China and Japan relationships

The relationship between Japan and China go back almost 2000 year. The first written testimony about the Japanese was written by Chinese who visited in Japan in the 2nd century B.C. A lot of water flowed in the relationship river of the Japanese and Chinese. For many years, it was clean water, but since 1894, mainly murky water.

The First Turn Around

In the historical sequence that exists between the two civilizations, it is possible to say the year 1868 is a key year. This year represents a turnaround milestone in the relationship between the two. Fluctuations in the relationships always took place but within a clear frame, China is the senior nation and Japan is the junior nation. Chinese teach, the Japanese learn; Chinese build, the Japanese imitate. Chinese in China, the Japanese send delegations to China. Not always the Japanese learn, not always they imitated them. You can say that most of the time the Japanese did not imitated the Chinese.

It was always hierarchical relationship and it was obvious to both sides who was superior and who was inferior.

The Japanese did not always seek them out. Nor did they always send delegations. But it was always a hierarchical relationship frame and it was obvious to both sides who was superior and who was inferior. Throughout history, there were some significant learning waves when the Japanese were influenced by the Chinese extensively.

The First Wave of Influence 

The first major wave took place from the fifth century to the seventh century AD. Here is a partial list of Chinese influence in the first wave:

  • Chinese writing system. Until then there was no writing system in  Japan
  • Adoption of Confucianism by the Japanese and creating a constitution influenced by Confucianism
  • Daoism, created in China, arrived to Japan
  • Adoption of Chinese calendar
  • Formal delegation from Japan to China (but not from China to Japan)
  • Construction of the Japanese capital during Nara period, according to the Chinese capital (at that time: Chang Ann
  • Japanese students and monks traveled to China to learn from the Chinese and later went back to Japan, sharing and implementing their knowledge
  • Teach of Buddhism – The Buddhism arrived from Korea but significant learning occurred when Japanese traveled to China to learn.

The nature of relationships

It was not about blindly copying from China but learning from the Chinese and adjusting to the Japanese culture, with relevant changes.

During the peak, the Chinese Empire was an attraction for many visitors, near and far.

Chinese were not always at their peak. The regular Chinese dynasties cycle consisted of taking over on the empire, establishment of the empire and the dynasty, corruption and decadence, declining of the empire, disappearance and back again with new dynasty. During the peak, the Chinese Empire was an attraction for many visitors, near and far. From the middle of the ninth century to the second half of the 13th century, there was almost no connection between Japan and China. In the 14th century the relationships renewed again for about 50 years with the rise of the new Ming dynasty. This type of relationships remained almost the same for 900 years. Japanese paid taxes to the Chinese Empire and the emperor of Japan called himself “subject of the Chinese emperor”.

When the relationships reached turning point

The Chinese influence continued and influenced the Shinto religion that had crystallized at the time. In the Mid-19th century, after nearly 200 years that Japan was almost completely closed to the outside world, flotilla of American cannon ships, headed by Commodore Matthew Perry, forced Japan to open its gates to the world and sign a trade agreement. The appearance of Commodore Matthew Perry shocked the rule of the Shogun and triggered a series of internal events which ended in 1868 with the “restoration of Meiji” that brought the military rule of Japan (reign of Shogun) to its end.

The power was returned to the Emperor. The Japanese watched carefully what happened around them – the British rule in India, the Opium wars in China accompanied by humiliation of the imperial rule, and the strength of the Western countries that was used to take over the East Asia countries and its resources. Japan could choose a confrontation with the western superpowers but they saw the results in China and it was not so tempting. Instead of that, the Japanese preferred to learn the secrets of the western power and build Japan accordingly.

An amazing process

China became a source of shame and rejection.

It was an amazing process, very quick and effective. Within only one generation, Japan managed to build a military power, similar in its level to the western superpowers. China, which for thousands of years has been a center of knowledge, learning and emulation and admiration for Japan, became a source of shame and rejection. The Japanese felt shameful to be identified with China and asked for themselves a different object of identification, the Western powers: France, Germany, Russia, USA, United Kingdom.

First confident, second violent

When Japan felt confident enough, they initiated warning in 1894 against China. The trigger was the control over Korea. The world that expected to see the giant Chinese crushing the dwarf Japanese, was completely surprised to see the Japanese beat the Chines and start a new era in East Asia. From that time, the Japanese appetite just grew more and more. Another successful war lunched against Russia, this time over Manchuria. Alliances with western countries continued crawling into Manchuria, where Japan, an under-resourced country, saw its future territorial area for development and expansion.

In 1931, Japan invaded China and established rule of dolls in Manchuria; the new state was called Manchuko but this was not the end, Japan submitted to China a list of exploitative claims, and China, torn in internal civil war, was humiliated to the ground.

In 1937, Japan invaded the eastern side of China and sink into 8 years of war (till the end of world war II), incapable to crack them down because of the huge territorial area and Chinese army (both communists and nationalistic) that fought back and caused heavy losses to the Japanese.

One horrific event which occurred in December 1937, remains as disgrace. Japanese carried out a barbarian massacre, cruel and without any restraints in the city of Nanking. The massacre lasted about six weeks and during this time hundreds of thousands of Chinese were murdered brutally in different types of ways; tens of thousands of women were raped and many were murdered after the rape.

Japan never admitted officially or acknowledged its responsibility for this. The Massacre of Nanking is still attending today’s relationship between Japan and China. Until today, the Chinese remember this terrible event, and it makes them feel disgusted with the Japanese.

It took a very long way for the Japanese to move from the place of subjects, juniors, and tax payers to the Chinese, to a place of conquerors and killers of the Chinese.
And it took very long way for the Chinese to move from a place the great Empire, strong, central, senior country which is center of interest for visitors from all around the world, to a place where it was trampled to the ground by those who were considered inferior to them and it’s international position is descending

The deterioration in China’s status in regards to Japan was dramatic.
1868 was a key year for Japan and it can symbolize the positive change in Japan’s position trend. In the same way, 2017 can be considered a key year in the reverse change in China’s international position, mainly in comparison to the Japanese.

Japan, disturbed for years already by the constant rising of the Chinese giant, signed contracts with allies, increased its military power, and tried to lead opposition to the Chinese hegemony, but without much of success. It looks like the wheel of history completed a full round and each of these two civilizations is positioned in its previous place.


There are two mega projects the Chinese initiated and are leading. The first is the establishment of the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) which is parallel to the world Bank.
The second mega project is a modern construction of the old silk road (OBOR – One Belt One Road), probably the largest project in human history. Japan remained aside and avoided joining dozens of countries who joined this project, probably due to its unwillingness to recognize the Chinese leadership.

But, not for too long. Standing aside did not serve the Japanese interest; it didn’t delay any projects, it didn’t stop the Chinese. On the contrary, it just stopped the Japanese from taking part in these huge projects.

Towards the end of June, it was reported that Shinzo Abe (Japan’s Prime Minister) changed his mind and decided to join both of the mega projects that China initiated. However, around the same time, Japan and India announced new initiative, AAGC (Asia-Africa Growth Corridor) which competes with China’s similar project, OBOR (One Belt One Road). Both projects renew the old Silk Road.

By joining the Chinese projects, Japan de facto acknowledges Chinese seniority over Japan and actually agrees to be led by China, as it used to be for very long time, till the end of the 19th century.

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