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Western Imperialism and Decolonization

The dominance of western imperialists in Japan, China and India brought many struggles to the societies of these countries. The process of decolonization was characterized with resistance from the imperialists’ masters led by Britain. It caused lots of bloodshed to the people of these countries through struggles and revolutions. An important factor in colonization of Japan, India and China is that they started at about same time, in the beginning of 19th century. These countries were under the extraterritoriality of the colonialists. However, decolonization occurred during different times, starting with Japan. This led to revolutions and struggles against colonialists who were accused of discrimination in granting independence in the rest of the countries. The paper compares and contrasts responses of Japan, India and China to the Western Imperialism.

Western imperialists’ exploitation of the Asian countries necessitated the rise of revolutions in demand of decolonization. The imperialists occupied Asian countries for close to 500 hundred years. It is during this period that nationalism, democracy and weakening of European masters gave rise to the demands of decolonization in Japan, India and China. Goff et al (2008) note a number of similarities and differences in the process of decolonization amongst these three countries. This article explores the differences and similarities that existed amongst China, Japan and India in the process of decolonization. In doing so, it addresses the timelines, challenges and limitations faced by the three countries during decolonization periods.

The Coming of Decolonization

According to Kayaoglu  (2010), the Asian countries experienced a period exploration, exploitation and domination by the Western Imperialists for close to five hundred years. The level of exploitation was worsened by the signed trade agreements which favored the imperial masters led by the British, French and Portuguese and later Germany and the United States. Similarly, the imperialists provided subjective conditions to the local people in these countries, especially those who were in conflict with their culture and practice. For instance, they forced the abolition of Han system of leadership. This triggered the people of these countries to come together in agitation for the need of decolonization.

Another factor that led to the mass revolution in these countries was the forced introduction of the European culture, education and practice that the locals felt was violating their principles. The Western imperialists were further weakened by the continued troubles in their home countries which led to the cutting down of the support they were receiving from their homeland. Additionally, there was a fueled competition for colonies amongst the western Imperialists as they increased in number. Together with the increasing nationalism and democracy among the societies of Japan, India and China, these factors led to the demand of decolonization from the nationalists who led revolutions against the imperialists.

An important point of comparison in the process of decolonization in these three countries is style in which decolonization was granted. It is notable that in Japan decolonization came through a series of negotiations that started in 1872 with the Japanese delegate, commonly known as Iwakura, mission that went to New York for discussions over the removal of extraterritoriality status that the West had imposed on these countries. Kayaoglu (2010) noted that irrespective of the inability of the New York delegates to realize a positive result, even after two years, it set the ground on which the extraterritorial status was removed from Japan.  The country thus obtained an equal status as their former masters. He further noted that in 1894, after the Sino-Japanese War, Britain and Japan signed the Aoki-Kimberley Treaty to end colonization in Japan. Other imperialists, fearing that the Japanese could stage a deadly revolution if they insisted on occupying it, also signed treaties to end colonization. Japan equally became a colonialist and occupied some areas in Taiwan, India and China.

Notably, Japan was the last country among the three to be put under extraterritorial system yet it turned out to be the first to be emancipated. This caused uproar among the remaining countries, especially as they saw Japan gaining prominence among the world imperialists and occupying parts of China and India. However, several factors contributed to Japan’s quicker decolonization. Among them is the presence of few missionaries and merchants in Japan as opposed to China and India, that had witnessed a proliferation of missionaries making emancipation process difficult for the colonial masters.

Decolonization in China and India came several decades after the revolutions that were led by Mao Tse Dong in China and Mahatma Gandhi in India (Berger, 2004). A striking difference in the two countries was the strategies that these leaders used in agitating for freedom. For instance, in China, the Chairman Mao advocated for guerilla tactics against external forces of the imperialist. He used the same tactic against the internal groups which were also scrambling to capture leadership in the imminent nation. In sharp contrast was Gandhi in India who pursued a non-violent means against the oppressors of the people leading to decolonization.

Differences and Similarities in the Timeframe, Extent and Nature of Western Domination

 As noted by Kayaoglu  (2010), there are several factors that determined the timeframe, extent and nature of Western domination in each of the three countries. To begin with, extraterritoriality status was not imposed on Japan as it was for China and India. Another factor was the superiority that Japan had in East Asia which provided a quicker and smoother process of decolonization. That is, Japan was viewed by the Western powers, especially the British, as an important ally in their strategy to defeat Russia which was competing the West as another imperialist. Additionally, Japan had mastered negotiation skills that gave it an upper hand in securing a quicker time frame.

On the other hand, China and India delayed in securing decolonization because of a multiple of cultures and interests that emanated from within them. For example, China’s greater land mass made things difficult because the large number of political and social groups that were interested in decolonization had to be brought together to agree on a common goal. This made the process of negotiation difficult. The same case was with India. 

However, a number of factors remained subjective to internal struggles while being objective to the Western imperialist. Such factors negatively affected the process of decolonization in both China and India. Subjectivity resulted from the sense that numerous political and social groupings in each of these countries had their own unique and different interests. In this sense, they lacked a sense of nationhood. On the other hand, objectivity resulted from the sense that several western imperialists were already occupying these countries. This made the process of decolonization difficult. For instance, some Western imperialists who had come to lay stakes in these countries viewed decolonization as the end to their era.

