Notes: Episode 24, The Meiji Restoration (Part 2)

3:20 – For more on German unification in the 19th century, you can see my series with Dan McGinnis. The first episode can be found here.

25:30 – Oh, goodness. If you’re not at least passingly familiar with Marxism, this section might have gotten a little muddled, and for that I apologize. This is what can happen when two people trained in a discipline hold a conversation about it, especially when both have further links to political science – we start making some assumptions about knowledge the other has. It’s something I try to avoid on HI101, but here it couldn’t really be helped. The Cole’s notes on this is that in the classical model of Marxism in which history is a series of class struggles, the “bourgeoisie” is the social class (normally associated with the middle class, or merchant class, in the modern era) who is capable of creating wealth through means of production. In classical Marxism, the bourgeoisie exploit the “proletariat” (workers, or individuals who have nothing of value but their time and labor) in the pursuit of further wealth and control. Marx believed that the inevitable result of this was for the proletariat to rise against the oppressive bourgeoisie in revolution (“workers of the world unite”, “you have nothing to lose but your chains”, etc) which would lead to a society ruled by laborers that would transform into a communist and classless society that would spell the end of history (as it was earlier defined as struggle between classes). James is commenting on the inversion of the classical model where those generating wealth were oppressors; while the merchants of Edo Japan were generating and accumulating vast quantities of wealth economically, they were unable to leverage it for social or political privilege. If any of this piques your interest at all, you really should read the Communist Manifesto at some point – it’s short, and it’s free. Here’s one place you can find it. At this point in history it’s more a study in the state of mid-19th century industrialized Europe than a viable roadmap for a society, but Marxist theory shows up in enough places both in history and in other, less structured areas that it wouldn’t hurt to have a basic understanding of what exactly he was driving at.

27:00 – The most notable example of a corporation to grow out of this period is Mitsubishi, founded in 1870. It began as a shipping business, taking advantage of newly opened trade opportunities. It quickly expanded into coal mining to fuel its ships, steel and shipbuilding to maintain its fleet, and so on until it became an incredibly diverse corporation working in everything from the automotive sector to financial ventures, chemical engineering, oil, and Nikon, which is best known for its cameras and other optics work. Other examples include Kawasaki (shipping, 1896), Konica Minolta (photography, 1873), Sapporo (brewery, 1876), Seiko (jewelry and watches, 1881), Yamaha (pianos, 1887), and interestingly enough, Nintendo (playing cards, 1889). You’ll notice that most of these have either strayed from their original ventures, or incorporated a great many others around the original purpose.

37:51 – Also, the crew of a ship is made up of seamen, not sailors, as ships no longer have sails as a rule. All of my professors were quite insistent on the correct use of this word, and rightly so; however, there is no shame in giggling. Everyone takes a bit to numb to that particular homophone.

49:27 – These are, of course, Unfair Treaties in the tradition of those (like the Harris treaties and others) imposed on Japan and multiple other East Asian countries by Western powers throughout the 19th century, as discussed in part one of our Meiji Restoration discussion. They weren’t simply generically unfair, although they were that too.

55:00 – I learned after recording this episode that “Manchuria” is actually a rather incorrect term for the region. It’s convenient shorthand, and is rooted in its nature as the home of the Manchu ethnic group, but is not recognized by China or any of the residents of the region. In fact, the borders of Manchuria are rather fluid, depending on how they’re defined, since it’s an arbitrary region. One of the arguments against using the term is that it was invented by Westerners and latched onto by Japan; Japan especially favored it because intentionally or not, it made the region seem somewhat separate from the rest of China and therefore less of an issue when considered a target of invasion. Whether this was the intention of the inventors of the term is a matter of debate, but it certainly doesn’t lead to a widespread adoption by China. Because of context I think referring to it as Manchuria is at least useful in this show, though incorrect, but I wish I’d known this beforehand so we could have included it in the discussion.

57:18 – The fleet that saw the most action in the Sino-Japanese War, called the Beiyang Fleet, was constructed between 1871 and 1888, so the oldest ships would have been 23 years old at the outbreak of the conflict – really not that bad. It was also matched for number of ships against the Imperial Japanese Navy, which wasn’t much newer. Besides personnel, the biggest disadvantage of the fleet was apparently abysmal upkeep, which more or less matched conduct with the rest of the Chinese armed forces at this point in time.

58:13 – That sound was a high five.

58:51 – This would be General Aleksei Brusilov, whose offensive in the summer of 1916 is often considered the high point of the Russian effort in the First World War. There were certainly successful examples of combined arms warfare on the Western front by this point, but Brusilov’s effort was undeniably spectacular in its effectiveness and scope.

1:11:51 – I sort of just tossed this out there without much follow-up, but I thought it was worth addressing further in the notes. This was known as the Dogger Bank Incident, and nearly caused war between Britain and Russia. It’s easy to ridicule the Russian navy for thinking that a few dozen fishing boats were a Japanese fleet, but during this time there was a new threat to navies: the torpedo boat. Designed as a response to the ever-growing battleship, itself an evolution of the ship of the line, the torpedo boat was a small, fast boat carrying torpedoes. The idea was that they were too small and fast for the lumbering battleship and its enormous guns to hit, while even a single torpedo strike below the water line of a battleship could be disastrous. The torpedo boat destroyer class of ships (which would become the modern destroyer) had been developed, with smaller guns and faster speeds, but there was quite a bit of paranoia over the effectiveness of a small group of torpedo boats. This general paranoia coupled with Japan’s 1902 treaty with Britain had led to a number of reports that a small fleet of torpedo boats had been stationed in the North Sea waiting for the Russian fleet. Considering the United States navy had fired at rock formations they believed to be torpedo boats only six years before the Dogger Bank Incident, it’s actually quite reasonable for the Russian navy to believe a group of fishing boats to be a threat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *