Japan from the inside out

Shimojo Masao (6): The countries of the Confucian cultural sphere

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF JAPAN, the names of the countries that were once part of the Confucian cultural sphere are now entirely different. Qing of the Manchu Dynasty has been divided and become the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), while Joseon has been divided and become the Republic of Korea and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. Their social systems have also diverged, with some becoming socialist states and some becoming capitalist states.

Of these, Taiwan and South Korea adopted the market economy and advanced economically. At the end of the 19th century, they were part of highly centralized states. The one on the Korean Peninsula was then called the world’s poorest country, and Taiwan was a remote region on the outskirts of Qing. What lies behind their achievement of economic growth on the level of that of developed nations?

The one factor both have in common is that they were under the administration of Japan until the latter’s defeat in 1945. Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the Japan-China War of 1894, and Joseon merged with Japan in 1910. During that period, the ground was prepared that enabled the economic structures of a centralized government to take on the characteristics of a market economy.

There are examples to corroborate this. Today, with its rapid economic growth, China cannot halt the expanding gap between the cities and agricultural villages. In 2006, the government decided to launch the semaul (new village) movement, an effort to strengthen agricultural villages that was first implemented in South Korea in the 1970s.

The roots of the semaul movement are found in the period of Japan’s colonization and administration. It began in 1907 with the activities of the Regional Financing Association (the forerunner of the South Korean agricultural cooperatives), which converted tenant farms into independent farms. Its slogan was “Diligence, Self-Help, Cooperation”, and it encouraged the autonomous activities of the farmers. The semaul movement had the identical slogan, and it closely resembled the agricultural promotion policies during the period of Japanese administration.

Grappling with the severity of the so-called Three Agricultural Problems (farming villages, agriculture, farmers), the Chinese government launched the “New Farm Village Construction” program modeled on the success of the semaul movement. That is difficult to achieve in the single-party dictatorship of China, however. It is the same sort of difficulty encountered after the centralized Soviet Union collapsed and a market economy was introduced into a national structure based on a planned economy. It is impossible to create a market economy without recognizing the private ownership of land and creating the foundation of a democratic society.

In this regard, the South Korean view of the Japanese colonial administration as nothing but an invasion is an incorrect historical understanding. That’s because the foundation that promised the economic growth of today had already been laid during the period of Japanese administration. That is the backdrop for the economic development of South Korea and Taiwan. This fact should provide some hints for the advancement of developing countries and considerations of an East Asian entity.

– Shimojo Masao

9 Responses to “Shimojo Masao (6): The countries of the Confucian cultural sphere”

  1. mac said

    Both the old and the young Taiwanese love Japan and the Japanese. Japanese could not be more welcomed anywhere than in Taiwan (although Bali comes a close second).

    See the footage of all the old boys still meeting in parks to sing Japanese army songs, the young girls dressing in Japanese fashion, go speak – in Japanese – to the grandparent generation who still remember their education with gratitude, they will be thrilled to do so. I know this.

    I’ll quote an old tea master who said, lamenting, “if only the Japanese had stayed, at least the level of civilization/quality of life in Taiwan would have reached the same level as Shikoku” for the ordinary people.

    They hate Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT and the latecomer mainlanders … and remember with bitterness the years when they suffered “kill nine Taiwanese to find one communist?”.

    I suspect the same is actually true for ordinary Koreans, and I know any old folks holding sympathies have to keep them silent for fear of reprisals (like one old group of Korean students who welcomed back their Japanese teacher every year until they became too old to travel).

    You just replace KMT with Yang-ban or Kai-shek with Park.

  2. Jason said

    the young Taiwanese may have a strong interest and following in today’s modern Japanese pop culture (ie- cartoons, fashion, food, pornos) but please find a Taiwanese person (young or old) who would say they wish Japan would have stayed in Taiwan.

    I hope you are not trying to associate the modern wave of Japanese pop culture interests in Taiwan to conclude that the Taiwanese “liked” the Japanese in Taiwan. Have you spoken to any Taiwanese about this before making your statement: “Both the old and the young Taiwanese love Japan and the Japanese. Japanese could not be more welcomed anywhere than in Taiwan”?

  3. Ken said

    “Both the old and the young Taiwanese love Japan and the Japanese. Japanese could not be more welcomed anywhere than in Taiwan (although Bali comes a close second).”

