Reading Response: Nish, Duus, and Mitter on why Japan invaded China

Image by U.S. Army – United States Military Academy, West Point, Public Domain, Wikipedia

 

Ian Nish, “An overview of Relations Between China and Japan, 1895-1945,” The China Quarterly 124 (1990): 601-623.

Peter Duus, “Introduction, Japan’s Wartime Empire: Problems and Issues,” in The Japanese Wartime Empire, 1931-1945 (1996): xi-xlvii.

Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival (2013), 1-118.

 

All three authors are presenting arguments about what led up to Japan’s invasion of China. Like LaFeber, Duus focuses primarily on the economic aspect of Japan’s invasion.

Nish promotes the idea that Japan’s expansion into China was strategic and was intended to create a buffer between Japan and the USSR. This point also comes up in Mitter’s work and is interesting because it paints the situation in the Pacific as a sort of preamble to later Cold War politics between the US and the USSR, which would also impact China and Japan by reversing their positions vis-à-vis Western powers. According to Mitter, the US’s preeminence in the region through Japan after the Pacific War would create lasting resentment in China.

Mitter examines the details of internal Chinese politics in an attempt to show that China was more than just a passive victim of Japanese aggression. LaFeber barely touched on China’s role in the war. Nish and Duus both present China as being weak and fragmented, consistently encouraging outside intervention into the conflict. Mitter clearly shows that Chinese nationalists took an active role in shaping China’s future, but internal conflict coupled with external aggression or indifference crippled the country. According to Mitter, China did not become truly unified until active hostilities with Japan broke out. Was the conflict with Japan really the creation of a new national identity based, or simply a convergence of interests among disparate parties? And does a national body have to be unified to be legitimate?

Duus brings up the point that the myth that GEACPS was legitimately for the good of Asia lives on in Japan because people are trying to reestablish a national identity. Guilt is shifted away from Japan onto external forces that supposedly made Japan’s actions necessary. How much of a role did Western colonialism and expansionism play in China’s weaknesses as a country and Japan’s drive to become economically self-reliant? Were there other options available to Japan and what factors prevented those paths from being explored?

Response: Cem Behar’s “A Neighborhood in Ottoman Istanbul: Fruit Vendors and Civil Servants in Kasap Ilyas Mahalle”

In A Neighborhood in Ottoman Istanbul: Fruit Vendors and Civil Servants in Kasap Ilyas Mahalle, Cem Behar attempts to reconstruct the life of an Ottoman Istanbul neighborhood through the use of an exceptional collection of records that he claims are unique to Kasap Ilyas. The records he uses as a primary source for his reconstruction of the mahalle are the notebooks and records of the neighborhood’s imam and (later the) muhtar, which he supplements with data from the 1885 and 1907 censuses and Islamic court records from 1782 to 1924. Additionally, the author attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the neighborhood in the late Ottoman, early Republic period, by interviewing elderly residents of the modern neighborhood.

When considering the information used to create this account, one has to wonder how representative of Istanbul life in general it can possibly be. Behar is careful to point out that Kasap Ilyas’s history and circumstances are certainly unique, and while his findings cannot be used to generalize about Istanbul life, it can be used as a tool to essentially guess at what life in other parts of the city might have been like, given similar circumstances. How many other neighborhoods were there that could have replicated the situation in Kasap Ilyas, however? It does seem to have had many peculiarities, including the large public bath, the nearby wharf, and later the influx of a large population of immigrants from Arapkir. Certainly other parts of Istanbul must have had immigrant populations who were incorporated into society in a similar manner (claims of lost identity papers glossed over by local sponsorship), but how many other neighborhoods also had access to a wharf and warehouses, or to large gardens that provided work opportunities and properly accommodated a working class population? Certainly the elderly inhabitants of the modern neighborhood felt that there was something unique about their neighborhood when they bitterly complained about the destruction of the warehouses and the ‘upper mahalle’ as destroying something essential to their neighborhood.

