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The Japanese Mission

ISSUE:  Summer 1938

Japan over Asia, By William Henry Chamberlin. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. $3.50. Children of the Rising Sun. By Willard Price. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, $3.00.

William henry chamberlin and Willard Price are American journalists who have lived in Japan and traveled in China and in other parts of continental Asia and the East Indies. Mr. Chamberlin’s “Japan over Asia” and Mr. Price’s “Children of the Rising Sun” have a common purpose, to reveal the underlying motives of Japanese foreign policy, to tell the story of recent applications of that policy, and to assay the economic and political system of Japan, the attitude of its people, and the prospects for the success of an imperial enterprise that Genghis Khan might have envied.

Mr. Chamberlin is the more cautious writer, the more inclined to cite authority, and the less impressed with the virtues of latter-day bushido. Mr. Price’s text has a stentorian ring, like that of a radio commentator. He recalls personal experiences in a Korean nunnery, on a Japanese farmlet, on an airplane en route to Manchoukuo, on an American plantation in Mindanao, and in other places, which add color to his exposition, giving it something of the quality of narrative. A reader may feel unworthily incredulous over the triangular affair between the geisha, the bandit, and the major, with its climax in a struggle between troops and banditti for the treasure in the author’s plane, but he will admit the authenticity of the drama.

While the two books are similarly planned, to a considerable extent they are complementary. Mr. Chamberlin is more interested in principles, programs, and statistics than in people; Mr. Price has little to say about governmental or industrial organization, a great deal about living conditions, social attitudes, training in morals, and national spirit. Mr.

Chamberlin is a third party, sympathetic but critical toward conflicting ideas and interests; Mr. Price speaks often through the characters he meets, and since the majority are Japanese, one gets a favorable impression of the Japanese point of view. Possibly through coincidence only, the Chinese teacher in Manchoukuo and the Korean nun, while critical of their Japanese overlords, appear to justify the overlordship by their revelations of evils that preceded it and benefits that followed. The bottomless pit of Korean hatred is not opened, and the contempt of the Japanese for their vassals receives no mention. In the old Korea “there was no justice to be had. Now there is, but the ignorant farmer does not know how to take advantage of it.” One asks why, after thirty years of justice, the people have not heard of it.

According to Mr. Chamberlin, population pressure, a sense of unfair treatment in respect to territories and raw materials, militarism in government, exalted nationalism, and Pan-Asianism are the impelling forces behind Japan’s urge to expansion. Among them he names none that is more important than others, and none that is not of actual significance. Mr. Price states the economic argument graphically: “Son-of-Two-Acres plows with a sword.” Of nationalism and Pan-Asianism, and indeed of cosmic ambition to rule, he writes: “Japan is impelled by a vision that is sometimes almost a frenzy. She sees herself with a role to play, not merely in Asia but in the world at large, second to that of no other nation on earth.” This author thinks it possible that Japan, combination of East and West, may eventually exercise great influence toward international accord. But he emphasizes to an unusual degree the present sense of a mission to save the world by making it Japanese.

Mr. Chamberlin’s description of Manchoukuo in “Japan over Asia” is valuable for its careful analysis of army control, trade and investment, reconstruction of cities, and colonization projects. He finds “no evidence to show that the new regime has won any enthusiastic loyalty in any part of the Manchoukuan population,” and thinks that stability-awaits extensive Japanese colonization or a “wider opening of the doors of political and economic opportunity” to the “Manchurians,” or both of these developments. He devotes a chapter to Russo-Japanese rivalries and concludes that odds would be even in a war between Japan and the Soviet Union, Japan’s technical inferiority being balanced by the Soviets’ more extended line of communications. Mr. Chamberlin regards a Russo-Japanese war as unlikely; Mr. Price suspects the Soviets of designs upon Manchuria; but his statement that “Russia well knows that Japan is not interested in pressing farther upward into inhospitable Siberia” is patently untrue.

In his discussion of Japan’s advance into China proper, Mr. Chamberlin makes the penetrating remark that “Japan has been most successful in assimilating the material gifts of the West, China the intellectual.” Beside it, the assertion of Mr. Price that “Japan is the one great nation openly, passionately receptive to all ideas from everywhere” is not a contradiction. Japan has been receptive but not assimilative. A warrior state has no time for philosophy. As Mr. Chamberlin says, the Japanese professor today is “very much of a scholar in uniform.” Japan has reacted rapidly to Western influences in the field of applied science, but she has kept the individual mentally regimented, a cog in the national machine. Mr. Chamberlin points to the advantage that Japan’s adaptability, in contrast with China’s intellectual conservatism, has given the former in its rise to industrial and military pre-eminence in the Orient. He raises very serious doubts of Japan’s ability to conquer China, and even graver ones of its capacity to maintain such a conquest. He predicts that, whether conquered or not, “China will continue its instinctive resistance to being changed under foreign direction. . . . The Chinese sand will never run in Jap-anese moulds.” Mr. Price comes to the same conclusion by a route more favorable to Japan. He is quite insensitive to the possible evil effects of the “discipline” which he expects Japan to administer to the Chinese. That, he thinks, is “good medicine.” But he sees that “when China shall have some day become nationally well-knit, a great law-governed driving force in world affairs, it is hardly probable that she will be philosophically thankful for the greatness thrust upon her by Japan.” China, he writes, “will rise.” The “Japanning” process will not have permanent effects. The lacquer “will fall away, but not before it has alchemically changed China, which will then stand forth alone, a thing of strength and beauty.”

Americans will do well to read thoughtfully the sections of these interesting volumes that deal with our interests in the western Pacific. Both writers oppose intervention in the Sino-Japanese conflict on the grounds that the stake is small and the military difficulties enormous. Mr. Chamberlin remarks that the future holds little promise for American trade with China, and that if an industrial China became one of our principal markets it would also, like Japan, become a major competitor. As for the Philippines, he believes that the responsibility of the United States should end with the Commonwealth period. Mr. Price makes a strong case for the invulnerability of Japan in its own waters. His discussion of Japanese industrial and commercial inroads into the Philippines and of the present perplexities of the Filipinos is the most substantial part of his book. He, like Mr. Chamberlin, sees the Islands inevitably passing into the imperial orbit of Japan.

For a brief and thoughtful explanation of Japan’s government and economic system it would be difficult to find a more admirable treatment than that in “Japan over Asia.” The author devotes nearly half the book to these subjects, describing the struggle between the supreme command and the business men—the “Lions and the Foxes”—for political power, the nature of Japanese fascism, the split personality of the people, due to conflicting mediaeval and Occidental ideas, the “permanent farm crisis,” and the trend toward a war economy. “Children of the Rising Sun” gives less attention to these topics, but Mr. Price’s lively discussion of family life, emperor worship, physical vigor, and contempt of death is needed to complete Mr. Chamberlin’s more conventional pattern. Both books are well illustrated and indexed.


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