In the intellectual lexicon of East Asia

In the intellectual lexicon of East Asia, which was only developed after World War II, modernity is a comparatively new concept. Together with Western imperialism, which was primarily defined by military aggression, the idea of modernity was introduced to the East Asian area. For East Asia, modernity meant embracing the Western way of life, becoming enlightened, and battling for parity with the West in terms of race, culture, and intelligence. In essence, borrowing was necessary, which raised concerns about a community's character. The discussion of the different viewpoints on the elements that contributed to the modernization of the East Asian region can be found below. Essentially, the discussion will concentrate on Japan, China and South Korea, which are the major economic drivers in the region. The term modernity is defined differently by historians depending on their perspectives. Additionally, as for the modern Asia, various scholars offer different points of views regarding what led to the modernization of the region.

Annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliography

The terms modernity and modernization

The terms modernity and modernization are explained in various ways by different scholars. To the East Asian authors such as Morris-Suzuki and Chulwoo Lee, the modernization process of East Asia started before the arrival of the Western powers as well as their influence on the East Asian nations (westernization) during the 18th century. On the other hand, authors from other regions, such as the United States, Australia or Europe, argue that the West played an integral role in modernizing East Asia.

Morris-Suzuki, Tessa.The Technological Transformation of Japan: From the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

According to Morris-Suzuki, modernity began even before the arrival of the Western powers and their influence on Japan (Westernization) during the Meiji restoration. Essentially, Morris-Suzuki describes the manner in which innovation technology had been explored, utilized, and refined in Japan even before the coming of the invasion of Western powers. He contends that Japan had not been isolated from the Western nations as people often assume and has pursued innovations in production quality. According to the author, Japan had already met particular markers of modernity, which underpins my argument that the two processes, although overlapping, are very different. Suzuki's discussion of the production processes of metal is quite fascinating in relating the industrialization goals set by the government of Meiji. Devoid of its own capabilities and knowledge in metal production, Japan would not be in a position to industrialize so fast, renegotiate the unequal agreements or start expanding through the Sino-Japanese and Japanese wars. Mainly, this book will help in elucidating the role of modernization advancements made in Japan in shaping the modern East Asia.

Gluck, Carol. "The Invention of Edo." In Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan, edited by Stephen Vlastos, XVII, 328 p. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Pp. 262-269

Gluck contends that the modernization process of East Asia strongly depended on Westernization and influence of the Western powers. Unlike Morris, Gluck perceives modernization in the same way as Westernization. The author analyzes how prominent traditions of Japan were created during the nineteenth and twentieth century as the country went through the arduous modernization process. Inspired by the scholarly works of Eric Hobsbawm and others, the author mainly seeks to debunk common misconceptions, historicize the invention of tradition and assert its social and political influences. Essentially, the volume can assist in elucidating how the invented traditions, national conflict and national identity are related to the modernity of capitalism, which caused destabilization, rapid transformation and uneven development.

Lee, Chulwoo. "Modernity, legality, and power in Korea under Japanese rule." Harvard East Asian Monographs (1999): 21-51.

According to Lee, the Japanese ruling over Korea played the most important role in modernizing South Korea. Lee describes the manner in which the Koreans and Japanese negotiated and collaborated during the cultural practices of imperialization and assimilation. The author provides the historiography of colonial identity formations, delineating the shift from collective and heterogeneous political horizon to an inner and personal struggle of becoming Japanese. Denoting the Japanese colonialism in Taiwan as topography of identifications and multiple associations enabled by the triangulation of imperialist Japan, colonial Taiwan and nationalist China, Chulwoo analyzes the irreducible tension and inherent contradiction. Essentially, the book inform on the role played by the imperialist Japan in modernizing other Asian nations, including China and Taiwan.

Rosenbaum, Roman. "Mizuki Shigeru's Pacific War."International Journal of Comics Arts 10 (2008): 354-79.

According to Rosenbaum, an Australian author and historian, the modernization of East Asia, especially South Korea, is attributed to Westernization from nations such as the United States. In his book, Rosenbaum mainly seeks to elucidate factors that contributed to the emergence of the Pacific war and the modernization of South Korea. He uses art to explain the occurrences of the war and the role played by Japan, China and the Western powers, including the United States. Rosenbaum uses ridicule to analyze the postwar literature of the Japanese. The book provides the information on the modern East Asia, on the occurrences that led to the post-war conditions and the role of the Japanese government in fueling their emergence. Additionally, it will be integral in considering the role of the Western powers during the Pacific War.

Dong, Madeleine. "Who is afraid of the Chinese modern girl?" The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (2008): 194-219.

