Chapter 1: “New Nation from the Sea”-Imperial Japan in the Modern History

By convention when we view the history of Asia we view it in a ‘China-centric’ way, but that is just a mere convention.  It is more important to view it from a perspective of ancient civilization transforming into a modern civilization (page.19)

For the first time in the history of mankind, the ‘Age of Exploration’ made the world ‘one’ in the minds of people.  Movement of people, cultures and trades began to flourish between the five continents.  And in this historical process it became apparent that Western civilization was advancing faster scientifically, industrially, militarily, politically; The European Renaissance, the growth of individualism and scientific thinking, secularization religion through religious reforms, industrialization and mercantilism in the West contributed to this advancement, but without commensurate recognition in China centric world which continued its historical path with delusionary self-grandeur and superiority.  This delusionary arrogance, hubris, led to the subjugation of almost all of Asia into the Western colonialism and exploitation starting in 15th century.   It was Japan, the farthest eastern island nation of Asia, who recognized this growing subjugation its neighboring countries under Western colonialism and entered into self-imposed isolation versus the rest of the world for more than 2 centuries,  until the governing regime, Bakufu (Japan’s shogunate reign from 1192 to 1868 ), implemented the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to radically change the ‘modus operandi’ of the nation,  from that of  Eastern orientation to that of Western, to emulate Western social, political and cultural norms and infrastructure, to modernize and industrialize, and to enhance its military defense .  The success of Japan’s execution of national ‘renaissance’,” The Meiji Ishin (The Meiji Restoration)”, was a shocking historical event for the world, especially to Asia, who were greatly encouraged to attempt to follow Japan’s model. By the middle of 1800 the China-centric order under Qing had diminished to a mere ‘façade’ of power. (p.20)

Only Japan and the Western Europe, who did not get conquered by the Mongols were able to develop ‘feudal societies’ and were able to evolve into modern states. Societies and nations that were conquered by the Mongols that never developed ‘feudal’ social structure were not able to develop after the Middle Ages and did not or could not modernize. Nomadic civilization did not cultivate and germinate cultural developments or intellectual fermentation to industrialize, which were unique to feudal societies. (p.21)

Looking back at 3000 years of Chinese history, nothing was more welcoming for the Chinese to be conquered by a foreign regime, which may sound ironical, but particularly the Qing Era (1644-1912) was regarded as most peaceful and politically stable period; During this period Manchurians colonized China and brought forth unprecedented peaceful period, accompanied by unprecedented invasions by the warring nomadic tribes from the North.   The population of China, which at the end of Ming period (late 1500) had declined to 30 million rose to 100 million by early 1600, 300 million by end of 1700, then to 400 million by mid-1800.  Since the Late Han period (about 144 AD) China had been occupied and ruled by outside regime about half of the time, and the superiority of governance by the northern regimes was the common underlying theme. (p.25)

Yet in China there were always an inherent seedlings for instability; a vicious Malthusian cycle-i.e. excessive increase in population inducing over usage of agricultural assets ensued destruction of food production resources, which leads to poor harvest and  natural calamities, inducing massive famines and anarchy like social chaos bringing down existing regimes.  This tragic and vicious chaotic cycles repeated many times from 1700s to 1900s; China was engaged in a period famine and anarchy for almost a century and half, with tragedies of more than 10 million deaths occurring three times during the 19th Century. (p.25)

Another force that brought a decline of Qing Dynasty, beside the inherent self-destructive social/political organization, was the arrival of the Western powers. The Russians encroaching southward from the north, the British from the south, to the east the emergence of Japan as a regional power which impeded the development of China. The victory of Japan in Sino-Japanese War (1895) and Russo-Japanese War (1905) was the finial wakeup call to China and reaffirmed the new order in Asia. (p.26)

All civilizations will evolve through an arc; starting from its birth, then to growth, to reach its potential, then enter a path of decline.  The Ancient Orient, Egypt, Indus, Rome, and Chinese civilizations all follow the same arc.   Furthermore, the Chinese Civilization, like other civilizations, was not destroyed by outside forces but progressed through a path of self-destruction.  It is often said that the peak of Chinese Civilization was at the Han Era (202 BC to 184 AD) then it has been in a continuous decline.   (p.28)

