Changes in East Asia

During the 17th-20th centuries, Korea, Japan, and China passed through the periods of fall and rise. In comparison to China and Japan, Korea was frequently invaded and oppressed. Japan had been slower in reforms and had had fewer resources in economic development until it established a partnership with the USA protecting Japanese interests in the Pacific area. In its stead, the development of the Chinese military sphere, national policy, and economy greatly benefited from its self-sufficiency and independence. The paper provides a comparison between the three countries in order to investigate why the Chinese transformation over the time frame was the largest on the political, social, philosophical, cultural, and economic scale.

In the Chinese philosophical sphere, the Confucianism as a notion remained popular over the years and was still a vast success in the given period. However, in the 20th century, growing Marxist ideology along with the communist outlook impacted the nation’s culture to a great extent. When they collided, the Confucians were forced to study ethical rules, social norms, and regulation management in the despotic centralized state. In the social organization sphere, the Chinese people maintained three principles that consequently affected cultural, political, and economic life. The first principle established the tutelage period as a mandatory step towards democracy, so every citizen had to be educated before they were allowed to vote. The second principle concerned the welfare, which means that the government’s task was the maintenance of peoples’ well-being. The third principle implied nationalism, which proclaimed the will of the Chinese people to be independent of cultural foreign expansion. Accordingly, further revolt motions and consequences of war inclined Chinese society to support the newly developed communism. In the economic sphere, relatively isolated policy, opium wars with the West, and the loss of Taiwan weakened the Chinese economy. Only after the communist party had emphasized mild international economic relations and had modernized agriculture, the country gained progress on the global arena. In politics, the major transformations, which occurred as a result of the fall of the Qing dynasty, the triumph of Yat-Sen, Northern expedition, and the rise of Mao Zedong, brought a military strengthening of China. Speaking about culture, most of the students went to study in Japan following the Chinese radicals expelled from their home universities. This intellectual depopulation affected the political and economic life over the 17th-20th centuries.

Japan experienced less radical changes, but they were still noticeable. Japan failed in diplomatic negotiations and had many concessions towards international partners, especially while being beware of Russian aggression in collaboration with Germany. However, its position changed with an appearance in 1912-26 of the Taisho democracy period with liberal outlooks and growing power in the international arena. In the economic development of the middle of the 20th century, after Japan had suffered the postwar inflation and reparation obligations, the collaboration with the USA led to increasing economy rates, export, and American investments in technical modernization. In military policy, Japan prevailed over China before the two world wars, because of its higher rate of weapon production. However, in the 20th century, when it formed a military alliance with the USA, the active manufacture decreased. In the social aspect, nationalism became the ruling ideology that influenced both local citizens and intellectualized diaspora that invested in the Japanese education system. Japan had a high rate of intellectuals that developed urbanization, overall economy, and led the country towards prosperity, even though it was followed by high pollution and mercury poisoning cases. Comparing with China, Japan succeeded more due to open door policy, but the Chinese population and investment attraction after the Cold War gradually increased to the highest level.

Korea did not actually have much space for development being a Chinese vassal and later a Japanese colony. In the political sphere, the development of Korea was slower than in Japan and China. After the Japanese defeat in the World War II, the American and Soviet forces invaded Korea, and, consequently, divided the state between communist North and democratic South. In the social aspect, before the middle of the 20th century, the majority of intellectuals and elite were oriented on Japan as Asian center of reforms and development. This tendency was natural since China suffered from frequent revolutions and changes of regime. In the economic sphere, while being a vassal of China and a Japanese colony Korea was not able to define its own development vector. Before China gave up Korea as its colony, Pekin had used it as an outlet for own goods, and, even after the Japanese occupation of Korea, the cultural and philosophical effect of China was still visible. Until the World War II, Korea, as a colony, was obliged to supply resources and provide beneficial trade conditions for Japan. Speaking about the culture, as well as Japan oppressed Korean language and culture, the Korean traditional outlook and religious items affected Japanese. Since the Korean division, the cultural heritage of North (as opposed to South) was mostly ruined since any sense of identification was lost in favor to totalitarian party. Referring to the philosophical motives, the main similarity between Japanese and Korean philosophy and religion is that Buddhism and Confucianism were brought to Japan from Korea. Again, the dominant role of China here is that it was a center of philosophy and cultural spread around the Asian world.

All in all, over 17th-20th centuries, the Chinese history was more dynamic and experimental, which allows defining it as the most unstable and beneficial among the three countries. Chinese oppression of colonial Korea and investments into military extension increased the strength of the state. Additionally, numerous revolutions brought the government that fastened reforms and adjusted ideologies, even though its status had decreased since the appearance of communism. Comparing to Japan and Korea, China had more resources and cultural impact on the Asian region and the change of its social outlook from nationalism towards communism was more influential than in Japan and Korea.