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Journal of World History 8.1 (1997) 172-176

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China and Japan in the Global Setting. By Akira Iriye. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. Pp. 156. $12.95 (paper).

Akira Iriye's China and Japan in the Global Setting is about power, money, and culture. They figure in a short analysis of what happened inside those two countries and between them during the last century, seen in the context of world developments. The interest in culture is mentioned by the author as a new approach that has won increasing attention among historians of international relations. For a historian [End Page 172] trained in a European post-World War II historical tradition, there is not much new in this enlargement of historical analysis. And when we consider Chinese-Japanese traditional relations, it is difficult to overlook culture as an important element—perhaps the most important. Chinese loan-words and Chinese script are still important for communication in Japanese. Buddhist religion came to Japan from China, and Chinese thinking about the universe and human community, and about the state and its administration, has from time to time made an impact upon Japanese society. In the late nineteenth century much knowledge about the West came to China through translations into Japanese, and many of the original renderings in Japanese of Western terminology still survive in Chinese, although they have been replaced in modern Japanese by English words pronounced à la japonaise.

There have also been economic and military contacts between China and Japan throughout history. The supply of minting metal from Japan may at times have influenced the whole Chinese economy, and mutual trade was certainly important to the regions involved. Military contacts have been few. The most consequential was perhaps the Chinese assistance against Japanese attacks on Korea in the 1590s that aggravated the economic difficulties of the Ming dynasty and probably contributed to its subsequent defeat by the Manchus.

Power is the main theme for the first period under analysis, from the beginning of westernization in both countries until World War I. They shared the determination to transform themselves into militarily strong nations, which at least for the Chinese was a new development. The founders and the first leaders of modern Japan came from samurai backgrounds that included military values, while Chinese elites did not automatically identify with military activities and values. The au-thor repeats the often made comparison between the traditional Chinese civilian state and the more martial societies of nation-state Eu-rope. I have never been convinced that the Chinese bureaucracy paid so little attention to military power and the knowledge necessary to wield it, both in external and internal strife, as to permit such a statement to be made without qualification. Men of military prowess have held important positions in China, and in Europe the influence of the military has usually been matched by that of men of letters inside or outside of the church. If we want to make comparisons between the East and the West, I find this approach more convincing, but we may discover that we know far too little about the East, and particularly about the West, to be able to exploit it at present.

In the training and formation of the provincial armies during the Taiping Rebellion, Chinese officials proved to be capable military [End Page 173] organizers, and Iriye takes this as the real beginning of modernization in China, as a response not so much to the West as to internal demands.

Both China and Japan were exposed to the West. China was a major power with a strong economy, at least until the beginning of the nineteenth century, while the Japanese economy never was very strong. In both countries there was an initial emphasis on military buildup rather than on industrial or political reforms. The difference was that China did not attempt to build a central army but maintained regional armies largely under their own commanders, who during the Qing dynasty were often leaders in the central government. These leaders became the forerunners of the warlords who divided China...


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