Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #20

By M. Bakri Musa

Chapter 3: Lessons From The Past

The Meiji Restoration

Japan of the 18th Century was a feudal society ruled by a series of territorial warlords, the shoguns. The society was also rigidly stratified, with the samurai or warrior class on top, followed by peasants, artisans and, way at the bottom, the merchants. Surprisingly the peasants were regarded higher than the merchants because those peasants, being farmers, at least produced something useful and tangible.

The foreign missionaries that had come to Japan were preaching to an increasingly receptive mass, a development that threatened the established social order. The Japanese were only too aware that in nearby countries, in particular China, the foreigners were becoming very assertive. The shoguns rightly viewed the mounting activities of foreigners around and within Japan with increasing alacrity.

The shoguns may not have cared about the British in China, but they had to deal with the foreigners within Japan. To control what the Japanese regarded as the “menace of the White man,” the shoguns decided to suddenly seal off the country. The missionaries were forcefully expelled, and those remaining were massacred. The sentiment of the time was encapsulated by the popular slogan, Sonno joi (Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians). This sealing of Japan lasted until the late 19th Century.

The Japanese may have thought that they had dealt effectively with the issue of foreigners by getting rid of them. The Japanese though that the only solution was simply to cocoon themselves. Unfortunately the world around Japan carried on with its own pace. The imperial powers of the day continued their activities in the region. To them Japan is no different from the other Asian countries, to be colonized or at least plundered through trading. Being dismissed as mere barbarians by the Japanese did not stop them from meddling with Japan.

Despite the sealing of the country, the Japanese were not totally unaware of the happenings around them. Nearby China had been “opened up” by the British through the Opium Wars. These developments further strengthened the arguments of the Japanese nationalists to keep foreigners out at all costs. The few realists among the Japanese knew however, that Japan must deal with the inevitable forces around them. Thus they advocated accommodation before Japan would be completely overwhelmed.

Others suggested the blending of Japanese and Western values, and coined the slogan Toyo no dotoku, Seiyo no gakugei (Eastern ethics, Western science), but these moderate voices were drowned out by the fierce nationalists. Those who advocated reform or opening up Japan to the West were ostracized and forced to commit suicide in shame. Those who failed to do so were assassinated. Thus the opposition forces were effectively neutralized.

Despite that, by the 1830’s the shoguns were clearly losing control, and with it the loss of respect. Their failure to deal with the concomitant internal crises of drought and crop failure, and the subsequent famine further undermined their authority. And with rampant corruption and incompetence in the ruling class, the stage was set for a revolution.

At about this time, in July 1853 the American steamship US Commodore under Matthew Perry steamed into Edo Bay with four other escort ships. His mandate was clear: to open up Japanese ports for provisions, fuel, and trade. He impressed upon the Japanese that, sealed or not, Japan had to accede to his demands. Having presented the ultimatum, he abruptly left, with the promise to return the following year to hear the answer. Such confidence and arrogance!

The Japanese were totally confounded by this brazen breach of their shield. They thought that they had effectively protected themselves against those evil foreigners. When Perry returned later in February of 1855, this time with nine ships in case his earlier message had not registered, the Japanese were powerless to resist. This show of power by Perry was so overwhelming that the Japanese had no choice but to agree to the terms dictated.

Having sealed their nation from the outside world they suddenly realized how far behind and backward they were. The Japanese door was not merely pried but smashed wide open. Emboldened by the American success, other foreign powers quickly forced Japan to sign similar treaties with them, with each nation seeking even greater concessions. The Japanese were forced to sign lopsided treaties. One galling aspect of those treaties was the extra territorial rights granted to foreigners. Foreigners who broke Japanese laws were to be tried by their own consul and not Japanese courts. This humiliated the Japanese.

Perhaps the shogunate would have crumbled anyway even without the foreigners greasing the skids. There were attempts at change from within; alas those reforms were too little, too late. With the shogunate weakened from within and without, supporters of the emperor (who hitherto had been shunted aside) seized power under the pretext of “restoring” the monarchy.

Thus began the Meiji Restoration in 1868; the emperor was only 15 years old when installed. The shoguns had ruled for over 700 years, and in the end they could not deal with the internal changes brought by their own corruption and incompetence as well as by the external challenges posed by the foreign powers.

