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East Asia Dynamic Development Due to Western Influence


The main focus of this term paper is to discuss trends or dynamics, that have influenced the East Asian Civilization since 1860. This paper will try to analyze and explain in detail whether the changes East Asia have been brought about by western influence or by its own dynamics.

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Some concise about East Asia

Before discussing the influence of western or East Asian dynamics, this section will take a closer look at some of the common aspects the East Asian countries share and their regional differences. East Asian countries mainly include China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan. Even though all these countries fall under East Asia, “there are some clear physical subtypes within each national population.” (Murphey para 4).

East Asian people are called black-haired people. Physical characteristics of Mongolian people are fleshy, straight black head hair, short limbs, high cheekbones, flat faces, etc. All other countries have got racially mixed characteristics. In the case of language, it is different in each country, though there are some similarities between some languages. “The Korean language is related to Japanese.” (Murphey para 5).

Similarly, the Vietnamese language shows some distant relationship with the Chinese language too. Saying about civilization, among all other East Asian countries, it was the Chinese who implemented a successful model of civilization very early in their country. China was considered being rich and powerful than other countries.

While mentioning boundaries and the home base of East Asia, starting with China, is surrounded by high mountains includes the Himalayas and Pamir’s, which lie on west and northwest. In the north, there was a steppe desert of Mongolia “with the Daxingan Range enclosing Manchuria on the northeast.” (Murphey para 8).

“Korea is an obvious subunit as a peninsula walled off from Manchuria by the Chang Bai Shan (Long White or Snowy Mountains) and the gorge of the Yalu River.” (Murphey para 8).

An empty ocean separates Japan from other countries of East Asia. Being a part of East Asia, Japan’s civilization is more closely related to China and Korea. High productivity for agricultural land is found in East Asia. The Source of wealth in this region was agriculture. Techniques of agricultural activity first started in China and then it spread all over East Asia. Chinese civilization includes “cultivation of grains like wheat; domestication of animals such as sheep, cattle, and horses; the wheel and chariot; bronze and iron.” (Fairbank and Reischauer para 3). During those times the civilizations of East Asia were quite independent and did not get influenced by western ideas.

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Dynasty in East Asia

A very short description of the dynasty has been included here; as it will provide a bridge to significant changes that happened in East Asia after 1860. Different dynasties have brought significant culture into East Asia. Qin dynasty formed the first empire in China. “Over the next two millennia, the pattern of dynasties falling and rising continued, but civilization was never severely disrupted.” (East Asia para 1).

After the Qin dynasty, different comes of dynasties came up in china were Han, Ming, Tang, Song, and Qing dynasties. During that period, Japan was also ruled by different dynasties, and the period they ruled was known as the Kamakura era, Edo era, and Meiji era indicating each of the dynasties and their period of rule. The rulers of these dynasties have made many innovations and inventions, especially in China. Confucianism, paper, gunpowder, and the compass were some of the inventions and innovations that need special mention. Also, many trade routes, like the once-famous silk route, etc. had been made for promoting trades with other countries. Though Chinese culture had been highly influenced by neighboring regions such as Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, etc. there is no doubt that china had one of the most advanced civilizations. But towards the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Imperial rulers allowed these East Asian countries to move perilously close to western culture and influenced by it thoroughly.

Opium war and its effects

There was no doubt that it was after the opium war western countries were able to penetrate and could influence East Asia and China in particular. This opium war opened the door of China to the outside world and it lasted for nearly 3 years. “British warships destroyed Chinese coastal and river forts and seized the offshore island of Chusan, not far from the mouth of the Yangtze River.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 9). Before 1842 all countries in East Asia were closed and unfriendly. Because of this war Chinese political and social structure had been shattered. China was forced to sign many treaties, which brought western capitalism into the Chinese market. In a treaty, called the treaty of Nanjing China agreed to open nearly five coastal ports for British trade. Opening these ports for the British was a serious threat to the security of the country because once ports are opened British can enter any time they wanted. This move prompted the collapse of the entire Chinese market and was economically dependent. It was after the opium war Chinese people and officials started a serious rethink and learned that they have a lot to learn from the west. They realized that in order to bring back the glory they enjoyed in the past they need to learn a lot from the culture adopted by the west. Also, they realized that defeat in the opium war was due to their lack of knowledge in the use of modern weaponry. Intellectuals of China started to study western countries and their technological advances which in turn allowed them to understand its usefulness and they started importing many western technologies and industries into China.

