CHAPTER V.THE AWAKENING
Thus Japan had reached the limits of its possible development under its old ideals and organisation, and needed contact with fresh sources of life. Feudalism controlled by a central autocratic power, religion for the people but subsidised and governed by the State, an orthodox philosophy taught in the schools with divergent teaching forbidden, art and literature and etiquette becoming more and more precise and minute, but without new motifs or great movements, a peace so profound that war was only the dim tradition of centuries past, a social system crystallised,-the scheme was complete without so much as a desire for change. Groups of men, here and there, it is true objected to this or that, criticised, from the stores of history showed other systems to be possible or of higher right, but they effected nothing, and no organisation was formed seeking to take their theories into the domain of practical politics.
The self-contentment was so complete that events from without could disturb it no more than critics within. Early in the nineteenth century, Russia encroached upon the Japanese domain in the North, and finally forced the unequal exchange of Saghalin for the Kurile Islands. Repeatedly British ships came to Japan, the increasing importance of the Pacific Ocean to commerce making isolation impossible, and finally, in part through the Dutch at Nagasaki, and in part through the researches of native scholars, the condition of the Western world was brought to the attention of the Government, but all was without effect. The Government permitted matters to drift, neither fitting itself for effective resistance nor attempting preparation for the new state of things.
For not only had the development possible under the old ideals reached its limits, but, also, the men in control of affairs were no longer competent. The Shogun was imbecile, and his counsellors without vigour or high intelligence: the daimyo with few exceptions were debauchees without grasp upon government, their higher officials too were like themselves, and the retainers of the Shogun were proud, effeminate, fond of luxury, and without martial spirit. The people were oppressed and the officials were corrupt. Religion had long since lost its influence upon the higher classes, and now the priests were immoral and the people indifferent. Even the Chinese philosophy had run its course; still taught in the schools and enforced by law, its fundamental principles were disputed, and when freedom of opinion was permitted after the opening of Japan, it proved that few really accepted them.
Japan seemed to repeat the story of its past. Awakened by China, it had developed a luxurious and refined civilisation, but in the course of four centuries this had reached its culmination, and soon ran its course, the Government becoming pleasure-loving, corrupt, and imbecile. Then the system vanished, and the nation for centuries worked out a new system through struggle and war. The new system endured for two centuries and a half, bringing again a condition without promise or possibility of progress. Its end must come, either as in the twelfth century by internal war, or by some great impulse from abroad. The only possible alternative was stagnation, and, as in China and still more in Korea, a descent to lower and lower depths.
The impulse, as we know, came from without, when Commodore Perry sailed into Yedo Bay. The authorities were panic-stricken. They could neither resist nor accept the situation, but temporised and compromised in the vain hope that something would turn up. The treaty with Perry was made in 1854, and was followed soon by similar treaties with England, France, and Russia, treaties which were meagre, merely making provision for the succour of distressed vessels and the residence of a foreign agent to see to the carrying out of the articles, but profoundly significant as marking the end of the ancient policy and régime. In 1858, Mr. Townsend Harris, the accomplished agent of the United States, succeeded in getting a real treaty of friendship and commerce. Commodore Perry had gained his point by the display of overwhelming force and by threats. Mr. Harris had no ships, but he made his defenceless position his strongest argument. For a time he could accomplish nothing, the ministers in Yedo would not so much as see him, and he bemoaned his lonely and purposeless exile. But in China the English and the French were at war with the Chinese, trying to arouse them to the knowledge that the century was the nineteenth and commercial, even at the cannon's mouth. In Japan, Mr. Harris and the Government were watching the progress of events. When the Peiho forts fell and the way was opened for the allies to Pekin, greater were the consequences in Japan than in China. Mr. Harris hurried to Yedo, whither the news had preceded him. He had attentive audience at once, and for six hours spoke to the ministers of the Shogun, setting forth the condition of the Western world and urging the acceptance of his treaty. He pointed out the defenceless condition of Japan and asked how it could resist when China was helpless, and he threatened the coming of the allied fleets, when they should finish their present work. He insisted on the advantage of dealing with him, an unarmed man, instead of treating with ambassadors backed by victorious fleets. His arguments were irresistible, and when, later, Europeans followed they accepted his work and made treaties to the same effect.
