the history of modern Japan.

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