In the historical back drop of declining Chinese Civilization, the nation that emerged as a new leader of Asia was the Imperial Japan.   This country not only thought about defending Asia, but understood that to do so would require a leadership to invoke and envigorate a ‘ Pan-Asian Renaissance’.  Such realm produced the “大アジア主義”(Dai Asia Shugi-Greater Asia Movement), the conceptual foundation of Pan-Asian civilization renaissance.(p.29)

As if in a ‘black hole’ of unending cycle of expansion and chaos, towards the the end of 18th Century during the Qing dynasty, huge uprising like the Bai Lian Jiao Uprising and Taiping Uprising occurred resulting in deaths reaching tens of millions of people.  Vicious cycle of expansion and chaotic anarchy resulting in deaths of millions of people continued in China until mid-20th Century.  The Chinese world was a never-ending chaos imbued with civil wars, uprising, famine, disease epidemic, massacres and killings.  What awaited every Chinese dynasty at the end was this kind of chaos. It is an historical sequence that happened every dynastic turn in the history of China, as ancient historical truism states “China will inevitably unite then inevitably dissolve”, or as if this repetition followed some sort of natural principle of cyclicality; As one society develops it will over populate placing inordinate stress on natural resources, which will result in destruction and shortages, which will cause acute shortages imbalance of resources, which results in famines, which induces disease epidemics and chaos, killings resulting in tens of millions of deaths, which ultimate annihilates the society, and the process repeats eternally.  In this chaotic world the prevailing lawlessness can no longer be controlled by the existing regime, so a new regime from the north, crossing the Great Wall, or any new regime, were welcomed by the Chinese populace as the saving grace from this chaotic hell. Thanks to the entrance of Mongolians, Manchus, and foreign outsiders who brought order to the anarchy peace was restored briefly, but only to set the stage for another chaos to occur again and again.  And after the fall of the final dynasty, Qing, in 1912 it was the Imperial Japanese who took it upon themselves the burden to bring a new order to the prevailing Chinese chaos (p. 30)

Towards the end of Southern Song era (1127-1279 AD) Mongols from the north penetrated and conquered China with an amazing speed, but that was accomplished not only because the local Han Chinese refused to fight, but they welcomed the new northern occupiers as their savior, the restorer of order and peace. They appointed Kubra Kan as their new leader.   At the end of Ming era (1368-1644), it was the same; life was filled with dreadful famine, disease epidemic, roaming bandits and deaths in tens of millions were occurring. The savior that appeared then were the Manchus from the north east. They were welcomed into Peking with amidst elaborate welcome ceremony.  In the 20th Century it was the same for the Japanese.  As the Japanese advanced into China they were always met with adulations from the local Chinese.  The highly disciplined and regimented Japanese soldiers who did not steal or commit atrocities gave hope for peace and stable society to the local populace who have seen nothing but chaos and lawlessness.  The resulting peace gave stable life back to the locals. (p. 31)

Karl Marx wrongly alleged it was the colonization and exploitation by the capitalism of China by the West that was the cause of continuing chaos in China; the reality is inherent seedlings for chaos was in existence in China long before the arrival of Western capitalists. As a side note, it was the Western forces that protected the Qing regime in Peking in the biggest human uprising in history, The Taiping Uprising , after the Opium War.  It was this Marxian wrongful allegations about foreign influences as the cause of chaos and violence in China that brought similar allegation toward Japan, even though exact opposite was the case.  Thus, the victimization theme of China and vilification of Japan took hold. But, Japan was the victim, not the villain.(p. 31)

Japan adopted its “Manifest Destiny” expansion into China with virtuous ideals of helping China, a nation with similar Asian identity, similar language, similar defense needs, to help it  gain order and stability amidst expansionary Western colonialism. For the newly developed nation of Japan,  peace and stability in the region was also very important existentially; unlike the Western nations who basically exploited and enslaved China and Asia, Japan however abetted its national existential destiny on the stability and peaceful development of Asia.  Thus, Japan was inevitably drawn into this caldron of chaos in China with objective to stop the anarchy, not to create it. (p. 31).

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