East Asia in transition

The power of westerners spread over these countries from 1860 onwards. The transition of East Asia especially China and Japan started on or before 1860. “Westerners have tended consistently to exaggerate the importance of their role in China.” (Murphey para 5). Initially, the people of China ignored the presence of westerners but as days progressed, they started feeling the influence of Westerners. Westerners encouraged china to follow their path of “progress.” China was forced to sign many treaties on foreign trade activities that allowed westerners also to trade in China. It was “after 1860 the foreigners increasingly saw that their best interests would be served by keeping the weakened Qing dynasty in power, propping it up as a client state that was unable to resist them and would do their bidding.” (Murphey para 10). The decline of imperialism in China began in the late 1870s. Western technologies were started to be adopted in China that was weakened by war “while Confucian principles and institutions were maintained intact.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 15). After the defeat in the war one of the reformist thinkers mentioned that to stay in the competitive world country must adopt “technological superiority of the West.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 20).

Reformists mentioned that the power of bow and arrow used in the war couldn’t be compared with firearms used by westerners. He mentions that the effect of new is not the same effect of old.

Every system followed in East Asia slowly changed and they started to adopt western styles. They strongly felt the need to change which they thought was essential in order to stay in a highly competitive and vastly changing world. Western presence in China made a huge impact during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and some of their modern projects were built with technology borrowed from the west. “These included a highly successful steamship company, a modern-style coal mine, a telegraph company, and several modern textile mills.” (Murphey para 15). The growth of industry and trade was also highly noticeable. The national market for oil, copper, tea, coffee, etc was built in western style. European standard banking methods were adopted during those days. “Chinese efforts to imitate Western methods, notably in shipbuilding and weapons manufacture, were dominated by the government and often suffered from mismanagement.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 42).

Many railway lines were built with the help of private foreign companies.

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The educational systems in East Asia also changed a lot with the importance given to Confucian education steadily decreasing and to many people, western-style education became more desirable. “The old dynasty attempted to modernize by establishing an educational system on the Western model with universal education at the elementary level.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 50).

The status of women in society also changed a lot. They were considered useless sex objects during the Qing era and were expected to be at home always. But this notion underwent a vast change in the latter half of the nineteenth century as “women began to seek employment in factories-notably in cotton mills and in the silk industry” which had been come up with the help of westerners. (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 52). “Christian missionaries began to open girls’ schools, mainly in the foreign concession areas.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 53).

Many Chinese students went abroad for education with the help of missionaries. This was mainly done to understand deeply about foreign culture and their styles.

The power of western nations had made a significant change in Japan. “Western nations began to approach Japan in the hope of opening up the hermit kingdom to foreign economic interests.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 56).

Japan opened two of its ports for the United States. The United States later asked Japan to open several ports for trade purposes. This way the United States strengthened its influence in Japan. “Having strengthened their influence at the imperial court in Kyoto, they demanded the shogun’s resignation and the restoration of the emperor’s power.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 58).

Japan realized the need to change the traditional methods they were following in order to transform. With this social, political, economic changes had occurred all over Japan. The influence of western culture and technology made a massive industrial revolution in Japan. “Another key focus of the reformers was the army.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 73).

A major program had been implemented in Japan to strengthen the military forces in order to compete in the modern world.

The education system also underwent a key change. “They adopted the American model of a three-tiered system culminating in a series of universities and specialized institutes.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 74).

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At the same time, bright students are sent to foreign countries whatever subjects the west had to offer. Once they came back, they were assigned to teach in schools of Japan. “Japanese invited technicians, engineers, architects, and artists from Europe and the United States to teach their “modern” skills to a generation of eager students.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 86).

“In another break with tradition, women for the first time have allowed getting an education.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 74). Young people of Japan exposed to western culture started imitating western culture in clothes, eating, etc. “By the end of the nineteenth century, however, changes were underway as women began to play a crucial role in their nation’s effort to modernize.” (Duiker and Spielvogel Para 77). During the period 1894 to 1912 sixty percent of women represented the labor force of Japan. Korea and other East Asian countries also adopted the change in the policy, which is similar to what China and Japan have done in order to stay in the competitive world.


Whether western pressure was valuable or hurtful is still a contentious issue. But there is no doubt that East Asian country mainly China and Japan have accelerated their development due to western influence. Western influence brought modern means in activities like production, transport and communication. Because of western influence, the integration of the Chinese market into the global economy happened. Western civilization is one of the most stylish stages of human progress. So, in my opinion the influence of westerns lit the lamp of progress and allowed the backward society of East Asian countries to move forward.

Works Cited

Duiker and Spielvogel. The Essential World History: Shadows Over the Pacific: East Asia under Challenge. Learning for Life.

East Asia: China and East Asia. All Empires: Online History Community. 2009. Web.

Fairbank, John K. and Reischauer, Edwin O. China: Tradition and Transformation: Early China: The Birth of a Civilization. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

Murphey, Rhoads. East Asia: A New History: Chapter 1: East Asia: Common Ground and Regional Differences. Pearson Longman, 2004.

Murphey, Rhoads. East Asia: A New History: The 20th Century unfolds in Asia: China in Decay. Pearson Longman, 2004.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'East Asia Dynamic Development Due to Western Influence'. 7 November.

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