You are on page 1of 4

Mercado, 1

Mariana G Mercado
Mr. Arnold
AP World History
January 31, 2017
CCOT: Social Class Structure, 1750 1900, East Asia
The social structure of East Asia changed significantly from 1750 1900 CE. As the
societies went through industrialization the working class grew substantially and included
women in the working class for the first time. The changes in society such as the Meiji
restoration put an end to the strong hierarchy of the samurai as well as increasing the middle
class in the social stratification. However, even though the social structure did become
laxer for much of the working class, women still found themselves at the bottom of the
social hierarchy.
In the 1700s East Asia was ruled through imperialistic systems, the Qing or Manchu
dynasty in China, and the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan. Both of these societies had very
strict social class structure with limited, if any, upward mobility. In the Qing dynasty, there
were five official levels of hierarchy, with more unofficial levels that could be achieved
through status. The highest level on this social structure was, obviously, the emperor who
enjoyed the highest amenities in life. Accompanying the emperor was his advisors who lay
just below him in social status. They helped make important decisions and often took the
place of the emperor in his leave. Further under the emperors advisors is the social class of
generals, nobles and workers who could be viewed as the middle class of this society. This
sect of the society did have a little leeway when it can to upward mobility; they could not
move to the rank of an emperors advisor, but they could become a higher middle class. This
was achieved through education; many parents would put their children through extensive
schooling so they could become scholars which would be more prestigious than other
workers, but at the same time not being ranked quite as high as the nobles. Below this
middle class was the lowest class of artists and peasants. Peasants were viewed as the
bottom of the social hierarchy, which also happened to consist of the largest percentage of
the dynastys population. Artists on the other hand were more fortunate because the nobles
valued them highly and often were paid to entertain them. One commonality found
throughout all the social classes of Qing China was the servitude to higher classes. Everyone
had to serve and respect those above them, and rich families such as nobles even went as far
as having slaves. Similarly, in Japans Tokugawa shogunate empire, there was a very strict
social hierarchy in the 1700s. The classes from highest to lowest are as follows, emperor,
shogun, daimyo, samurai, Ronin, peasants, and artisans. Emperors held little power and
were more just the face behind the power which was held by the shoguns. One thing that
differentiated the social structure of Tokugawa shogunate from Qing China, there was no
upward mobility even in the middle class. Places were fixed from birth and that was the way
it would continue until Meiji rose to power.
Mercado, 2

A major turning point for Japans social structure is the Meiji period which lasted
from 1868 to the early 1900s. Ever since the 17 th century Japan had been under a dual
government form in which the primary political power was held by the Tokugawa shogunate
and the emperor only has secondary power and were much like the Holy Roman Emperor in
the fact that they were mainly a face of the government but didnt hold any power. This
changed with the Meiji Restoration of 1868 led by Emperor Meiji who ascended to the
throne in 1867 at the age of only 14. His rule which was primarily symbolic had significant
impact over the major social transformation that occurred in the time that followed
(Grunden, Walter). Meiji was the central piece that connect the two antigovernment, Choshu
and Satsuma, which wanted to overthrow the shogun and restore the government to its
Imperial rule. The Meiji restoration was successful in returning primary power to the
Emperor. This shift of power was not the only thing to occur because of this, it also
deteriorated the feudalistic social class structure hierarchy imposed upon by the Tokugawa
shogunate and changed the way of life for people of all social classes. The daimyo stopped
receiving money from the regions they had previously owned. The samurai lost a lot of
importance and many became farmers, tradesfolk, or business men. The commoners were
now given the ability to have upward mobility to change their social class. Farmers now
owned their own land and didnt have to work under the power of the lords (daimyo).
However, with the ownership of land they were required to pay the 3% land tax. Many of
the lesser farmers couldnt afford this cost and opted to sell their land to richer farmers and
reside on their land as farm tenants. The people of lower classes ascended to the class of
commoners. Along with the individual change of all the social classes, the discrimination
among classes, which had impacted all citizens of China, disappeared and people were freed
to practice the faith of their choosing. Thus, the Meiji Restoration completely altered the
social class structure of Japan.
Another event that impacted East Asian social class structure was the industrial
revolutions that started in the countries in the area. In Japan, the Meiji restoration catalyzed
industrialization in the late 1860s. There was a sharp increase in shipyards, iron smelters,
and industrial mills. Steamships alone increase a total of thirty-fold from 1868 to the end of
the 19th century according to Walter McMichael. Domestic companies in Japan became
large consumers of Western products, especially technology. This led to the large growth of
industrial zones all throughout the country. This industrialization spurred increases in the
countrys infrastructure such as mass railroad construction and the development of modern
communication systems. With this industrialization came a new need for coal, which led to a
sudden increase in miners across the country as well in nearby countries who exported the
products and raw material to Japan. These industrial changes had significant impact on the
social structure of East Asia. One thing that goes hand in hand with industrialization is a
population explosion, and Japan was not an exception. This increase in people allowed for a
very large labor force available for the surplus of new jobs that were being created by the
industrial revolution. For these lower-class people, the government introduces an education
system that leaned heavily upon sciences and mathematics. And with the lower class become
a more essential part for society, the samurai class was greatly displaced lost most of their
importance in the social hierarchy. Another hierarchical change that occurred from the
Mercado, 3

