Agrarian Reform Movement Analysis

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Drought, followed by crop shortages and starvation, resulted in twenty great famines between 1675 and 1837. Peasant unrest grew, and by the late eighteenth century, mass protests over taxes and food shortages had become commonplace. Newly landless families became tenant farmers, while the displaced rural poor moved into the cities. As the fortunes of previously well-to-do families declined, others moved in to accumulate land, and a new, wealthy farming class emerged. Those people who benefited were able to diversify production and to hire laborers, while others were left discontented. Many samurai fell on hard times and were forced into handicraft production and wage jobs for merchants.

By the 1830s, there
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Growing wealth in the agricultural sector was not taxed in any systematic way. Nor was commerce, the most rapidly expanding part of the economy, taxed in a uniform, consistent manner. In order to deal with the mounting difficulties, reform movements were initiated within the shogunate and many of the domains. There were two main strands of reformist thinking. The first and dominant one was the “fundamentalist” approach, whose main purpose was to restore the “purer” conditions of the early Tokugawa period. Idealizing a purely agrarian economy, this approach sought to suppress the growing power of the merchants and to increase the income of government through land reclamation. The other approach was the “realist” school, which accepted the growing commercialization of the economy and urged the authorities to adjust to it, not deny it. It asked the government to encourage the production of capital wealth and to use its political power to set up state enterprises and monopoly organization. Most reform attempts, the last one being in the early 1840s by Mizuno Tadakuni, leaned toward fundamentalism and achieved only limited success. One reason was that the reforms tended to treat symptoms, not the causes. Moreover, the…show more content…
Beasley, Japan faced a threat from the Western powers due to its trade with China. Thus, the rise of a daimyo-ronin-chonin alliance with a distinct anti-bakuhan character and a common cause to end the Tokugawa regime, according to Barrington Moore Jr., represented a breakdown of the rigid social hierarchies that was part of a system John K. Fairbank called this system ‘centralized feudalism’. Nathaniel Peffer stated that the balance of the Tokugawa clan, the lesser feudal lords and their attendant samurai, the peasants, artisans and merchants could remain steady only as long as all the elements in the status quo were even. According to Peffer, there emerged a Japanese version of the European bourgeoisie from amongst the merchant classes and tipped the precariously balanced society, thereby upsetting the whole situation. Richard Storry, a proponent of the idea that Western aggression was the main cause of the downfall of the Tokugawas, critiqued the view of internal cause leading to Tokugawa crisis, stating that it tended to underrate the impact of successful Western pressure on Japan in the 1850s, for in his opinion the sense of shock induced by the advent of foreigners was catastrophic. He wrote, ‘it is inconceivable that the Shogunate would have collapsed had it been able to resist the demands made by the United States, Russia, Great Britain, and other nations of the West.’ Even historians like Storry agree that the

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