In July 1858 a small fleet of American warships steamed into Tokyo Bay in Japan. The commander, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, had served during the War of 1812 and the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848). Perry’s voyage into Japanese waters did not mean that Japan and the United States were at war. Instead, Perry was bound on a peaceful mission, although it was expected that a show of force would help him to accomplish his purpose.
For years American and European ship captains had tried to enter Japanese ports to trade and obtain supplies, but without success, for the Japanese mistrusted Western peoples and Western ways, but the Japanese were impressed by Perry’s steamships (the first they had seen) and by the big guns these vessels carried. The Americans were allowed to land and present their request that Japan begin to trade with the United States. Then Perry sailed away, giving the Japanese time to make up their minds. When he returned some months later in 1854, the Japanese rulers agreed to a treaty whereby American vessels could trade and obtain supplies in two Japanese ports. Within a few years, more generous terms were granted both to Americans and to Europeans.
Perry’s voyage showed how keen was the interest of Western nations in trade with Asian countries even in the mid 1800’s. Later, as Western nations became more and more industrialized, the same scramble for trade took place in Asia and the Pacific as in Africa. Countries sought greater trading privileges, or areas which they could control, or outright colonies.
There was, however, one major difference between imperialism in Africa and imperialism in much of Asia. In many parts of Africa the colonizing powers could ignore the Africans. Statesmen could sit around the table with explorers’ maps and decide what land they would take. More often than not, the natives could be persuaded to sell land for a pitifully low price. Even if they refused and fighting took place, all the advantages were with the better armed and better disciplined European soldiers.
Dealing with China and Japan, however, was another matter. These nations had millions of people, whose civilizations were centuries old and who lived under regularly organized governments. Although not well prepared to resist European military might, the Chinese and Japanese had to be dealt with on the basis of one nation with another. In fact, Japan learned the tricks of imperialism quickly and soon obtained control of trade and territory in parts of Asia for itself.
Here we read about how some of the peoples of Asia reacted to the coming of Western missionaries, traders, soldiers and government officials. (India, however, will be discussed under another topic, which deals with the British Commonwealth.) We shall follow this story by seeking answers to these questions:
1. How did contact with the West affect China in Asia?
2. How did Japan become the strongest of the Far Eastern nations in Asia?
3. How did imperialism affect Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands?
1. How Did Contact with the West Affect China in the East?
When Western nations sought to increase their trade and power in Asia in the 1800’s, they were dealing with peoples whose history had begun long before their own. China, was one of the first centres of civilization. At the time when barbarians were invading Europe and the United States was still an unbroken wilderness, China was an old and well-established nation.
For hundreds of years two dynasties ruled China. In studying American history we find it helpful to connect events with certain Presidents and their administrations. We speak, for example, of the Louisiana Purchase as occurring in the administration of Thomas Jefferson, or of World War I as taking place when Woodrow Wilson was President. For centuries, Chinese history was recorded in terms of ruling families or dynasties. Between about 1850 A.D. and the early 1900’s, only two dynasties ruled China. The Ming dynasty governed China for about three hundred years. Then, about 1650, invaders from nearby Manchuria conquered China and ruled it until the Chinese people set up a republic in 1911. These Manchurian invaders were known as Manchus.
China’s civilization was little changed for centuries. During the almost six hundred years of Ming and Manchu rule, China did not experience the same far reaching changes that Europe did. In western Europe powerful kings overcame feudal barons and established strong states. Later the movements for freedom and democracy struck heavy blows at the unlimited authority of kings. Progress in science and invention brought about the Industrial Revolution and changed the outlook and way of life of Western peoples. No such happenings took place in China. Chinese ways of living and points of view remained much the same for centuries.
The lack of change was all the more surprising under the Manchu rulers because they were foreigners. Sometimes invaders force great changes on the people whom they conquer, but the Manchus did not. Although they were responsible for requiring Chinese men to wear their hair in long pigtails, they left most Chinese customs as they found them. They took over the form of government the Ming rulers had developed and retained many Chinese officials in office. In fact, the Manchu warriors themselves adopted Chinese customs in much the same way that in Europe the conquering Franks from Germany had learned a Latin language.
As in earlier times, most Chinese were farmers. In China under the Ming and Manchu rulers there were many cities. Here lived the government officials, the wealthy and the educated classes, the merchants and the craftsmen; but the vast majority of Chinese lived in small villages and tilled the soil. Chinese farmers worked under great handicaps. Their farms were very small because in each generation fathers divided their land among their sons. Farm tools remained primitive. High taxes and high rents kept peasants unbelievably poor. Despite these handicaps, the Chinese managed through backbreaking labour to raise surprisingly good crops.
Ways of living were influenced by the family and the past. The family, as in earlier days, was the most important group in China. Often several generations of relatives lived together in the same household. Authority over the family was exercised by its oldest male member who felt responsible for the needs and acts of the whole group. In turn, young people respected and obeyed their elders. Along with this strong family feeling went a deep respect for the past. Great reverence was paid to ancestors and to the teachings of such Chinese ancients as Confucius. To the Chinese, old and established customs were the best.
Americans were often inclined to think of the Chinese as backward because they had few machines, their army and government were inefficient and their farmers were very poor, but many of the Chinese regarded Americans as “Western barbarians” because American clothes, dishes and furniture were not as beautiful as theirs, because American manners were less ceremonious and because Americans did not quote the sayings of wise men of ancient times. The Chinese would have considered the American writer and philosopher Emerson a greater person than the inventor Edison.
Chinese learning continued to develop. During the three centuries of Ming rule the emperors supported art, literature and learning. We recall how French scholars in the 1700’s prepared a remarkable encyclopedia.