In the midst of the political, economic and social evolution of China in the early 20th century during its modernization, Dong contends that the social rights of the Chinese have been enhanced as a result of Westernization. In this chapter, Dong discusses the perception of women in China. Essentially, the author concentrates on the perception of the Chinese women in China during the 1920s and 1930s, when China was undergoing modernization and was influenced by the West, which led to various changes in the perception of women. Mainly, the author demonstrates how cultural flows and economic structures shaped a particular form of femininity and how they crossed imperial and national boundaries. Essentially, the book discusses various social reforms that resulted from the modernization of East Asia.



Modernity refers to that which advances the knowledge and virtue of man

Modernity refers to that which advances the knowledge and virtue of man in direction to the future. According to Morris-Suzuki, the first bid for modernization in East Asia was set by the Meiji restoration in Japan. The Meiji restoration followed the Kanagawa Treaty of 1854 between Japan and the United States, when Japan opened its ports and started to industrialize and modernize. According to Morris, the program was driven by the determination to secure the rich country and a strong army. However, carol Gluck highlights that the Meiji culture also comprised of other aspirations. During this period, Japan was only semi-developed compared to the United States and Europe.

Comparing the East and the West

Comparing the East and the West, Morris and Gluck have different perspectives of explaining modernization and Westernization. However, both agree that there was a vital variation in the way of education of between the Western and Eastern populations. For the East, including countries such as Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, education was characterized by Confucian teaching, which, as Morris claims, was a form of modernization in itself. However, Gluck states that the Confucian education lacked studies in number and reason (science) in material culture. In addition, the education form of the East lacked independence in spiritual culture.

The Meiji restoration

The Meiji restoration was denoted by a sequence of occasions that reestablished the practical imperial rule to Japan under an emperor, who was known as Meiji. In the 1850s, the Western nations of both Europe and the US invaded Japan and mandated its government to sign agreements that restricted the country's control over its foreign trade. The loss of these rights brought about some resettlement and uprising of the Japanese against the Western powers. After the top leaders had traveled to Europe and to the United States to learn the Western ways of life, the consecutive groups contended that Japan should respond to the refusal of Korea to revise a centuries-old treaty by invading it. This was aimed at regaining the significance of the patriotic samurai. However, after the Japanese leaders returned from the West, they re-established their control, contending that Japan ought to focus on its development and modernization, not involving in the foreign explorations. In the 1870s and 1880s, Japan concentrated on its domestic growth aimed at and on transforming the social and economic institutions through the model lines offered by the Western nations.

Social and economic transformations in Japan

The Meiji restoration led to various social and economic transformations in Japan and in other nations of East Asia. Essentially, Morris states that it resulted in the abolition of feudalism in Japan, which led to various social and political transformations. With the restoration of Emperor Meiji, people were able to choose occupations as well as move throughout the country without restrictions. In addition, by providing the new environment in regards to financial and political security, the government and similarly the people were able to invest in new industries and technologies instead of relying solely on agriculture. During the reign of Emperor Meiji, the government of Japan was able to build railway and shipment lines, telephone and telegraph structures, shipyards, consumer industries and tea mines.

Education and modernization

Education was an important aspect of modernization of the East Asian region. Gluck claims that since the Confucius education system was weaker, the Japanese adopted the westernized education system. Apparently, the government established a nationwide education structure, a constitution and an elected legislature, which was referred to as a diet. According to Gluckeven, although the Confucius education system had spread rapidly throughout Japan, with the help from the West, in 1872 the government was able to introduce a nationwide system to educate the entire population by establishing government-controlled schools where the students learned mathematics and moral training. Opposing Gluck, Morris suggests that this was driven by the economic benefits that Japan was reaping from its relationship with the West. In regards to politics, the first parliament was elected in 1890, and only the wealthiest 1% was allowed to vote. Due to the dominance of the Western powers along with the advantages that Japan was reaping from the relationship with the West, it was decided to forego its Confucius education.

Westernization of Japan and its influence on Korea and China

The Westernization of Japan was critical for the modernization of South Korea and China. In 1894, the Japanese battled against Chinese over Korea, which China intended to proclaim a vassal state. The Korean peninsula is the closest region of mainland Asia to Japan, with proximity of around 100 miles. Lee claims that the major factor behind the invasion of Korea was that the interests of the government coincided with that of the military and businesspersons. On the other hand, Gluck claims that the Japanese feared that the Soviets could have gained control over Korea, which was then a very backward and weak nation.

Considering its military power, Japan defeated China and gained control over Korea as well as over Taiwan as its colony. This victory astonished the Western countries, which also had economic interests in Korea. In the course of this time, the European powers started claiming control privileges over the Chinese. These powers included the British, who claimed exceptional rights in South China, and the French, who claimed special rights in Indochina (contemporary Vietnam). Even though Japan might have feared that the Russians could have taken control over Korea, the economic interest of Japan in Korea, along with its mightier military, contributed to the invasion of China.