industrialization was the introduction of women into the work force. Since the men would
spend the majority of their time in factories and mines women picked up a lot of skills to
hold up the slack. Even so, women still were regarded as inferior to the men.
Despite all the social class changes that occurred in East Asia, one thing that
remained a constant was womens lack of social standing. In some areas, such as Japan,
women were given many of the same rights as men, consequently boosting their status
slightly in the social hierarchy. However, they were still not treated as equals and were
always regarded as beneath men. In other places of East Europe, such as China, women
were much less fortunate and continued to be treated as a completely lower class. They were
solely valued for housework and the ability to give birth to sons. They were viewed as
inferior to men and were sometimes not even given names. Unlike in Japan, Chinese women
were not even given the same rights as men and could not own land, get an education or
have a say in marriage. In an act to show dominance over women the practice of foot
binding continues throughout this period. This tradition breaks the womans foot to make it
small, petite, and impractical for labor. This restricted the women of China to household
work and enforced a male dominated society.
The social class structure in East Asia changed significantly from 1750 to 1900.
Originally, society in Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate empire which imposed a strict
social hierarchy where there was no upward mobility. In China, the Qing dynasty also had a strict
social class system but had a more flexible middle class. A turning point in eastern Asia was the
Meiji restoration which occurred in Japan. This event, which began in 1868, restored Japans
political power to the emperor. This led to the deterioration of the feudalistic social structure and
the lower classes gained more social power. Industrialization was another turning point for social
systems in East Asia. The population of the lower class exploded creating a substantially larger
labor force. It also created an environment in which the women had more responsibility and
skills. However, a continuity through this time is the social status of women. Even though they
did earn a little bit of standing because of industrialization, the women of East Asia continued to
be dominated by the men in their countries and were viewed as inferior.
Mercado, 4

Work Cited
"Asia." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2017, worldhistory.abc-clio.com. Accessed
2 Feb. 2017.
Grunden, Walter E. "Meiji." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2017,
worldhistory.abc-clio.com. Accessed 27 Jan. 2017.
Hutchinson, Jennifer. "Chinese Dynasties: Tang, Song, and Ming." World History: Ancient and
Medieval Eras, ABC-CLIO, 2017, ancienthistory.abc-clio.com/Topics/Display/30.
Accessed 2 Feb. 2017.
McMichael, Walter. "Industrialization of Japan." Industrialization of Japan: Western
Civilization II Guides. N.P., N.D. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
"Samurai." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2017, worldhistory.abc-clio.com.
Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.
"Second Industrial Revolution." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2017,
worldhistory.abc-clio.com. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Related Interests