Read “The Way of Subjects” alongside “Goodbye Asia” from week 3. What has remained consistent in the justifications that each piece makes for imperialism, and what has transformed over the course of 55 years? What do you think accounts for the main changes?
Japanese imperialism has an incredibly long history, ranging from the 16th century all the way to the 20th, much like other imperial nations. Japan’s imperialism was expansive, all over Asia: whether it be in the East, taking Korea and China; South, with their invasions of India and Burma; or Southeast, with Singapore and the Philippines; Japan was incredibly aggressive in their colonization of several subjects.
In 1885, “Goodbye Asia” was written by the Japanese scholar Fukuzawa Yukichi, and it details part of the militaristic Japanese sentiment at the time. Historical context is especially important when analyzing the document: the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had closed off the country to practically all outsiders (apart from certain exceptions like in Dejima), had fallen not even twenty years prior. The country was now much more open with the Meiji Restoration, modernizing rapidly.
As such, we see outside influences playing a great role in the writing of this document: Fukuzawa refers to “civilization” (mostly meaning Western modernization) as something comparable to a positive form of measles. He argues that civilization is something Japan must embrace as China and Korea have failed to do so: saying “Goodbye Asia” as a result. Fukuzawa writes that China and Korea “cannot survive as independent nations with the onslaught of Western civilization to the East”, and argues that Japan must “cast our lot with civilized nations of the West”.
On the other hand, “The Way of Subjects” is a 1941 document detailing the Japanese government’s stance regarding Western powers, imperialism, and the values of the Empire of Japan. The Empire of Japan explicitly denounces Western values in this document: individualism, liberalism, utilitarianism, and materialism. In the document, the Japanese empire clearly declares its ideological intents, stating that the purpose of Nazism and fascism is to remove and improve the so-called evils of individualism and liberalism.
This is promptly applied to their imperial philosophy: the document refers to the “Manchurian Affair” and “China Affair”, referring to the installation of Manchukuo and Japanese-occupied China following their false flag attacks at Mukden and the Marco Polo Bridge. Japan’s intents behind building the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” are explicit: to rid the regions of the evils of Western imperialism through their own imperialism. They justify their own imperialism by arguing the superiority of their values (and the values of Nazism and Italian fascism) by stating that they intend to free the world from Western imperialism, whether Anglo-Saxon, Dutch, French, Spanish, or otherwise, fighting against selfish and corrupt values like liberalism or individualism.
It’s interesting to see how, over the course of only 55 years, the impetus for imperialism has changed: although initially it was to bring Western influence to nations they perceived as inferior, it later turned into protecting these inferior nations from Western influence. However, it remains clear that Japan still believed that neighboring nations like China and Korea were inferior, justifying their imperialism through condescending paternalism, which provided a casus belli for the invasions of these other nations. Despite the superficial reasons for colonization seeing a radical change, the underlying fundamental principle was the same: these nations were under Japan, meaning they needed to be under Japanese control.
The reasons for this change aren’t immediately clear, but several factors are visible, especially within these documents. “Goodbye Asia” seems to foreshadow the sentiments of Japan in the upcoming Russo-Japanese War, Sino-Japanese War, and World War, where they believed themselves to be “at the same level” as these other Western powers — the Russo-Japanese War had been the first time a major European imperial power had been defeated by an Asian one, for instance, perhaps fueling the courage to carry out further imperialism. However, I believe that this is what led to the change in beliefs: once they saw themselves as equal to the other powers and deserving of the territories in Asia, they found themselves now pitted against Western imperial powers: vying with the British for influence in China, for instance. As such, it would seem natural that Japan would align themselves with Nazi Germany, with the explicit statement that they agreed with Nazi Germany’s objective of dismantling the Anglo-Saxon dominance of imperialism in “The Way of Subjects”.