Demand for social freedom in East Asia

With the spread of the Western culture in the early 1900s, the peoples of East Asia started demanding for freedoms that are more social. During the Taisho period, which covers the period from 1912 to 1926, the Japanese people began requesting for freedom that is more social. Gluck highlights that during this period, the people of Japan experienced an economic prosperity due to the better education, infrastructure and development in mass media. On the other hand, Dong claims that the request for social freedom resulted from the increase in urbanization brought about by the industrialization, considering that more people migrated to the urban centers, where they were exposed to abroad cultures which advocated for freedom that is more social. The industrialization undermined the conventional Japanese beliefs and emphasized on efficiency, materialism and independence.

In the 1920s, when the influence of the West was quite minimal, the citizens of Japan started demanding the universal manhood right to vote which meant the permission of men to vote instead of only the 1% of the wealthiest. Consequently, the education led to the demand for more social freedom, considering that education brought about knowledge on how an ideal government should treat its citizens.

Japan's role in World War II and the modernization of China and Korea

After the end of the First World War, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria in China. Later in 1937, the Japanese invaded and occupied the rest of China. In response, the United States offered a large-scale military and economic assistance, demanding the withdrawal of Japanese from the country. However, the Japanese did not withdraw from China, but invaded French Indochina (Vietnam) in 1941 instead. In response, the United States, Netherlands and the Great Britain imposed sanctions on Japan, having cut off their oil imports to Japan, considering that it depended heavily on oil from these nations. In December 1941, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor, which triggered the United States to enter the Second World War.

According to Morris, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the modernization of Japan started spreading to the rest of the nations in the East Asian region, including China and South Korea. After the end of the Qing dynasty, which was the last dynasty of China, China started what was referred to as the 1911 revolution, which caused significant modernization. However, according to Dong, even before the revolution, which marked the end of the Qing dynasty, China had tried to modernize itself by instigating reforms in transportation, infrastructure and government. Essentially, the reforms that were seen by China were based on the modernization models of the Western nations, including the aspects of democracy. However, following the 1911 revolution, in 1919 China started rejecting foreign influence along with imperialism.

After the Second World War, the Japanese withdrew from China. In 1949, the Communist Party took office, and Mao Zedong used the model of modernization of the Soviet Union as the ideal example of China. Morris argues that Mao’s goal was to collectivize and industrialize China. On the other hand, Dong claims that Mao targeted to dominate the world devoid of foreign, in this case Western, engagement and advocated for the concept of self-reliance. Considering that during the reign of Mao, China was able to transform from an agrarian nation to one of the most industrialized powers of the world, Dong’s claims thus become valid, arguing that all that Mao did was intended to change China into a more economically conducive country. Apparently, in the 1970s, through the concept of self-reliance, the Chinese industry was able to produce most of the necessary goods.

Japan's and the US's role in modernizing South Korea

Morris argues that Japan played the most dominant role in the modernization of South Korea through colonization. Conversely, Rosenbaum contends that both China and the Western powers, particularly the United States, played joint roles in modernizing and westernizing Korea. Despite this, South Korea used Japan as the practical model, perceiving it as an ideal example of a fellow East Asian nation that had succeeded in modernizing itself. However, the Koreans’ self-image was developed as a result of complex relationships with colonialism, modernity, nationalism and Christianity. This establishment was motivated by the transformation in the civilization notion due to the shift of the international society and subsequently influenced by the Japanese colonization trauma. Koreans shaped their modernization along with their notion of the cultural, racial and individual modern self, which played a significant role in the formation of Koreans self-identity. Nevertheless, the Japanese orientalism version resulted from the colonization of Korea by Japan, which was vital in modeling the Koreans’ self-identity.

According to Rosenbaum, even though the Japanese played a vital role in the modernization of South Korea in the nineteenth century, the United States also had an influence. . Most of the Koreans that participated in the process of modernization included educated Christians, who perceived the United States as the ideal civilization model. Additionally, the US established a decade-long intensive development program, that commenced in 1945 with the principal aim of modernization of South Korea so that it could become an economic success. The agents of modernization in South Korea included the army of the United States, the United Nations reconstruction agency and other non-governmental organizations. That is how the modernization of Korea was carried out. Subsequently, both Japan and the US played a role in modernizing South Korea, though the role played by the United States seems to be dominant.


Dong, Madeleine. "Who is afraid of the Chinese modern girl?" The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (2008): 194-219.

Gluck, Carol. “The invention of Edo” In Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan, edited by Stephen Vlastos, XVII, 328 p. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. (Selection 262-269)

Lee, Chulwoo. "Modernity, legality, and power in Korea under Japanese rule." Harvard East Asian Monographs (1999): 21-51.

Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. The Technological Transformation of Japan: From the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Rosenbaum, Roman. "Mizuki Shigeru's Pacific War."International Journal of Comics Arts 10 (2008): 354-79.

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