Ancient History & Civilisation


The precarious bases of the new civilization—Causes of Japanese imperialism—The Twenty-one Demands—The Washington Conference—The Immigration Act of 1924 —The invasion of Manchuria—The new kingdom—Japan and Russia—Japan and Europe—Must America fight Japan?

Despite its rapid growth in wealth and power the new Japan rested upon precarious foundations. Its population had mounted from; 3,000,000 in the days of Shotoku Taishi to some 17,000,000 under Hideyoshi, some 30,000,000 under Yoshimune, and over 55,000,000 at the end of Meiji’s reign (1912).* It had doubled in a century, and the mountain-ribbed islands, so sparsely arable, contained with difficulty their multiplying millions. An insular population half as great as that of the United States had to support itself on an area one-twentieth as large.38 It could maintain itself only by manufactures; and yet Japan was tragically poor in the fuels and minerals indispensable to industry. Hydro-electric power lurked in the streams that flowed from the mountains to the sea, but the full development of this resource would add only one-third to the power already used,39and could not be relied upon for the expanding needs of the future. Coal was found here and there, in almost inaccessible veins, in the islands of Kyushu and Hokkaido, and oil could be secured from Sakhalin; but iron, the very bone and sinew of industry, was almost completely absent from Japanese soil.40 Finally, the low standard of living to which the nature of the strong and the costliness of materials and power had condemned the masses of Japan made consumption lag more and more behind production; every year, from factories ever better equipped, there poured forth a mounting surplus of goods unpurchasable at home and crying out for markets abroad.

Out of such conditions imperialism is born—that is, the effort of an economic system to exercise control, through its agent the government, over foreign regions upon which it is believed to depend for fuels, markets, materials or dividends. Where could Japan find those opportunities and those materials? She could not look to Indo-China, or India, or Australia, or the Philippines; for these had been preempted by Western powers, and their tariff walls favored their white masters against Japan. Clearly China had been placed at Nippon’s door as a providentially designed market for Japanese goods; and Manchuria—rich in coal and iron, rich in the wheat that the islands could not profitably grow, rich in human resources for industry, taxation and war—Manchuria belonged by manifest destiny to Japan. By what right? By the same right whereby England had taken India and Australia, France Indo-China, Germany Shantung, Russia Port Arthur, and America the Philippines—the right of the need of the strong. In the long run no excuses would be necessary; all that was needed was power and an opportunity. In the eyes of a Darwinian world success would sanction every means.

Opportunity came generously—first with the Great War, then with the breakdown of European and American economic life. The War did not merely accelerate production in Japan (as in America) by giving to industry an ideal foreign market—a continent at war; at the same time it absorbed and weakened Europe, and left Japan with almost a free hand in the East. Therefore she invaded Shantung in 1914; and a year later she presented to China those “Twenty-one Demands” which, if they had been enforced, would have made all China a gigantic colony of little Japan,

Group I of the Demands asked Chinese recognition of Japanese suzerainty in Shantung; Group II asked certain industrial privileges, and an acknowledgment of Japan’s special rights, in Manchuria and Eastern Mongolia; Group III proposed that the greatest of mining companies on the mainland should become a joint concern of China and Japan; Group IV (aimed at America’s request for a coaling station near Foochow) stipulated that “no island, port or harbor along the coast shall be ceded to any third Power.” Group V modestly suggested that the Chinese should hereafter employ Japanese advisers in their political, economic and military affairs; that the police authority in the major cities of China should be jointly administered by Chinese and Japanese; that China should purchase at least fifty per cent of all her munitions from Japan; that Japan should be allowed to build three important railways in China; and that Japan should have the right freely to establish railways, mines and harbors in the Province of Fukien.41

The United States protested that some of these Demands violated the territorial integrity of China, and the principle of the Open Door. Japan withdrew Group V, modified the remaining Demands, and presented them to China with an ultimatum on May 7, 1915. China accepted them on the following day. A Chinese boycott of Japanese goods ensued; but Japan proceeded on the historically correct assumption that boycotts are sooner or later frustrated by the tendency of trade to follow the line of lowest costs. In 1917 the suave Viscount Ishii explained the Japanese position to the American people, and persuaded Secretary of State Lansing to sign an agreement recognizing “that Japan has special interests in China, particularly in the part to which her possessions are contiguous.” In 1922, at the Washington Conference, Secretary of State Hughes prevailed upon the Japanese to acknowledge the principle of the “Open Door” in China, and to be content with a navy sixty per cent as large as England’s or America’s.* At the close of the Conference Japan agreed to return to China that part of Shantung (Tsingtao) which she had taken from Germany during the War. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance died a silent death, and America dreamed cozily of eternal peace.

Out of this youthful confidence in the future came one of the gravest failures of American diplomacy. Finding the people of the Pacific Coast troubled by the influx of Japanese into California, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, with the good sense that hid behind his popular bluster, quietly negotiated with the Japanese Government a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” by which Japan promised to forbid the emigration of her laborers to the United States. But the high birth rate of those already admitted continued to disturb the western states, and several of them enacted laws preventing aliens from acquiring land. When, in 1924, the American Congress decided to restrict immigration, it refused to apply to the races of Asia that principle of quotas on which the reduced immigration of European peoples was to be allowed;* instead it forbade the entrance of Asiatics altogether. Approximately the same result would have been secured by applying the quota to all races, without discrimination or name; and Secretary Hughes protested “that the legislation would seem to be quite unnecessary even for the purpose for which it is devised.”42 But hot-heads interpreted as a threat the warning uttered by the Japanese Ambassador of the “grave consequences” that might come from the act; and in a fever of resentment the Immigration Bill was passed.