More than three hundred years earlier the Chinese had compiled a great encyclopedia of Oriental knowledge. Two thousand scholars worked about four years to collect this extraordinary body of information. Although it was never printed, this manuscript helped later Ming scholars to prepare a less lengthy encyclopedia. In 1578 there appeared a medical dictionary which became widely used. It mentioned iodine, the use of chaulmoogra oil for treating leprosy and inoculation for the prevention of smallpox, all of which were rediscovered much later in Europe. Eight thousand medical prescriptions were mentioned in this dictionary. In addition to such collections of knowledge, writers produced short stories, histories, plays and poems in great numbers during the Ming dynasty.
The less highly civilized Manchus were greatly impressed by Chinese learning. During the eighteenth century the Manchu rulers put about 15,000 copyists and scholars to work for twenty years to condense China’s great writings. The Manchus, however, shrewdly censored these writings so that only the good things about Manchu rule were recorded.
In early times China had contacts with other countries. Although they had developed a way of life of their own, the Chinese had been somewhat influenced by the civilization of others. The teachings of Buddha, which were introduced from India, took a firm hold in China. In the days of Kublai Khan, the great Mongol ruler, China had many contacts with the outside world. Marco Polo, whose tales of Kublai’s wealth and power dazzled his Venetian countrymen, was followed by many other traders who pushed overland across Asia. A few Catholic monks also found their way to China at this time, and the harbours of China’s chief ports were filled with ships that traded with Eastern countries.
Contacts increased during the Ming dynasty. The early Ming rulers likewise encouraged travel, trade and exploration. Their ships visited the island of Ceylon, India, Arabia and sailed into the Persian Gulf and to the coasts of Africa. Chinese fleets ruled the western Pacific and the more distant Indian Ocean.
The wave of exploration which led Columbus to the New World brought western Europeans to China. The Portuguese first appeared early in the 1500’s, to be followed later by the Spanish, the Dutch and the English. None of these later groups, however, gained the foot hold the Portuguese had. As trade between China and western European nations developed, new products and new ideas were introduced into China. Catholic missionaries came in large numbers, bringing not only the Christian religion but news of scientific discoveries by Europeans.
Under the Manchus, foreign traders were severely restricted. The Chinese welcomed the first Portuguese traders courteously, but were treated badly in return. The Portuguese seized ports and fortified them and in general treated the Chinese as inferiors. After a number of unpleasant incidents, the Manchus early in the 1700’s limited trade with Western merchants to one or two ports. Through these “treaty ports” a thin trickle of goods continued, but trade was hemmed in by so many regulations that Western nations were dissatisfied.
Western countries sought to increase trade with China. By the beginning of the 1800’s traders from western Europe began to knock more insistently at China’s door. Americans, too, appeared on the scene. In 1784 the sailing vessel Empress of China had set forth from Salem, Massachusetts for Canton, China and returned with a rich cargo. From then on Americans became interested in the China trade. High on the list of desired Chinese goods were “china” dishes, silk, tea, jewelry, even wallpaper and fans. After about 1840, the increased production of goods resulting from the Industrial Revolution caused manufacturers in Europe and America to look to the Far East as a market in which to sell as well as a place in which to buy.
Opium smuggling led to wars with Great Britain. Trouble over the opium trade forced China to relax its restrictions on foreigners. Smoking opium, a sleep-inducing drug, had become a bad habit among the Chinese early in the nineteenth century. British vessels in particular brought cargoes of opium from India. Wisely and rightly the Manchu government gave orders to stop imports of opium, but this regulation was hard to enforce. British traders bribed Chinese officials to let the drug into the country. Finally a Chinese official ordered the seizure of huge supplies of opium owned by British traders. This act led to war between the Chinese and the British in 1839. The British claimed that the war was caused by the threat to their trading rights in China. The Chinese, on the other hand, said it was caused by the desire of the British to smuggle opium into China.
The so-called Opium War, which lasted for three years, ended in defeat for China. The Chinese were forced to give the island of Hong Kong to the British, to open up several other ports to European trade, to pay a large sum of money and to grant other privileges to foreigners. A second war over opium and British trading rights (1857-1860) brought defeat once again to China. As a result, more Chinese ports were opened up and more privileges obtained for foreigners.
The imperialist squeeze on China increased. The two wars with the British had shown how weak China was. During the rest of the nineteenth century, particularly during the 1890’s, foreign powers stepped up their demands on China. Russia and the new German Empire entered the race for land and for trade advantages. So did Japan, which had adopted Western ways very rapidly and was out to build an empire of its own. The fact that China had been forced to borrow large sums of money from Western nations made it even harder to resist the demands of these powers.
Imperialism took different forms in China. Imperialism weakened China in various ways. Foreign powers won foot holds in outlying areas such as Korea, Indo-China and Manchuria, where China’s control was weak. Foreign countries also obtained long term leases giving them control of certain ports. Often some incident served as the excuse for increased Western demands. For example, when two German missionaries were slain by Chinese bandits, Germany demanded and received a 99 year lease on the city of Kiaochow. The map shows you the ports in China which European countries controlled by about 1900.
Even more important was the growing tendency for European governments to divide China into “spheres of influence.” France, for instance, would ask the Chinese government for all the commercial privileges, such as developing mines, factories and railroads, in one province. Russia, Germany, Great Britain or Japan would seek similar rights in other provinces. Businessmen of each country would then invest their money in factories and businesses within the sphere of influence obtained by their government. While investments by foreigners do not necessarily lead to loss of a nation’s independence, they may bring about a result, as seen in the case of Egypt.
