Imperial Japan and East Asia

The era of Japanese modernization and expansion provoked a great deal of resentment from China and Korea. Even before the start of the 20th C., there had been a significant amount of tension between the three East Asian countries. In the late 16th C., Japan launched an invasion of Korea that nearly succeeded before the Ming dynasty in China came to Korea’s aid. These early invasions were Japan’s first forays into the realm of imperialism while it was also the beginning of anti-Japanese sentiment in both Korea and China. Japan remained relatively isolated for the next two centuries, through the fall of the Ming and the rise of the Qing dynasties, but when Japan reinstated the Meiji and decided to modernize, relations with China were once again deteriorating. This culminated in the first Sino-Japanese War fought over and in the territory of Korea. The Qing’s humiliation in that war was a significant factor in its fall and the rise of Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-sen. After both Japan and China entered WWI on the side of the allies, Japan was rewarded with control of former German colonies in China, which sparked a wave of Chinese nationalism and anti-imperialism protests, including the May Fourth Movement.

The second Sino-Japanese War, which merged with WWII, was a war of Japanese aggression in which significant war crimes against Korea and China proliferated. The Nanjing massacre in 1937 saw an unknown, but certainly massive number of people fall victim to murder, rape, and looting. Women such as Kimiko Kaneda were taken and treated brutally, forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. The anti-Japanese sentiment in China was understandably virulent, evidenced by the scathing tone of the tabloid article on members of the pro-Japanese puppet government in Japanese-controlled China. After Japanese surrender and the end of the war, Chinese territory was returned to China’s rule, but which party would rule China was another question. The Nationalist Kuomintang party did not fair well during the war; they were left weak and unpopular while the Communists, under Mao Zedong, had gained popularity and military strength. The Civil War ended in 1949 with a victorious Communist Party of China establishing the People’s Republic of China, leaving Mao Zedong poised to play a major role in the politics of not only East Asia, but the Cold War as well.

Mao’s elevation to Chairman was the beginning of a new era in China, headlined by the Great Leap Forward and the resulting death on tens of millions of people. After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping’s selective implementation of Maoism transformed China’s economy into what it is today, one that is currently in the midst of a trade war that even has roots in early 20th C. China’s massive borrowing from foreign powers, such as the US, in an attempt to modernize. All of this, in a way, can be traced back to Japanese imperial ambitions.

Leave a Reply