    Surely Mac is not correct. The Japanese can be more welcomed in Palau than in Taiwan.
    Old Palauan welcomed the Japanese, “Our Japan returns! No problem any more!”, when Japan expressed rebuilding KB bridge in Palau after Korean-made bridge fell down.
    A state of Palau is adopting Japanese as official language and some people are named in Japanese.
    Imperial Japan set up lots of infra-structure unlike former European suzerains.
    Post-war suzerain, the US, deployed anti-Japan education in Palau like in other countries but Japanese generation Palauan denied most of them like in Taiwan, unlike in Korea.
    That is supposed why Palauan are very pro-Japanese like Taiwanese, unlike Koreans.

  4. Fred said

    Mac & Jason, I respect both your views and I think both bring some validity to the table regarding Taiwanese views vis-a-vis Japan today. I’ve lived in Taiwan and and have been married to native Taiwanese (a Hokkien speaker)for several decades. Probably most Hokkien Taiwanese of my father-in-law’s generation have a nostalgia for things Japanese, including Japanese institutions and law and order. Mainland Chinese from Taiwan don’t have that nostalgia but tend not to be as anti-Japanese as their Mainland cousins. I seriously doubt most Hokkien-speaking Taiwanese would wholeheartedly welcome the Japanese back and just hand them the keys. Taiwanese today are very keen on local and island-wide politics and having popular representation from their own ranks. Yes, Japanese people are very welcome on Taiwan and find a very warm reception, as Japanese friends have told me. Do the Taiwanese want them back as overlords, though? My guess is very, very few would.

  5. camphortree said

    A decade ago an old Asian lady sat next to me and struck up a conversation in English. We were on a United Airline’s flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. She asked me whether I was a Japanese. “Yes mom” said I. Her eyes sparkled. She mentioned several Japanese names. She explained that those were her school teachers in her elementary school in a 高砂 tribe’s village in Taiwan. The Japan-era ended during her elementary school, but she still spoke a classy polite form of Japanese(ございます)very well. Amazing! She proudly told me that her class invited some of their teachers back to Taiwan. When she and some of her classmate went to Japan for sightseeing, they managed to visit the tomb of a teacher who had passed away. With teary eyes she recalled the deceased saying,”OOO sensei was everyone’s favorite teacher in our school.” While telling all that she kept smiling, tearing and touching my daughter.
    Somewhere in the middle of the conversation I said, “You speak Japanese so well in the most beautiful form. Japan must have forced even the small school children like you to learn the language. I am very sorry.” The lady firmly said, “We were very lucky to have been educated by the Nihonjin sensei. Sensei taught us some of 論語 in Kanji. We learned arithmetic in Japanese that was easy because Arabic numbers were in common, and Chinese and Japanese share the same letters for numbers. We loved reading and writing “国語” that was Japanese writen in katakana, hiragana and Chinese. I was Japanese in my childhood. I am very proud that I was a Japanese. I wanted to fight with 鬼畜米英 for Tenno Heika.”
    “This is gory!” I thought to myself, but the lady looked she was a true believer. We three ended up singing, “ぴっちぴっち ちゃっぷちゃっぷ らんらんらん” in the airplane seat because the lady started to sing doyo (children’s songs) for us.

  6. bender said

    It’s no use camph, as Herr Jason has already made up his mind that Japs are an apologetic bunch of militaristic thugs bent on re-conquering Asia. You will be branded, like others, a blood-thirsty, history-bending, harakiri kamikaze geisha samurai.

  7. Jason said

    No, Bender, I surely wouldn’t brand you as a geisha nor samurai. And I don’t think anybody would brand Japanese as “bent on re-conquering Asia”. Japan’s already tried that and they’re smart enough to realize the error of their past imperialist ways.

  8. Aki said

    Camphortree’s comment reminds me of a friend of mine who passed away about a decade ago. He was married to a Taiwanese woman and used to tell me how much he was surprised to be given a warm welcome from elderly Taiwanese people who spoke fluent Japanese when he visited his wife’s hometown.

    The video clip below also shows an elderly Taiwanese woman who have fond memories of her childhood as a Japanese.

  9. Bender said

    The question is, is your country smart enough? Maybe you can kindly reveal us your country, and I can do a quick research on how many hate-crimes there are.

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