China’s weakness came partly from poor government. Why was China unable to resist the demands of imperialist countries? Part of the trouble stemmed from internal weakness. The Chinese Empire had never been a close-knit nation as we use the term. Instead, for centuries it had been a collection of regions, each with its own local government. Over these regions the emperor, assisted by his officials had exercised a loose control.
During the nineteenth century the Manchu government had grown weaker and more corrupt. Greedy officials feathered their own nests through graft. No longer were roads, bridges, dams and canals kept in good condition. Floods, earthquakes and famine added to the unhappiness and the misery of the people. Several revolts broke out, one of which lasted fifteen years and caused the deaths of millions of people. Too weak to crush this revolt, the Manchu government borrowed foreign soldiers, such as “Chinese” Gordon, to help put down the rebellion. Yet the Manchus went blindly on, much as had the French monarchs before the French Revolution.
China resisted Western customs. Another reason why China was an easy victim for imperialistic nations was its slowness to adopt new methods and ideas. It would be wrong to think that Western customs had made no progress in China. There had been some borrowing of technical knowledge and skill in the latter part of the nineteenth century the first textile and paper mills were opened in China and a few railroad and telegraph lines appeared. The Chinese began to produce iron and even steel in modern fashion. They also took some steps to modernize their army and to build a navy. Such steps were so slow and halting that China was no match for Western countries in industry or in military strength.
Western education had also made some headway in China. Christian missionaries had founded schools and colleges in which not only religion but other subjects were taught. In 1865, for example, courses in mathematics and chemistry were first given at Tungwen College, founded by an American missionary at Peking. Some Chinese students went to Western countries for further training. Students who had studied in Western schools either in China or abroad often entered government service or worked for business firms. But Western educated Chinese were a few thousands among many millions and Western ideas on the whole made little progress.
By the close of the nineteenth century, then, certain Chinese leaders were fully awake to the progress of Western countries in war, science and government. They realized that the only way in which China could defend itself was to borrow some of the inventions and skills of foreigners. The indifferent and corrupt Manchu government, however, made only halfhearted attempts to modernize China. The vast majority of the Chinese clung to their old traditions and looked upon foreigners with contempt.
Anti-foreign feeling led to the Boxer Rebellion. Among Chinese patriots were some who thought that all foreigners should be driven out. These patriots wanted (1) to cut China off from the outside world, (2) to rid China of the “foreign devils” who were growing rich at China’s expense, (3) to drive out missionaries, and (4) to go back to the old days. They formed a patriotic society called the “Fists of Righteous Harmony,” popularly called Boxers. Instead of trying to break up this organization, the aging Manchu Empress secretly encouraged it. So the Boxers grew in numbers and influence, until by 1900 every foreigner in China was in grave danger. Finally rebellion broke out and missionaries and other foreigners were mobbed and killed.
The Manchu government neither put down the Boxer Rebellion nor joined the Boxers in an all out war to get rid of foreigners and foreign influence. Instead it sat back while a combined force of American, British, French, German, Russian, Japanese and other foreign troops crushed the Boxers and rescued the foreigners besieged in Peking. Some soldiers in this international army got out of hand, looting Chinese towns and acting as violently as the Boxers themselves.
China was forced to pay heavy damages. After this international army had restored order, the weak Chinese government was compelled to accept the peace terms dictated by the foreign governments: (1) to punish the leaders of the Boxer Rebellion, (2) to agree that foreign troops remain in China to protect foreign residents, (3) to pay foreign countries 333 million dollars as damages. To the Chinese people, the Boxer settlement was a bitter pill forced on them by foreigners. One bright spot was the fact that out of the 25 million dollars paid to the United States, a large part was returned to China to be used in sending Chinese students to American universities.
The American government proclaimed an “open door” for Chinese trade. The United States did China an even greater service by opposing the granting of further leases or spheres of influence to foreign powers. During the nineteenth century the United States had built up a thriving trade with the Chinese. If European powers should continue to carve up China, however, American hopes for trade would be doomed. Secretary of State Hay proposed that, except for special rights already acquired, all nations should have equal rights to do business in China. In 1900 Hay announced that all the major powers had accepted this ‘Open Door Policy‘. On several occasions thereafter the United States took steps to help bolster Chinese independence. The door to Chinese trade remained open until Japan invaded China in the 1930’s and slammed it shut.
The Chinese established a republic. The harsh terms forced upon them after the Boxer Rebellion brought home vividly to the Chinese the weakness and disunity of their country. A growing number of patriots decided that the trouble lay largely with the Manchu government. The Manchus, they argued, were not truly Chinese but foreign conquerors who had used China for their own purposes for hundreds of years. Manchu misrule had encouraged Western powers to seek special privileges in China and the Manchu government was too slow in adopting reforms. What China needed, said these patriots, was a republic which would be responsible to the people. The principal leader of this reform group was Dr. Sun Yat sen, sometimes called the George Washington of the Chinese. He had spent many years winning members to the revolutionary party and had taken part in numerous revolts. In 1911 a successful revolution unseated the Manchu government. The following year Sun Yat sen became the first president of China.
A “Western” look was given to Shanghai, China’s chief port, by the office buildings of foreign owned firms which dominated Chinese trade. Note the electric streetcars competing for passengers with “man-powered” rickshas.
The Chinese Republic faced difficult problems. In creating a republic the revolutionary party had almost overnight done away with a system of government which had lasted about two thousand years. They now faced three very perplexing problems. (1) Could 400 million Chinese quickly learn to govern themselves? (2) Could the new government become so strong that foreign nations would respect it and give up their special privileges? (3) Could the poverty and misery of China’s millions be relieved?
