The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
A NEW Japan confronts the world. It is not the Japan of 1868,--the year dear to the hearts of Japanese as 1776 is to the hearts of Americans. Neither is it the Japan of 1905-6, the years of the Russo-Japanese War, nor the Japan of 1914, the first year of the World War. It is the Japan that has passed through two great events of historical importance,--the great war of 1914-18 and the great 1923 calamity of earthquake and fire. Japan with all her social heritage of thousands of generations is now finding herself in the maelstrom of economic and psychological changes. How she will emerge from all these is a problem that the coming decades only will decide.
But it will not be altogether out of place here to study some of the salient factors that will contribute to the conflict of forces at home, and to consider the eventual outcome in the realm of diplomacy. For careful students of foreign affairs will not deny that the internal changes always precede the change in the foreign policy of a nation and therefore that the study of diplomacy must always go hand in hand with that of internal policies. The time is passing, to my mind at least, when the world can ignore with complacency the internal politics of Japan. Just as the downfall of MacDonald's ministry created a sensation throughout the world and as the great victory of President Coolidge was watched with the keenest of interest in the remotest corners of Japan, so will Japanese cabinet changes attract more attention in the outside world in the future. In the past Japanese internal politics were more or less blurred and vague owing to the lack of clean-cut issues along Western lines. But with the changing psychology of the nation, and still more with the changing economic fabric of the country, the conflict of forces in Japan is taking on a new phase and a novel feature. It is ceasing, or has ceased, to be the story of a distant country engaged in a unique social development of its own. It is part and parcel of the world drama rivaling in interest that of any of the Western countries. Japan's drawbacks in commanding the attention of the Western world are her geographic remoteness and her linguistic unlikeness which cut her away from the main line of world interest. But the first barrier was permanently broken down by the Great War, which ushered in a new era--the Pacific era. The countries bordering on that great ocean are destined to play great roles and the center of world activities will inevitably shift to the American and Asiatic continents. And geography bestowed on Japan a strategic position in Asia. Happenings in the small Island Empire will, therefore, claim keener attention from the world, and particularly from America, in years to come.
Now let us study briefly the internal and external policies of Japan in the light of new historical researches. Japan has won a reputation in certain quarters of the world for being imperialistic and aggressive. No impartial student of politics can deny that there were grounds for the criticism, just as there were and still are reasons for other Western nations to be subjected to the same charge. The thing that interests us here is not the charge itself but the causes that brought about the existence of the situation.
The foreign policies of Japan in the past half-century revolved around two pivotal points. The one was security and the other equality. It was at a most precarious moment that Japan's long closed door was opened to foreign intercourse in 1858. It was the time when the flags of Great Britain and France from the south and of Russia from the north began to appear in the peaceful waters around Japan. Having the object lesson of Persia and Siam before their eyes, the concern of the young patriots of Japan in those days reached feverish heights. It was only America's timely arrival that saved the situation. The Monroe Doctrine closed the eastern coasts of the American continents to European aggression and forced the Old World to turn its attention to another sphere of operations, the Far East. But here again the imperialistic powers of Europe found themselves face to face with the same old stone wall--the declaration of President Monroe. The need of making secure the Pacific Coast drove the American Government to send naval fleets to Asian waters and opened a new page in the history of the East. The drama of the Far East in which Japan has been playing a prominent rôle is after all but a continuation of the action of the Monroe Doctrine. It was the same westward drive of the American people that first crossed the vast prairies and then the immense expanse of water to the shores of Asia and faced there the aggressive forces of Europe. Great Britain, France, Russia, and later Germany had to face the formidable power of America in the Far East, first in Japan and then in China.
In the early days of the Emperor Meiji, beginning with 1868, the statesmen of Japan sensed the foreign danger, and their policies were all formulated accordingly. A curious trick of fate gave an American army officer an opportunity to lay the foundation of Japan's continental policy.
At the start, the new government of Meiji had no definite foreign policy. Officials were much exercised regarding frontier problems, and Japanese claims to the Loochoo and Bonin Islands were enforced. It proved necessary, on the other hand, to concede the northern half of Saghalien to Russia in exchange for the Kurile Islands. Japan's relations with Korea also were anything but satisfactory. The sending of a punitive expedition to Korea was urged immediately following the Restoration, because Korea had failed to reciprocate the courtesy of the new government which had sent an official emissary to report the change of régime. The surplus energy of the samurai class, however, had quite as much to do with this agitation as the offense taken at Korea's impolite attitude. The episode had no connection whatever with the questions which resulted later in the Japanese annexation of Korea and attracted the attention of all the world.