The unique combination of people and resources (the wharf, gardens, and bath) created a sustainable neighborhood in a city where neighborhoods were routinely absorbed into neighboring mahalles. What I found most interesting about the structure of the neighborhoods, however, is both the diversity of economic classes and the living arrangements. Coming from a Western society, I took for granted that the division of neighborhoods by economic class was a universal occurrence. What factors influenced social norms in Istanbul that made it ok to live in socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods, with beggars living right next to mansions? What made Western society so different? Behar mentions that socioeconomic divisions of neighborhoods didn’t occur until the twentieth century, in response to Western influence. Was it really just as simple as people from similar ethnic and religious groups living together, as a priority over people of similar economic classes living together? Was this common in Islamic cities, or just Ottoman cities, or just in Anatolia? Regarding living arrangements, it was interesting to see that people would often list their business as their residence, but that speaks directly to the economic situation in the neighborhood.

Behar used the itinerant vending of fresh fruits as an example of an informal trade network and then used it to describe the difference between the common activities of recent immigrants from Arapkir to Kasap Ilyas and the more established Istanbulites who had stable businesses governed by regulations and guild organizations. He described an informal network as requiring little or no skill, no permit or license, and little to no startup costs. The only true requirement is that one have a customer base, which Behar describes as a “solid network of personal relations” (115). Behar’s point was probably to show what factors made Kasap Ilyas such an attractive point of entry to Istanbul for the Arapkir immigrants. The Arapkirlis had previously established a system of patronage through the retinue of a pasha who brought his household back to Kasap Ilyas. Alone, this would not have been enough, but because of the presence of the large vegetable gardens, like the Langa gardens, the Arapkirlis were able to incorporate themselves into the larger Istanbul economy through “entry-level” work. Certainly many maintained that lifestyle. Behar describes fathers and sons performing this work together, but Behar also describes other Arapkirlis using fruit vending as a starting point for upward mobility through civil service. I’m sure that there are many cities in many parts of the world that have experienced similar patterns of immigrant exploitation of a resource to establish an ethnically homogenous presence in a city where greater opportunities for social mobility are present. Considering the high rate of population turnover in the neighborhood, it is likely that not only the Arapkirlis were taking advantage of the neighborhood’s usefulness as a socioeconomic stepping stone.

One area of Behar’s work that I found problematic was his assumption of familiarity with foreign language terms. Of course, when writing this type of history, it would be fair to assume that the reader has some familiarity with ‘Islamic’ terms, but Behar’s text is liberally sprinkled with Latin phrases and words that have been borrowed from German. He places these phrases in Italics, signaling their rare usage, but then fails to give a definition. Admittedly, a reader could simply pick up a dictionary to learn the meaning on his own, but if Behar knew the usage of those phrases was problematic and put them in italics, he could have gone the extra mile and defined them at their first usage as well. There were also instances where he deliberately used a Latin word where an English word would have sufficed, like on page 40 where he uses nomenklatura instead of “nomenclature”. Given the context, it is unclear whether he is using the Latin term to replace the English term or if he is making a reference to different statuses within the elite classes of Communist bureaucracies. Another problematic use of language is on page 90, where Behar indicates that the ‘surname’ “binti Abdullah” is significant in connoting conversion to Islam, but does not explain why.

Overall, Cem Behar’s work does an outstanding job of using records to create an image of what Kasap Ilyas might have looked like over the course of Ottoman control of Istanbul. It helps the reader to understand the social and economic dynamics at play in the neighborhood and the city in general, as well as how neighborhoods operated internally.

Colbert’s 1664 Memorandum on Trade: Analysis

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert sent a letter to the King of France, Louis XIV, to appeal for economic reforms that would bring greater prosperity to the French people. This letter, now known as “Memorandum on Trade, 1664,” reveals the depths of the problems France faced, and Colbert’s desperation to find solutions. While writing his letter, Colbert understood that economic issues were not something the king would likely be interested in. Instead of simply listing France’s deficiencies, he presented his arguments in a way that made the economic problems of France a personal reflection of King Louis XIV’s ability to rule.

