Borrowing modernity : a comparison of educational change in Japan, China, and Thailand from the early seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


In the pre-modern era, the Japanese, Chinese and Siamese sustained sophisticated educational systems that buttressed complex political, social, and cultural institutions. In the nineteenth century, the rise of Western imperialism threatened the survivals of all three realms. Unlike their East Asian neighbors, Japan, China, and Siam preserved a large measure of self-rule though they had to cede significant amounts of sovereignty. To defend their societiesα interests, their leaders sought to modernize their political, social, and economic structures. In the process, they abandoned existing educational systems in favor of Western models and practices. The purpose of this comparative study was to better understand the motivations, methods, and results of their educational modernizations by examining their educational development from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century. The study answered four main questions: (1) What motivated these societies to modernize their educational systems using Western models and practices? (2) How did they accomplish their educational modernizations? (3) How did they adapt Western models to suit their political, social, economic, and cultural circumstances? (4) What were the broad results of their educational modernizations? Although the inquiry heavily relies on English secondary sources, some primary-source and Japanese materials were considered. The analysis employed such recognized qualitative/historical methods as constant comparison, triangulation, negative case analysis, and internal criticism. The study found that the Japanese, Chinese, and Siamese made the adoption of European and American educational approaches a central component of their modernization strategies. While employing similar borrowing methods, namely textual study, foreign experts, study abroad, and external help, they incrementally rebuilt their educational systems through trial and error experimentation. In adapting Western models, all three added elements of their traditional ideologies. Although each nation recovered their full sovereignty, the political, social, and economic consequences of their educational modernizations differed. Nonetheless, educational reform was uniformly a catalyst for far-reaching change. Ultimately, their eclectic borrowing and shrewd adaption of foreign ideas and practices allowed the Japanese, Chinese, and Thais to create their own versions of modernity. Without the successful creation of modern educational systems, these three societies could not have become the strong nations they are today.




Copyright (c) 2002-2022, LYRASIS. All rights reserved.