Thus threats forced back the reluctant gates a little when Perry made his treaty, and threats forced them wider open when Harris, unarmed, gained his point. The Government was irresolute and ill advised. It needed beyond all else strength and straightforwardness. It made the treaties reluctantly, and with the expectation of a return to the old condition a little later on. Some statesmen recognised that a good deal of time might be needed; a very few soon came to see that it were better to cease the effort and to prepare frankly for the new situation. Probably this became the prevailing opinion in the Government, but it faced both ways. It made the treaties with the foreigners, but it repudiated them to the Emperor and to the feudatories. It would not take boldly the responsibility for its course, but temporised and prevaricated. Its one strong man who might have saved the situation was assassinated, and things went from bad to worse.
All the elements of dissatisfaction came to the surface.
The ancient clan jealousies of the House of Tokugawa, nourished by the remote and warlike clans of Choshu and Satsuma, the influence of the little cliques of literary men who had vainly taught that the rule of the Shogun was an usurpation, the ambition of young samurai tired of inglorious peace, the discontent of multitudes for varied causes accumulated during the long reign,-all these and more combined with the anti-foreign spirit which, cultivated for three centuries, represented foreign intercourse as preliminary to foreign domination, and foreign residence as a profanation of the lands of the divinities. Patriotism awoke, not now the patriotism of the clan but of the nation. It was something new, for, with Japan as the all, why should one be loyal to it? Even the repulse of the Mongols in the thirteenth century and the invasion of Korea in the sixteenth had been regarded not as national, but as tribal, or, at most, partisan struggles, the nation not yet come to self-consciousness. But now, with a few men, clan loyalty gave place to patriotism, as not this clan nor that, but the nation, seemed at once threatened by the barbarians and disgraced by the craven yielding of the Shogun.
The Government was not only double-faced and undecided, but in the crisis it abdicated some of its functions and proved untrue to the fundamental principles of the Tokugawa rule. For example, it attempted to shift the responsibility, once by calling a council of the great feudatories, and again by asking decision by the Emperor. In both instances it reversed the settled policy of its rule, for autocracy was its principle and the Emperor was expressly excluded from sharing in affairs of State, which were all reserved for the Court of the Shogun. With this reference to the Emperor, the position of the Shogun became doubly difficult towards the foreigners, it having signed treaties with them as supreme, while now the Emperor denounced the engagements thus entered into, and commanded the expulsion of the barbarians by force. The situation, indeed, was impossible: intrigue, double-dealing, assassinations, civil war, divided counsels everywhere; an end must come, and it all depended upon which party should possess the strongest and clearest- sighted men. Tokugawa was weighed in the balance and found wanting, without wisdom to decide or energy to execute. The Court at Kyoto was equally unable to meet the crisis, being at once without experience and without leaders. The daimyo, with very few exceptions, were imbecile, or debauched. The great retainers of the Tokugawa family were like the daimyo, hence the natural leaders of the State in its hour of peril could neither see clearly nor act decisively. The regeneration of the nation came from a group of samurai.
Two great clans, Satsuma and Choshu, in the west of the Empire, led. They from the beginning of its rule had hated the Tokugawa family, and, farthest from its control, had never come completely under its dominion. Now hatred of the ruling house combined with the desire for the expulsion of the barbarians. But events occurred which proved conclusively that the second part of the programme was impracticable, and substituted the destruction of the Tokugawa rule for the war upon the foreigners, though for a time the two cries were combined in the rallying of the forces.
In forming their treaties, Perry and Harris used only threats and the show of force; others who succeeded them were not so forbearing. The representatives of the Powers felt themselves surrounded by dangers, in the midst of mysterious complications. The Government was a riddle whose meaning they could not guess, and the Shogun seemed to play a game of interminable intrigue. Besides, foreigners were possessed with the notion that Oriental diplomacy cannot be trusted. Mr. Harris only understood the real situation through his sympathy with the people, but he left in 1861, and thenceforth the Powers acted together, with England in the lead. The British Minister, Sir Rutherford Alcock, describes the East as a bad school for diplomatists, since there are only two classes, the oppressors and the oppressed, and neither he nor his successor had any notion of being included in the second class; hence Japanese intrigue must be met by threats, and its weakness remedied by the application of foreign force.
