Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fukoku Kyohei: The Slogan that Defined Meiji Japan

Industrialization allowed Japan to attain modern weapons for its defense and military campaigns
It was a slogan that summed up the ideals of the Meiji Era. Fukoku Kyohei, meaning Enriching the Country, strengthen the army or Rich Country, Strong Army, became the principle that led to the modernization and transformation of Japan.

The Fukoku Kyohei slogan traced its roots as far back as 200 BCE, and not in Japan, but in China. In China, the slogan became known as Fuguo Qiangbing. Two history books: the Zhan Guo Ce or the Strategies of Warring States and the Shi Ji or the Records of the Grand Historian. Both books concerned with the chaotic era known as the Warring States Period, which happened from the 5th to 3rd century. In Zhan Guo Ce, it stated: “He who wishes to make his soldiers powerful exerts himself to enrich his people.” Chinese officials promoted the strengthening and improving of the economy, or at least agriculture and commerce because they saw it as the key to a stronger military force. Shang Yang, a statesman from the state of Qin during the 4th century, argued: "A sage knows what is essential in administrating a country, and so he induces the people to devote their attention to agriculture. It their attention is devoted to agriculture, then they will be simple, and being simple, they may be made correct. Being perplexed, it will be easy to direct them; being trustworthy, they may be used for defense and warfare.” From China the idea went to Japan and endured in time.

No one knew who coined the slogan in the Meiji government but it embodied what Japan needed in the latter half of the 19th century. Japan during those days was in a dangerous situation. Its existence as an independent state was threatened by Western imperialism dominating Asia. The biggest Asian country, China, had been humiliated and dismembered by western countries. Much of imperialism’s progress came as a result of the technological and economic progress that the United States and Europe experienced under the Industrial Revolution. Japan had a taste of western military might and assertiveness in 1858 when an American squadron of warships under Commodore Mathew Perry forced the Tokugawa Shogunate to open its ports to world trade. When the Tokugawa Shogunate fell and the Meiji era began in 1868, Fukoku Kyohei embodied what Japan needed at that time: Japan had to be rich in order to have a strong army to defend itself.

Fukoku Kyohei moved the Meiji government. In 1868, upon the restoration of imperial authority, the Charter Oath or the Five Articles of Oath had been issued by the Emperor. Its fifth article mentioned: Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule. It showed Japan’s willingness to learn from the world in order to strengthen its sovereignty. And so it send the Iwakura Mission to learn about everything from the west and applying what they saw fit and suitable for Japan’s situation. And upon returning in 1873, Japan began the process of enriching the nation by supporting its industrialization, modernizing its government, education, and military, and westernizing its society. They believed that if Japan followed the path of western countries, it will achieved the military capability that the west had.

Throughout the 1870’s up to the first decade of the 1900’s, Japan underwent the process of making Japan rich. It supported very much on its own. Much of its revenue came from land taxes collected from farmers. Modern entrepreneurial skills came from local conglomerates that later called as Zaibatsus. In all of this, Japan wanted to be independent in its venture. It did relied very little on foreign technical assistance and it did not want to borrow money from foreign countries. Such as the case in 1880 when Japan entered a period of an economic recession. Finance Minister Okuma Shigenobu proposed the use of foreign loans to rescue the government from total bankruptcy. Because of his sacrilegious-like proposal, Okuma found himself out of office and replaced by Matsukata Masayoshi who launched a deflationary policy and financial retrenchment to balance the government budget and place Japan’s process of enrichment in a more stable and stronger financial standing.

Indeed, Japan’s enrichment led eventually to a stronger military force. With their money from the economy, Japan was able to modernize its military. It purchased new weapons, from new riffles to new warships. Japan was able to send officers abroad to study western military arts. It was also was able to hire some foreign experts to train the military.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the Meiji Era’s Fukoku Kyohei appeared in Japan’s first major war. In 1894 up to 1895, Japan fought China in the Sino-Japanese War. Japan showed its new and modern military capability in the field of Korea against Chinese troops. In the end of the war, Japan received new territories and rights from China under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. It won the recognition of western countries and they began to see Japan as an equal nation. A decade later, Japan fought a familiar western power of Russia. With its brilliant admirals and modern ships, Japan scored great naval victories causing a huge blow in the prestige of Russia and cemented Japan as major power, at least in Asia.

By the end of the Meiji Era, Japan had become a powerful and wealthy nation. It had achieved and by then embody the slogan Fukoku Kyohei - Rich Country, Strong Army.

See also:

Holcombe, Charles. The Genesis of East Asia: 221 BCE – AD 907. Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.

Fairbank, John et. al. East Asia: Tradition and Transformation. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973.

“VOL 3 CH’IN I.” Records of the Warring States. Accessed on May 20, 2015.

“Shang Jun Shu.” Chinese Text Project. Accessed on May 20, 2015.

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