Colbert opened his letter by writing that solving the country’s economic problems would not provide the king with any immediate benefit. In fact, solving the economic problems would come at a cost. Colbert writes that reforms would require: “Your Majesty’s sacrifice of two things so dear and important to kings-one, the time that [Your Majesty] could use for his amusements or other pleasanter matters, the other, his revenue….”[1] Colbert appears to believe that the king would have little interest in receiving his message or parting with his usual revenue, so the challenge he faces is in getting and then keeping the king’s attention, as well as persuading him to act on the economic reforms he proposes. To do this, Colbert writes, “Your Majesty will find it disagreeable to hear [trade] discussed often.” This implies that the king will continue to be reminded of the economic problems, if not by Colbert then from others, and that the issues must be addressed, rather than ignored.

The previous two quotes raise the question of what Colbert thought about nobles in general. He seems to imply that all nobles want to do is have fun and make money, which is supported by the tone of the letter and the constant emotional appeals to keep the king’s attention. This could be construed as an insult to the king’s ability or intelligence, but Colbert either felt secure enough in his position or secure enough in his belief that the king would not catch the implications that he left the phrases in his letter. It is also possible that Colbert’s statements are simply an accurate reflection of society at the time and the king’s focus on leisure and the acquisition of wealth were seen as legitimate pastimes. That would better explain how Colbert was able to get away with what today might be considered insulting. It would also explain why Colbert had to make an effort to appeal to the king’s emotions, rather than to his intellect through factual reports.

King Louis XIV

King Louis XIV

After getting the king’s attention, Colbert had to find a way to maintain his interest and make the king care about the problems enough to inconvenience himself, especially since the reforms would cause him to lose revenue in the short term. Colbert’s first tactic was to make the king feel personally responsible for the economic hardships the people were facing. He writes, “…it will be well to examine in detail the condition to which trade was reduced when His Majesty took the government into his own hands.” He also writes that the manufacture of many different types of items and textiles in France “are almost entirely ruined.” At this point, Colbert first mentions the Dutch and Dutch dominance of maritime shipping. This serves a double purpose. First, it mitigates Colbert’s accusations of the king’s fiscal incompetence: the Dutch are to blame for the crisis, not the king. Secondly, it further stirs up the king’s emotions by detailing how another nation has achieved dominance over France. This is an appeal to the king’s nationalistic pride, and pride in his own sovereignty. Colbert may also have written it in the hopes that it would engage the king’s competitive spirit and give him a reason to support his economic reforms. If the king were less interested in modern day ideas of governmental responsibility, and more interested in personal accomplishment, turning the issue into a personal competition with the Dutch would be an effective way of gaining the king’s support in making economic reforms.

Colbert made sure to include the potential rewards for economic success in his letter. That reward is money, which according to Colbert’s earlier statement, is one of the two most important things to kings. This tells the king that, though he will have to make a short-term sacrifice, he can expect greater long-term gains. Colbert did not directly state that the king would personally receive large sums of money from the nation’s economic success. Colbert instead writes of the “greatness and power of the State,” which at the time was also a reflection of the greatness and power of the monarch. He first writes, “returns in money… is the only aim of trade and the sole means of increasing the greatness and power of this State.” Later in his letter he writes that only “the abundance of money in a State makes the difference in its greatness and power.” Finally, he writes that any increase in the number of French ships will proportionally increase the “greatness and power of the State,” which means the money generated by trade through shipping will greatly benefit the French state.

Why would the king care about the money being brought into the French economy? In describing the way in which the Dutch have dominated maritime trade, Colbert writes that the Dutch pay both import and export duties when bringing goods into their ports, so the implication is that maritime trade creates a new opportunity for taxation, which would satisfy the king’s desire for greater personal revenues. At the same time, Colbert writes that by improving the condition of the French economy, he will “increase the veneration and respect of his subjects and the admiration of foreigners.” In other words, the king can have his cake and eat it too: he will receive more taxes and be loved more. Colbert may have been hoping that the king would also be concerned about the character of the legacy he would leave behind in the national memory.

