LXIII. European Aggression in Asia, and the Rise of Japan

IT is difficult to believe that any large number of people really accepted this headlong painting of the map of Africa in European colours as a permanent new settlement of the world's affairs, but it is the duty of the historian to record that it was so accepted. There was but a shallow historical background to the European mind in the nineteenth century, and no habit of penetrating criticism. The quite temporary advantages that the mechanical revolution in the west had given the Europeans over the rest of the old world were regarded by people, blankly ignorant of such events as the great Mongol conquests, as evidences of a permanent and assured European leadership of mankind. They had no sense of the transferability of science and its fruits. They did not realize that Chinamen and Indians could carry on the work of research as ably as Frenchmen or Englishmen. They believed that there was some innate intellectual drive in the west, and some innate indolence and conservatism in the east, that assured the Europeans a world predominance for ever.

The consequence of this infatuation was that the various European foreign offices set themselves not merely to scramble with the British for the savage and undeveloped regions of the world's surface, but also to carve up the populous and civilized countries of Asia as though these people also were no more than raw material for exploitation. The inwardly precarious but outwardly splendid imperialism of the British ruling class in India, and the extensive and profitable possessions of the Dutch in the East Indies, filled the rival Great Powers with dreams of similar glories in Persia, in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, and in Further India, China and Japan.

In 1898 Germany seized Kiau Chau in China. Britain responded by seizing Wei-hai-wei, and the next year the Russians took possession of Port Arthur. A flame of hatred for the Europeans swept through China. There were massacres of Europeans and Christian converts, and in 1900 an attack upon and siege of the European legations in Pekin. A combined force of Europeans made a punitive expedition to Pekin, rescued the legations, and stole an enormous amount of valuable property. The Russians then seized Manchuria, and in 1904 the British invaded Tibetƒ.

But now a new Power appeared in the struggle of the Great Powers, Japan. Hitherto Japan has played but a small part in this history; her secluded civilization has not contributed very largely to the general shaping of human destinies; she has received much, but she has given little. The Japanese proper are of the Mongolian race. Their civilization, their writing and their literary and artistic traditions are derived from the Chinese. Their history is an interesting and romantic one; they developed a feudal system and a system of chivalry in the earlier centuries of the Christian era; their attacks upon Korea and China are an Eastern equivalent of the English wars in France. Japan was first brought into contact with Europe in the sixteenth century; in 1542 some Portuguese reached it in a Chinese junk, and in 1549 a Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, began his teaching there. For a time Japan welcomed European intercourse, and the Christian missionaries made a great number of converts. A certain William Adams became the most trusted European adviser of the Japanese, and showed them how to build big ships. There were voyages in Japanese-built ships to India and Peru. Then arose complicated quarrels between the Spanish Dominicans, the Portuguese Jesuits, and the English and Dutch Protestants, each warning the Japanese against the political designs of the others. The Jesuits, in a phase of ascendancy, persecuted and insulted the Buddhists with great acrimony. In the end the Japanese came to the conclusion that the Europeans were an intolerable nuisance, and that Catholic Christianity in particular was a mere cloak for the political dreams of the Pope and the Spanish monarchy-already in possession of the Philippine Islands; there was a great persecution of the Christians, and in 1638 Japan was absolutely closed to Europeans, and remained closed for over 200 years. During those two centuries the Japanese were as completely cut off from the rest of the world as though they lived upon another planet. It was forbidden to build any ship larger than a mere coasting boat. No Japanese could go abroad, and no European enter the country.