Although European decisions during the 16th and 17th centuries to explore, trade with, and colonize large portions of the world brought tremendous economic wealth and vast geographic influence, the enormous success of European maritime ventures during the age of exploration also engendered a litany of unintended consequences for most of the nations with which Europe interacted. Due to their incredible military force, religious zeal, and uncompromising goal of profit, Europeans often imposed their traditions, values, and customs on the people with whom they traded. They frequently acted without regard to the long-term welfare of others as their principal concern was short-term economic gain. Since many nations that traded with Europe placed high value on their historical customs, some natives became deeply disconcerted by the changes that occurred as a result of European power. These factors, coupled with perennial domestic political instability, caused numerous countries to grow increasingly resistant to European influence.
One potent example of this ideological shift can be seen in the actions of the Tokugawa government of Japan. In its Seclusion Edict of 1636, the government attempted to extricate cultural interactions with Europe from the intimate fabric of Japanese society. The Edict attempted to accomplish this by focusing on three areas. First, it sought to curb cultural exchange by eliminating people bringing European ideas into Japan. The Edict stated, "Japanese ships shall by no means be sent abroad….All Japanese residing abroad shall be put to death when they return home." Second, the Edict focused on limiting trade. Articles 11 through 17 of the Edictimposed stringent regulations on trade and commerce. Third, the government banned Christianity, which it saw as an import from Europe that challenged the long-established and well-enshrined religious traditions of Japan. The government went to considerable lengths to protect its culture. Article eight of the Edict stated, "Even ships shall not be left untouched in the matter of exterminating Christians."
With the example of Japan and the examples of other countries that chose a different response to European influence, it is perhaps not too far of a stretch to conclude that Japan made the right decision in pursuing a path of relative isolationism. As history unfolded during the next 400 years, in general, countries that embraced European hegemony, whether by choice or by force, tended to suffer from pernicious wealth inequality, perennial political instability, and protracted underdevelopment.
Common Information Question: 2/7
Which of the following best characterizes the most significant motivation for Europe's behaviour with Japan during the 17th century?
Long-term political concerns
Short-term economic self-interest
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