From "bunmei kaika" (civilization and enlightenment) to "fukoku kyohei" (rich nation, strong army)

Fukuzawa Yukichi, through his role as educator, editor, translater and writer, and often adviser to government officials, spread the ideas and values of Western civilization. Into the 1880s and 1890s, he leaned more toward those Western ideas that emphasized power and conquest. While nationalism was very important to Fukuzawa from the very beginning, in the later years, it appeared more in the form of imperial expansion and chauvinism. It was like saying "Japan has finally reached the level of the big powers, now let's behave like them and expand, It is a world where you either eat others or are eaten."

1.Japanese imperialism:

  1. Japan's expansion was, similar to other changes taking place, the result of emulation of and conflict with the Western countries.
  2. Japan's expansion was undertaken in an environment of imperialism of European countries. 

Traditional foreign relations:

Often informal, e.g. no clearly drawn national boundaries.  Same true with China that did not have an accurate map in the 1860s.

Historically, foreign relations among several Asian countries, centered around China, followed more or less the courtesies of a large family clan.  Hence foreign relations in China was conducted by the Board of Rites (rather than Foreign Ministry), and Korea and Vietnam were tributary states.  Japan did not follow the suit of its neighbor Korea, but for some centuries it treated China largely with deference in peacetime.  Although an active learner, Japan did not develop an active foreign policy in the Asian international milieu.

Japanese expansion in early 20th century:

Explanation of expansion:

Volatilities of East Asian boundaries in the 19th century:

Japanese expansion in Asia was undertaken in an age of active Western expansion into China.  In particular, Russian expansion led to its takeover of large quantities of Chinese territories in the 19th century, including the acquisition of Vladivostok, and various other border regions between China and Russia.  The building of the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok (1890s) furthered Russian penetration into Manchuria.  Russian activities in China and Korea clashed with Japanese intentions to expand to these regions.

View map of imperialism in China

Expansion and imperialism:

Like European countries, many in the Japanese government turned expansion into a systematic goal, for security, national pride, resources for industrialization, settlement of overpopulation, and markets for manufactured goods.  These goals were often intertwined.

Q: Did Japanese imperialism differ from European imperialism in any way?

With many similarities to the West, Japanese imperialism differed from Western imperialism in that it was the first non-Western imperial power, and that it rose to imperial status after facing colonization by the West.  Like Western powers, Japanese expansion was fueled with Social Darwinism, and racism:

Outline of Japan's war with China (1894-5), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5)


The two wars were both causes and results of Social Darwinism and racism:

The Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)

The Russo-Japanese War:


Japanese decision for war:

American mediation in 1905: Treaty of Portsmouth.

Fukuzawa Yukichi understood in his environment

Fukuzawa practiced, to quote Professor Tetsuo Najita, a "materialistic liberalism." (Hopper, 138) A nationalist throughout his life, he tried to grope for the most effective ways to help Japan at different points of time. He was a liberal, believing in individual independence, and it was this independence that won him status and fame--if he had bowed to offers to work in the government, he might never have ascended beyond a translator. He wanted to teach this independence,intellectual and financial, to the Japanese through his schools, writings, and newspaper. Social Darwinism had a deep impact on his nationalism, and for the sake of Japan's security and status in the world, he cheered for colonizing Korea and defeating China. He was unique in his ability to combine practice--publishing houses, newspapers, etc., with intellectual thought. This was why Hopper said Fukuzawa introduced to the modern Japanese the idea of entrepreneurship.