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The Industrialization of East Asian Countries

At the latter half of the 19th century, East Asia underwent a major structural change. Western powers like Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States began to carve their own spheres of influence in Asia. Britain held Malaya, Singapore, Burma, and India. France acquired the territories of Indochina. The Dutch colonized Indonesia. The United States recently acquired the Philippine Islands from Spain as a result of the latter’s defeat in the Spanish American War. For almost 300 years, these powers treated both China and Japan with respect and fairness.

Trade between the European powers and China was, in simple terms, good and mildly restrictive. The increasing strength of the European powers exposed both China and Japan to possible colonization. Chinese foreign policy became more and more aggressive, as a result of increasing demands from the Western powers (Morison, 807). When the Western powers invaded Chinese territories as a response to Chinese foreign policies, the Chinese armies were utterly defeated. Soon, China approved almost all concessions made by the Western powers.

The United States followed suit. Since then, the European powers established their respective ‘special districts. ’ In these districts, the application of Chinese law was only valid for Chinese citizens. For example, a British who committed crime in Hong Kong would be tried using the British criminal system. In reality, the European powers were carving territories in China. The “Sick Man of East Asia” was divided into European spheres of influence. Southern China was assigned to France and Britain; Port Arthur to Russia; the Shanghai Peninsula to Germany.

Important trading posts and harbors were also leased for unspecified period of time. Chinese economic resources were put at the hands of Western powers. The United States did not show any imperial interests in China. In fact, President McKinley said: No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to American sentiment, thought and purpose … If we can benefit from those remote peoples, who will object? If in the years of the future they are established in government under law and liberty, who will regret our perils and sacrifices? (Morison, 805)

McKinley echoed the so-called ‘Manifest Destiny’, the belief that American economic prosperity lays in the West, that is, the establishment of trading relations with China and Japan. It is accurate to assume that American interest in China was purely economic and not territorial in nature. In the following years, the Chinese economy began to industrialize. This process of industrialization was initiated by the Western powers which invested large amount of capital in the country. Railroads were constructed in every major Chinese cities and economic centers (Morison, 809).

Infrastructure projects were erected in order to foster trade and commerce. Trading centers and harbors were modernized to cope with increasing trade. The Chinese government also issued ‘special privileges’ and economic rights to cities (outside the spheres of influence of the Europeans) which would imitate the Western model of industrialization (this was one of the major causes of the Boxer Rebellion). To ensure Chinese compliance, the Western powers established military zones throughout the eastern coast of China. After the Sino-Japanese War, Japan followed suit.

Japan directly took Formosa, and some important Chinese ports. Japan also invested some capital to these territories although at a much lower pace than the European powers. The case of Japan was different. The opening of trade with the United States (following the arrival of Matthew Perry with an American squadron) prompted other countries to demand concessions from Japan. Before the beginning of the 20th century, almost all European powers had trade relations with Japan. It is, however, inaccurate to assume that the relationship between Japan and the European powers were purely economic.

Japan asked assistance from the Western powers in exchange for special privileges and rights in Japanese soil (Toynbee, 611). In exchange for a lucrative sum of money and special trading rights, Britain agreed to develop blueprints for the creation of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Officers of the Royal Navy agreed to train Japanese sailors the basics of naval warfare. Germany, the main rival of Britain, also decided to approve a major Japanese offer. In exchange for manufactured goods and trading concessions, Germany agreed to train the Japanese Imperial Army.

German officers residing in the Shantung Peninsula were sent to Japan. They were employed in military academies organized by the Japanese Defense Ministry. Modern warfare was introduced to Japan. In due time, Japanese military power would manifest itself in the First and Second World Wars. The Japanese emperor, Meiji, saw that creating a powerful navy and army as insufficient to sustain Japanese ambitions in Manchuria and East Asia (Toynbee, 615). The Japanese economy would have to be reformed. Technology would have to be imported from the West.

Here, the United States became important to Japanese economic interests in East Asia. This belief originated from Commodore Matthew Perry’s enterprise to Japan. The Japanese were shocked with the sample of technologies and machineries Perry brought to Japan as a gift to the Japanese emperor. For two centuries, Japan closed its doors to the world (except at Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese were strictly allowed to trade with Japan). In 1849, Commander James Glynn of the USS Preble boldly entered the Nagasaki harbor and by a show of firmness recovered twelve American sailors (shipwrecked in Japan).

The relative weakness of Japan prompted President Millard Fillmore decided to send a squadron to Japan. Its commander, Commodore Matthew Perry was ordered to persuade Japan to enter into a treaty with the United States. The steam frigates, Mississippi and Susquehanna entered the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Contrary to expectations, the Japanese Shogun was impressed by the show of display of American frigates. He agreed to transmit the letter of the American president to the Japanese emperor. Perry sailed away; he wanted the Japanese statesmen to make up their minds about the offer.

In February 1854, Perry returned with a more powerful squadron. The Japanese Shogun yielded to the American offer. Conferences were held at the little village of Yokohama where gifts were exchanged. Japanese lacquers and bronzes, porcelains and brocades, were exchanged for a set of telegraph instruments, a quarter-size steam locomotive complete with track and cars, Audubon’s Birds and Quadrupeds of America, an assortment of farming implements and firearms, a barrel of whiskey, and several cases of champagne. Japan finally tasted the ‘blessings’ of Western civilization.

In the following years, the Japanese emperor agreed to allow the establishment of an American consulate in Japan and permit American vessels to visit certain Japanese ports for supplies and a limited trade. By 1860, trade with the United States was complete and friendly. Other powers made similar agreements with Japan. Consulates were set up in the Japanese capital. Ban on foreign travel into the interior was lifted. The Japanese government was so impressed of American industrial technology that it initially released a large sum of money for the purchase of American machineries and capital endowments.

The purchase of capital goods and technologies from the United States turned many Japanese cities into industrial centers. In the 1930s, Japanese industries were producing capital and military goods. Japan, in essence, was gearing towards a long war with China. Japanese private institutions also invested a significant amount of financial capital in American banks. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Japanese assets in the United States increased from 3% in 1904 to about 13% in 1938. Chinese reaction to continued European expansion in China was aggressive. The Chinese regarded the foreigners as barbarians.

When the Imperial Government agreed to approve concession to the Europeans, the country was thrown into widespread rebellion. Anti-foreigner organizations such as the Boxers and White Lotus launched propaganda campaigns against the foreigners in the hope of enticing the population to rebellion. These organizations viewed the arrival of Europeans as an incursion into “sacred soil” (Toynbee, 533). They held contempt for the foreigners for degrading Chinese resources and oppressing the Chinese population in their special districts. The rebellions organized by these organizations created a double strain on the Imperial Government.

Taxes were raised to provide more revenues for the government and quashing the rebellions. This angered the local population; encouraging more individuals to take up arms against the government. In general, the Chinese government fought on to front; crushing the rebels on one hand, and preventing the European powers from ‘acquiring’ more territories from the country. Work Cited Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. Toynbee, Arnold. A History of the World. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

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