As I stated before, the diplomacy of the restored Imperial Government for half a century revolved about two pivots. In the first place, Japan desired the revision of the treaties she had signed with the foreign powers in 1858, so that she might attain a position of equality among the nations. In the second place, she realized the necessity of safeguarding her territorial integrity by the formulation of a definite Asiatic policy.
With the hope of achieving the first of these purposes, Prince Iwakura was sent abroad at the head of a mission in 1871. The mission was unsuccessful, but during Prince Iwakura's absence chance led to the formulation of Japan's continental policy. This policy in definite form came from an American citizen.[i]
General Le Gendre, a Union officer in the American Civil War, after the close of hostilities was appointed American Consul-General at Amoy, China. While assigned to this post, he was obliged on one occasion to visit Formosa, just across the narrow straits, and conduct negotiations with the chiefs of the aborigines there. On his return to Amoy he sent his Government a dispatch in which he recommended the occupation of the island by the American navy. After a period of service at Amoy, General Le Gendre was appointed minister to a South American Republic and on his way to his new post he passed through Japan. Being introduced by the American Minister to Count Soyejima, Foreign Minister in the absence of Prince Iwakura, General Le Gendre took occasion to express his views regarding the policies he thought Japan should follow in order to consolidate her position. He impressed upon Soyejima the menace of Russian aggression from the north and the danger of British and French designs in the south. The American visitor said, in effect, that Japan would be secure only if she could formulate a continental policy and carry it out before it was too late. He even said that it was the duty as well as the right of Japan.
The policy recommended by General Le Gendre contemplated the expansion of Japanese territory to form a crescent skirting the Asiatic mainland, and embracing both Korea in the north and Formosa in the south. He emphasized the great danger which lurked in the possibility of a Russian occupation of Korea and of an English or French occupation of Formosa. In either of these events, he contended, Japan's security would be seriously threatened. Soyejima was urged to make the seizure of both Korea and Formosa a fundamental of Japan's foreign policy, and as precedents for such a plan the American General cited the Louisiana Purchase, the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of Alaska by the United States. These steps, he pointed out, had been made necessary by the Monroe Doctrine.
Count Soyejima was greatly influenced by General Le Gendre's arguments, which also found high favor with Saigo of Satsuma, who had served the Restoration cause with such distinction. Since the Imperial House had regained its long-lost authority, Saigo had withdrawn from the public eye and had found himself frequently in disagreement with the policies of the new government. Although he was a member of the Cabinet, his opinions frequently were overruled by a majority of his colleagues. When he heard of the new suggestion that had come from an American official he was intensely interested and sent his right-hand man, Kirino, to Soyejima to obtain a detailed explanation of Le Gendre's views. The idea fascinated him and immediately he began to advocate the military occupation of Korea.
The ambitious program was destined, however, to meet with determined opposition from Prince Iwakura, who soon returned from his travels with his able lieutenants, Okubo, Kido and Ito. The great Minister had been deeply impressed with the progress being made in western countries and returned home firmly convinced that Japan's first need was internal reform. This difference of opinion culminated in the civil war of 1878, in which Saigo attempted vainly to compel the adoption of his aggressive views. The Imperial Government at Tokyo emerged from the brief conflict with its position strengthened rather than otherwise.
It was just about this time that another American assisted in shaping Japan's foreign policy. General Grant, who was touring the world after the expiration of his term as President, reached Japan in 1877. The adoption of a policy of peace was strongly urged in a long and memorable interview between the former President and the young Emperor. At the very moment a war between China and Japan was impending over the possession of the Loochoo Islands, but General Grant explained how wars among Asiatic countries could not fail to advance the plans of European countries. He explained the example and spirit of the Monroe Doctrine and argued that Japan should strengthen herself by peaceful means. These calm views did much to influence the statesmen of Meiji in formulating their policy. General Grant's advice was followed and the Japanese house was put in order. It was only when they felt fully prepared that they acted upon Le Gendre's policies, acquiring Formosa in 1895 and Korea in 1910. Thus in the words of Professor Nakamura, Japan's Asiatic policy was thoroughly in accord with the suggestions of two American military men and, to an extent difficult to measure, grew out of their advice.