At first the answer to all three of these questions seemed “No.” The new republic faced trouble from various sources. One source of trouble was a powerful leader named Yuan Shih k’ai who had helped get rid of the Manchu emperor. Soon afterward, Sun Yat sen stood aside and Yuan became president of the Chinese Republic, but Yuan did not really believe in a republic; he did not feel that China was ready for national self government. Moreover, he accepted funds from foreign nations that hoped to continue their profitable trade in China. When Yuan made himself a dictator, a new revolution broke out. Even after Yuan died in 1916, trouble continued. For example, until the late 1920’s a Nationalist government with its capital at Canton faced a rival government in Peking. In addition, numerous powerful warlords with their own private armies challenged the authority of the Chinese Republic.
China was united under Chiang Kai-shek. In 1925 Sun Yat-sen died. The man who took his place as leader of the Chinese Nationalists was a young soldier named Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang and his forces won a series of victories against the soldiers of the Peking government. By 1929 China was brought together under Chiang and the Nationalist Party with its capital at Nanking.
For a while China had a greater degree of peace and order. To be sure, some warlords and dissatisfied groups continued to give trouble. Moreover, Chiang faced opposition from a growing group of Chinese Communists. The Communists, some of whom had been trained in Russia, felt that Chiang was moving too slowly and insisted on radical changes. One of their leaders, Mao Tse-tung, was to become a world figure in the 1950’s.
In foreign relations Nationalist China made headway. It was recognized by Western powers and became a member of the League of Nations. In addition, foreign governments gave up some of the rights they had long held in China. Great Britain, for example, gave up trading rights in five cities. Several nations also surrendered the right to have a foreign citizen, when accused of a crime in China, tried under the laws of his own country. Thereafter such citizens would be tried in a Chinese court and under Chinese law.
China began to adopt modern ways. By the 1980’s, under the Western trained leaders of the Nationalist Party, China had made definite progress toward throwing off its old ways. A growing number of factories were producing a variety of goods. Railroad lines and highways had been extended and air travel began to reach China. Equally important was progress in education. The number of elementary schools multiplied. A simplified way of writing the Chinese language was developed which was based on a limited number of characters and on the language needs of the common people rather than of scholars. As a result, the amount of illiteracy in China was greatly reduced. Opportunities also increased for advanced students to obtain medical, scientific and engineering training.
Changes in everyday customs began to creep in. The custom of wearing long pigtails disappeared. The Chinese also abandoned the centuries old practice of tightly binding the feet of young girls to keep them tiny. Electric lights, movies, telephones, water systems and other features of Western living, including Western styles of dress, were introduced into the larger cities. These changes did not affect the country districts or the vast interior of China, where the average family lived much as its ancestors had lived in past centuries.
Japanese aggression interrupted China’s progress. Had China been left alone, changes and reforms doubtless would have reached more people. Modernized Japan was bent on developing a great Asiatic empire of its own. The Japanese kept nibbling away at their larger but weaker neighbour and in 1937 invaded China. The threat of Japanese invasion led to a truce between Nationalists and Communists for the time being. The poorly equipped soldiers of both these Chinese groups fought bravely against the Japanese forces until the close of World War II in 1945. The Japanese attack opened a new and trying period in China’s long existence.
2. How Did Japan Become the Strongest of the Far Eastern Nations?
Modern imperialism, first arose from the desire of Western industrialized nations to gain new markets and new sources of raw material, but by the end of the nineteenth century Japan had joined Western powers in demanding trade privileges and land from defenseless China. In fact, by the 1930’s, Japan had become the chief threat to China’s independence.
How was this possible? Japan, like China, had clung for centuries to ancient customs and traditions and like China, Japan had long resisted contacts with the Western nations. Beginning in the 1850’s, Japan became the strongest power in Asia by following a different course of action from that of China.
Geographic conditions influenced Japan. Japan is an island country lying east of Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. Most of the Japanese people are crowded on four main islands. Thanks to the warm ocean current, the climate varies from temperate to warm because Japan is a mountainous land, this favourable climate is not as much of an advantage as might be expected. Only about fifteen percent of the area is suitable for farming. The Japanese have therefore turned to fishing in the nearby waters to add to their meager supply of food. And as the population has increased, Japan has had to depend more and more on imported food supplies.
Japan’s island position has had other consequences. It has helped to protect its people from invasion and has drawn them together more closely than if they had been spread over a larger area. Yet nearness to the Asian mainland has made contacts with other peoples possible.
Japanese legends have influenced its history. The Japanese, like most other ancient peoples, have legends about their early history. According to one of these legends, the Sun Goddess sent her grand son, Jimmu, to unite and rule the Japanese tribes about 600 B.C. For centuries, therefore, the Japanese regarded their rulers as the direct descendants of the Sun Goddess and called their rulers the “Sons of Heaven.” The worship of the emperor, together with deep respect for ancestors and national heroes, developed into a religion called Shintoism. Shintoism strongly influenced the thinking and acts of the Japanese people.
Early Japan adopted Chinese ways of living. One of the outstanding characteristics of the Japanese people is their ability and willingness to learn from others. The Japanese borrowed heavily from Chinese civilization. The Japanese adopted Chinese ideas of government and Chinese civil service examinations. From China also came a system of writing, a calendar and ideas of art and literature. From China came the religion of Buddha. Even Japanese dress, homes and buildings showed Chinese influence, but the Japanese were not content to be mere imitators. What they had borrowed from China gave the Japanese a firm basis on which to build their own civilization.
