In the twentieth century, the states of the Pacific Rim
developed powerful economies that challenged those of the
West. The emergence of the Pacific Rim was led by Japan, an
imperial power by the early twentieth century. After its
loss in World War II, Japan reappeared as a leader in Pacific
industrialization. Japan's rise challenged Western
industrial powers, while it continued to draw raw materials
from much of the world. After World War II, Korea, Hong
Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan also industrialized. The Pacific
Rim combines aspects of industrialized society with the
traditions of Asia.
- Decades of Turmoil: The World Wars and (914-916)
During the early twentieth century, Japan experienced
difficulties matching political stability to foreign
- Japan's Ongoing Development
In the early twentieth century, Japan's agricultural and
industrial production improved. By the 1920s, great
industrial combines, or zaibatsus, in combination with the
government launched expansion in heavy industry. Japanese
standards of living began to improve. By 1925, the state
initiated compulsory primary-school education. Because of
the limited nature of Japanese exports and continued reliance
on importation of raw materials, Japan remained vulnerable to
external economic conditions. Population growth restricted
further advances in the standards of living and created
social problems in the crowded cities. The Great Depression
exacerbated problems, but the Japanese economy recovered
rapidly on the basis of a new export boom and military
- Political Crisis and Growing Militarism
The Great Depression created crisis conditions in Japan that
seemed to call for drastic measures, including military
aggression. Japan actually suffered less than did Western
nations, as the government increased spending to create jobs
and restore buying power. By 1936, unemployment had been
virtually eradicated. Even before the depression, the
Japanese military had taken a major role in setting
diplomatic policy. The military was separate from Japan's
bureaucracy and reported directly to the emperor. The
military viewed Japan's liberal political pattern of the
1920s as a threat both to traditional Japan and to the
military's own position within the government. In 1931, the
military seized Manchuria from China without government
As the depression created greater political conservatism
among some Japanese groups, older military officers urged a
more authoritarian state and greater military expansion to
protect Japanese markets. In 1932, some officers
assassinated the prime minister, leading to a moderate
military government. A second attempted military coup in
1936 was blocked by established officers, but the military
gained further control over the government. After 1936,
militaristic prime ministers presided over expansion in Asia
and the creation of a regional empire. The military demanded
even wider conquests and prompted Japan's entry into World
- Change in Other Pacific Rim Areas
Japan's control over Korea halted industrial growth and broke
traditional Korean ties with China. The Japanese abolished
the Korean monarchy in 1909. The removal of the monarchy
opened the way for political innovation after Japan's defeat
in 1945. Economically, Japan's presence in Korea was
entirely exploitative. Emphasis on rice production ruined
Korean agriculture. The Japanese attempted to impose
Japanese culture on the Korean population.
Singapore's development as part of British Malaya was
dependent on the British attempt to build a naval base in the
port. Like Korea, Singapore suffered from Japanese
occupation during World War II. Japan's ability to dislodge
European colonialists from Asia during World War II opened
the way to new developments in the region.
- East Asia in the Postwar Settlements
After World War II, the Western negotiators had definite
plans for Asia. They divided Korea into Russian and American
zones, restored Taiwan to Nationalist China, pledged
independence to the Philippines, and restored colonial
regimes in Vietnam, Malay, and Indonesia. The United States
occupied Japan as a means of imposing widespread reforms.
- New Divisions and the End of Empires
The postwar settlement did not work out exactly as the
Western victors planned. The Philippines, Malaya, and
Indonesia all gained their independence within a decade of
the war's end. Taiwan continued to be ruled by a Nationalist
government under Chiang Kai-shek, but mainland China was
under a communist government. Korea continued to be divided
following a bitter war. Only Japan was recreated in the
pattern laid out by the United States.
- Japanese Recovery
Japan had been devastated by the war, but, with the
assistance of the United States, was able to recover rapidly.
The U.S. occupation government destroyed the Japanese
military and introduced more democratic forms of government.
Although the occupation government also attempted to break up
the zaibatsus, they were rapidly reestablished.
The new constitution made the parliament the supreme
governing body, while the emperor was reduced to a symbolic
figurehead. Most of the new constitutional measures were
accepted by the Japanese population. The military did not
recover its prewar eminence in Japan, even after the
withdrawal of the occupation government. Military defense
remained in the hands of the United States. The most
powerful political party to emerge after the war was the
Liberal Democratic party, which monopolized Japanese
government into the 1990s.
By 1955, Japan's industrial base had recovered to prewar
levels. Shortly thereafter, a huge industrial spurt made
Japan a competitor of Western industrialized nations.
American occupation ended in 1952. Japanese relations with
the Soviet Union remained tense, but did not result in major
- Korea: Intervention and War
As the cold war intensified after World War II, the United
States and the Soviet Union were unable to agree on a plan
for reunification of Korea. The U.S. backed the southern
Republic of Korea, while the Soviet Union supported the
People's Democratic Republic of Korea in the north.
In 1950, communist North Korea attacked the southern
republic. The United States determined to halt Soviet
advance in Asia and induced the United Nations to support its
efforts. When it appeared that the North Korean forces would
be defeated, communist China intervened on their behalf. The
front stabilized in 1952, and an armistice was signed in
1953. Northern Korea continued as an authoritarian communist
regime under Kim Il-Sung. Southern Korea also followed an
authoritarian political pattern, but rapidly industrialized
with the help of U.S. aid.