The intensity with which the statesmen of Japan strove to carry out her continental policy did not work beneficially for the growth of liberalism advocated by groups of intellectuals. In the early days of Meiji radical ideas of the West (such as those of the Rousseau school) aroused enthusiasm in the minds of the young liberal leaders of the nation and they went pretty far in their political agitation. The sponsors of these radical ideas were gradually forced to leave the seat of power and went into the ranks of the opposition. They organized political parties, and after the promulgation of the Constitution in 1889 carried their fight to the House of Representatives.
But during the forty long years of agitation the liberals were not half as successful in registering popular support as were the conservatives who stood for vigorous foreign policies. Their failure may be traced to many causes, but particularly to the lack of the popular support which grew out of the nature of the country's economic fabric. The political change of 1868 did not really affect the economic life of the nation and the former feudal lords retained their power in a changed form. Landlords and big commercial houses ruled the country, and the middle and laboring classes occupied a very insignificant place in the economic as well as the political scheme of the nation. Therefore, the fight between the conservatives and liberals was one between factions belonging more or less to the same economic stratum of society and failed to arouse enthusiasm among the common people. The latter were rather inclined to sympathize with the conservatives who had a constructive program and who succeeded in giving them at least economic prosperity and national security.
The dominance of the conservatives during forty years created a unique political situation. It meant the preponderance of the executive branch of government over the legislative and tended to centralize power in the hands of a few. These few people in the seat of power began to be closely linked up with the equally small number of people controlling the business enterprises of the country. While, therefore, Japan as a nation was making a steady advance on the Asiatic mainland and in the world at large, the political conscience of the people itself was not given a needed chance to express itself. It gradually created an atmosphere of lamentable indifference to politics on the part of the majority of the people. They were not given suffrage to express themselves and even those few who had votes realized that the exercise of their power did not mean much in formulating the country's policy. No vital issues were fought on the days of election and the legislative branch of government gradually sank in the estimation of the people. The situation was such that it was impossible for a great leader to rise on a wave of strong popular support. The trained civil servants rose step by step quietly to seats in the cabinet, not by means of a hold on the people through their breadth of vision but by their sheer knowledge and skill in administrative work. In the early days following the Restoration the new government did not lack the vision and courage given by the infusion of new blood. In the later years of Meiji, however, the enthusiast elements gradually gave way to those with technical knowledge and loving routine work. The bureaucracy which had served to give Japan an orderly progress at home and a continuity of national policy abroad, began to lose freshness and vigor and sank to a mere unimaginative officialdom. It looked as though the government and the life of the people were two separate things. A rigid formality reigned in the former and an apathy toward politics ruled in the latter.
It was in such a mood and in such a situation that the World War caught Japan in 1914.
When the storm broke in August, 1914, Japan little dreamed what a great effect it was destined to have upon her. A temporary business depression was soon followed by a sudden boom and in 1915 practically every factory was humming with work and more work. Coincidently with the material change came another one no less marked. It was the change in political and social ideas.
The new spirit that was gaining ground both in Europe and America rushed into the Island Empire like an avalanche; democracy and liberty were much on the lips of the people. The speeches of European and American statesmen on the Allied side were followed with intense interest. It was the time when an American statesman thrilled the whole Japanese nation with the loftiness of his ideals--Woodrow Wilson.
The liberals at home were not idle. Men like Prof. Nitobe and Prof. Yoshino were active in disseminating the idea of democracy. The conservatives were frightened and tried to thwart the cause by stamping it with a peculiar brand of "dangerous thoughts." But they little realized that far more dangerous thoughts were being brewed by the changing social conditions, namely violent socialism and anarchism. By persecuting those who cherished sane ideas of liberalism and democracy they were driving sensitive and subtle minds further towards the radical cause, which from 1919 began to assume gigantic proportions in the field of labor. The newspapers of the country, with very few exceptions, were on the side of democracy. The Japanese newspapers need a word of description. Their circulation is large, and they are very powerful in formulating public opinion. The Osaka Mainichi, for example, has a daily circulation of a million and a quarter, and with its sister paper, the Tokyo Nichi Nichi, enjoys that of two millions. As Japanese newspapers derive most of their income by the sale of papers and not by advertisements their natural tendency is to cater to popularity. So they are always on the side of democracy when there is any issue at stake.
Thus in the later years of the World War Japan seemed to make a fair stride toward liberalism and democracy. The large, independent middle class that was created by the business prosperity of those days became bolder and bolder. Persons in this class began to take a keener interest in the field of politics, where they learned their ultimate fight was to be waged. The conservative rulers seemed on the ebbing tide. The sagacious Prince Yamagata, the greatest of the genro, was wise enough to read the signs of the times and was apparently withdrawing his tentacles.
