Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Imperial Japan: 1926-1938

Book Cover

Book Title

Imperial Japan: 1926-1938. London: G. Allen & Unwin, Ltd, 1938


Young, Morgan A.


Young presents a more wholesome view of Japan's history; seeing her history as more than a review of different aspects of a country which was unlike the lands of Christendom. In this way, the history of imperial Japan from 1926-38 can encompass a larger scope than those comprising solely of the reasons for Japan's ability to compete economically with the Western powers.

Young portrays the state of politics of Japan in the period leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Though at the outset of the Showa era the Cabinet was more democratic and its members more honest than had been the case hitherto, the constitutional position of the Diet had not improved, yet while its behavior deteriorated its prestige increased. Though it was never true that the military party had lost its power in Japan, there was in 1927 an amount of independent civilian thinking which five years later it seemed impossible that such a situation had ever existed.

The military machinations had started even during Baron Shidehara's time. He was successful in maintaining peace on the Yangtse, but was unable to prevent a strengthening of the Japanese garrison in Tientsin and Peking in preparation for any opportunity for aggrandizement that might present itself when the victorious Kuomintang continued its march northward, effectively providing the Japanese army with justifications for their deployment.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

This book comprises largely of the facts of the eleven years in question, particularly those published up to 1938. During ten of the eleven years, Young was always present on the editorial desk of the Japan Chronicle, so he selected from the mass the most significant and most closely related of the current events. In this way, the scope covers largely the internal and external political developments of Japan, giving readers the opportunity to take apart the various steps taken by Japan leading to their increased militarism.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The author asserts that before the onset of the external threats represented by the Kuomintang in areas that border China and Japan, there was in 1927 an amount of independent civilian thinking which would have ceased to be effective by the early 1930s. Before considering the military action which thrust Japan back into the Middle Ages and re-established the soldier as the ruler of Japan, we must make a brief sure of the field chosen for the military power's assertion of supremacy. In Manchuria, where development by Russia had been a crime, development by Japan was a high virtue - a new railway line from Antung, on the Korean border, had been connected with the Korean railway by a bridge. This represented not an economic but strategic aim.

In addition, Young makes the argument that the basic position of the government in the early 1930s was that the army had to maintain its prestige and to find a diversion of the public mind from home discontents. This was found in China. While the Russian menace had been exaggerated as much as they could, the Soviet government had been persistently unaggressive that this had proved to be an ineffective bogey.

For many years past, the army had been building up its plans for the conquest of China. The dissensions in Europe have created the opportunity; but China, which formerly knew nothing of nationalism because it knew nothing except its civilization, has in turned become a nation - a little late in the day but perhaps not a second too late to preserve its existence. In this way, imperial Japan's impact on her continental neighbors, as well as the reaction of such countries as China, are examined largely from the Japanese perspective.

Annotated by Michelle Djong