Paul Lafargue

The Chino-Japanese War


From Justice, 1 June 1895.
Translated from La Petite République.
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The governments of all the capitalist countries are much concerned with the treaty of peace which concludes the war between China and Japan. All of them want to prevent Japan from reaping the results of her victories. Russia, France and Germany are united to tear to pieces the treaty of Simono-Saki just as the treaty of San Stephano was torn to pieces by England, Austria and Germany.

The trouble into which the European nations have been thrown by the events which have unrolled themselves in the extreme East and in countries almost unknown in the last century indicates that we are in the presence of phenomena of extraordinary import. In short, the Chino-Japanese war, and the International Socialist movement are two of the most important events of the latter half of this century. Both are preparing the destruction of capitalist society.

When thirty or forty years ago, China and Japan sent their young men to England to study the arts and sciences of Western civilisation, they were received with interest and curiosity. These little yellow beardless men, with lithe limbs, placid gestures and a delicate nature were taken for some rare specimens of an inferior human race; there was a touch of scornful pity in the cordial welcome with which they were received – a sentiment analogous to that with which the Red men of America were received in England and France in the eighteenth century.

Out of sympathy for these good-natured yellow men their artistic productions became the fashion. Japanism was for a short time a mania among the refined and “select” souls of England and France: laques, cabinets, porcelain and pictures of Chinese and Japanese design were eagerly purchased.

People were surprised to find in the Chinese and Japanese instructed by Europeans a bright and subtle intelligence, and an extraordinary capacity for making themselves masters of the science and arts of the West. But no importance was attached to these facts. The secular immobility of China was well known, and it was imagined that the Oriental peoples would remain plunged in the same social lethargy; people would admire the Europeanised Japanese and Chinese, but would think that their new mental acquisitions were only skin deep, and that when they returned to their native lands, they would fall back again into their old semi-barbarity; they were compared to young ourang-outangs, gentle and teachable, in whom the ancestral savagery would come to the front when they arrived at maturity.

China remained closed to outside influences, and her children, returning to their mother country, were encompassed by ancient routine and ceremony; but it was not the same with Japan, who introduced Europeans and Americans to implant the sciences, the industries, and the military organisation of capitalist civilisation in the heart of the country.

Japan, with a marvellous rapidity, in a few years modified her industries, adopted mechanical tools and appliances, accomplished a political revolution, introduced a feudal milicia an attenuated copy of the Parliamentary régime, organised, equipped, and armed in a European fashion her army and fleet. Without a shadow of doubt the engineers, the literati, the industrial organisers, and the officials who had participated in this sudden transformation, understood the situation; but Europe, on the whole, was in ignorance of these singular events which were passing in Japan, when out broke the war.

People pitied this little nation for having the hardiness to attack the Chinese giant, but that opinion was soon changed. the Japanese fleet blocked the Chinese ports, and her armies, with victory after victory, marched on Pekin, which city, at the commencement of the war, was preparing to celebrate the birthday of the Dowager-Empress. The civilised nations then understood that in the extreme East there had arisen a great power which would dominate the Pacific, and whose vassal China would become unless she took immediate steps to pull herself together.

Everybody rejoiced at the defeat of the Chinese. Her ports would be opened, and an immense market, quite as important as that of all Africa, would be at the disposal of European industry; the Lyons Chamber of Commerce proposed to send over a mission, profits to the extent of millions danced before the delighted eyes of the manufacturers. Their intoxication made them lose sight of the fact that Japan would demand her share of the Chinese cake, and that she would prepare to industrially conquer China after having militarily invaded it.

This disillusion arrived when the public clauses of the treaty of Simono-Saki were known. Japan placed her feet on the continent, the possession of the islands which assured her the supremacy of the Chinese Seas, and imposed her machines and industries on the vanquished nation. If she did not want to annex it, she at least wanted to make sure that she should exploit it.

It is true that, to make a show of magnanimity Japan demands the admission of Europeans; she is convinced that her industrial products will reduce them to powerlessness, and that she can oust them without difficulty. In short, how can European and American industries compete with products manufactured on the spot, with the most improved machinery, and with workers paid at a ridiculously low wage? At first iron, machines, and a few other articles will be wanted in large quantities, but in a short time these products will be driven out by those manufactured in Japan and China herself.

There is also another consequence. In the United States and Australia the Chinese have been imported to lower the wages of the workers. A dozen years ago the Society of Political Economy at Paris discussed the necessity of their introduction into Europe. This philanthropic prayer of the official economists may be realised; hundreds of thousands, even millions, of these emigrants may crowd into the ports of the littoral as soon as the economic revolution will begin in China. But before the coolies will arrive, the commodities of China and Japan in Europe will, by the shock of their low price and great quantity, cause an industrial downfall, just as there was an agricultural disaster caused by the grain from India, Australia and the United States invading the European market.

Russia, flanked by Germany and France, sinking their patriotic quarrels for the sake of their commercial interests, has endeavoured to modify certain clauses of the treaty of Simono-Saki; but the coalition of the whole of the European powers will be powerless to arrest the course of events let loose by the Chino-Japanese war.

This war will precipitate the crisis in which capitalist society is struggling.


Last updated on 5.1.2004