The emperor’s power declined. About 1200 A.D. an important change took place in Japan. The emperor was shorn of most of his powers by a feudal leader who took the title of shogun. Until 1868, or for nearly 700 years, Japan was really ruled by one Shogun after another. The emperor was still worshipped as the “Son of Heaven” and in theory he appointed the shoguns, but the emperor ruled only in name. From his own head quarters, which were separate from the imperial court, the Shogun controlled both military and political affairs. He also named his successor. Much of Japan’s history for these 700 years had to do with struggles between rivals for the important office of Shogun.
The Japanese were divided into distinct classes. Until the nineteenth century, also, the Japanese people were divided into distinct classes much like the people of western Europe during the Middle Ages. Below the emperor or mikado and the shogun was a powerful upper class, composed of nobles at court, landowning barons and warriors called samurai. The samurai, who were vassals of the Shogun or of the barons, inherited their right to fight and were entitled to wear two long curved swords. Just as the feudal European knights had their code of conduct (chivalry), the samurai followed the Bushido or “way of the warrior.” This emphasized loyalty and courage. (Disgraced samurai were expected to commit suicide.) The great mass of Japanese people, however, were farmers, craftsmen and merchants. These groups of people had few rights.
Japan barred foreigners. The first Europeans to reach Japan were Portuguese sailors driven to the islands by storms in 1542. Then came Spanish, Dutch and English traders. Roman Catholic missionaries from Spain and Portugal brought Christianity to the islands and won many converts.
Though trouble arose at times, the Japanese government for a hundred years after the first Europeans arrived allowed Western traders and missionaries to enter Japan freely. Then one Shogun became convinced that the missionaries were plotting to take over Japan. His suspicions were aroused when a number of Japanese farmers revolted against certain great landowners; because some of the farmers were Christians, the missionaries were blamed for the revolt, just as Roman emperors had blamed Christians for Rome’s troubles centuries earlier.
European traders, meanwhile, had abused their privileges in Japan. So the Shogun decided they had had enough of Europeans. Whether they were missionaries or traders made no difference to him. By 1641 all Europeans were ordered out of Japan except the Dutch, who were permitted to carry on a limited amount of trade, under strict regulations, on an island in the harbour of Nagasaki. (This was the same city upon which an atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.)
Japan resumed relations with the West. Japan remained shut off from the rest of the world for 200 years. Then, Commodore Perry in 1854 made a treaty which marked the reopening of Japan. At first the Americans were granted only limited privileges, but later treaties opened more Japanese ports and broadened American rights in Japan. Similar privileges were extended to Great Britain, Russia, France and Holland.
Unlike the Chinese who stubbornly resisted Western ways, the Japanese were impressed with the military might and the machine industry of Western nations. Just as they had borrowed freely from the Chinese in earlier times, the Japanese now adopted Western methods with miraculous speed. In fifty or sixty years they succeeded in doing much of what it had taken Western nations several hundred years to accomplish.
Japan’s government and army were reorganized. In 1868, after several years of civil war, the emperor was restored to power. The shoguns, who as we have seen had been the real rulers for centuries, lost their authority. Shortly afterward, the land-owning nobles were deprived of their feudal privileges. Guided by wise advisers commonly called the “elder statesmen,” the Emperor Meiji began to rebuild Japan.
A constitution, based on Western models, was proclaimed. The “Heaven descended, divine and sacred emperor” was to rule, with the help of the elder statesmen. There was to be a legislature of two houses, but actually neither the people nor the elected lower house of the legislature had much power. The cabinet was responsible to the emperor and taxes could be raised even if not voted by the legislature. Though a system of local government was set up, it was under the direct control of the central government.
The Japanese military system was completely changed. A modern nation could no longer depend for its defense on a warrior class like the samurai, nor on old fashioned weapons. A new army was drawn from all classes of the people and patterned after the crack Prussian army. A Japanese navy, modeled on Britain’s, was also built. The ministers of the army and navy possessed great power in the cabinet and exerted great influence upon the emperor.
Modern industrial methods were adopted. Japan eagerly adopted modern methods of factory production. Highly trained engineers were brought to Japan. Young Japanese were sent to Europe and America to learn modern industrial methods. Shipbuilding, iron and steel production, silk, cotton and woolen manufacturing and other industries boomed. Foreign markets were studied carefully and large numbers of workers were trained to run machines. The Japanese quickly adapted themselves to machine manufacture and because workers could be hired at low wages, Japan was able to pour out a flood of inexpensive imitations of European and American goods. At first Japan had to borrow heavily from Western bankers to start modern industries.
In a short time, however a small group of Japanese families grew tremendously wealthy and Japan was able to supply its own capital, but factory workers and farmers generally remained poor.
Westernization changed many aspects of Japanese life. By the twentieth century, then, Japan had taken on many of the features of a modern industrial country. These changes naturally were more noticeable in the cities than in farming districts. Cities and towns became crowded with factory workers. Railroad and telegraph lines were extended and a postal system was set up. Public schools were established. Now that Christian missionaries were again permitted in Japan, they helped to spread Western ideas. Even dress and forms of recreation were affected. The Japanese, for example, became ardent baseball fans.
Despite these great changes in their way of life, the Japanese remained loyal to their old traditions. Worship of the emperor and national heroes, together with a strong sense of duty, had been drilled into them for generations. This made the Japanese an intensely patriotic people, willing to make great sacrifices for their nation’s welfare.
Japan embarked on a policy of imperialism. The Japanese also imitated the imperialism of the Western nations. Population increased so rapidly that larger food supplies were necessary. In addition, now that the Japanese were becoming industrialized, they too needed raw materials for their factories and markets for their manufactured goods. The Japanese therefore turned envious eyes toward Asia’s mainland and toward other islands of the Pacific.