An Englishman affronted the train of the lord of Satsuma and was promptly cut down by his men-at-arms. The British Government demanded an indemnity from the Shogun's Government and the punishment of Satsuma. The first was paid, but the second demand was beyond the powers of the Government, so the British minister sent a fleet and bombarded the capital of the province and destroyed its fleet. It was a flagrant atrocity, but it taught Satsuma that the Japanese could not cope with the foreigner, but must learn from him if equality were to be attained.
At the command of the Emperor, wrongly invoked by Tokugawa, the Choshu clan fired upon foreign merchantmen sailing through the straits of Shimonoseki. The foreign ministers combined, demanded an indemnity, and bombarded the capital of Choshu. Thus this clan learned its lesson: foremost as it had been in the anti-foreign agitation, it could not expel the barbarians; it must learn from them.
So, finally, these two clans united to punish Tokugawa, and two other powerful and warlike clans, Tosa and Hizen, joined with them. The coalition was brought about by samurai who went from clan to clan and talked over the situation, and gained each other's confidence and adherence. It was something unheard of, for in the past no samurai would have ventured to intrude upon the domain of another clan. The daimyo were won over. The head of the Satsuma clan was promised the shogunate for himself, the lord of Tosa was ready for sacrifices, and the chiefs of the other two provinces ruled only in name. The leaders were a little group of samurai, who formed the Three-Clan League, also called from the first syllables of the clan names, Sat-Cho-To.
The leaders were convinced, as we have seen, that resistance to the foreigners was impossible, but none the less they were prepared to risk war for the attainment of their purpose. As a rallying cry, "Expel the barbarians!" was a necessity, and, if forced by necessity, they should be obliged to prove to their followers the impossibility of the task, they were ready for that issue. In the beginning the purpose was merely to substitute the House of Satsuma for the House of Tokugawa and to continue the shogunate. But very speedily it became apparent that the division of the power between the Emperor and the Shogun was impossible in the new state of things; therefore the Prince of Satsuma was led to accept an offer of the highest position at the Court of the Emperor and gave his influence henceforth to the unification of the Government. The Prince of Tosa was a far-sighted and patriotic man who entered into the plans of his samurai and strongly supported the common cause. The other daimyo immediately concerned were imbecile.
The four clans thus combined, uncertain as to details, but determined upon the overthrow of the Government, were successful beyond their highest hopes. The Shogun, after a brief resistance, surrendered and abdicated, and though his followers, as a forlorn hope, maintained the struggle for months, they were ultimately overcome. The British Minister, Sir Harry Parkes, first of all the foreign diplomatists to understand the situation, added his influence and the power of the diplomatic corps to the cause of the clans. In 1867 the revolt began-in 1869 the League was in undisputed possession of Japan; in 1871 the feudal system fell and the new political development began. It has been a wonder to the Western world that two hundred and fifty barons should surrender their power and become private citizens, but, after all, the force which brought about this surprising situation was not mysterious, nor was it all act of unique self-sacrifice. The leaders of the Three-Clan League recognised at an early period that their course in overthrowing the shogunate carried with it, by logical necessity, the overthrow of the feudal system. Japan was no longer to be divided into separate principalities with antagonistic interests, but to be united in a common cause and against external foes. It was easier to abolish the feudal system than to reform it, and the conditions already pointed out made the way easy. Some of the barons were offered high honours and greater powers in the new Government; some of them were half imbeciles, and did as their samurai urged. After the few great barons were won by promises or cajolery, they became examples to the rest, who, besides, had no real control even over their own provinces. The few who finally resisted the change were threatened with overwhelming force and gave at last reluctant consent. We should remember that in the feudal system in Japan the Tokugawa family had accustomed the barons to severe penalties; it had been no uncommon thing for a baron to be removed from his fief and given a second of less importance, or even to forfeit his fief altogether. Therefore, excepting in a few instances, the barons did not hold their positions as inalienable, and when, now, by the others in possession of the central Government they were summoned to resign, they followed precedent in their obedience. The barons were pensioned handsomely and, released from the burdensome ceremonial of the feudal system, doubtless enjoyed more of freedom and possibly more of luxury than in other days. Their retainers were disbanded and pensioned, holding only the rank of their fathers, with neither its emoluments nor its rights, and, unfitted by training for the struggle for existence, many became destitute or descended to menial positions. The surrender of the fiefs was not more remarkable than had been the submission of the barons to Ieyasu in the sixteenth century. After the victory of the League and its capture of the Government, no rallying-point for opposition remained. The barons could be dealt with one by one,-with promises, cajolery, or threats,-and to accept the inevitable has been a Japanese characteristic from time immemorial.
