Japanese imperialism:

Besides changes in domestic values and practices, Japan's relations with its neighbors also changed after the Meiji Restoration.  We have talked about the varied changes in Japanese society, economy, and politics, including the introduction of Western values of civilization and enlightenment, industrialization, abolition of feudalism and establishment of a centralized, constitutional government.  On the other hand, we have also mentioned the conservative backlashes at the introduction of liberal values regarding political participation, women's status, individualism and other Western liberal values, in the Civil Law of 1898, in the Rescript of Education in 1890, in the 1889 constitution, and in the newly defined state Shinto.  Japan's expansion was, similar to other changes taking place, the result of emulation of and conflict with the Western countries.

Japan's expansion was undertaken in an environment of imperialism of European countries. 


Traditional foreign relations:

Often informal, e.g. no clearly drawn national boundaries.  Same true with China that did not have an accurate map in the 1860s.

Historically, foreign relations among several Asian countries, centered around China, followed more or less the courtesies of a large family clan.  Hence foreign relations in China was conducted by the Board of Rites (rather than Foreign Ministry), and Korea and Vietnam were tributary states.  Japan did not follow the suit of its neighbor Korea, but for some centuries it treated China largely with deference in peacetime.  Although an active learner, Japan did not develop an active foreign policy in the Asian international milieu.

Japanese expansion in early 20th century:

Explanation of expansion:

Volatilities of East Asian boundaries in the 19th century:

Japanese expansion in Asia was undertaken in an age of active Western expansion into China.  In particular, Russian expansion led to its takeover of large quantities of Chinese territories in the 19th century, including the acquisition of Vladivostok, and various other border regions between China and Russia.  The building of the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok (1890s) furthered Russian penetration into Manchuria.  Russian activities in China and Korea clashed with Japanese intentions to expand to these regions.

View map of imperialism in China

Expansion and imperialism:

Like European countries, many in the Japanese government turned expansion into a systematic goal, for security, national pride, resources for industrialization, settlement of overpopulation, and markets for manufactured goods.  These goals were often intertwined.

Q: Did Japanese imperialism differ from European imperialism in any way?

With many similarities to the West, Japanese imperialism differed from Western imperialism in that it was the first non-Western imperial power, and that it rose to imperial status after facing colonization by the West.  Like Western powers, Japanese expansion was fueled with Social Darwinism, and racism:

Need to ruthlessly protect itself, which could mean siding with the Western powers and act as they did to the other Asian countries. (c.f. Fukuzawa Ukichi, in McClain, 293-4)  

Despite Japan's civilization, Western countries, because of racism, treated it the same way as other Asian countries.

Imperial expansion the last chance to win Western respect and ensure security and survival as a nation, and even bring civilization to other countries in Asia.

Imperial expansion went hand in hand with growing Japanese nationalism:

Outline of Japan's war with China (1894-5), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5)

The two wars were both causes and results of Social Darwinism and racism:

        The Sino-Japanese War:

1880s: conflict between conservative and progressive factions within the Korean court, ultimately mediation by China and Japan.

In the 1890s, after China dispatched troops to Korea to dispel a peasant uprising, Japanese confrontation with China near the mouth of the Yalu River on the Yellow Sea.  The resulting treaty of Shimonoseki resembled the unequal treaties. (McClain, 299)

Result: 1894, abolition of Anglo-Japanese unequal treaties, and 1897, the other treaty powers, similar agreements that recognized Japan's tariff autonomy and promised complete equalization of all relations by 1911.

The Russo-Japanese War:

Russia's demand for return of Liaodong Peninsula to China, backed by Britain, and the U.S., after the success of Japan over China.

Russia's taking over the Liaodong Peninsula (25 year lease), and building the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria.  Also Russian military presence in Korea.  (McClain, 302)

Japanese decision for war:

  • Take over Chinese territory because Russia refused to concede.
  • Also to enhance Japan's prestige and standing among the Great Powers.

American mediation in 1905: Treaty of Portsmouth: c.f. the wording. (McClain, 306).