The history of the European Colonization of East has numerous aspects to be covered and various approaches to the events explanation. The larger is a scope the book covers the less detailed analysis and information on the topic is. That is why, in order to improve knowledge in a specific field, the topic of the chosen book should be exact, time framework narrow and geography precise. Having those ideas in mind, for the current course of Eastern Civilizations, I had chosen a book by William McOmie “The Opening of Japan, 1853-55…” (2006). This book entirely corresponds to the mentioned above criteria and gives a comparative analysis of the British, American and Russian approaches to the opening of Japan.
First of all, it is worth to mention that the author of the book is well-known linguist and researcher in the field of Japanese, Russian and Dutch history of the 19th century, and due to his advanced level of Russian, Japanese and German languages proficiency, he had a direct access to the archives of those countries (McOmie, 2006). Thus, the data represented in his book reveals new dimensions of the competition between countries in the quest for opening of Japan. A huge benefit of the book is that except for the description of the competition and reasons for the Western countries to struggle for Japanese ports and trade agreement, McOmie (2006) makes a distinction between opening of Japan and signing of the official treaties for the trade. He suggests that Japan was never entirely closed from the West and that trade connection and technology exchange with Dutch merchants were the best examples of it. Subsequently, the term “opening” is not entirely correct, more appropriate would have been westernization of Japanese trade (McOmie, 2006).
After explanation of the theoretical issues, the author conducts a comparative analysis of the various parties’ approaches to the “opening” of Japan and their positions concerning American aggressive methods (McOmie, 2006). Without having any success in diplomatic negotiations with Japan, in 1852, American President Fillmore decided to take what he wanted by force, sending military naval fleet to Japanese shores (McOmie, 2006). Such activity was disrupting the whole system of bilateral relations of other Western countries with Japan. First of all, American aggression would have destroyed all Dutch efforts for peaceful opening Japan for European countries, keeping special Dutch preferences in the bilateral trade. Secondly, Russian trade and presence in Japanese ports was also under threat. Finally, British and French were eager to support American intervention since they would gain their share of Japanese trade (McOmie, 2006). In the atmosphere of international interests’ collision, McOmie (2006) conducts his narration of double-face political games, shadow diplomacy and bargaining for the future division of the independent Japanese Empire. In this context, the strength of the book is not only in the description of various positions of the interested sides, but also their methods of mutual interactions and ways of influencing Japanese ruling elite and society from inside the country. For instance, Russians and Dutch used interpersonal connections and benefits of the trade on the local levels with the small daimyos. The French and British were acting through bribery of the local heads of communities and merchants. On the other hand, American’s were not eager to spend money on bribery, since cannon force was much more efficient (McOmie, 2006).
Overall, this book is a contemporary, exhaustive source of information on interstate relations and work of intelligence services in the opening of Japan in 1853-55. This book would be of special interest for the scholars in the fields of Asian studies, history and international relations. It is characterized by the brilliance of thought, thoroughness of data collected and clarity of explanation. On the other hand, I would not recommend this book to someone who does not have background knowledge in the target field. This is not a school level book, but it is incredibly useful in the field of East-Asian Studies and for the comprehension of the current relations in the region. Personally, I have enjoyed reading this book, and I find it very informative and helpful in for the studied course.
McOmie, W. 2006. The Opening of Japan, 1853-55: A Comparative Study of the American,
British and Russian Campaigns to Force the Tokugawa Shogunate to Conclude
Treaties and Open Ports to Their Ships. Folkestone: Global Oriental Ltd.