Failing to gauge the real strength of China
Kwantung Army Staff Officer Kanji Ishihara who masterminded the Manchurian Incident stated: “I doubt the Chinese can create a modern country—I believe the Han race will be happier to wait for its natural development under Japan’s maintenance of peace and order.” He believed the Han people would be happier under Japanese occupation.
However, historically, China was a civilized country and a model for Japan. The fact that China was defeated by Britain in the First Opium War in the 1840s shocked Japan and encouraged it to shift its model from China to the West. Meiji Era philosopher Yukichi Fukuzawa’s “datsua-nyuo” (leaving Asia and entering Europe) theory was one good example of this shift.
In addition, the victory in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 damaged the image of China as a leading country. Politician Yukio Ozaki commented that the Japanese people suddenly became “arrogant instead of lacking confidence as in the past. [The Japanese people] then showed little interest in China and Korea, the countries Japan used to admire as her teachers. They began to use insulting words such as yobo and chankoro.”
How did China watchers react?
Toichi Sasaki, a leading China watcher in the Imperial Japanese Army, who sympathized with the 1911 Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen and others is one example. According to an expert, Sasaki and others “expected to create a stable alliance between Japan and China, if China was unified through the revolution,” though this turned out to be “one-sided speculation.” They eventually regarded China’s anti-Japanese movement as a “betrayal.”
What was the Foreign Ministry doing? “The China service [working in China]...was relatively unimportant. The mainstream service was traditionally to be found in London, Paris, Berlin or Washington and New York.” For diplomats, being assigned to China meant being consigned to a political backwater.
After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Bureau chief Itaro Ishii, one of the China watchers, wrote in his diary on August 21, 1937: “Japan found a formidable opponent in China, the country it had underestimated...China, which it had viewed as a dog, now emerges as a wolf.” The Foreign Ministry therefore can be seen to have misread the power of China after the Manchurian Incident.