All Japan flared up at what appeared to be a deliberate insult. Meetings were held, speeches were made, and a patriot committed hara-kiri at the door of Viscount Inouye’s home in order to express the national sense of shame. The Japanese leaders, knowing that the country had been weakened by the earthquake of 1923, held their peace and bided their time. In the natural course of events America and Europe would some day be weakened in turn; and then Japan would seize her second opportunity, and take her delayed revenge.

When the greatest of all wars was followed by almost the greatest of all depressions, Japan saw a long-awaited chance to establish her mastery in the Far East. Announcing that her businessmen had been maltreated by the Chinese authorities in Manchuria, and secretly fearful that her railway and other investments there were threatened with ruin by the competition of the Chinese, Japan, in September, 1931, allowed her army, of its own initiative, to advance into Manchuria. China, disordered with revolution, provincial separatism and purchasable politicians, could make no unified resistance except to resort again to the boycott of Japanese goods; and when Japan, in alleged protest against boycott propaganda, invaded Shanghai (1932), only a fraction of China rose to repel the invasion. The objections of the United States were cautiously approved of “in principle” by European powers too absorbed in their individual commercial interests to take decisive and united action against this dramatic termination of the white man’s brief authority in the distant East. The League of Nations appointed a commission under the Earl of Lytton, which made an apparently thorough and impartial investigation and report; but Japan withdrew from the League on the same ground on which America, in 1935, refused to join in the World Court—that she did not care to be judged by a court of her enemies. The boycott reduced Japanese imports into China by fortyseven per cent between August, 1932, and May, 1933; but meanwhile Japanese trade was ousting Chinese commerce in the Philippines, the Malay States and South Seas, and, so soon as 1934, Japanese diplomats, with the aid of Chinese statesmen, persuaded China to write a tariff law favoring Japanese products as against those of the Western powers.43

In March, 1932, Japanese authority installed Henry P’u Yi, inheritor of the Manchu throne in China, as Chief Executive of the new state of Manchukuo; and two years later it made him Emperor under the name of Kang Teh. The officials were either Japanese or complaisant Chinese; but behind every Chinese official was a Japanese adviser.44 While the “Open Door” was technically maintained, ways were found to place Manchukuoan trade and resources in Japanese hands.45 Immigration from Japan failed to develop, but Japanese capital poured in abundantly. Railways were built for commercial and military purposes, highways were rapidly improved, and negotiations were begun for the purchase of the Chinese Eastern Railway from the Soviet. The Japanese army, victorious and competent, not only organized the new state, but dictated the policy of the Government at Tokyo. It conquered the province of Jehol for Pu-yi, advanced almost to Peiping, retreated magnanimously, and bided its time.

Meanwhile Japanese representatives at Nanking strain every yen to win from the Chinese Government an acceptance of Japanese leadership in every economic and political aspect of Chinese life. When China has been won, by conquest or by loans, Japan will be ready to deal with her ancient enemy—once the Empire of all the Russias, now the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Up along Mongolia’s caravan route through Kalgan and Urga, or across the Manchukuoan border into Chita, or at any one of a hundred vulnerable points where the Trans-Siberian Railway, still for the most part single-tracked in the Far East, coils itself about the new state, the Japanese army may strike and cut the spinal cord that binds China, Vladivostok and Trans-Baikalia with the Russian capital. Feverishly, heroically, Russia prepares for the irrepressible conflict. At Kuznetzk and Magnetogorsk she develops great coal mines and steel factories, capable of being transformed into giant munition plants; while at Vladivostok a host of submarines arranges to entertain a Japanese fleet, and hundreds of bombing planes have their eyes on Japan’s centers of production and transport, and her cities of flimsy wood.

Behind this ominous foreground stand the tamed and frustrated Western powers: America chafing at the loss of Chinese markets, France wondering how long she can hold Indo-China, England disturbed about Australia and India, and harassed by Japanese competition not only in China but throughout her empire in the East. Nevertheless France prefers to help finance Japan rather than to antagonize her; and canny Britain waits in unprecedented patience, hoping that each of her great competitors in Asiatic trade will destroy the other and leave the world to England again. Every day the conflict of interest becomes more acute, and approaches nearer to open strife. Japan insists that foreign companies selling oil to Japan shall maintain on her soil a reserve of oil sufficient to supply the islands for half a year in case of emergency. Manchukuo is closing her doors to non-Japanese oil. Japan, over the protests of Americans, and over the veto of the Uruguayan President, has won permission from the legislature of Uruguay to build on the River Plate a free port for the dutiless entry or manufacture of Japanese goods. From that strategic center the commercial and financial penetration of Latin America will proceed at a rate unequaled since Germany’s rapid conquest of South American trade helped to bring on the Great War, and America’s participation in it. As the memory of that war begins to fade, preparations for another become the order of the day.

Must America fight Japan? Our economic system gives to the investing class so generous a share of the wealth created by science, management and labor that too little is left to the mass of producers to enable them to buy back as much as they produce; a surplus of goods is created which cries out for the conquest of foreign markets as the only alternative to interrupting production—or spreading the power of consumption—at home. But this is even truer of the Japanese economic system than of our own; it too must conquer foreign markets, not only to maintain its centralized wealth, but to secure the fuels and raw materials indispensable to her industries. By the sardonic irony of history that same Japan which America awoke from peaceful agriculture in 1853, and prodded into industry and trade, now turns all her power and subtlety to winning by underselling, and to controlling by conquest or diplomacy, precisely those Asiatic markets upon which America has fixed her hopes as potentially the richest outlet for her surplus goods. Usually in history, when two nations have contested for the same markets, the nation that has lost in the economic competition, if it is stronger in resources and armament, has made war upon its enemy.*

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