Japan’s interest in Korea led to war with China. Near Japan lay Korea, which had close ties with the Chinese empire. Centuries earlier, Chinese immigrants had moved into Korea and Chinese and Korean civilizations blended. Like the Chinese, most Koreans were Buddhists. By the 1500’s Koreans had spinning wheels, movable type and a simplified alphabet and the compass. They even built the world’s first ironclad warship.
About 1600 a Japanese Shogun set out to conquer Korea, but the attempt failed. Korea continued to be a vassal state of China even though it had a ruler of its own and retained control over most of its own affairs. After becoming modernized, Japan pressed Korea for trading privileges and made plans to separate Korea from China. On a flimsy excuse, Japan went to war with China in 1894 and won an easy victory. China was forced to pay war damages and to hand over Formosa and some smaller islands. Korea was declared independent, a step which would make it easier for the Japanese to get a foothold there.
Japan won recognition as a strong imperial power. Japan’s victory not only weakened China but also proved that Japan was a power to be reckoned with. One by one, the Western governments granted Japan full recognition and rights. Instead of being regarded by Western nations as a weak and backward country, Japan was now rated as an equal among them in power, prestige and rights. Henceforth it would sit at the table with the other great powers and help divide the imperialist pie. Japan took part in putting down the Boxer Rebellion and received its share of the payments demanded from China.
Japan became Great Britain’s ally. Japan received a still greater compliment when, in 1902, Great Britain sought it as an ally. The resulting alliance was really directed against Russia. The Russians had begun to treat the Chinese province of Manchuria as though it were a Russian colony and from Manchuria the Russians looked greedily in the direction of Korea. The Japanese were alarmed. If unchecked, Russia might dominate China and exclude the Japanese from the Chinese trade. The British in turn felt that the Russian advance in Asia might threaten British control over India. Not until 1907, did Russia and Great Britain come to a friendly understanding. So it was natural for the British and Japanese to get together. This was the first time a great Western power had sought an ally in the Far East.
Russia and Japan came to blows. The Russians showed no signs of withdrawing from Manchuria, the Japanese suddenly attacked them in 1904. The world expected Russia, with its greater population and resources, to win an easy victory, but from start to finish the Russian Japanese War was one sided in favour of Japan. The Japanese were fighting in their own “front yard,” while European Russia was separated from the area of conflict by more than 5000 miles! The Japanese army quickly overran Korea and most of southeastern Manchuria. Japanese soldiers had a harder time taking the strong Russian fortress at Port Arthur, but that fell at last. The Russians sent their Baltic fleet on a spectacular voyage halfway around the world, only to have it destroyed by the Japanese navy when it reached Japanese waters.
President Theodore Roosevelt helped end the Russian-Japanese War. By 1905 both Russia and Japan were war weary. Russia had suffered one defeat after an other and was threatened with revolution at home. Japan, despite its many victories, was short of money and would have found it hard to continue the war much longer. The American President, Theodore Roosevelt, seized the chance to invite both governments to a peace conference. In September 1905, Russian and Japanese statesmen agreed on terms of peace. Japan took over Russia’s former rights in Port Arthur in Manchuria and received the southern half of the island of Sakhalin lying to the north of Japan. In addition, Japan received the right to provide Korea with “Guidance, protection and control.” In other words, Korea became a Japanese protectorate.
Japan took complete control of Korea. The Japanese made the most of their opportunity in Korea. In 1910 they annexed it outright and set out to crush Korean ideas of national independence. The Korean emperor was reduced to the rank of a Japanese prince. Japanese policemen, one to every 100 Koreans, took away Korean weapons. The teaching of Japanese language and history in schools was emphasized. Despite these efforts to kill it, Korean national spirit remained alive.
The Koreans protested against the actions of the Japanese, but the strong nations of Europe did nothing to help them. How could Europeans find fault with Japan? Could the pot call the kettle black? Western nations had done much of the same kind of land grabbing in Africa and Asia themselves.
Japan gained from World War I. When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan joined Great Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary. According to a Japanese statesman, Japan joined in the war to destroy German influence in the Far East. English and American leaders suspected that what Japan really wanted was to extend its empire in Asia and the Pacific. China was alarmed and turned to the United States. Would they check Japan if it should seize Chinese territory? America wanted to help China but they also wanted to avoid war with Japan, so they gave China little satisfaction.
Meanwhile Japan went ahead with its plans. Japanese forces drove the Germans from the Shantung Peninsula (map) and took over railroads and industries in this German sphere of influence. A Japanese naval force seized German-held islands in the Pacific (the Marshall Islands, the Marianas and the Carolines). During World War I Japan also presented a list of “Twenty-one Demands” to China. These demands were aimed at giving Japan control of China’s commerce and resources. Had China been compelled to accept them, its independence would have been brought to an end. Thanks to the vigorous protests of the United States, Japan was not able to force on China the Twenty-one Demands, but Japan made some gains and clearly showed what its aims were in the Far East. Truly the Japanese had learned well the lesson of imperialism!
Japan took part in the Washington Conference. At the end of World War I, Japan ranked as one of the powerful nations in the world. When statesmen of the leading nations gathered in 1922 in Washington to talk over plans for reducing naval forces, Japan sent representatives. Japan agreed, as did the other naval powers, to reduce its fleet. The disarmament treaty, however, recognized Japan as the third naval power in the world, ranking only below Great Britain and the United States. This, in itself, was recognition of its world position.
Still other measures at the Washington Conference affected Japan. Both the United States and Great Britain had become concerned over Japan’s growing might in the Far East. Japan had gained possession of the Pacific island groups seized from Germany in World War I, though it ruled them in the name of the League of Nations. Japanese gains in China were a serious threat to the Open Door Policy which the United States strongly supported. Treaties were therefore drawn up and signed at the Washington Conference by which (1) Japan gave up its rights to former German holdings in the Shantung Peninsula; (2) Great Britain, France, Japan and the United States agreed to respect one another’s possessions in the Pacific; and (3) the nine countries having interests in the Far East (including Japan) agreed again to the Open Door Policy and promised to observe China’s rights as a free nation.
