What Did It Mean to Be Modern in Early 20th Century East Asia?
What did it mean to be modern in early twentieth century East Asia? In the early 20th century, East Asia went through a process of modernisation to cope with the challenges brought by the Western powers. This process of modernisation was characterised by numerous features, ranging from military, political, economic, industrial and technological reforms to changes in the legal, administration, diplomatic as well as education and women. There were long term socio-political and cultural impacts which shaped the modern East Asia in the early 20th century. While modernisation was in no way equivalent to Westernisation, many in the early 20th century saw the West as a model for modernisation. Modernisation in East Asia was thus more often
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In Japan the path towards modernisation also meant the adoption of constitutional government and an imperial democracy. After the Meiji restoration in 1868, it provided for a form of constitutional monarchy, in which the emperor of Japan was an active ruler and wielded considerable political power over foreign policy and diplomacy which was shared with an elected Diet. The Diet primarily dictated domestic policy matters. After the Meiji restoration, which restored direct political power to the emperor, Japan underwent a period of political and social reform and modernisation aimed at strengthening Japan to the level of the nations of the Western world. The immediate consequence of the constitution was the opening of the first parliamentary government in Asia. In the early 20th century the struggle for democracy engaged academic theorists, journalists, feminists, outcasts and working men and women who expressed themselves in riots and in efforts to organised unions. For Japanese intellectuals liberalism meant representative government, constitutionalism, and rule by law. It meant individual rights and freedom from undue governmental interference in the individual’s life. It distinguished between the naturalness of society and the artifice of the state. Intellectuals who professed liberal views jeopardised their careers. For example, Yoshino Sakuzo had to resign his position at Tokyo University because he had argued that people