China and Japan were both formally “opened” in the mid 19th century with the treaties after the Opium War in China and the Perry Mission in Japan. The origin of their ‘openings’ can be reflected by their trade relations with the Western Powers prior to the events and the way each Asian nation dealt with their inner struggles.
China’s trade relationship was something along the lines of ‘you-want-we-don’t’ with the British East Asian Company. The only tradable good prior to opium was silver, which was not as profitable for Britain as it would have liked. With the introduction of opium as a recreation drug, British merchants had an effective and highly profitable commodity to trade for Chinese tea and silver. As the unfair, and illegal trade continued, China prohibited, then confiscated, and then destroyed opium. Tensions mounted and eventually war was declared. After the Opium War, China no longer had that feeling of superiority over all things European and was forced to sign one treaty after another with Britain, then France, and even the United States, which at the time, wasn't considered a military threat to Old Europe. Due to the treaties, China was now left with a serious economic burden to repay (21 million Spanish Silvers to the British) and almost no control over its domestic and international trade system; yet the Chinese continued to resist despite the obvious military and economic superiority of the West. A great deal of military engagements against the West took place in the years following the Opium War, all of which ended up with China surrendering more and more of its rights to its own resources, port cities, and labor. It wasn’t until 1861 that China wised up and used a Western idea to help itself; International Law. China also, around this time, created Universities for the study of Europe, its politics, and its military. These largely failed however, as China continued to be used as Europe's Imperial playground, because the resistance put up by China and the Chinese peoples gave the West more and more reasons to impose treaties onto China.
Japan, on contrast, dealt with Europe in the best possible way from the beginning. Long before the full-force wave of Imperialism landed on its shores in the form of Matthew Perry, Japan closed all of its ports, except Nagasaki, to everyone except the Dutch. Because of the Dutch decline in power in future years, this was a good plan in hind sight. Limiting Dutch trade allowed Japan to import only just what it wanted of Europe. The main import was technology, science, and ways of thinking. While the Japanese weren’t “backwards,” per se, they weren’t arrogant like the Chinese, who had a superiority complex, and immediately recognized Western military power, and then sought to study it. Sakuma Shozan, one of the leading Japanese thinkers of the time, had the right idea; “Eastern ethics and Western science.” By studying the West prior to the “opening” of Japan, the Japanese were much better prepared to deal with the Westerners when they came in 1853. However, because of internal problems in the bakufu, Japan still fell to the West at the negotiation table and was forced to agree to similar arrangements with the West as China had done after the Opium War. Also, as in China, the opening of Japan for trade created a great deal of economic problems that magnified the financial crisis of the daimyo and caused dissent and division amongst the Japanese that lead to the Meiji Restoration; a civil war. After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government was more suited and more capable to handle foreign affairs on an equal level with the West, which Japan continued to learn and absorb technology and ideas from.
As shown, the resistance to the West that China demonstrated created problems, and gave the Western Powers reason to abuse the Chinese. Japan, which was seen as of minor importance by Europe at first, was successful in nit-picking certain elements of European technology and strengthening Japan in the long run.