How and why did Japan’s successful adaptation to the challenges presented by Western imperialism and china’s failure, result in disaster for each country during the twentieth century?
Yet by the end of that century, both nations were at the forefront of the world’s powers.
The sweeping changes that occurred in Japan and China between the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, are breathtaking to say the least. For Japan to grow from a mostly agrarian economy with a tiny industrial sector, at the beginning of the century, to one of the wealthiest nations of the world by the end of it, was no mean achievement. Similarly for China, to revive an economy that was devastated by the ravages of a long civil war; and turn it into one of the fastest growing economies by the end of the century, was a truly laudable achievement. Japan moved from a limited democracy with a semi-divine monarch before world war II, to a thriving progressive one by the last decade of the twentieth century. China on the other hand transformed from a communist form of government at the end of the civil war, to a more modern form of socialism using reform and an opening of its markets by the end of the century.
At the beginning of the twentieth century western powers like Britain, France, Germany and Belgium had grown rich and powerful through acquisition of colonies in Asia and Africa. Japan sought to imitate western imperial powers by acquiring foreign territorial possessions because of the power and prestige associated them. The frequent provocation by western powers, their racial prejudices towards Asian people; as well as its own concerns for its territorial and economic security, led Japan into a series of wars in China as well as other south Asian countries. This was done mainly to increase its sphere of influence and to secure much needed markets for its goods.
The disastrous results of trying to imitate western imperialism saw Japan reduced from a dynamic Asian empire in the 1930s and 1940s to a small group of islands in a western dominated order by the end of WWII. The result of the second world war changed Japan’s fortunes. Devastated by the atomic bomb and over-populated due to the return of its people from Manchuria and Korea, a starving Japan was forced to accept free food from America. The impact of this on the Japanese people was naturally profound and resulted in a steely determination to return to a position of power in the new world order. Japan had to begin over again the process of developing industry and self sufficiency. One advantage it had was its talent pool in terms of educated people in the field of science and technology. Another was its strong belief in free enterprise and its expertise in managing industry in such an environment. The Korean war in 1950 gave Japan an initial boost as Japan supplied goods needed for war to the US. In 1950 Japan’s gross national product (GNP) was $10 billion, it had risen to $300 billion by 1973, flooding the world’s markets with Japanese goods. By the 1990s Japan had one of the strongest economies in the world. Today technological advances have defined the nation’s work culture. Japan’s communication and transportation systems and industrial and financial development are cited as proof of the advantages of a capitalist society. Yet Japan has succeeded in retaining its ethnic and cultural uniqueness in terms of language religion and family values.
While Japan tried to imitate western imperialism and increase its sphere of influence, China was incapable of handling western imperialism due to the fractions within its own society. The Chinese emperors who had ruled for over 2000 years were unable to thwart the designs of various western nations vying for a foothold in China. The revolution in 1911 overthrew the emperor but the military rulers who took over the government fought among themselves and were unable to repulse western imperialists. After the first world war, China who had helped the allies, expected them to end concessions given to foreigners in China and to end foreign occupation of the country. The treaty of Versailles however ignored China’s pleas, and during the angry protests that ensued, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed. After this from 1930 to the end of the second world war,China was embroiled in a long civil war, with the CCP and the Kuomintang (KMT) struggling to gain control over the government of China. During this time Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria and by the time the second world war broke out, Japan controlled almost the entire east coast of China. After the second world war, the power struggle between the KMT and the CCP continued until finally in 1949 the CCP under Mao Zedong succeeded in establishing the People’s Republic of China.
Mao Zedong completely revolutionized the country. Five year plans were implemented and land and social reforms were carried out. By 1956 China had made the transition from a market economy to a planned socialist economy following the soviet pattern of economic development. Its agricultural sector was reorganized through a program of collectivization, in order to generate capital for the development of heavy industry. However, the Great Leap forward that aimed to transform China’s agrarian economy was a disaster and resulted in millions of deaths. The cultural revolution of 1966, that followed again plunged the country into factional fighting and a complete breakdown of authority pushing China dangerously close to anarchy. However, the moderate voices of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping managed to prevail, and China’s more moderate image led to its acceptance in the UN security council in 1971. The economic policies of Deng Xiaoping, giving incentives to farmers and factory workers to work harder, and his emphasis on modernization of agriculture,industry, national defense and science and technology helped lift China’s economy dramatically during the next two decades. As China became more industrialized and hence economically stronger, students began a protest in Tiananmen square in 1989 demanding more rights and freedoms, that ended in the army killing thousands of protesters and causing the world to question China’s views on freedom and human rights. By the end of the century, China continued along the path toward economic freedom and liberalization. Today it seems on the verge of another cultural revolution – this time one by a young Chinese generation that dares to dream of building economic empires and living with the latest cutting edge technology. Ronald Reagan once remarked “Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free.” (Reagan.Ronald September 1981) These words hold so true in the case of both these Asian giants who saw their countries teeter on the verge of collapse , yet found the resilience to bring them back from the brink.
Reagan Ronald on September 29, 1981
Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund Web May 23 2011 http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1981/92981a.htm