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Was the Meiji change a restoration or a revolution?

Question:

Was the Meiji change a restoration or a revolution?

The Meiji Period:

The Meiji period in Japan occurred between the years of 1867 to 1912. Prior to this, the Tokugawa Shogunate, a coalition of powerful daimyos, ruled Japan, and had done so since the early 17th century.

Answer and Explanation:

The Meiji change or period can be seen as both a restoration and a revolution. However, most historians tend to refer to it as a restoration, mostly because an emperor had wrestled the ruling power away from the daimyos; thus, the emperor's leadership role had been "restored." However, there was, in fact, a revolution, that caused this "restoration" of the emperor's power. This revolution had occurred in 1867-1868, when two of the largest Japanese estates, the Satsuma and the Choshu, joined together to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate. When they were successful in their overthrow, Mutsuhito (better known as Emperor Meiji) came to power as the ruler. Therefore, those events constituted a political revolution.

But, the changes that took place while Emperor Meiji was in power were sweeping but were not a revolution, at least not a political one. This is why historians refer to these changes as the Meiji Restoration. This was a period of huge improvements in the military, infrastructure, industry, education, and banking. To be sure, it can be argued that these changes constituted a social revolution. Think of how, for example, historians have named the Industrial Revolution for the sweeping improvements made as a result of the steam engine, etc. Moreover, there was a politically revolutionary aspect of the Meiji period, too, as a new constitution was drafted. This constitution changed the nature of the Japanese government, as it made it a bicameral system.

To summarize, it can be asserted that the Meiji period was a revolutionary one more than it was a mere restoration of old-time ways.


Learn more about this topic:

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Meiji Restoration: Causes & Effects

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Chapter 4 / Lesson 13
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Read about the Meiji Restoration and its effects. Learn when the Meiji Restoration began, its main goal, what caused it, and how it changed Japan.


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