With the shogunate and the feudal system overthrown, it was necessary that the prevailing sentiment, which was still hostile to foreigners, should be transformed. The samurai had been rallied, as we have seen, with the cry, "Expel the barbarians!" They were now to be taught that the foreigners were not barbarians, but were fitted to be the teachers of the nation. The leaders of the clans, themselves quick to perceive the necessities of the situation, believed that the same lesson would suffice for their followers. The Government on various pretexts sent parties of influential samurai from all parts of Japan to America and Europe. They learned their lesson at a glance and, returning to Japan, became centres of enlightenment, so that a great propaganda began. The motives which prompted it were clear. The recognition of the vast progress which the West had made during the last three centuries, and their consequent inferiority, caused a resolution to make themselves the peers of the most enlightened peoples of the world. When foreigners had come to Japan in the sixteenth century, the Japanese were their equals, but now, after this long period, foreigners were so far in advance that the Japanese felt impelled to put forth all their strength to overtake them in the race. But still more influential was the recognition of the overwhelming military and naval superiority of Western nations. Indeed, the alternative was simple-We must learn from the foreigners or we must submit to them. In the presence of that situation, the course could not be doubtful. With intelligence keen enough to realise their exact position and the remedy for it, patriotism supplied the energy which was necessary. The leaders were young and full of confidence in themselves and in the capacity of the people; what the Westerners had accomplished in three hundred years they would do in thirty-no task was great enough to daunt them, and each man seemed to feel that the regeneration of Japan had been put upon himself; so that a new period of knightly enterprise began, with books in place of swords and Western science in place of foreign territories to conquer. Not an impecunious student of them all would admit that he was studying for any purpose save to fit himself to serve his country. Students by hundreds left Japan without resources or money, but with sublime faith in their own capacities to meet whatever strange situation foreign lands might possess, in the readiness of foreign peoples to bid them welcome and aid them in their way, and in their intellectual power to cope with all the intricacies and problems of modern science. Many of them died in the enterprise,-possibly even a foreign campaign would have been no more costly,-but many succeeded and, going back to Japan, became leaders in the regeneration of their countrymen.
Foreigners also were brought from America and Europe to Japan and institutions in great variety were speedily established. It was a period of hastily devised plans and imperfect methods, so that critics charged the people with being superficial, and indeed plan followed plan and method was superseded by method with astonishing rapidity. But, in an age of experiment, experiments you must have, and the Japanese were experimenting at once with foreign teachers and with varying foreign ideals and with the tremendous task of transforming their own civilisation: all were learners together, rulers and ruled alike, and the plans which were to stand could be developed not in the quiet of the scholar's study, but in the midst of the turmoil of actual life. The strange fact is that so few mistakes were made and that on the whole the successful substitution of methods was for the better, until at last universities, schools, systems of shipping, of transportation, of banking, of police, of the postal service, and all the varied activities connected with the Government were fairly comparable to their prototypes in Western lands. Perfection, of course, was far from being attained and shortcomings in all departments remained, but that such astonishing advance could be made is the wonder of our age. And it was possible because in all the changing methods one purpose remained fixed-to place Japan in the foremost rank of the greatest nations of the earth.
Early in the movement one set of influential men from Satsuma withdrew its support from the Government and started a counter-revolution. It was speedily suppressed, in 1877, and its leader perished. Another group afterwards withdrew, forming an opposite party, determined to make the Government itself not only progressive, but constitutional after the English fashion. The centre of this " liberal party," as it called itself, was in Tosa. Its plans were summed up by its leader something as follows: "In the old days our gentlemen were equal to the gentlemen of Western lands, and to-day I am confident that they can acquire all that Western educated men have acquired, but my visit to the West convinced me that the common people there are vastly superior to our own. Here in Japan gentleman and commoner have been separated by an impassable gulf, customs, language, religion, rights-all have been different; but no nation can attain the highest success which is dependent upon the patriotism and the intelligence of a class; only one great purpose is worthy of Japan, viz., to make the commons the equals of the samurai- not by degrading the latter, but by elevating the former. We would make all people in Japan equals in education, in civil rights, and in their share in the Government, and we would instil the same loyalty which in the past has been felt only by the gentleman."