The industrialization of Japan had occurred before the Russo-Japanese War, and labor problems began to appear thereafter. But the real labor problem of Japan may be said to date from the World War. The great industrial boom in the latter part of the war suddenly raised the standard of the laboring people. Strikes of a serious nature followed one after another, and at one time it seemed as though Japan were going to plunge into a period of serious internal trouble. The situation was aggravated by the acute problem of the agricultural laborers. Half of the Japanese population are connected with agriculture and seventy percent of these are tenants. The economic condition of these tenants had become very serious, and grave disputes arose between them and the landowners. The business depression after 1920 seemed to have a quieting influence on labor, and since the great calamity of earthquake and fire in 1923 the whole nation has begun to settle down. Today it may be said that labor, which was under the influence first of syndicalist and then of communist theories, seems to be moving slowly toward the reformist socialist views of the British Labor Party.
The rising tide of liberalism at the end of the World War had an entirely different significance from that of the early days of Meiji. In the first place it came from the people. The spread of education, the achievement of the conservative rulers, gave the people more power to think and to understand. Economic prosperity gave them more independence. The increasing power of big capital, the accumulation of which was speeded up by the World War, impressed upon them the vague need of defending themselves by popular representation against the oligarchic rule of the politicians, big business men and industrialists.
They looked beyond the waters and saw the great drama being played in the destruction of oligarchic militarism. The Japanese are very sensitive by nature. It was the victory of Prussian militarism in 1870 that impressed the young Yamagata deeply. Again, it was the intervention of the triple powers after the Chino-Japanese War of 1894-95 that drove many liberals into the ranks of the imperialists. And once again the outcome of the World War moved the Japanese profoundly. The League of Nations made a deep impression upon the Japanese. A formulation of a policy in an academic and theoretical form has a greater appeal to the Japanese mind than the solution of a particular issue in a practical businesslike way. In the project of the League they saw a translation of an ideal into a concrete policy. And it gave a new concept to the idea of international relationship. Not only the people in general but practical politicians began to change their outlook both on internal and international policies. Basing their ideas not on war but on peace, they thought they could build a new social and political policy on a more secure foundation. Therefore, when the Washington Conference came, people were in the frame of mind to accept the principles of the late Mr. Harding.
Now, in what way is the rising tide of liberalism in Japan going to affect her internal and international policies, and hence the problems of the Pacific? Liberal influences are now converging on a single definite point at home, that is, universal manhood suffrage. Japan now has a limited suffrage which gives the right to vote to only three million people out of the whole population of sixty million. At the root of all political evils in Japan is the problem of the enormous election expenses. It grew out of the indifference of the people to politics. They voted carelessly and mostly as they were told by local professional politicians. The universal manhood suffrage bill is the issue on which the new liberalism will test its power. If it can awaken the conscience of the people and succeed in attracting more general attention to the statecraft of the country, Japan's future policy will take on a new color. I think I am safe in predicting that the bill will pass the two houses of Parliament in the coming winter and will become a law in April, 1925.
With the changing mood at home Japan's policy toward China began to show a marked change. Nothing is more baffling than the situation in that vast and ancient country. There existed in Japan many divergent views about that country. Japan's policy toward China has gone through many changes according to the party that has come to power, particularly in recent years. More than half the severe criticisms Japan earned from foreign nations came from her Chinese policy. In what relationship Japan will stand with China is a vital point that will mainly decide the fate of the East.
The genesis of Japan's Chinese policy was defense. This phase culminated in the war of 1894-95. The second chapter of it was Japan's imitation of the policies of Western Powers on the Asiatic continent,--namely, the extension of the sphere of influence and special privileges with a vague anticipation that China's integrity might some day be jeopardized. With the increasing population at home and with the realization of the grim, cold fact that the door was closed to Japanese immigrants in countries dominated by Caucasian races, Japan's Chinese policy began to take on a more definite form, to wit, the acquisition of raw material and the securing of markets. It culminated in the famous twenty-one demands of 1915. Subsequent changes abroad and the changing psychology at home, however, gradually worked toward the formulation of a new policy. Since the Washington Conference, Japan has definitely launched out upon a new policy toward China, namely, the policy of conciliation and peace. After the railway incident of Linshan, in 1923, Japan opposed the scheme of the foreign control of the railways suggested by a certain nation, on the ground that it infringed upon the sovereign rights of China and was in contradiction to the spirit of the Nine Power Treaty signed at the Washington Conference. In taking this position Japan clearly declared her disapproval of any form of foreign control of China. China was very grateful for this stand, and there has been no boycotting of Japanese goods this year. This policy of non-intervention was observed by the present Cabinet during the recent civil war in China. Suspicion has been expressed in certain quarters, but fair-minded critics should only give a verdict based on a record of facts.