It was unlikely that the “restored” Emperor Mutsuhito (only later called Meiji, the Age of Enlightenment), being only a teenager at the time, could have masterminded his own comeback. He was obviously the front or agent for his court officials or those who wanted to institute changes in Japan. Surprisingly, most of the emperor’s advisors were young men too. They were consumed with their desire to do good for their country and also of course, for themselves. Getting rid of the shogunate was their first objective, but unable to do that by themselves, they used the convenient banner and authority of the emperor.

Perhaps it was a blessing that the emperor was so young; he did what he was told by his equally young advisors. Or perhaps, advisor and advisee, being of the same generation, were more or less in sync in their thinking and attitude.

Next: The Reformers’ Charter Oath of Five Articles

  1. #1 by HJ Angus on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 12:43 pm

    Bankrupsi Negara government has no time for history lessons.
    The “Look East” policy was a ploy to get Malaysians stare too long at the sun so that they were not able to see the leaders pillaging the nation’s coffers and virgin forests.
    No we just use the simple concept of “Ketuanan” and all the other jargon like KPIs is to Keep People Idiots!
    The main history lesson we should apply is that all tyrannical systems end if enough people get the courage to say “NO!”

  2. #2 by Loh on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 1:51 pm

    The government has approved gambling in 4-Ds, toto and now sports betting sans licence. Such bets are based more on luck than skill. However, the government chooses to outlaw Mahyong which is based on skills, and luck only in the outcome of the dice. Mahyong has been a game played by Chinese for centuries, and it contributes to training on mental sum and probability computation. If gambling in sports event can be approved, why should the government continue to ban Mahyong from being played openly and freely? Indeed mahyong has been allowed until a few years ago when UMNO chose to bash the other communities. When Malay culture entitles Malays to claim whatever they choose, that culture is freely practised. Chinese culture demands not any special attention from the government. What should Najib’s government not allow Mahyong game to be played, feely without police causing trouble to players.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 2:44 pm

    Gambling/gaming is a game based on chance or mixed chance and skill for money or money’s worth and would include game of cards, majong etc

    Further to Loh’s posting in #2, as far as I know gambling (the other word for it is “gaming”) is not banned or unlawful per se under our secular laws relating to Non Muslims. (it is otherwise for Muslims under Sharia).

    Chinese family members and friends can lawfully gamble in the house! We all do that especially during festive seasons like CNY.

    If police were to raid, it is only because they are ignorant of the law.

    Most people pay the fine – because they think (wrongly) that gambling itself is an illegal activity and the fine is small amount – even though they have actually committed no offence or broken no law!

    However Gambling in a Common Gaming House is an offence under our Common Gaming Houses Act 1953.

    A Common Gaming House is either:

    (a) a public place including club house, or any place maintained by any organization, society, company etc ; or

    (b) a place, even if private residence, is one to which members of public have access for purposes of gaming for money or money’s worth

    A common gaming house as defined is illegal as it is considered a public nuisance. Necessarily all establishments whose business activities involving gambling for eg slot machine Internet gambling or casinos (or even Sports betting) that are (or if) licensed by Ministry of Finance will be legal and not considered a common gaming house. Conversely whther gaming house or no gaming house Muslims by Sharia are prohibited from gambling.

    It is an offence to game/gable in a common gaming house as defined above. It is even a greater offence to own, manage and organize a common gaming house. Such a person even if he does not indulge in gambling himself will face a severer punishment.

    I have said in (b) above that a place, even if private residence, to which members of public have access for purposes of gaming for money or money’s worth is a common gaming house. Police normally raid because they too think that gambling is per se an offence -when it is not – and mixing up the fact that for it to be an offence the gambling engaged in must be in a common gaming house.

    Just acting on a tip from passerby on from patrol car seeing people (family members or friends) play majong/cards in the house, they simply – wrongfully- raid and confiscate apparatus and make everyone locked up for the night. The fact is that they cannot seize the majong set or cards without procedurally first obtain a warrant based on reasonable suspicion that the private residence is opened regularly or periodically to members of public going in and out of the premises of gambling. For that the police must prove observation, that means having staked out the area long enough to be reasonably certain that the public go in and out for that purpose.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 2:45 pm

    Young reformer pushing for change with a puppet head? Is he comparing Meji to Anwar?

