Victim of Colonialism or Model of Colonial Rule? Changing Japanese Perceptions of Egypt, Ca. 1860-1930

By Bradshaw, Richard; Ndzesop, Ibrahim | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Victim of Colonialism or Model of Colonial Rule? Changing Japanese Perceptions of Egypt, Ca. 1860-1930


Bradshaw, Richard, Ndzesop, Ibrahim, Southeast Review of Asian Studies


The Japanese displayed an extraordinary interest in Egypt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but their perception of Egypt changed radically during that period. From the 1860s to the 1890s, many Japanese thought Egypt's situation was similar to Japan's. When Egypt's growing debt led to increasing intervention by European powers, Japanese officials regarded Egypt's eventual loss of sovereignty as a cautionary tale and minimized Japan's dependence on European loans. But after Japan's 1895 victory in the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese officials used European colonial administration as a model and justification for their own colonial rule in Korea and Taiwan. When Japan's alliance with Britain destabilized after World War I, the Japanese contrasted their enlightened colonial policies with those of Britain, with Egypt then perceived as an example of British misrule. The ways Japan viewed Egypt between the 1860s and 1930s were strongly influenced by Japan's changing relationship with Britain and its evolving status in the world community.

Accommodation or Confrontation

Since the mid-nineteenth century, when Western powers pressured Japan to sign a series of "unequal treaties," Japanese leaders have often differed over how much to accommodate and how much to resist or confront the world's leading powers. The young leaders who took power during the Meiji Restoration (1868), many from the regions of Satsuma and Choshu in southern Japan, were often called the Sat-Cho hanbatsu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (clique or coalition). They generally employed a cautious, pragmatic, accommodating approach in dealing with the great powers (Totman 1998, 22-26), since they believed it was necessary for Japan to become strong and wealthy in order to regain its national sovereignty and join the ranks of the great powers. In contrast, many opponents of the Sat-Cho clique were hardliners who called for greater resistance to or confrontation with the great powers.

In the past, these contrasting tendencies during the Meiji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] era (1868-1912) have been labeled "Herodian" versus "Zealot" (Toynbee 1953) and "realist" versus "idealist" (Conroy 1960). The contrast has also been expressed in terms of Meiji leaders who advocated a policy in accordance with "the laws of the world" and their opponents who called for "a more ideal international order" (Iriye 1989, 735). Conforming to taisei junno [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (world trends) is a Japanese concept that has been used to explain a policy of "international accommodationism" (Burkman 1998). Such labels emphasize distinctions that existed at either end of a spectrum--with accommodation on one end and confrontation on the other; but the degree of accommodation or resistance was always a matter of debate, even within the highest councils of government. Accommodation is used here as a label for the general policy that prevailed in Japan from the 1860s to the 1920s, before hard-line militarists came to the fore during the 1930s.

The Issue of Mixed Courts & Treaty Revision

Between Commodore Matthew Perry's (1794-1858) visit to Edo (Tokyo) in 1854 and Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, many Japanese perceived their country's situation to be extremely precarious. Japan's position vis-a-vis the West was seen by many Japanese as similar to that of other "Eastern" countries, particularly Egypt. Egypt's program of rapid Westernization (1863-79) under Khedive Ismail Pasha (1830-95) overlapped with the first decade of the Meiji program of modernization (1868-78). The nature of Egypt's system of mixed courts, the reasons for its financial crisis, and the British occupation of Egypt were all of special interest to Japanese leaders of various persuasions in the decades after the Restoration (Bradshaw 1992, 2001, 2004).

Japanese and foreign observers frequently drew comparisons between Egypt and Japan during the early Meiji era. …

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