russia and japan -- 10/24/23

Today's selection -- from The Origins of the Modern World by Robert B. Marks. The industrialization of Russia and Japan:

“Where Russia had less than 700 miles of railroads in 1860, it had 21,000 by 1894 and 36,000 by 1900, the longest stretches reaching eastward into Siberia, thereby tying that vast region and its resources closer to the needs of the industrializing parts of Russia. Like Germany and France, the Russian government, rather than private capital, played a major role in these first stages of Russia's industrialization, creating banks, hiring foreign engineers, and erecting high tariff barriers to protect its new industries from foreign competition. 

“Count Witte was quite clear on the reasons for Russia's crash industrialization program: to escape colonial-like relations with western Europe. 

“Russia remains even at the present essentially an agricultural country. It pays for all its obligations to foreigners by exporting raw materials, chiefly of an agricultural nature, principally grain. It meets its demand for finished goods by imports from abroad. The economic relations of Russia with western Europe are fully comparable to the relations of colonial countries with their metropolises. The latter consider their colonies as advantageous markets in which they can freely sell the products of their labor and of their industry and from which they can draw with a powerful hand the raw materials necessary for them. 

“But Russia would not become a semicolony, Witte argued, because ‘Russia is an independent and strong power .... She wants to be a metropolis [i.e., colonial power] herself.’

“Unlike Russia, Japan had few of the natural resources that an industrial economy needed, in particular coking coal and iron ore. Moreover, in the mid-1800s it was still following a policy of ‘closed country’ implemented two hundred years earlier. When U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Edo [Tokyo] Bay in 1853 demanding that Japan open itself up to ‘normal’ international commerce ('or else ... '), it came as a huge shock to Japan's leaders. Knowing what had happened to China at the hands of the British in the Opium War, Japan's leaders decided to negotiate an opening to the West, leading both to increased trade and contact between Japanese and Westerners, but also to the collapse of the old regime in 1868. 

The fifteen-year-old Meiji Emperor, moving from Kyoto to Tokyo at the end of 1868, after the fall of Edo

“The new regime that replaced it, called the Meiji era after the reign title of the new (and very young) emperor Meiji (r. 1868-1912), after some fits and starts, set about dismantling the old feudal system and establishing a strong, centralized state that took on the task of industrializing Japan when private capital failed to take up the challenge. However, with few natural resources and with tariffs limited by the treaties imposed on it by the United States, Japan's industrialization took a peculiar path. Having to first export in order to import industrial raw materials, Japan turned to its silk industry, standardizing and mechanizing as much as possible to sell in the world market, taking their market share from the Chinese and the French. In the 1880s,and especially the 1890s, Japan developed a cotton textile industry, again designed for export in order to acquire the foreign exchange with which to purchase industrial raw materials--coking coal and iron ore--for a heavy industry strongly tied to the needs of its military. To compete in world textile markets, Japan kept its workers' wages very low, employing large numbers of girls and women and prohibiting the formation of labor unions. 

“This strategy paid off handsomely. Its military was strong enough to defeat China in an 1894-95 war and then a decade later to defeat Russia. Recognizing Japan's military might in 1902, the British concluded a military pact with Japan, and in 1911 the Western powers renounced the unequal treaties that had limited Japan's ability to control its own tariffs. By 1910, Japan had the industrial capacity and technological know-how to build the world's largest warship, the Satsuma. Even as China and India continued to decline relative to the West, Japan's industrialization by 1900 was an early indication that the West would not continue to dominate the world through a monopoly of industrial production, but that prior patterns of Asian vitality would begin to show through. 

“As this brief survey suggests, among the requirements for industrialization was a strong state determined to create the material prerequisites for powerful militaries, For differing reasons and at various times, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan were able to build strong states. Those parts of the world that had weak states (e.g., most of Latin America or the Ottoman empire), states that were becoming enfeebled (e.g., China), states that had been colonized (e.g., India, much of Southeast Asia, and, as we will see, Africa), or even stateless people within empires who wanted independence (as we will see below) were doomed to remain in the biological old regime, at best exporting raw materials or food to the industrialized world and getting progressively poorer relative to the industrialized world.”



Robert B. Marks


The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Environmental Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century (World Social Change)


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers


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