Japan renewed its imperialism plans. These solemn pledges, however, failed to halt Japan’s plans for imperial expansion. By the 1930’s Japan was on the march again. Hard times and a rapidly growing population caused Japan to look for relief at the expense of China. Military leaders, who were the real rulers of Japan, favoured the use of force to wrest new privileges from China. The fact that China was becoming more united under Chiang Kaishek suggested the need for speedy action, so these leaders argued.
Japan created Munchukuo. China’s frontier territory of Manchuria was an area about as large as Texas and New Mexico combined. Its sparse population and rich natural resources made it attractive to Japan. Japan already had interests in Manchuria and had been granted special rights there by the Chinese government. Manchuria seemed a good place in which to settle Japan’s surplus population.
Japanese interest in Manchuria caused feeling to run high and matters came to a head in 1931. Japanese officials who were investigating a reported bombing of the Japanese-operated railroad claimed that Chinese soldiers shot at them. Japanese forces were rushed to Manchuria. The Chinese struck back by refusing to buy Japanese goods, but withdrew their troops from Manchuria. The Japanese, claiming that Manchuria had been left without any government, announced that they would stay in order to help Manchuria achieve independence. In 1932 the “independent” state of Manchukuo, as japan renamed Manchuria, was proclaimed. Then the Japanese made the last Manchu ruler, who was deposed from the throne of China in 1911, the puppet or figurehead emperor of Manchukuo.
China, meanwhile, called upon the other powers for help. An international investigating commission reported that the Japanese, not the Manchurians, had created Manchukuo. Western powers refused to recognize Japan’s conquest, but as the Japanese had shrewdly expected, no one was willing to take up arms in defense of China.
The Japanese invaded China. From Manchukuo the Japanese carried out other attacks on China’s home soil, commonly referred to as “China proper.” A full-scale invasion of China was launched in 1937. This time the Chinese people united under Chiang Kai shek to fight back, but the struggle was unequal. As Japanese forces gradually took over much of eastern China, the Chinese retreated deep into the interior and continued the struggle there. Families with their belongings, factory machinery and even schools and hospitals were laboriously moved westward to the parts of China still free.
After 1939 this struggle between China and Japan became part of World War II. In fact, many people look upon the Japanese attacks on China in the 1930’s as the real beginning of World War II. The leading powers had done nothing to stop Japanese imperialism, war-minded leaders in Europe believed that they too could safely commit acts of aggression.
3. How Did Imperialism Affect Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands?
Developments in China and Japan prior to the outbreak of World War II. Elsewhere in the East and in the Pacific, imperialist states had extended their control too. Such gains were made at the expense of native peoples who desired to manage their own affairs.
Great Britain held Burma and Malaya. On the southern Asiatic mainland both Great Britain and France carved out rich colonies. Burma adjoined India on the east, it was natural for the British to take an interest in that country. Great Britain from time to time found excuses to send forces into Burma and by the end of the nineteenth century it had taken over the entire country. British firms poured money into Burma to develop its rich natural resources and the principal cities began to show Western influence. The majority of the people, however, continued to farm the land as they had for centuries.
Even earlier, the British had seen the importance of the Malay Peninsula. The strait between the southern end of this peninsula and the island of Sumatra serves as the main waterway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The British first obtained Singapore, on an island on the tip of Malaya. Here they erected a strong naval base, which in time grew into a thriving commercial city. Later, the British pushed their control northward into the peninsula. Malaya proved a profitable colony, for it is rich in tin and rubber.
The French built an empire in Indo-China. To the south of China are a number of small countries, part Chinese and part Indian in background and civilization. Taken together they form the region known as Indo-China. Over this region China claimed a vague control, somewhat like that claimed by the Turkish sultan over the countries of North Africa. Having lost its Indian empire to Great Britain, France was eager to obtain land and trade elsewhere in Asia. Gradually during the 1800s France built up an empire in IndoChina. The French forced China to recognize their control in Indo-China and took territory from Siam (later known as Thailand). Neither Great Britain nor France, however, wished to take over Siam completely because it formed a convenient buffer between British Burma and French Indo-China.
By the 1900’s Indo-China, a territory larger than France, reached from China proper to Siam. Its more than 20 million people had a well-developed civilization and the area was able to export rice, tin, pepper and other products. After World War II, Indo-China became one of the world’s trouble spots.
European powers acquired Pacific islands. The Pacific Ocean, especially its southern half ( the “South Seas”), is studded with island groups. The islands vary in size from Australia, so large that it is usually called a continent, to little rings of coral sand topped by a few palm trees. Although many of these islands did not attract the attention of imperialistic nations until the nineteenth century, some fell to European powers during the period of the great explorations in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Among the latter were the East Indies — the large, rich and populous islands off Southeast Asia.
The Dutch developed the East Indies. Although Portuguese traders were the first to profit from the rich trade of the East Indies, the Dutch East India Company took over early in the 1600’s. The Dutch were shrewd businessmen. They would rent plantations and then employ native directors to run them. These native directors were entitled to keep any profits from the plantations above what the Dutch required. This plan worked well for the Dutch and the native directors, but it frequently meant hardship for the native workers.
For a time around the opening of the nineteenth century, the Dutch ran into difficulties in the East Indies. The Dutch East India Company, grown weak and corrupt, was abolished and the Dutch government assumed direct control over the islands. It established a firm grip on Sumatra, Java, most of Borneo and half of New Guinea, as well as on many smaller islands (See map).