In his letter to King Louis XIV, Colbert walks a fine line between accusation and flattery. Colbert establishes the king’s responsibility for the economy and, through a series of emotional appeals, hopes to influence him into making positive reforms. The method Colbert uses to accomplish his task is unusual by today’s standards, but may be a reflection of the accepted reality of nobility during Colbert’s day. Appealing to a monarch in 1664 was an extremely complex process, without the protections of law or governmental regulation that is taken for granted today. It was not only necessary to state the facts, but to make personal appeals for the monarch to make the correct choice for his people, while simultaneously avoiding too heavy an implication of personal fault, since the final responsibility of all governmental decisions rested in the monarchy.


[1] This quote and following quotes are from the webpage, “Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683): Memorandum on Trade, 1664,” part of Fordham University’s Modern History Sourcebook.

Note: This was an essay written for a college English class.  It received an A for content and A for composition.


The text being analyzed:

Sire, it pleases Your Majesty to give some hours of his attention to the establishment, or rather the re-establishment of trade in his kingdom. This is a matter that purely concerns the welfare of his subjects but that cannot procure Your Majesty any advantage except for the future, after it has brought abundance and riches among his people. On the contrary, [the subject of trade] being unattractive in itself, Your Majesty will find it disagreeable to hear it discussed often, and, moreover, [efforts to re-establish) it will even lead to a decrease in current revenues. [For all these reasons] it is certain, Sire, that through Your Majesty’s sacrifice of two things so dear and important to kings-one, the time that [Your Majesty] could use for his amusements or other pleasanter matters, the other, his revenue-[Your Majesty] by these unexampled proofs of his love for his people will infinitely increase the veneration and respect of his subjects and the admiration of foreigners.

Having discussed the reasons for and against the King’s making efforts to reestablish trade, it will be well to examine in detail the condition to which trade was reduced when His Majesty took the government into his own hands [ 166 1 J.

As for internal trade and trade between [French] ports:

The manufacture of cloths and serges and other textiles of this kind, paper goods, ironware, silks, linens, soaps, and generally all other manufactures were and are almost entirely ruined.

The Dutch have inhibited them all and bring us these same manufactures, drawing from us in exchange the commodities they want for their own consumption and re-export. If these manufactures were well re-established, not only would we have enough for our own needs, so that the Dutch would have to pay us in cash for the commodities they desire, but we would even have enough to send abroad, which would also bring us returns in money-and that, in one word, is the only aim of trade and the sole means of increasing the greatness and power of this State.

As for trade by sea, whether among French ports or with foreign countries, it is certain that, even for the former, since in all French ports together only two hundred to three hundred ships belong to the subjects of the King, the Dutch draw from the kingdom every year, according to an exact accounting that has been made, four million UvresI for this carrying trade, which they take away in commodities. Since they absolutely need these commodities, they would be obliged to pay us this money in cash if we had enough ships for our own carrying trade.

***

As for foreign trade:

It is certain that except for a few ships from Marseilles that go to the Levant [the eastern Mediterranean], maritime trade in the kingdom does not exist, to the point that for the French West Indies one-hundred-fifty Dutch vessels take care of all the trade, carry there the foodstuffs that grow in Germany and the goods manufactured by themselves, and carry back sugar, tobacco, dyestuffs, which they [the Dutch] take home, where they pay customs duty on entry, have [the commodities] processed, pay export duties, and bring them back to us; and ‘the value of these goods amounts to two million Uvres every year, in return for which they take away what they need of our manufactures. Instead, if we ran our own West Indies trade, they would be obliged to bring us these two million in hard cash.

Having summarized the condition of domestic and foreign trade, it will perhaps not be inappropriate to say a few words about the advantages of trade.

