Chinese Whispers

Japan’s role in the making of modern China

49 min listen

In This Episode

Just before Christmas, it was reported that the billionaire Jack Ma had moved to Tokyo after getting into trouble with the Chinese authorities. If he’s still living there, he’d be one of several well known Chinese who seems to have made Japan their home after run ins with Beijing.

In so doing, they’re following in the footsteps of those who came over a century ago – other Chinese exiles who holed out in Japan because of a hostile political environment back home.

This episode is all about how important it was that Japan served as a safe haven for these exiles – both reformers and revolutionaries – at the turn of the 20th century. That would later contribute to the establishment of a Chinese national identity and even the creation of the Chinese republic itself. It turns out that Japan was not only an aggressor against modern China, but an inspiration for it.

On this episode, I’m joined by the Professor Rana Mitter from the University of Oxford and Bill Hayton, a journalist and author of The Invention Of China.

[Pictured: Sun Yat-sen with Japanese film producer Umeya Shokichi and wife, who helped fund Sun’s activities]

1839 – 1842 – First opium war
1856 – 1860 – Second opium war
1868 – The ‘Meiji Restoration’ begins in Japan
1877 – The first Qing delegation arrives in Tokyo, including diplomat Huang Zunxian.
1894/95 – The Sino-Japanese war. China’s defeat results in Taiwan being ceded to Japan as a colony.
1898 – The ‘Hundred Days Reform’, a failed attempt by the Emperor Guangxu and allies (including Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei and Huang Zunxian) to constitutionalise the Qing dynasty. It was quashed by the Empress Cixi.
1899 – 1901 – The Boxer Rebellion, a peasant movement against foreign forces in China and endorsed by the Qing dynasty. It ends in defeat and an influx of Chinese students are sent to Japan as a part of Qing indemnities.
1911 – The last emperor abdicates and the Republic of China is formed.

Further listening:
Jing Tsu on the Chinese language revolution.
Bill Hayton on ‘The Invention Of China’.
Dylan Levi Thomas on modern China’s psyche surrounding Japan.


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