Moreover, the effects of Cold War between the US, a patron-ally to Beijing and the Soviet Union in terms of communism and socialism were on the foreplay in decolonizing India and China. A popular opinion is that since these countries possessed small resources as compared to the rich Japan, it was easy for Western imperialists to pull strings in terms of handouts which were successfully used to influence the opposing groups within countries, thus escalating the internal struggles.

Challenges that Marked Early Japanese, Chinese and Indian Attempts to Respond to Western Imperialism

Japan, China and India are countries that are rich in culture and socialism. They thus found it hard to deal with the imperial masters who were, on the other hand, keen to alter the cultural and social structures of these countries. For example, some of the declarations for emancipation required that these countries abolish some of the cultural structures that defined them in order for sovereignty to be granted. For instance, among the reasons why the Iwakura Mission did not succeed in the first attempt was the abolition of the Han system of leadership. The system had enjoyed majority support in Japan and abolishing it meant that the people of Japan were to quit some of their cultural endowment in terms of democratic leadership. Nevertheless, because of the power asymmetry between Japan and the western imperialists and the negotiations of the Japanese, extraterritoriality was removed quicker, thus enabling Japan to join the imperialist (Berger, 2004).

India and China similarly faced challenges in terms of lack of unity within themselves and limited resources to deploy effective means in addressing the challenges that came with imperialism. The lack of material wealth also meant that it was easier for these countries to be manipulated by the imperialists, especially the US and Russia, which were in this case the opposing forces. While the US advocated for capitalism, the Soviet Union was preaching socialism. This resulted into a continued confusion amongst the internal groupings. It is important to note that India and China made several attempts to declare their freedom from imperialism. A good example is the 1914 declaration that later worked against their progress towards decolonization.

Similarly, coming of Japan to stage after Meiji restoration as an imperial master provided more challenges to China’s quest for decolonization in a number of ways. This meant that the Chinese had to fight against an extra enemy who was altogether stationed in the neighborhood. Such was the case in the Korean War that bid Japan against China during which the Chinese were defeated. This further delayed the process of their decolonization. Subsequently, the defeat to Chinese led to the proliferation of more masters in China. This further resulted into the seizure of Chinese resources by the Russians. In the same way, the French and the British received concessions to operate freely in almost all parts of China and India (Goff et al, 2008).

At the same time, anti-foreign forces continued to operate in India through divided revolutions that made it easier for Western imperialists to prolong their stay. As observed by Duara (2004), these continued internal struggles presented an indication that these countries were not yet ready for decolonization. Thus, the Western imperialists used this opportunity to plan on how they were going to defeat the groupings inside India while at the same time exploiting their resources.

Style, Ideology and Strategy of Each Area's Successful Opposition Movement

Japan utilized a diplomatic approach by first sending the Iwakura Mission to New York. The team remained in the city for a period of two years. This was followed by another conference that was held in Tokyo in 1984 to discuss on the country’s decolonization. According to Dura (2004), it was the continued diplomatic pursuit coupled with Japan’s envisaged influence in terms of power and wealth that ensured the country became successful against the imperialist.

India, on the other hand, was decolonized only after its colonial masters, the British, started experiencing economic difficulties back at home. This led to the giving up by the British on India followed by the granting of independence to the country alongside Pakistan in 1947. The British also felt that India was not providing as much wealth as it was supposed to be and saw no need to continue colonizing it as this presented an extra burden to the British who had to control it using their own resources. Additionally, Dura (2004) noted that the civil disobedience experienced in the country had nurtured nationalistic movements that had been working for independence since the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

In China decolonization was achieved through several strategies that involved revolutions and civil war. Duara (2004) observes that Chinese struggle for decolonization had to be fiercely fought because they had to overcome a number of western powers that increased pressure on the internal groups. Ultimately, China’s decolonization came under heavy costs with many people dying during the revolutions.

Western Legacy and Ideas

The largest Western colonial empire, the British Empire, was an integrated and massive component that brought much devastation to these three countries. Its centuries of existence meant that resources were taken away from these countries without compensation; people were forced into hard labor under gun points while others were killed in the ensuing revolutions.  Equally, the social, cultural and political structures in these countries were destroyed through British culture which was spread through education and religion (Perry & Jacob, 2008). As a response to the pressure, societies retaliated in fatal uprisings and revolts that led to widespread bloodshed. In addition, fundamental changes were instituted on societies without their consent as the British capitalism continued to wreak havoc across the world. In the end, the western empires led by the British crumbled, though they later rejuvenated in the form of Commonwealth organization that has continued to exert pressure on former colonies, albeit indirectly.

Goff et al (2008) observe that Japan, India and China have continued to reject the western legacy and ideas, even as these countries were trying to reconstruct their social and cultural structures. Numerous resources today are redirected into construction of educational institutions that teach the culture and social lives of the respective people. Moreover, culture and social structures, especially those in Japan and China, have been established using native languages. This has thus served as preservation tools for culture. Similarly, the development that has been witnessed in these countries from the time of decolonization is said to have surpassed that of their former colonialists. However, it is arguable that the legacy of western imperialists in terms of science and technology has contributed immensely to the high level of development in these countries (Perry & Jacob, 2008).


From the above discussion it is evident that there exist some similarities and differences in the decolonization of Japan, China and India. The similarities included such factors as the presence of a number of western powers in each of the countries as well as the use of diplomatic and revolutionary struggles in demanding for decolonization. Similarly, the three countries were placed under extraterritorial control before decolonization. However, differences exist in terms of timelines in that in Japan the process was short-lived, while in China and India decolonization took almost a century.

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