The liberal party was not the only upholder of these views, for to this end the Government established its common schools and compelled attendance; completed its graded system of national education from kindergarten to university, and in all taught the principles of patriotism and devoted loyalty to country. Therefore the generation of men who are now in mature life, trained in these schools, no longer remember the state of things when only the gentleman had rights and patriotism, and the common people cowered before his ever-ready sword.
In the transformation of Japan naturally enough the samurai have taken the lead; the victorious clans filled the public offices with their followers and their friends, all the great officers of State and their subordinates, the officers of the army and the navy, the entire police force of the Empire, most of the teachers in the public schools, the men in control of the Government systems of railways and of steamboats were of this order; thus provision was made at once for tens of thousands of men who otherwise would have been set adrift upon the world, and their loyalty and intelligence were enlisted for the new régime. The centralised form of government concentrated upon itself the loyalty which before had been given to the barons, and the intelligence which had been employed in the government of the petty principalities, and, more than this, through its common school and its endowment of the common people with civil rights, it added to the loyalty of the samurai the enlightened devotion of the vast multitude of the people.
It is not our purpose to recount the swift changes, for the result of thirty years of devoted labour is known to all. On the hardest of fields, where no excuses are accepted and where no indulgence is given, Japan proves her reorganisation to be complete, as she shows that she has acquired the art of modern war on land and sea. Martial by heredity and taught a soldier's creed, that the Japanese should be brave is natural, but that they should have mastered the art of military organisation and perfected its details is a surprise to the Western mind; but such a mastery of details is only a continuance of the same process which, under the Tokugawa Government, perfected the feudal system, and gave peace to Japan for almost three hundred years.
In the nature of the case the reformation was possible only through the help of foreigners, men of many nationalities and many gifts. On the whole, Japan was well served and faithfully. Army, navy, the departments of Government, the postal service, commercial enterprises, the educational system, agriculture, medicine, manufactures, architecture, religion, even distinctively Japanese art and the work of the artisan and the study of Japanese literature, history, and grammar, were all influenced, and in some cases completely reorganised by foreign residents. How large and efficient was the service rendered will never be known, for as matter of course the foreigner is ignored and forgotten, and the honour is for the people shrewd enough to engage his services. Yet here, too, history repeats itself, for who remembers the Italians who helped the great Mogul to decorate Agra and Delhi, or the multitudes of men who have added lustre in all lands and times to alien Courts? If one seeks fame or permanent recognition it must be among men of his own blood, for even after distinguished services abroad he remains an alien, unless, completely identified with the people he serves, he loses his old nationality in the new. Then, though he may make a lasting place for himself, it is at the cost of remembrance in his native land.
If Japan knows well how to employ foreigners and to profit by their aid, it knows also how to dispense with them. Engagements are short, seldom for more than three years, with renewals only from year to year, and no hesitation in ending the engagements if a better or more promising candidate for the situation can be found. I know of no instance where a foreigner has been given power. He can only advise a native who is in control, a control made independent of foreign advice at the earliest moment. The intense earnestness shown by students, the eagerness with which they gave themselves to their tasks, and their impatience with the ordinary processes of education, came in part from their anxiety to rid themselves of foreign tutelage, for Japan for the Japanese was their guiding principle.
Naturally such attempts sometimes came too soon, and an impression of superficiality and self- assertion was made on critics. Nor is it strange that Japanese and foreigner did not agree as to the time when the former was able to get on without the latter. The foreign community could never be brought to see that its members had ceased to be indispensable, so when the control of the post-office went completely into native hands we should never get our mails, and when the English engine-drivers were sent home we should never ride from Yokohama to Tokyo in safety, and when the army and navy foreign missions were given up efficiency would end. Above all, when extra-territoriality should be surrendered, justice would for ever fail. So foreigners prophesied, and one still meets residents of the East who cannot restrain their bitter criticism of the self-assertion, superficiality, and self-conceit of the Japanese. The front of the offending is that in their own land they claim for themselves what Americans, Englishmen, Germans, and Frenchmen take as matter of course, control of their own affairs and of the foreigners within their bounds. We Occidentals are so accustomed to rule not only ourselves but all others, and to assert so unhesitatingly our superiority, that we are amazed at the self-conceit of another race which dares to treat us as equals. Judged by his own estimate of his services, the foreigner has had neither honour nor emolument sufficient, he has been dismissed while still his services were needed, and his labours have been reckoned to the credit of his employer, but, judged by the treatment the foreigner receives in other alien lands from men of his own colour and blood, he has fared as others fare, and the Japanese have been considerate, faithful to their engagements, and ready to render a modest modicum of honour when it is due.