  5. #5 by Brats195 on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 3:24 pm

    I would suggest that opposition start a blog focusing on scrutinizing BN spending. Call it blog.BN$

    Each and every potential spending greater than RM0.1Million should be highlighted in this blog for public scrutiny and public pressure. The objective is to deter BN from spending tax payers’ money!

    I believe this is a more effective use of blogs. Take actions to stop BN from spending our money!

    Public scrutiny on RM800M parliament building is one good example of fruitful effort by bloggers.

    I would expect opposition MP’s to post at least 1 BN spending finding each per week and subject to rigorous public scrutiny. This is so much we can do to curb BN spending!!!

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 24 June 2010 - 5:03 pm

    Brats195, it is a good suggestion. Start one!

  7. #7 by monsterball on Friday, 25 June 2010 - 8:07 am

    Samurais very much alive in Japan.
    The Japanese football team behaved like fearless samurais…10 roaming as a unit..united and brave…and gave Denmark a football lesson…they will never forget.
    Some past are good to be repeated…and some past history needs to be condemed..not to repeat it again.
    Unfortunately Mahathir and Najib master the art by studying the history…how dictators …squeezed their subjects…high and dry. is an UMNO B… gang of robbers and thieves that want our Kingdom and be warlords forever….where rulers are also under their control.
    To succeed …they must buy up the country..with chosen cronies.

  8. #8 by DAP man on Friday, 25 June 2010 - 11:13 am

    Najib is a sick man!!!! He denies everything without even blinking his eyes.

    He will even deny that is name is Najib.

  9. #9 by House Victim on Friday, 25 June 2010 - 1:32 pm

    During that period of time:
    1. Those warlord cannot live outside Japan, culturally and politically as well as money wise. They cannot take away much of what they had.
    2. The call for Reform were from the farmers and workers and they were led by Ethical Reformers with the Unity of the Country for a better life. They had a common goal and they cannot go elsewhere because of lacking of mobility – transport, language, etc.. They were the fighting force as well.
    3. They worked from the land!!
    4. Geographically and Climatically they used to fight.
    They were forced from all sides to Reform, including from outside.

    For Malaysia,
    1. How much money had those Top officers and cronies “migrated” the People’s money just by T/T?
    2. How many of them prefer living outside than staying in Malaysia?
    3. How many are farmers or labors who can be the fighting force, if needed?
    4. How many care for Unity, as there were hardly any good experience of Unity in this country?

    Yes, there are a lot of Good Experience for Improvement to be taken from the World. Therefore, “Reform” is no more the appropriate word but trying to adopt!!

    Try to adopt the Human Rights Laws and practice.
    Try to adopt a Fair Constitution starting with separation of powers – legislation, execution, monitoring, etc.
    Try to observe Discipline in each and every Walks of Life.
    Try to give a fair Agricultural Policy so that more can feed their life from land.

    The Reform of Japan had taken a lot of sacrifice from the People to work long hours, tough environment, tough discipline and team-up of the learned to tackle, analyse, and get what they had been lacking to build up a stronger society and country.

    How many Malaysians have the mind of thinking so!! Not to talk about doing so!!
    See how people cut-in or take over cars when driving in Malaysia?
    One lane road into 2 or even 3?

  10. #10 by House Victim on Friday, 25 June 2010 - 1:52 pm

    Globalization need a good understanding of Laws and be able to Respect Fairness. An efficient system run by ethical and discipline work force at competitive cost supported by secure and harmonic society.

    When these are not in the daily life of the Malaysian system, especially with the administration, how can this be done?

    Globalization of Skill? Or, People? Or, Finance?
    With the out flush of the Rich and some Capables?
    In flush of labors?
    Globalization of money of the cronies worldwide?
    Rubber, tin, Palm Oil, Coco….
    any more?

    Try to give Malaysians a better picture of what are needed for Globalization and what are available and what are lacking should be the basis, both spiritual, material and skill. Even a brief and sincere analysis of Malaysian history could help.

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