Reasons for Japan in China

Armed conflicts in the history of humanity from the ancient times to the 20th Century.
Keith Enge
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Reasons for Japan in China

Postby Keith Enge » Fri Mar 25, 2011 6:58 am

I have always had questions of why the Japanese persisted in China. By this, I don't mean what happened. I know the history. Japanese Army officers were basically out of control and manufactured incidents to justify escalating their involvement in China. When some in the government raised objections, low level officers even resorted to assassination to intimidate the dissenters. Like I said, I know the history but I don't know why they did this.

Normally, you go to war to gain some objectives. You might want resources or "lebensraum". You might attack preemptively to shortstop some future potential problem. You might want revenge for some past defeat or grievance. You might make an attack as a first step to facilitate the next attack on someone else. I'll discuss each separately but none really seem to apply.

They already had Manchuria, Korea, and Formosa. Manchuria was useful for minerals and lebensraum. Korea provided food and forced labor. Formosa's (Taiwan) primary asset was its strategic location. The rest of China offered nothing more. Also, it was impossible to "digest". It was like a guppy trying to swallow a whale; the difference in populations was just too immense. Japan couldn't garrison all of China; if they took some new area, they had to uncover some other area. The Chinese military leaders were so corrupt/incompetent and their troops were so untrained/ill-equipped that Japanese forces could move whereever they wanted. However, other Chinese forces then flowed into the vacuum produced when the Japanese moved. China was basically a sinkhole for the majority of the Japanese Army's manpower.

China wasn't a future threat. If the Japanese left, China would splinter into a civil war. Even with the Japanese as a common enemy, the various factions still fought and hoarded weapons for the eventual civil war that everyone knew was coming.

There was no revenge factor; Japan had won all of the wars between the two nations. The only Japanese grievance was with the Western powers which were reluctant to share Chinese concessions with Japan. This, however, wasn't a reason to go to war. The Chinese market was large but not lucrative; the immense population was more than offset by their poverty.

Finally, China wasn't a stepping stone to somewhere else. China was a deadend. If you wanted to start a "Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperty Sphere", you should start somewhere else, somewhere with the resources but without the problems.

Thus, I can't find any reason to persist in China when it eventually meant going to war against the US. The only explanation seems to be "saving face". Once they were embroiled in China, they just couldn't bring themselves to later abandon it. Instead, they kept pouring forces into the sinkhole.

An example of the problem is perhaps illustrative. A long time ago, I was involved in the design of a board game about the Pacific war. We intended to start one of scenarios in the early 1930s. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the playtesters to escalate the action in China, there just was no reason to do so. Unless we "cheated" and provided resource centers in China where none really existed to provide an artificial incentive, the playtesters would deescalate rather than escalate. Our other option was even more artificial; a special case rule that forced them to do what we wanted. The same sort of problem occurred in later scenarios. Unless we made a special rule prohibiting it, playtesters playing Japan in the December 1941 scenario did the following. They pulled their forces from China and used them to reinforce their forces elsewhere, especially in Burma. This usually allowed them to conquer India, sometimes even if Great Britain abandoned the Mediterranean to move forces back to India. Saving face didn't matter to the playtesters, rational play to them meant exiting China.

Does anyone have any other explanation for the seemingly irrational obsession with remaining in China besides merely saving face?

lwd
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby lwd » Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:39 pm

Keith Enge wrote:... Thus, I can't find any reason to persist in China when it eventually meant going to war against the US. The only explanation seems to be "saving face". Once they were embroiled in China, they just couldn't bring themselves to later abandon it. ....
Does anyone have any other explanation for the seemingly irrational obsession with remaining in China besides merely saving face?

Well, the Chinese trade was potentially very lucrative and Japan wanted to control it. Also consider that in the late 1800's and early 1900's Germany went about acquiring colonies at a time when it was becoming pretty apparent that in many cases they not only didn't pay for themselves they were significant financial burdens. In this case prestige seems to have been a major player and likely was with Japan as well now you could argue that that is the same as "face". I think there are some subtle differences but that may well just be my own understanding of the terms and they are certainly closely related.

Keith Enge
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby Keith Enge » Fri Mar 25, 2011 4:31 pm

LWD, I think that the most important word in your comment was "potentially". China trade was potentially lucrative because of those teeming millions. However, my research seems to indicate that it wasn't in the 1930s. Way back when, after Marco Polo, the caravans from the middle east were certainly profitable. However, after the industrial revolution, the situation changed. China just wasn't making much that others wanted. Therefore, it wasn't so much trade as consumption. Unfortunately, China's population was poor and couldn't afford much so the size of the market was negated; millions times pennies is still not a very large income. The British, for example, had virtually abandoned the market. Ever since the Opium Wars, the Chinese market was depressed. In 1881, it was estimated that the population had decreased by about an eighth, one third of the remaining population was addicts, and addicts make poor customers for anything but their drug. China was recovering but progress was slow, primarily because of the numerous factions dominated by warlords.