One cannot pass over the service of missionaries, especially when one has been a missionary himself for fifteen years. Some would have us think the reformation has been due to their labours chiefly, and others that they have accomplished nothing. We already know the forces which brought about Japan's transformation, and we can readily understand that these forces carried with them a large opportunity for the missionaries, an opportunity which was seized eagerly. For when the ports, in 1859, were opened to foreign residents, missionaries were waiting to enter them. Nor were they men of inferior attainments and talents, but worthy representatives of the great Churches which sent them.
In Japan they were not of it: a law forbade the profession of their religion, and prejudice hindered their access to the people. Only after the revolution was there opportunity for open work, and during the intervening years they were criticised for doing nothing. But they learned the language, wrote a dictionary, and broke down prejudice. One of them, Dr. Verbeck, gained the confidence of the rulers of the Empire, and in high positions rendered Japan services which were greatly esteemed and are gratefully remembered; another, Dr. Hepburn, gained a national reputation as a skilful physician and a broad-minded philanthropist, and a third, to mention no more, Dr. S. R. Brown, trained a group of young men who have been prominent in many positions of influence.
After the prohibition of Christianity was repealed, in 1872, and as the people turned to the West for guidance and instruction, the missionaries were overwhelmed with students and inquirers. Their students and the first converts were samurai, so that they exerted an influence quite out of proportion to their numbers. Soon native churches were established and a native Christian literature created. In all walks of life Christians were found, but especially among the educated, so that in the Diet, on the newspaper press, in official positions, in schools, and in literature they have made their mark. For not only were the first converts students, but many men who went to America and England came back Christians.
The results have been many. Congregations have been organised, a Christian literature has been written, Christian schools have been established, and the varied activities of the Church set going. In all excepting, perhaps, the education of girls, the Japanese are in the lead, and the foreigner, as in other departments, is helper and not director. But beyond these direct results an influence has been exerted on public morals, creating a new sentiment as to woman, as to the claims of the sick and the outcast, and, in general, exciting activity in philanthropic labours for the betterment of the suffering and the distressed. Besides, Buddhism has been forced to new life and a measure of reformation, as it follows the Church in establishing associations for young men, schools, philanthropic societies, and even foreign missions. A most thoughtful and widely read man,-thoroughly versed in Eastern literature as in Western philosophy, science, and theology,-at once a Christian and a fine representative of the genius and the traditions of Japan, tells me that the highest gift of our religion is the awakening of the personality. The universe, to the East, has been a vast system and man its highest, though temporary, expression. But, to the Christian, man gains a new value - as the child of the eternal Father.
In religion as in all else one hesitates to prophesy, but if we may judge from the past and from our knowledge of Japanese nature, we may venture to predict that Christianity will win large and direct success only as there arises some native apostle who shall command the confidence and excite the enthusiasm of his countrymen. Already there are competent leaders who have proved what men of self-sacrificing devotion and of strong personality can accomplish, but the turning of the nation to Christianity can be the work only of a Japanese St. Paul, Luther, or Wesley.
The new Japan is not picturesque like the old: the foreign costume is still ill-made and awkwardly worn, the old castle walls fall into decay, the feudal mansions are replaced by ugly barracks, and two-sworded samurai no longer swagger in the streets; the dual Government with its mystery is gone, and the daimyo are unromantic men of wealth living in new houses built in a semi-foreign style. The romance disappears, but instead there is the throbbing young life with its chivalry and patriotism, as intense as ever the fathers felt. Transitions are unlovely, but in this bustling, unpoetic new Japan is the promise of better things than old Japan has ever known.