Recently I have read a book edited by Bernard Silberman: Japan in Crisis: Essays on Taisho Democracy. (Princeton University Press, 1970). The following is my reading note:
Ch. 1 (introduction): presents a view of what ended with the Meiji, and how this ending might have affected the spiritual life of Imperial Japan (5). It also points out the intellectuals’ quiet response on the imprisonment and subsequent execution of Kotoku Shusui.
Ch. 7: it touches on the bureaucratic role in Japan: bureaucrats created a highly centralized state. Bureaucrats spread into every aspect of Japanese life (183). In 1900 political party recruited ex-bureaucrats became characteristic of Japanese political life (183) .The essay analysis data concerning the presence and absence of key Weberian legal-rational norms regarding role allocation. It shows the bureaucratic development and its role in the political development in the period. There was an unrestricted development of legal-rational bureaucratic role norm. Bureaucratic career was protected. (214) This impeded the development of a stable political system. High levels of political development were not possible.
Ch.8: Taisho democracy was the pre-stage for Japanese militarism. Taisho period had two distinct periods: 1918-1920s was Taisho democracy; 1930s to 1945 was militarism. Yet throughout the two periods, there was no change in the Meiji constitution. The thesis of the chapter was to explain why there was liberalization in the 1920s, and how this led to aggressive imperialism (218).
In the 1920s there was no change in the society, the social norms was still traditional (231). The grass roots accepted the militarization of the whole state by the imperial army (232). During the 1930s the frustrated young military officers repeatedly attempted to stage coups. All coups failed but succeeded to intimidate the establishment that would shift the policy towards a military garrison state (233). The cause of liberation in Taisho was the WWI boom etc. But a failure to bring in fundamental change in the relationship between political part and the bureaucrats allowed the disappearance of democracy due to the inability to solve social problems. (236).
Ch.9: it touches on the failure of economic expansion. All along in Japan there was a wish to perform economic expansion, including during the Taisho period (237). Japanese business called for the creation of markets, and sources of supply from abroad by means of active emigration, colonization and trade protectionism; and by this Japanese would become world citizens (238). In Japanese’s mind this economic expansion could be achieved either by force or by peaceful means. When their approach by peaceful means was checked by US and China (in their perception) (the nation changed their foreign policy and opted for a fight (267-9).
Ch. 10: it was about a new Asian order. This essay focuses on the political and ideological process that produced the concept of a New Asian order and the Co-prosperity sphere (271). In 1938, by November Prince Konoe proclaimed that the China Incident was about the building of a New Asian order. By December 1940, the Cabinet Information Board stated that the Great Asia Co-prosperity Sphere now comprised the South sea region, Manchuria and China. The chapter concludes that the roots of the New Asian order lied deep in the psyche of Japanese nationalism aiming at a drive to be free and independent from the dictates of the major Occidental powers.
Ch.11- It was about the Japanese economy 1911-1930. The main purpose of this essay was to shed light on an aspect of the Taisho economy, in an effort to rectify the neglect this period had suffered (300). Mainly it talks about the rise of the zaibatsu power and its implication. The essay concludes that the industrialization during the Meiji contained the seeds of the development in the Taisho years. The dual structure, oligopolization etc. increased the disparity in wealth distribution. All social and political unrests were linked to them (328).
Ch.12: It was about agriculture and its problems. It suggests that human activities in Taiwan, Korea during the colonial rule were neglected by researchers due to the guilt, shame it may lead to (329). This essay examines the successful agricultural and economic aspect of Japan’s colonial experience. The chapter performs a comparative study on Japan, Taiwan and Korea. It shows that Japanese raised the growth rates of agricultural production in the colonies higher than in Japan (330). Measured by growth rate, the development in Taiwan and Korea was tremendous. There were 12 reasons for that (369). Three reasons made the development in colonies better then in Japan were: dedication of the government to do it, previous experience of the government, and c. prior low productivity in the colonies.
Ch. 13: It was about the origins of the Tenant unrest during the Taisho period. It suggests that to examine the origin of the tenant unrest was essential to understand the social dislocation that accompanied with the modernization in Japan. The number of disputes increased rapidly after WWI. Tenant who once contented to make individual rent agreement with their landlord now insisted on collective bargaining. The essay refutes the idea that the chief cause of the unrest was high rent (374). The essay concludes that the unrest had two reasons: economic growth and changes among landlords. Prosperity gave the tenant the economic ability to engage disputes to fulfill their expectation on better standing of living. It was also due to the failure of the landlords to perform the time-honoured and useful function in rural society (absentee landlords) which justified their superior status.