I believe everyone will easily agree to this principle, that only the abundance of money in a State makes the difference in its greatness and power.

***

Aside from the advantages that the entry of a greater quantity of cash into the kingdom will produce, it is certain that, thanks to the manufactures, a million people who now languish in idleness will be able to earn a living. An equally considerable number will earn their living by navigation and in the seaports.

The almost infinite increase in the number of [French] ships will multiply to the same degree the greatness and power of the State.

These, in my opinion, are the goals that should be the aim of the King’s efforts and of his goodness and love for his people.

The means proposed for reaching these goals are:

To make His Majesty’s resolution known to all by a decree of the Council ton Commerce] meeting in the presence of His Majesty, publicized by circular letters.

***

To revive all the regulations in the kingdom for the re-establishment of manufactures.

To examine all import and export duties, and exempt raw materials and [domestic] manufactures ….

Annually to spend a considerable sum for the re-establishment of manufactures and for the good of trade, according to resolutions that will be taken in Council.

Similarly for navigation, to pay rewards to all those persons who buy or build new ships or who undertake long-distance voyages.


Source:

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Lettres, Instructions et Memoires de Colbert, vol. 2, ed. P. Clement (Paris: Librairie Imperiale, 1863), pp. 263, 268-71. Translated by Ruth Kleinman in Core Four Sourcebook

The US is Broke, So Let’s Give Away More Money!

The Obama administration plans to give the Libyan opposition $25 million in non-lethal assistance in the first direct U.S. aid to the rebels after weeks of assessing their capabilities and intentions, officials said Wednesday.

via Yahoo! News, via AP

Really?  Last I heard schools in the United States were being shut down left and right due to budget constraints.  Teachers are being laid off by the dozens.  Unemployment is massive.  Our infrastructure is falling behind in comparison to other first world countries to the point that we’re almost at par with places we consider third world countries.  Our deficit is 14 trillion dollars.  We’re about to hit our borrowing cap and they’re talking about raising it so we can put ourselves even more in debt.  Pretty soon, Americans won’t own America anymore.  Our credit rating is plummeting as a nation.  They’re talking about cutting our social welfare programs that benefit American citizens who have (mostly) paid into the system.  Companies from other countries are outsourcing to the US because we’re now the cheap labor force.

So, in other words, our country is falling apart around us.  Almost every government agency in the country is in a crunch for money.  We’re borrowing 40 cents on the dollar from other countries.  So, what’s our best option?  Pissing away money on other country’s problems.  Giving money to Libyan Rebels that, more than likely, will be our enemies in 10 years, is a much better option than giving 25 million back to Social Security, or using it to keep schools open, or sending it to soup kitchens to feed the hungry and homeless here in the United States.  I know what it is.  Obama knows he’s not getting reelected, so he doesn’t give a shit about the people that elected him anymore.  He’s going to screw our country up as much as possible before he gets out of office.  Good job, dude.

Isn’t it past time we stop worrying about other people’s problems?  I think so.  The 7k+ comments on the news article I read were overwhelmingly negative, so I know I’m not alone in thinking that the American people deserve to have our money spent here at home.  Who the hell appointed us as the world’s police anyway?  Those other countries don’t want us meddling in their affairs.  The fact that they’re saying it and blowing our shit up should be enough of an indicator for anyone with half a brain to realize they don’t want us there.  So, why do we keep giving them money and keep interfering militarily in their affairs?

I’m not saying we should become strictly isolationist again, but I think we should pull back from world affairs, stop borrowing, stop spending on international problems, and focus on our own country’s problems.  I like how people try to claim that foreign aid is only a small portion of our budget, but even a small portion of the US’s budget is a huge amount of money that could be redirected to domestic programs.  Then you have to wonder how much better our country would be if the billions upon billions of dollars wasted on wars had been spent in improving our national infrastructure and education systems.

How can we help our neighbors fix their houses when our own home is burning to the ground?