Rise of China as a New Nation in the Aftermath of Japanese Imperialism

East Asia was deeply destabilized by the experience of empire, at least regarding the status quo of China and Japan both having been power players in the region around the late 19th century. As discussed in September 16th’s in-class lecture, one pivotal moment in recent East Asian history was the Opium War. After Western military intervention to ensure continued opium trade in China, the country was left reeling. Qing influence in East Asia steadily declined, as even its neighbor Japan took notice of its defeat, slowly moving away from trade with China in favor of trading with the West.

Japan not only reevaluated its trading relationship with China at the time, but also saw the writing on the wall; if they did not mobilize quickly as a nation and adopt the imperialist mindset of the Western imperialist nations, they too would be swept up in their “interventions”. This resulted in the steady Japanese cultivation of “modernity”, such as through its schooling within the country, or through its citizens coming back from studying abroad in Western, imperialist countries. Through a simultaneous push of efforts towards modernization, Japan would be set to become a budding imperialist power of its own.

The aftermath of World War 1 provided the context for the beginnings of Japanese imperialist expansion as well as regional resentment. After the war, Japan came into possession of some Chinese territory. Over time this prompted serious resentment on the part of the Chinese, especially among students in Beijing, who organized a series of protests known as the May 4th Movements. They espoused the merits of “New Culture”, which served as a regional response to both Japanese imperialism through Chinese nationalism, as well as critiquing long-held archaic Chinese cultural traditions, such as foot-binding for girls.

Similar resistance can be observed in a Chinese tabloid article published a few years after World War 2, where Japanese imperialism had ravaged the Chinese mainland. The article focuses on the supposed personal history of a Chinese woman, Mo Guokang, who had served as the mistress of Chen Gongbo, a significant political figure that operated within the Chinese puppet regime set up by Japan. They are both constantly mentioned first with “traitor” throughout the article and served to drive home the “evil” of these collaborators to a foreign government. There are details of how Mo Guokang came to wield considerable influence through her relationship with Chen as his mistress, though much of its information cannot be confirmed through this lone article given its tabloid, sensationalist origins. In fact, one could argue that the story was somewhat distorted and biased, as the article scoffs at the idea that Mo “sought refuge” through sexual favors, when it could be said instead that she was indeed fearing for her life like many other Chinese women. In any case, what can definitely be confirmed is a continued sense of nationalist sentiment through the production of this article, pushing for a unified China, as was the case with the May 4th Movement.

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