Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan

Article excerpt

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye. Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001. xv, 329 pp. Illustrations. Maps. Chronology. Notes. Sources. Index. $40.00, cloth.

Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan is a study of the interplay between ideology and foreign policy in Russia in the decade before the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. In this timely book, David Schimmelpennick van der Oye examines some of the spoken assumptions (as opposed to unspoken assumptions a la James Joll) of Russia's statesmen in a critical period of late imperial Russia.

The first part of the book examines four different conceptions of imperial destiny that all influenced tsarist policy in Asia at the time. Nikolai Przhevalskii was a famous Russian explorer who popularized the idea of a special Russian destiny in Asia and advocated an ideology of imperial conquest. The poet, Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomskii, personified the Asianist vision. He was the tsarevich's tutor on his grand tour of the Far East. Ukhtomski was highly respectful of eastern cultures and believed it was the tsar's holy mission to "reunite" Russia with China. Sergei Witte, Minister of Finance, promoted the idea of "peaceful penetration" of Russian interests in Asia largely through economic means. Schimmelpennick van der Oye maintains that Witte's desire to wield political influence in the East through economic means was profoundly modern, but not popular among Russians of the day. Finally the idea of Asia as a threat to Russia is discussed. The leading proponent of this view in official circles was General A. N. Kuropatkin, the Minister of War. He believed that Russia should avoid a confrontation with the Asian powers and that further conquest of non-Russian peoples would only cause serious domestic problems for the empire.

In the second part of the book, the author explains how Russia became entangled in East Asia at the turn of the twentieth century. During the reign of Alexander III, after the disappointment of the Russo-Turkish war and Russia's failure to take Constantinople, many Russians who yearned for imperial conquest began to look to the Far East. Schimmelpennick van der Oye chronicles how Saint Petersburg rose to-and fell from-grace on the Pacific between 1895 and 1904. …


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