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Japan's Empire and the Making of the East Asian Order: From the 1860s to the Cold War

Tutor: Oleg Benesch

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00060M

Credits: 20

After more than two centuries of self-imposed withdrawal from most interactions with the outside world, Japan was "opened" by American military and diplomatic pressure in the 1850s. The resulting turmoil culminated in the 1868 overthrow of the warrior-dominated shogunal government and the establishment of a new imperial state. The new government was only a few months old when it faced the first serious debates concerning possible military intervention in Korea and Japan's proper place in the international order. Between the late nineteenth century and 1945, Japan gained and lost a vast empire controlling Korea, Taiwan, and large swathes of China, in addition to many other territories in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.

This module examines the origins and development of the Japanese empire in East Asia, focusing on its very different manifestations in Korea, China, and Taiwan. It will look at the impact in East Asia of Western imperial and colonial models, as well as the influence of Social Darwinist ideas and racial theories on popular sentiment. The module will also consider the development and trajectory of pan-Asianism and changing perceptions of Japan in East Asia as the empire expanded.

This module further explores the immediate postwar legacy of the Japanese empire in the Cold War order in East Asia. Events that will be considered in this context include the Korean War, the birth of the People's Republic of China, and the establishment of Nationalis trule in Taiwan. Various primary sources will be used to examine the ways in which Japanese imperialism and colonialism - and reactions to these - shaped the modern history of East Asia and the wider world.

The seminar programme may include the following themes:

    • East Asian responses to the Opium Wars
    • Japan's drive to modernization
    • Korea between China and Japan
    • Pan-Asianism: dreams and disappointments
    • The Russo-Japanese War
    • Versailles and Wilson in East Asia
    • Characteristics of Japanese colonial rule
    • The development of the Korean Diaspora
    • The Cold War order in East Asia


Further reading   

  • Beasley, William G. Japanese Imperialism, 1894-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan from Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • Cumings, Bruce. Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.