Negotiating With Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy

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Negotiating With Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy

By Michael R. Auslin
Harvard University Press, 2004
276 pp. $45.00
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This long-overdue book challenges the stereotype of a passive Japan victimized by Western imperial powers. From 1858 to 1872, the years of Japan's opening, no Western power was in a position to conquer and colonize Japan, so its interactions with the West focused on diplomacy--and its negotiators were as strategically and tactically sophisticated as their American, British, Dutch, and French counterparts. In his balanced account of negotiations, Auslin shows how the Japanese shrewdly manipulated the rituals of Western diplomacy and skillfully warned their interlocutors to avoid overplaying their hands or risk stirring up the wrath of the Japanese people; the use of the expression "unequal treaties" made Western diplomats bend over backwards not to be overly aggressive. He reinforces the point that the Japanese were not helpless treaty signers by including a copy of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which makes clear that they were able to protect their own interests. This was in part thanks to the culture of the political elite in the waning days of Japanese feudalism, which provided the weak with many ploys for outwitting the strong.