Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

Japan—Britain's Ally

"From East to West the circling word has passed,

Till West is East beside our land-locked blue;

From East to West the tested chain holds fast,

The well-forged link rings true."

— Kipling

O NCE thoroughly awakened, the island-empire of Japan made rapid strides in civilisation. Perhaps Count Ito's speech in 1872 to his American brothers across the seas, sums up the condition of affairs best.

"To-day," he cries, "it is the earnest wish of our people to strive for the highest points of civilisation enjoyed by more enlightened countries. Looking to this end, we have adopted their military, naval, scientific, and educational institutions, and knowledge has flowed to us freely in the wake of foreign commerce. While held in absolute obedience by despotic sovereigns, through many thousand years, our people knew no freedom or liberty of thought. By educating our women we hope to ensure greater intelligence in future generations. Railways are being built, telegraph wires are stretching over many hundred miles of our territory, and nearly 1000 miles will be completed within a few months. Lighthouses now line our coasts, and our ship-yards are active. Japan is anxious to press forward." And then he adds, with a burst of enthusiasm: "The red disc in the centre of our national flag shall no longer appear like a wafer over a sealed empire, but henceforth the whole emblem of the Rising Sun, moving onward and upward amid the enlightened nations of the world."

Gradually European ways and customs crept into Japan; European dress was adopted by the Emperor and his officials. The capital, Tokyo, formerly known as Yedo, the Estuary Gate, was rebuilt; and though it has been devastated by fire and earthquake, typhoon and flood, yet, to-day, it is the national centre of the Japanese Empire, alive with new schemes and undertakings. It is lit with electric light, united by telephone and telegraph, and connected by railway with the port of Yokohama. Gay in spring with her masses of plum and cherry blossoms, she is the largest town in Asia, and seventh in the world.

In the year 1893, the armed strength of Japan was put to the test. "As the cherry flower is first among flowers, so should the warrior be first among men," the Japanese used to say.

The peninsula of the Korea, had long been a sort of shuttlecock between China and Japan. It was independent of either, but one day, rumours reached the court of Japan, that China was preparing for an invasion. Notwithstanding Japan's remonstrances, she continued her preparations. Then came a day, when a Chinese man-of-war fired at a Japanese battle-ship, and the long simmering discontent between the two countries broke into open war.

On September 17, 1894, a naval engagement took place, in which the Japanese ships were so smartly handled by the Japanese officers, that the Chinese were out-manœuvred at all points. From noon to sunset, the thunder of the great guns rolled over the waters of Korea Bay, "proclaiming to an amazed world the birth of a new Far East." After that fierce sea-fight, the Chinese ships escaped to Port Arthur: the sea-supremacy of Japan was established. Entering Manchuria, the Japanese land forces took the strong naval station of Port Arthur—to-day the terminus of the great Trans-Siberian railway. Then the port of Wei-hai-wei, 100 miles to the south-east, yielded to Japan, and the colossal empire of China was obliged to sue for peace to little Japan, one-fourth her size. She had thus swept the Chinese hordes from the Korea and Manchuria, driven the Chinese ships from the sea, and captured their two most important ports.

Every European country was loud in praise of Japanese methods, the discipline of Japanese men, the scientific warfare of Japanese officers, and the newly acquired patriotism of all.

An old Japanese lady, whose husband, brother, and sons had all been killed in the war, received the successive tidings with stoical calm, until the news came of the death of her youngest son, also in defence of his country. Then at last the poor mother burst into tears.

"I weep," she sobbed pathetically, "because I have no one left, whom I can send out to die for our country." This was patriotism worthy an older civilisation than that of Japan.

For men, who had never fought before, the courage of the young soldiers was splendid. A young Japanese bugler was standing by his captain at one of the battles, when a bullet struck him in the chest. Though knowing himself to be mortally wounded, he continued to blow his bugle, till his breath failed and he fell back dead.

The boy's father had the courage of his son. "It is the lot of all men to die," he cried. "My son had to die some time. His mother and I rejoice that our son has been loyal to Japan, even to shedding his blood in defence of her honour."

In the treaty that followed the war between Japan and China, the nations of Europe intervened. Russia obtained Port Arthur, for the terminus of her great Trans-Siberian railway, together with interests in Manchuria; Germany took the port of Kiao-chow, with interests in the Hoang-ho valley; while Britain occupied Wei-hai-wei, and insisted on full freedom of trade with China.

But perhaps the final stage in the recognition of Japan, as one of the nations of the world, was accomplished in 1902, when a treaty of alliance was signed between her and Great Britain, whose mutual policy was to stay the advancing growth of Russia and keep China for the Chinese.

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