Despite reforms, East Indians were dissatisfied with foreign control. The Dutch introduced a kind of share-cropping that was very profitable to the government. One-fifth of the land was set aside for the government and each farmer had to spend a fifth of his time growing crops for the Dutch. This system led to much dissatisfaction because workers did not earn enough to support themselves adequately or to buy Dutch manufactured goods. Late in the 1800’s, therefore, the Dutch government introduced many reforms. Scientific methods of farming were introduced, schools were started and the natives were given some voice in the East Indian government.
These reforms, however, failed to satisfy the East Indian nationalists who wanted complete self-government. Between World Wars I and II (1918-1939) the nationalist Spirit grew stronger. Then, when World War II broke loose in all its fury, Japanese forces poured into the East Indies. The Japanese talked glibly of freeing the East Indians from their Dutch “oppressors,” but most of the East Indians knew the Japanese wanted the riches of the East Indian or Indonesian islands for themselves.
Many Pacific islands were taken over. By the middle of the nineteenth century most of the other island groups in the Pacific had been occupied by colonial powers. Usually missionaries came first, treating the native peoples fairly and trying to help them. Good relations between missionaries and natives, however, were often upset when traders arrived. The traders seized land and sometimes forced the natives to work against their will. Diseases unknown to the islanders were brought by Western people, resulting in great loss of life. Unfair trading, oppressive working conditions and the spread of disease led foreign governments to take over direct control of the islands. Chief among the occupying powers were Britain, France, Germany and Japan.
Americans begun to take an interest in expansion beyond the sea. Our own country, too, had a part in occupying these islands. At the close of the nineteenth century some Americans were taking a decided interest in more distant lands. Our farm lands were producing bumper crops. American mines and factories were booming. American businessmen wanted markets for their goods and a chance to invest their money in undeveloped countries. Although the United States possessed far more plentiful natural resources than most Western powers, there were some raw materials such as tin and rubber which had to be imported. In their desire for new markets and raw materials, Americans began to look beyond their own boundaries, not only to countries to the south but also to islands of the Pacific. Among these were the Hawaiian Islands.
The United States annexed Hawaii. The Hawaiians belong to the Polynesian race, an easy-going people of the Pacific tropics. Though ruled by native kings and independent in name, Hawaii fell under the control of foreign businessmen late in the nineteenth century. A bloodless revolution drove the native Hawaiian queen from the throne. When the newly established government asked for annexation to the United States, President Cleveland refused. He felt that American businessmen and officials had used unfair pressure in bringing about the revolution, but in 1898, under President McKinley, the islands were annexed.
Since then Hawaii has become the centre of the world’s pineapple trade, a favourite winter resort for tourists and the most important American naval base in the Pacific. Japan’s sudden attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii brought the United States into World War II.
The United States, Great Britain and Germany took over control of Samoa. The story of the Samoan Islands during the late nineteenth century is more complicated than that of Hawaii. Great Britain and Germany were involved as well as the United States. Traders from these three countries schemed to put native chiefs in power or to depose them and almost brought the countries which they represented into war.
In 1889 Britain, Germany and the United States set up a joint control over the islands, but the plan did not work well. So, ten years later, certain islands including Tutuila were given to the United States and the rest of the Samoan Islands were given to Germany. After World War I the German islands were given to New Zealand.
The United States acquired the Philippines. Ever since the late 1500’s the Philippines had been controlled by Spain. The name itself means the “islands of Philip” and refers to Philip II of Spain, the king for whom the islands were named. The Filipinos were Malayan people who represented many tribes. The Spaniards converted most of them to the Catholic faith, but some Filipinos were moslems. The latter and others who were nature worshipers, lived in the wilder, more mountainous parts of the islands.
Few Americans in 1897 dreamed that these island peoples far across the Pacific would ever come under the control of the United States, but when a war broke out in 1898 between Spain and the United States over events in Cuba, the Philippines became prominent both in war news and in the peace that followed.
At the time, Commodore George Dewey had a small American fleet in Asiatic waters. He was ordered to strike a blow at Spain in the nearby Philippines. His naval victory at Manila Bay placed in American hands the responsibility for deciding whether (1) to return the Philippines to Spain, (2) to declare them independent, or (3) to keep them. In the peace which followed, the United States kept the Philippines, paying Spain 20 million dollars for them. One reason for keeping the Philippines was the hope that they could be used to protect and promote our trade in the Far East.
The Filipinos progressed in self-government. The Filipinos were in revolt against Spain when the Americans landed but many Filipinos wanted American rule no more than Spanish rule, for they felt that American rule would be just a change from one master to another. Instead, they wanted to govern themselves. Led by the youthful Emilio Aguinaldo, these Filipino nationalists fought bravely but hopelessly against American troops for two years before peace came to the Philippines.
The story of American control of the Philippines, however, was different from the story of imperialism in most other areas. The United States undertook a broad program to educate the Filipinos. Moreover, the United States did not try to keep them a subject people. There followed a long period during which self-government was gradually extended to the Filipinos under American leadership. By 1916 Filipinos were taking a considerable part in their government. Beginning in 1934 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth under American protection. Full independence was granted the islands after World War II.
During the nineteenth century, especially after the 1870’s, then, imperialism changed the map of the Far East and Southeast Asia as well as of the Pacific. Imperialism benefited industrialized countries and brought Western ideas and ways of living to peoples in faraway lands. Contact with the Western world resulted in many changes, some good and some bad. One of the powerful forces of our day is the desire of peoples under imperialist rule to govern themselves.