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Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Historical Look At Japan - China Battles - Part I

So... just what is about Japan that gets them all squirrely? And what is it about China (or the rest of Asia) that gets Japan's panties in a such a bunch that it looks like they have a letter in their mail slot?

It's history!

It's not just about a few stupid islands in the south, but it is... but it's more than that.

Never Start A Land War In Asia. It's my favorite line from the classic movie, The Princess Bride, that I must admit I first watched in Japan back in 1990 with my then girlfriend Ashley. I have it on PVR right now, and am trying to get my son interested in watching it with me, but the name of the movie freaks him out making him think it's a chick flick - much the same way I thought it was when Ashley stood dumfounded when I told her I had never seen the movie.

It's NOT a chick flick, but is an incredibly entertaining movie that I will watch - regardless of where I happen to spot it on TV - half over, 10 minutes left or right at the beginning. I'll watch it. It's a Ferris Bueller or Miss Congeniality for me. Hey... I think that scene when Sandra Bullock walks out looking like a major babe before throwing a shoe is the most. A sexy woman with a sense of humor... there is nothing hotter.

But back to China and Japan.

There is a long history of respect, love and hate between these two countries.

While I will detail a bit of it below, the current state of affairs can be traced all the way back to just before Japan opened up her international borders to the US and Europeans about 160 years ago.

Actually, what really affected Japan's future history from the 1850s onward was its view on China, and how China was impacted by European economics... that and opium.

Japan did not want to end up as a drug-addled slave to European demands as an opium den for dragon riders, and as such, when it was forced to open up its doors to western curiosity, Japan began to familiarize itself with European weaponry and armed itself to become the Far East's bad boy of Asia.

It was the perceived weakness of China in its attempts to handle Europe that Japan figured it could waltz in and take over China.

I'm over-simplifying things a bit, but the China of the 19th century and early 20th century was a weak-sister to the China of the 21st century, that is without a doubt one of the top superpowers ever. You know… whomever has the most nuclear toys, wins?

Anyhow... first a little bit of background.

China and Japan are geographically separated by a narrow stretch of the Pacific ocean.

China has strongly influenced Japan with its writing system, architecture, culture, religion, philosophy, and law.

China became a unified country for the first time in over a century during the Sui Dynasty of 581AD - 618AD. The Sui Dynasty was followed by the Tang Dynasty (618AD - 907AD), which was regarded as the golden era of Chinese civilization.

After the fall of the Korean Kingdom of Baekje in 663AD—which was a close ally of Japan—Japan began to actively seek to placate the Chinese. Why? Because Baekje was defeated by an alliance of another Korean Kingdom, the Silla, and China's Tang Dynasty. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

It was difficult for Japan, because it had actually fought in the battles against the Chinese in an effort to help the Korean Baekje Kingdom, with Yamato Japan having sent some 30,000 troops and ships.

However, because about 300 sea ships from Yamato Japan were destroyed by the Korean Silla and Tang China team, much of the proposed troops never actually made it onto land to fight on behalf of the Korean Baekje Kingdom.

This was essentially Japan's first battle against China. China won. Sort of.

The Silla eventually united most of Korea... and then kicked out the Tang Chinese from its lands (now known as the Korean Peninsula)—sometime around 668AD.

With Japan's Korean Baekje ally gone, Japan sought to ally itself with China (also with out a Korean ally), by sending students as emissaries to China to help Yamato Japan establish its own legitimacy as a sovereign nation.

As difficult as it was, the students as emissaries did what was asked of them, and brought back Buddhist teachings (which had originally come to China from India). They also brought back to Japan Chinese customs, culture, bureaucracy, architecture and city planning.

The same goes with the style of dress. The kimono - if ever there was an icon of Japan - was also brought back from China, as it was something the peoples of the Tang Dynasty wore, though over the years, it was adapted to become something more uniquely Japanese.

Did you know that Japan's capital city of Kyoto was also planned according to Feng Shui elements from the Chinese capital of Chang'an.