I agree that prestige played a big factor. Japan wanted to be considered a major power on the world stage. With most of the Western powers extorting concessions from China, Japan wanted to join them. Her methods of using force after engineering "incidents" was not something, however, that would endear them to the other powers. On the other hand, there was some precedent for that sort of thing. I mentioned the Opium Wars previously; that certainly was a shameful history and reflected poorly on the Western powers. The Japanese, however, carried it to even further extremes. I think that the prestige factor is just another aspect of what I called the saving face factor. Once they had been there so long and done so much, they were unwilling to return home unsatisfied. Therefore, they continued to escalate the situation, trying to finally reach a conclusion that would justify everything that they had done previously.

lwd
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby lwd » Fri Mar 25, 2011 6:34 pm

Well the "Opium Wars" occured in part because there was a balance of trade problem and opium was one of the few products that could be imported into China to offset the exports. That implies that there was a significant amount of exports. The fact that many of the major European powers maintained significant outposts in China is another pointer in that direction. Unfortunatly no one has yet written an equivalant of The Wages of Destruction for either the Opium wars or the Japan in WWII at least that I'm aware of.

Keith Enge
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby Keith Enge » Fri Mar 25, 2011 11:26 pm

I agree. Opium was introduced because they needed something that the Chinese would buy. That, in fact, is my point. The outside powers maintained outposts because they wanted access to Chinese markets. However, they couldn't find anything that the Chinese wanted so they turned to opium. This had the side effect of hurting all other potential purchases besides opium. If you want a market, you want them to buy your products. Unfortunately, the Chinese wanted to buy little that the outside powers were offering. That is the position of my argument. Going to war to get a piece of the Chinese market was insane because that Chinese market was negligible. If they could read balance sheets, they must have known this. There must, therefore, have been some better reason for their increasing presence in China. So far, your prestige argument is a viable candidate. It also ties in well with my saving face proposal. Neither had real tangible benefits; both merely made you look good or made you feel better about yourself. Prestige meant you could count yourself among the world powers. Saving face meant that you didn't have to admit that all of your previous actions gave you no advantage and so weren't justifiable.

lwd
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby lwd » Sun Mar 27, 2011 12:11 am

But the Chinese had things others wanted. And of course a huge labor pool. By this point I believe Japan also needed to import food and at least some of China was quite productive.

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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby Byron Angel » Sun Mar 27, 2011 12:38 am

Keith Enge wrote:I agree. Opium was introduced because they needed something that the Chinese would buy. That, in fact, is my point. The outside powers maintained outposts because they wanted access to Chinese markets. However, they couldn't find anything that the Chinese wanted so they turned to opium. This had the side effect of hurting all other potential purchases besides opium. If you want a market, you want them to buy your products. Unfortunately, the Chinese wanted to buy little that the outside powers were offering. That is the position of my argument. Going to war to get a piece of the Chinese market was insane because that Chinese market was negligible. If they could read balance sheets, they must have known this. There must, therefore, have been some better reason for their increasing presence in China. So far, your prestige argument is a viable candidate. It also ties in well with my saving face proposal. Neither had real tangible benefits; both merely made you look good or made you feel better about yourself. Prestige meant you could count yourself among the world powers. Saving face meant that you didn't have to admit that all of your previous actions gave you no advantage and so weren't justifiable.



..... It has been a while since I researched the Opuim War, but, as I recall, Great Britain was buying tremendous amounts of tea out of China at that time and wanted to reduce their acquisition costs by trading opium into China in exchange instead of simply paying cash. The Chinese objected. War ensued. It must be kept in mind that opium was not at that time in history seen as an illegal or offensive commodity by the West.

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RF
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby RF » Fri May 20, 2011 6:19 pm

Keith Enge wrote:
Does anyone have any other explanation for the seemingly irrational obsession with remaining in China besides merely saving face?


Empire building. The Japs saw the European powers start to carve up China and saw also what happened in Africa. So they copied the European powers. And of course a strong Japan would be a barrier to Japan being turned into a European power colony.......
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby camvolcano » Fri Jul 22, 2011 7:45 am

Also to block the spread of communism into Asia. With the Chinese Civil War, a Moscow supported Mao could be a serious threat to Japan. The Russians would probably also want a form of revenge for their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in the early 1900's, and they could use a friendly China as a staging point.

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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby RF » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:41 pm

The Japanese militarists were certainly anti-communist, but there was little sign of any serious communist activity in Japan up to, or indeed since 1945.

I do find the idea of fearing communism emerging in China rather ironic - by invading China and fighting the anti-communist Kuomintang the Japanese ultimately contributed to the eventual victory of the Chinese communists in 1949 by so weakening the one legitimate alternative to communism in China....
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

Byron Angel
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Re: Reasons for Japan in China

Postby Byron Angel » Sun Jul 24, 2011 10:39 pm

RF wrote:The Japanese militarists were certainly anti-communist, but there was little sign of any serious communist activity in Japan up to, or indeed since 1945.


..... That is because the domestic Communist movement and its sympathizers within Japan had been systematically identified and eliminated over several decades prior to WW2.


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