Two years since, Japan embarked on a policy known as "Cultural Work in China." Japan decided to do the same thing that America had done years ago, although in a different manner. She is going to use the whole amount of the Boxer indemnity accruing to her from 1922 to 1935 to help advance the civilization and progress of China. The sum amounts to seventy-three million yen, or thirty-six and one-half million dollars gold. The first appropriation of 5,350,000 yen was granted by the July session of the Diet this year. This will be spent in six years for the creation of two institutes of research in Peking and Shanghai. The one in Peking will be devoted to research in the field of philosophy, literature and social science, the one in Shanghai to research in the field of natural sciences. These institutes are not to be confined merely to the benefit of Chinese and Japanese scholars but their doors will be wide open to all properly qualified foreigners. The findings of these institutes are to be published in Western languages.
But what are the thoughts at the back of all these changed policies of Japan towards China? Cynics may say that Japan has been forced by the United States and England to give up her plan for dominating China, in the interest of a wider distribution of the spoils. There is no doubt some necessity in our new virtue; such situations are not peculiar to the Orient. But the new orientation of Japan's continental policy has a deeper significance. It means the setting in of a new tide in the East. Japan realized after following vigorous foreign policies for half a century that these were not the road to her ultimate triumph and glory, which are not to be found in the mere extension of territory and the accumulation of material wealth. It also means that Japan is discovering that Western civilization, with all its parliaments, machines and laboratories, could not prevent wars, revolutions, devastations and the overthrow of states and civilizations. She has begun to turn her eyes once again to the new quest of old values, the social heritage of thousands of generations in the East.
Japan's new policy toward China brings us to another phase of her foreign relations, that is, her policy toward a second neighbor, Russia. What Japan will ultimately do in regard to Russia is a matter of speculation. But this much can be safely said, that recent occurrences both in America and Europe are not conducive to driving Japan away from Russia. Although we once fought with the Russians, the sentiment of the Japanese people as a whole is not hostile to them. There was a strong desire even before and immediately after the war among a certain group of Japanese to find means for the friendly solution of problems arising between the two countries. The changing trend of intellectual currents in Japan in recent years worked in no way contrary to that desire. If the imperialistic designs of Soviet Russia are toned down, and when liberalism becomes securer in Japan, Japan's policy toward Russia will take on a new phase of conciliation and friendship.
The real significance of a new rapprochement between Russia and Japan does not so much lie, as some people would think, in Japan's finding a position in a new alignment of world powers, as in her ultimate relationship with China. Japan's vital issue in foreign affairs is China. Japan's Russian policy is important in the degree that Russia affects China. Russia and China are two contiguous countries, and a strong and aggressive Russia had been a constant source of danger to the stability of China. Although it has been often said to the contrary, Japan has been the only stabilizing force in the East. Without Japan the Balkanization of China might have occurred. People failed to divine the danger that was lurking underneath the apparent tranquillity of the East. The concern of the statesmen of Japan has been, therefore, how to come to an understanding with Russia in order to give stability to China. Prince Ito attempted a trip to Russia in 1909 and met his death in Harbin. In 1912 Prince Katsura and Viscount Goto went to Russia apparently with the same object in view. The pending negotiations between Soviet Russia and Japan are dictated by the same fundamental motive. The Japanese are not yet of one mind in regard to their country's Russian policy, but with the rising tide of liberalism, and in particular with the growth of labor movement, she will gradually formulate a new Russian policy of friendship and cooperation.
The story of Japan's foreign policy will never be complete without a few lines about her relationship with America. This is not a proper place to discuss in full Japan's attitude toward America's new immigration bill. But this much must be said, that it was not the immigration problem itself that made such a deep impression in Japan. It was the method and the implication of discrimination that created profound feeling. The vital question between America and Japan is not California, but China. Perfect understanding between the two nations over the problem of China is the keynote of American-Japanese diplomacy. This again will depend much on the rise or fall of the liberal movement in Japan.
[i] The following statement is written from material collected by Prof. Katsumaro Nakamura of the Tokyo Imperial University, with his kind permission.