Meiji Japan, Colonialism and Beyond

The most influential aspects that would come out of Japan’s war with China, (the First Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895) and the war with Russia (Russo-Japanese War 1904 – 1905) did not occur during the wars themselves, but rather in the years following the conflicts. These wars were, essentially, the precursors to the Imperial Japan of World War Two infamy.
The First Sino-Japanese War showed Japan that the reforms and modernizations of the Mieji Restoration were working as opposed to China’s Self Strengthening Movement that had been a domestic failure. “War was…declared on 1st August 1894, and although foreign observers had predicted an easy victory for the more massive Chinese forces, the Japanese had done a more successful job of modernizing, and they were better equipped and prepared.
Japanese troops scored quick and overwhelming victories on both land and sea.”1  This war also established a relationship with western nations that resulted in tremendous improvements in Japan’s military. So profound were this improvements that Japan would later wage a successful war of for the “rights” to imperial interests against Russia that had a far superior military.

In a way, Japan’s involvement in these wars did show the nation had developed similarities with Western nations beyond simply modernizing domestically in social and industrial terms. The foreign policy of Japan began to mimic the least desirable aspect of all of Western Europe’s foreign policy. This area of foreign policy was an emphasis on imperialism and colonization.
The classical tradition of imperialism and colonization involved superior
powered military incursions into other countries in order to conquer the nation,
subjugate the people and strip the indigenous natural resources from the conquered nations. Winning the wars with China and Russia help set the stage for the coming of an Imperial Japan that would wage a massive war in the Pacific Seas during World War Two.
By 1895 Japan was beginning to see the fruits of their labor as the defeat of China in several wars and the annexation of Taiwan brought Japan political recognition from many European countries.  Recognition from the European countries meant an escape from many of the treaties that had been forced upon Japan in the 1870’s, and an alliance with England in 1902.  Japan had finally won the respect of the developed world as a military power; however, they were still viewed as an inferior culture and were not afforded the same courtesies as predominantly Anglo-Saxon nations.2
With the war with China, Japan established a foothold as a colonizing empire as it would claim Korea as the prize for its expansion. With Russia, the victory was even more complex. In the part of the world where Japan resides, the bulk of the colonial incursions and wars were bought between eastern nations and western nations as well as eastern nations vs. other eastern nations.
Japan’s victory against Russia marked the first time an eastern power defeated a western power in a war, the shockwaves of which reverberated throughout the world. Japan’s standing had greatly increased while Russia’s standing was greatly diminished. For Russia, the loss was yet another link in the chain of events that would lead to the Bolshevik Revolution and for Japan, the second link in the chain (a second victorious war) that would lead to Japan’s brutal World War Two imperialist fantasies was solidified.
Imperial powers are amoral, but they are not suicidal. That is, it is rare that imperial expansions are undertaken against strong or powerful nations. Japan’s wins in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Japanese-Russian War were important in the sense that, for lack of a better explanation, saw Japan gain valuable experience in the art of waging war. Furthermore, they established to the world that they were a viable, major power. More importantly, internally, the wins provided feedback to the rulers that Japan’s military strategies worked and that their army and navy was indeed formidable. The seeds were planted with these victories that laid the foundation for even further expansions that would result in the World War Two’s War in the Pacific.
Imperialist nations to not launch wars that they feel they are going to lose. In terms of colonizing, a loss would be self-defeating and a drain of the nation. A successful colonization incursion eventually pays for itself by way of the colonized nation providing wealth in terms of losing the rewards of its natural resources. The victories in the wars with China and Russia emboldened Japan to have faith enough in itself to join the Axis powers.
The expansion of the military from its victories against China and Russia lead to an immorality that would yield biological war in China and forced starvation in the Philippines. The mere fact that Japan attacked a superpower the size of the United States speaks volumes for the confidence Japan had in its military prowess.
On the surface, these two wars Japan was involved with were seemingly successful and expanded Japan’s colonial interests and ambitions, but ultimately, the wars proved disastrous as they were step towards Japan’s downfall World War Two only brought Japan defeat, humiliation and devastation via the Atomic Bomb.
Works Cited
Anon., “Imperial Japan”, available , Internet, accessed 05 November 2006.
Russo-Japanese War Research Society, “Forerunners, The Sino-Japanese War”, available from, Internet, accessed 05 November 2006.
National Clearinghouse for U.S.-Japan Studies, “Japan’s Imperial Family”, available from, Internet, accessed 05 November 2006.
1 Russo-Japanese War Research Society, “Forerunners, The Sino-Japanese War”, available from, Internet, accessed 05 November 2006.
2 Anon., “Imperial Japan”, available from MeijiRestoration/imperial_japan.htm, Internet, accessed 05 November 2006.

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