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What caused the decline of the Tokugawa Shogunate?

The decline of the Tokugawa Shogunate was primarily caused by internal social unrest and external pressure from Western powers.

The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Edo period, was a time of relative peace and stability in Japan that lasted from 1603 to 1868. However, by the mid-19th century, the Shogunate was facing significant challenges that eventually led to its downfall. Internally, the rigid social hierarchy and economic policies of the Shogunate led to widespread discontent among the lower classes and the samurai, the warrior class. The samurai, in particular, were dissatisfied with their declining social status and economic hardship, as the Shogunate's policies favoured the merchant class. This led to a series of rebellions and uprisings, which weakened the Shogunate's control over the country.

Externally, the arrival of Western powers, particularly the United States, put immense pressure on the Shogunate. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy arrived in Japan and demanded that the country open its ports to foreign trade. This event, known as the Perry Expedition, exposed Japan's military weakness and technological backwardness compared to the West. The Shogunate's decision to sign unequal treaties with Western powers, which granted them extraterritorial rights and imposed unfair trade conditions on Japan, further undermined its authority and legitimacy.

Moreover, the Shogunate's inability to effectively respond to these internal and external challenges led to a loss of confidence among the daimyo, the regional lords. Many of them began to question the Shogunate's ability to govern and protect Japan, and some even started to align themselves with the Emperor, who was seen as a symbol of national unity and resistance against foreign intrusion. This shift in allegiance was a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the Shogunate.

IB History Tutor Summary: The Tokugawa Shogunate fell due to internal discontent and external pressures. Social and economic policies caused widespread dissatisfaction, especially among samurais, leading to uprisings. Externally, Western nations, particularly the US, challenged Japan’s isolation by forcing trade agreements, highlighting Japan’s technological lag. The Shogunate’s failure to manage these issues eroded its authority, prompting a shift in loyalty towards the Emperor.

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