The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

13

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the question of race

Akira Iikura

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the modernization of Japan began in earnest. Japan successfully transformed itself from a pre-modern feudal state into a modern state by the middle of the 1880s. This transformation was called 'the perilous transition' by an American historian. It is true that there was considerable risk involved in achieving modernization in such a short period. Yet Japan achieved it and became 'strong enough to be safe from further Western encroachments' and 'politically stable at home'. 1 As Japan was the first non-White, non-Western nation to emerge as a modern state, its modernization was called 'exceptional' by many historians. Similarly, Japan's conclusion of the Alliance with Britain, the premiere European Power, was also 'exceptional' since it was the first alliance between nations of different religions, customs and races in modern history. As Japan emerged as an influential power, so racial antagonism became vocal both in the West and in Japan. The 'Yellow Peril' cry was one example. 2 Surging Japanese anti-white nationalism was the other. Although the foreign offices on both sides were realists and carefully tried to push the question of race under the carpet, growing pressures on them - one from the racially aware Dominions and another from racially susceptible Japanese public opinion - and suspicion from within, altered the course of the Alliance. This chapter is an attempt to examine to what extent race issues influenced, directly or indirectly, the Alliance. 3


Two prophecies before the Alliance: Charles Pearson and George Curzon

One of the issues, which revealed and sometimes fueled the racial antagonism between Japan and the West, was the cry of the Yellow Peril. It was, in general, the idea that the rise of the yellow race and yellow nations, especially the Chinese and Japanese, was a serious danger to the white race. It began to be advocated in the mid-1890s, became widespread at the turn of the century, and has influenced, more or less, contemporary societies, cultures, economies, and international relations. Although the imputed nature of the peril changed with the demands of the times and of international relations, the

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