Chapter 3: Japan’s Modernization Policies and Its Existential Destiny

At the onset of Meiji Era, Japan with existential threat looming from the colonizing West embarked on an epic national policies to modernize and westernize its industrial infrastructure, hardware , the governance, educational foundation, etc. ;  It was an epic change, unprecedented in the history of mankind, modernizing a nation from an Eastern  foundation to Western foundation. (p. 61)

To modernize and industrialize a nation would need sufficiently educated labor force, which Japan had; Japan already had one, if not the highest, literacy rate in the world even prior to the arrival of Perry in l854, thanks to the ‘teragoya’ schools system (local Buddhist temple schools that taught calligraphy, mathematics (abacus), simple traditional arts, etc.) which existed all over Japan.  In Edo (Tokyo) the literacy rate in mid 1800s were 80% for male, 20% for female, amazingly high compared to Europe which had at the time 60% illiteracy rate. By 1878 there were 27,100 elementary schools in Japan covering almost the entire nation, along with developed system of higher education and universities.  The high literacy rate of Japan was not universal in the rest of Asia, and contributed greatly to the fast development of Japan after the Meiji Restoration. (p.63,64)

During the ‘Age of Explorations’ guns were the weapon that non-Westerners did not have, but when guns were brought to Tanegashima,  Japan quickly became world’s largest producer of guns.  The same can be said about production of steam ships.   Only Japan in all of non-Western nations did these developments occur. (p. 65)

Japan quickly developed its industrial foundations after 1880 in a national economic development  ‘Shoku San Kogyou’ ( Productive Industry) programs in ship building, steam engines, steel, rail roads, cannons, western style guns, gunpowder, textiles, alcohol related products, electrical and telegraph related goods, pharmaceuticals, printing machines, gas related products, photography related goods, hydro electric utility plants, agricultural equipment, etc. (p.67)

Japanese leaders were aware of risks of colonization by the Western Powers if they allowed foreign capital to enter these programs; Ulysses Grant, the former President of the United States, who visited Meiji Emperor in l879 warned him of risks of becoming enslaved to these nations if these foreign indebtedness are not repaid promptly, and warned of the ulterior motive of these nations in lending to Japan was ultimately to take control of Japan. (p.68)

Fortunately for Japan, thanks to the export of raw silk Japan, enjoyed rich flow of foreign currency on top of rich reserves domestic capital wealth from peace and stability which lasted during most of the 220 year period of isolation.  Capital needed for the formation of industrial base was provided from the former samurai nobility, wealthy merchants of the cities, wealthy farmers, and land owners in Japan. (p. 68)

The original railroad rights in Japan-between Tokyo and Yokohama- were owned by the Americans, but the Japanese Government with foresight and prescience purchased it back from the Americans, who were at the time seeking to colonize Philippines. Japan’s averse posture to accept foreign capital was clear, thus the successful economic development of Japan occurred without foreign intervention and allowed its independence to prevail.  (p. 69)

The smooth transition from state run industries to privately run industries also progressed smoothly in Japan.  It was the development of hardware, software, and artisans of private business, corporations, since the Edo Period, especially in 1880-90s which contributed greatly to the economic development of Japan.  (p.71)

The development of heavy industry occurred after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895; with the Chinese reparation money from the war in l901 Japan developed its key steel mills and the foundation of heavy industry in Japan. (p.71)

The Meiji development of the industrial foundations of Japan was an united effort of the public and the state; the patriotic young men and women desiring to partake a role in the epic national development willingly studied foreign languages and technology.  Such patriotic exuberance, the   ‘espirit de corps’ ,’Wa Kon You Sai’  ( “Learn from the West Without Forgetting the Spirit of Japan” ) spirit, was pervasive in all classes of Japanese public, nobility, merchants, farmers, everyone. (p.71)

The Great Constitution of Japan promulgated in l889 can be construed as symbolic embodiment of ‘Wa Kon You Sai’ spirit.  It was written with Germanic foundation but was treated as a ‘Gift’ from the Emperor to the Japanese public, not as something created by an elected public leaders.  As such it was revered, respected and instilled in the spirit of every citizen in Japan; The Great Japanese Constitution was thus never amended for the 57 years-exceptional in the history of all constitutional governments in the world-until the end of World War II in l946. (p.88)

There was a similar effort undertaken in China to learn from the civilizations of the West, but was not done with exuberance as in Japan, but with hesitancy and hubris of their self-grandeur about their China-centric civilization; Fermentation of  ‘Kan Kon You Sai’ (Without Forgetting China Learn from the West) spirit never occurred in China.   However, the events during the Opium Wars in l840-42 and 1856-60 alarmed even the arrogantly stubborn Chinese, thus began the reassessment of their ancient regime vis-à-vis the rest of the world. (p.90)

In 1861 Qing regime established its first Foreign Affairs Office, and like Japan developed its military with a modern army and a naval fleet of 20 warships, comparable to that of the West.  However, without the ‘espirt de corps’ both the army and the navy were annihilated in the Sino Japanese War of 1895.  The quint essential reason for the failure of Chinese modernization of the country, i.e. the Chinese ‘Meiji’ Restoration, was not universal, ubiquitous, and shared nationwide embraced by all classes of populace, but limited to small segment and class of people. (p.90)

According to Chian Kai Shek the reasons for the failure of the Chinese ‘Meiji’ Restoration were: “The visions of Hirobumi Ito (the first Prime Minister of Japan) included the comprehensive development of foundation for the political governance, constitution, economy, social order, military, scientific development needed for the establishment of a nation. Li Hongzong (the seinior leader of Qing Dynasty who led Chinese modernization and westernization) who advocated the spirit of         ‘copying Western method to defest the West’ and arrogantly presumed that as long China has the cannons and war ships, the Western nations cannot defeat China.  There were such ‘dimensional’ and philosophical difference between Hirobumi Ito and Li Hongzong.” “The reason this civil official (Li Hongzong) could not achieve superior results was that he just looked at the technology and disregarded the political governance and foundations of education.  He only spoke about shallow literature or military education.  There were no understanding of the ‘Large Book’ or attempts to read it.” (p.91)

In another words, the modernization of Japan was not just of the ‘hardware’, but comprehensively of the ‘software’, the legal and political governance, education as well.  Against this China never questioned its arrogant assumption of the superiority of its traditional culture and political regime, never attempted to modernize the ‘software’ aspect of the country.  Thus, Chinese ‘Meiji’ Restoration failed. (p.91)

Japan continued its “Shoku San Kogyo” (Industrial Development), “Datus Ah Nyu Ou” (Exit Asia Enter West), “Fu Koku Kyou Hei” (Rich Nation Strong Military) programs in the Meiji Period in the 1870-80s and twenty years later defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War (1895) and the Russia in the  Russo-Japanese War (1905).  I

In another words, while Japan was developing in the late 1800s China was on the path of decline.  The Sino-Japanese War and the  Russo Japanese War have large historical significance.  At a minimum, it turned the direction of tide in the historical progression and expansion of white Western Civilization, and greatly realigned the power relationship of the West.   As a result, the cultural development led by the Japanese expanded not only within the Japanese archipelago, but into Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria along with the expansion of Japanese territory.  But, China resisted such waves of cultural developments and struggled to rise out of its stagnant decline.   Thus, it is important to view the modernization of Asia not as a history of one nation or one race, but from the perspective of cultural evolution.  (p. 93)

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