However, despite the Chinese influence, Japan was not the type of country to simply emulate China. It wanted the best that China could offer and then make it something better (in their opinion)... something Japanese.... such as when the Chinese style of Imperial government fell out of favor and was replaced with Japanese clan and family rivalries. I have no idea how that is better.

Thanks to an exodus of Baekje loyalists from Korea to Japan, Yamato Japan gained skills regarding sea travel and boat building... two things that could have actually helped Baekje.

Because of this, Yamato Japan could now better travel to China for trade, though the Chinese Ming Dynasty said that the Japanese could only land and trade at the port of Ningbo, which is still around in 2013 and is one of China's oldest cities.

Eventually, relations improved, and Japan was allowed to venture to other Chinese cities.

Anyhow... while Japan HAD traded with Korea up until the losing war against the Silla, it had also used the Southern islands of the Ryukyu Kingdom (the Ryukyu Islands) as a place to stop-over and trade, where they would purchase fine porcelain, sandalwood, tea and silk.

I should state that the Chinese also would visit these areas... the Koreans too. In fact, all would visit the Ryukyu Kingdom Islands, as well as Kyushu, which was still not a part of Japan. As a result, these ares have a mish-mash of Asian cultures.
Japanese samurai boarding Yuan ships in 1281.
Now... China and Japan did have other battles after that first Korean conflict, because Japan has always been an aggressive nation - despite a plethora of poems about cherry blossoms. They would rape, pillage and kill and then pluck the strings of a koto while crooning about cherry blossom wafting in the light of the waxing moon. Yes... historically, Japan is a screwy country.

Until the Shogun era of Japan, the so-called Edo-era (also known as the Tokugawa period (徳川時代, Tokugawa-jidai) of 1603 and 1867, Japan was constantly at war with each other in various civil wars (war is rarely civil)... while the empires of the Mongols, China and Korea enjoyed peace, prosperity and wealth.

Another China-Japan battle occurred during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592-1598.

Led byToyotomi Hideyoshi (one of three unifiers of Japan, including Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu) were the others, Hideyoshi thought he should conquer China... but to do so, he needed to cross Korea.

Well, because Korea refused to let his army pass, what the hell, Hideyoshi decided to first attack Korea.

Japan first took a lot of victories in Korea, but by 1593 (one year later), after having its supply lines cut off by Korea's still superior navy, Japan realized it would not be able to continue, and retreated back to a few towns it still controlled in Korea. China helped Korea during this battle

Japanese samurai attacking a Mongol ship, 13th century.
Between 1593 and 1597, a truce was declared.

China's Ming Dynasty gave Hideyoshi the title as "King of Japan" as withdrawal conditions, but Hideyoshi felt that being called a 'king' was an insult to Japan's real leader, the Emperor of Japan, and as such demanded many other concessions, including the hand of the daughter of the Wanli emperor. The Wanli emperor was the 13th emperor (1563-1620) during the Ming Dynasty

This made everyone mad, and a second invasion by Japan against Korea ensued so they could get across at China... but this time the combined forces of China and Korea were better-prepared for war and eventually drove the Japanese out of their lands.

The end result - a loss for Japan, but Korean cities were destroyed (Japan also thought it would be good to slaughter all Korean citizens as it took each Korean city - a smart, but vicious ploy, because you never knew when the defeated would try and turn on the would-be Japanese conquerors) and China's Ming Dynasty coffers were drained.

With next to zero funds available, The Ming Dynasty government could not repel the Manchu, who would soon take over and begin the Qing Dynasty in 1644.

By 1633 with Japan's military-led Tokugawa Shogun ruled, trade with Japan was shut down - as it was with every other country on the planet - except for a trading post of two with the Dutch.

Japan's isolationist policy was enacted, but, there was still some trading for Chinese goods by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma-ken via the Ryukyu Islands.

In fact... it was long until the 20th century that real trading between China and Japan picked up again.

Let's stop right here for now... we'll conclude tomorrow with Japan opening its borders to the world via the Perry Expeditions of the 1850s... and what that meant for poor, poor China and ultimately what it meant to Japan in 2013.

Andrew Joseph

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