In influence and control of the Chinese

In this lesson, we will learn about Japanese imperialism. We will highlight the major territorial acquisitions and the wars that expanded the Japanese Empire.

The Empire of Japan

December 7, 1941. You probably know this date. Dive bombers from the Empire of Japan cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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This would prove to awaken a ‘Sleeping Giant,’ and ultimately bring about the destruction of Imperial Japan. But before Japan made this fateful move, they maintained one of the largest maritime empires in history. At the outbreak of World War II, Japan was an empire to be reckoned with. In this lesson, we will be learning about how Japan was able to build that empire.

We will examine Japanese imperialism and learn about the territorial conquests made by the Empire of Japan.The Empire of Japan officially came into existence on January 3, 1868 with the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration is the term for the series of events that led to Emperor Meiji’s ascension to power. Before this, Japan was basically a feudal state with a confusing and ambiguous power structure.

With the Meiji Restoration, Japan embarked on a meteoric rise as a regional and world power. Industrialization, Westernization, and militarization were central components of the new Imperial Japan. Racism (toward other groups, like the Chinese and Koreans) and nationalism ran strong among many Japanese during this time.

The First Sino-Japanese War

Korea during this time was basically under the influence and control of the Chinese Qing dynasty. As Japan grew in power, it increasingly eyed Korea’s natural resources, and sought to flex its military muscle by disrupting Chinese influence in Korea. This led to war. The First Sino-Japanese War was fought between China and Japan from 1894-1895 over control of Korea.

Japan won the war and China was forced to sign a humiliating treaty, which ceded the island of Formosa (also called Taiwan) to Japan. After Japan won the war, Korea came under the Japanese sphere of influence, as well.

The Russo-Japanese War & the Takeover of Korea

Becoming more powerful every decade, Japanese imperialist ambitions now began to collide with Russian imperialist ambitions in Northeast Asia. This region of Asia was commonly called Manchuria, and for centuries was fought over by China, Japan, and Russia. All three countries had interests in this region, and throughout modern times it was periodically divided up in changing configurations between these powers.

After the Sino-Japanese War, Japan gained a critical port from the Chinese called Port Arthur. But the Western powers (like Germany, France, and Russia) did not go along with the idea, and basically overruled the treaty (hey, they were more powerful, right?). The Western powers basically stripped Port Arthur from the Japanese, and gave it to the Russians.

Boom! This led to war between the two! The Russo-Japanese War was fought between Russia and Japan from 1904-1905 over control of portions of Manchuria and Korea. Japan won the war, which was a major surprise to the world – that an Asian force could defeat a European force was a huge shocker at this time in history!Japan’s victory against Russia paved the way for a complete takeover of Korea. After the war, in 1905, Korea basically became a protectorate of Japan. A few years later, the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910 resulted in the complete annexation of Korea to Imperial Japan. Korea was placed under Japanese police rule.

20th Century Expansion ; Defeat

In the 20th century, Imperial Japan was a powerful force in the Eastern Hemisphere. When World War I broke out, Japan cast its lot in with the Allied Powers.

Although it came out on the winning side, Japan did not receive the same kind of spoils and concessions that other victors did. This caused Japan to feel that they had been cheated, and it resulted in anti-Western resentment throughout the 1920s and 1930s.In the 1930s, conflict again broke out among the regional Asian powers. In 1931, Japan invaded and took over Manchuria.

A few years later, in 1937, Japan invaded China, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War. Initially, the Japanese scored victories with the capture of cities like Nanking and Shanghai. Japanese imperial soldiers behaved mercilessly toward the Chinese.

The term Rape of Nanking refers to the atrocities Japanese soldiers committed toward civilian and unarmed Chinese throughout December 1937 and January 1938 as they occupied the capital city of Nanking. This included mass rape, torture, and the slaughtering of innocent men, women, and children. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that between 40,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed in the Rape of Nanking.

The Second Sino-Japanese war came to a close in September 1945 when Japan surrendered to Allied Forces, ending World War II. With the surrender came the end of Imperial Japan. Japan was occupied by Allied Forces before adopting a democratic government in 1947.

Lesson Summary

Now let’s review the key terms in this lesson:

  • The Meiji Restoration is the term used for the series of events that led to the ascension of Emperor Meiji to power in Japan. This ushered in the Empire of Japan.
  • The First Sino-Japanese War was fought between China and Japan from 1894-1895 over control of Korea.

    Japan won the war, and gained control of Taiwan.

  • The Russo-Japanese War was fought between Russia and Japan from 1904-1905 over control of portions of Manchuria and Korea. Again, Japan won the war. This victory paved the way for the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910, which resulted in the complete annexation of Korea to Imperial Japan.
  • The term Rape of Nanking refers to the atrocities Japanese soldiers committed toward civilian and unarmed Chinese throughout December 1937 and January 1938 as they occupied the capital city of Nanking.

Learning Outcomes

When the lesson on Japanese imperialism concludes, take the opportunity to accomplish these goals:

  • Express knowledge of the origins of the Japanese empire
  • Explain how Japan acquired Taiwan and Korea
  • Discuss the outcomes of the Russo-Japanese War
  • Summarize the events leading to the Rape of Nanking and the Second Sino-Japanese War
  • Remember the way in which Japanese imperialism was brought to an end
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