Chapter 15 (conclusion)
a. The Taisho period provided a conceptual framework that could have two main themes: a. the turn of the century was seen as representing a new state in the development of modernity; b. the major features of modernizing process were the emergency of democratic institutions, and the development of social, economic and political contractions. Up to the 1970, there was a belief that an analysis of the contradiction would reveal the reasons for the failure of democracy in Japan. The same theme assumed that the failure of democracy symbolized the persistence of unique traditional norms and values (437).
b. Both Marxist and non-Marxists shared an assumption that the persisting traditional and feudal value was the main impediment to the rational development in the creation of a modern state. The book refuted their argument (438).
c. This book wants to go beyond these traditional value assumptions. The approach was for individual scholars to write about Taisho on a specific topic. The editor found some shared theme and agreement among them. Together the essays suggested that Taisho experience was more than a battleground for conflicts generated by modernization (438).
d. On one level the book allowed us to view Taisho as more than a transitional period from traditional to modern society (439). There were a number of themes common in the essays: there was a possibility that Taisho history and development were not only characterized by tension, but was the consequence of tension due to the transformation.
e. Yet conflict was the main theme. It was the marketplace of the assumption, whether internal tension or international disagreement, was responsible for generating the conflicts (439).
f. Chapter 13 and 14 showed that conflict was generated by expectations, which reflected an underlying belief about the nature of society and the kind of rewards due, held in the Taisho period was different from the belief held in early Meiji period (440). In Taisho period, tenants and workers demanded the right to bargain as an organized group, and the right to participate in deciding economic rewards. This reflected men’s belief that trying to get a fare share was a product of conscious self-determination (440).
g. On the other hand, the landlords and factory owners rejected tenants and workers’ demand not based on the belief of the validity of natural moral traditional relationship. It was due to their conception that their relation with tenants and workers was based on a marketplace conception, believing that legal possession of land gave owners the right to determine the division of profits on a contractual basic (440-1).
h. Therefore it was wrong to say that conflicts were due to the crash of traditional expectations with demand for modernity (441). It was a conflict of expectation arising from a growing awareness to pursuit economic freedom and the reality that the pursuit was denied (441).
i. It was the consciousness of the arbitrariness of the Meiji orthodoxy that proletarian writers started a search for a universal of moral behaviour that could transform the public order (442). Their ideological commitment was generated by the belief that the society was in no way related to a natural order. They saw the bureaucracy’s political orthodoxy as arbitrary (442). Ideologues rejected politics as corrupt; politics was a marketplace where men without moral conviction sought to impose their will. Meiji leaders destroyed the Confucian paradigm of natural order that was organizing the society, substituting it with the Imperial will as the rule for public order (443).
j. The dilemma of modern secular society was the problem of freedom and order (443).
k. The Imperial will was also used to direct Japan’s foreign policy in search for a great power status based on a world view that emerged out of the Restoration. (443). It was the conception of autonomy, freedom from the past and natural order that made Japanese leaders to grasp the conception of sovereignty as the basic criterion for determining nation interest (443). Japan’s autonomy was a basic condition to achieve a legitimate international order to ensure Japan’s equality with other world powers, such as using the Great Asia Co-prosperity Sphere (444).
l. Ch.11 and 12 were about new information on the economic development. It reveals that Japan’s economic development choice was made based on their desire to maintain equality with the great powers (445). Japan was willing to trade off social tension for economic growth and empire maintenance (445). As such, the Pacific war was not the consequence of failure of democracy, nor the result of international contradiction, but Japan’s vision that the Imperial will and nation were synonymous, the autonomy had to be insured internationally (445).
m. If conflict was one theme of the essays, the ubiquitousness and omnipresence of the bureaucracy was the other. It appeared to be a monolithic structure. This was reflected in two aspects: its autonomy and its rationality. Autonomy derived from its role as servant of the Emperor. It was the direct extension of the Emperorial view and national interests (447). Political party could not impair the bureaucratic autonomy (448). The second characteristic of bureaucracy’s charismatic role was the commitment to law and rules. The political parties in Taisho period failed because they were part of the bureaucratic establishment and ideology.
n. The Taisho liberation was reflected in the emergency of legal-rationality, as the focus in nearly every aspect of life in Japan (449). The law not only controlled politics, but also family lives. The penetration of bureaucratic rationality provided an exposure to secular rational marketplace conception of society, and thus created a belief that there was a promise for self-determination (450). Yet people found that promise was denied by the arbitrary control on social life.
o. Secular voluntaristic conceptions of society were the hallmark of modernity, and Japan had that in 1900. That secular notion was not a product of industrialization. It was due to the appeal for higher moral authority: the Imperial will – that open a Pandora’s Box. The appeal to higher moral authority created the potential for anarchy (people for self-interest); it also revealed the arbitrary of political, economic, and social arrangement, showing that there was no natural order. Men were free to organize the society.
p. In the political market place the reward was an appointment to a bureaucratic office. In the economic market the reward was wealth, all come from the Emperor as a gift (452).