- Emerging Stability in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore
The Nationalist army withdrew to Taiwan in 1948. When it did
so, it imposed a new government supported by a massive army
of the indigenous population of the island. An authoritarian
government under Chiang Kai-shek dominated the native
Taiwanese and attempted to defend the island from communist
China. Supported by the United States, the Nationalist
regime on Taiwan survived. As in South Korea, U.S. aid
created economic prosperity and industrialization. Hong Kong
and Singapore, both British colonies, also participated in
the postwar economic boom. Hong Kong is to be returned to
China in 1997. Singapore withdrew from Malaya and
established independence in 1959. With the exception of
Vietnam, the smaller East Asian nations had achieved
stability by 1960.
- Japan, Incorporated
Industrialization and economic success were the hallmarks of
Japan after 1950.
- The Distinctive Political and Cultural Style
Between 1955 and 1993, the Liberal Democratic party provided
political stability and introduced methods of government
similar to those of Japan in the 1920s. Centralization of
police forces in the 1950s produced dissent, but the
government managed to avoid serious confrontations. Economic
prosperity during the 1970s and 1980s reduced criticism of
the government. Evidence of corruption within the government
renewed some opposition in the late 1980s. Unlike the West,
there was little separation between the state and the private
sector in economic planning or use of public resources for
capitalization. The government sought to protect Japanese
businesses from reliance on raw material and petroleum
imports, limited population growth, and successfully united
Japan in a sense of common purpose. The government expanded
the public education system and concentrated on technical
subjects believed useful in the business environment.
Japanese culture preserved important traditions, such as
group solidarity, art, poetry, and theater. These proved
critical in establishing a sense of permanence in a rapidly
changing society. Japanese culture also embraced
contemporary developments in the West.
- The Economic Surge
After the 1950s, Japan emerged as one of the world's economic
giants, although per capita income lagged behind the Western
economic powers. Active participation of the government in
economic growth was a factor in the remarkable expansion.
There was little conflict between labor and capital in Japan,
as workers were primarily organized in company unions.
Paternalism and group loyalty helped prevent work stoppages
that were common in the West. High savings rates produced
capital for investment. Japanese management tended to also
be loyal to their corporations.
Feminism did not develop as rapidly in response to
industrialization in Japan as it did in the West. Although
well educated, Japanese women often remained in the home. In
child-rearing, the emphasis was on producing social
conformity. The emphasis on group solidarity permeated
almost all aspects of Japanese society.
After World War II, Japanese culture embraced some aspects of
the West, such as baseball, Western eating utensils, and an
emphasis on youth. Conservatives within Japan became
concerned with the growing acceptance of Western cultural
concepts. Japan's economic success created resentment and
competition among its trade rivals. When attempts to force
Japan to open its markets failed, competitors threatened
tariff structures aimed at Japanese exports. Pollution
became a growing problem in Japanese cities. By the 1990s,
economic recession combined with government corruption raised
questions about the continued success of Japan, Incorporated.
- The Pacific Rim: New Japans?
Developments in the Pacific Rim nations mirrored Japan's
success in the twentieth century.
- The Korean Miracle
Korea's government continued to be dominated by strongmen,
often from the military. Political opposition was permitted
in Korea, but often suppressed. As in Japan, the Korean
government was dedicated to industrialization. In the case
of Korea, Japanese colonialism had devastated the economy.
The government assisted in capitalization and central
planning. By the 1970s, economic growth was nearly equal to
Japan's. Industrial groups, such as Hyundai, enjoyed much
In some cases, corporations virtually governed regions of
Korea and accepted responsibility for welfare programs,
housing, and education. With industrialization, population
growth increased dramatically, prompting many Koreans to
emigrate despite economic prosperity. Per capita income,
although on the rise, remained below that of Japan.
- Advances in Taiwan and the City-States
Economic growth in Taiwan nearly equaled that of Korea.
Production in both agriculture and industry increased. The
demise of the government's plans to invade the Chinese
mainland left additional capital for investment. Centralized
planning was a significant aspect of economic development,
but there remained room for private initiative. The
government also poured funds into public education. The
dominance of communist China affected Taiwan's relations with
the rest of the world, particularly the U.S. In 1978, the
United States ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan,
although it retained informal liaisons. Japan became the
most important trade partner of the island. Even after the
death of Chiang Kai-shek in 1978, an authoritarian government
continued under his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.
Authoritarianism was also the basis of the Singapore
government under Lee Kuan Yew. Government control over
everyday life was more rigorous in Singapore than elsewhere
among the Pacific Rim nations. Political opposition to the
dominant political authorities was not permitted. The
economic success of the government made it acceptable.
Manufacturing and banking supplemented shipping as major
sectors of the economy. By the 1980s, the per capita income
of Singapore's residents was the second highest in Asia.
Hong Kong continued to serve as a major world port and
banking center with a growing industrial sector. Hong Kong
served as the connecting point between the rest of the world
and communist China.
- Common Themes and New Problems
The Pacific Rim states all experienced rapid industrial
growth. They also shared common traits: group loyalty in
preference to individualism, an ethos of hard work, limited
consumer demands, and the continued tradition of Confucian
morality. Government central planning and authoritarianism
were also common traits.
- Conclusion: The Pacific Rim as Exception (930)
There were several reasons for the rise of the Pacific Rim
nations: a common basis in Chinese culture and heritage,
special contacts with the West (either Britain or the United
States), and the experience of World War II that reshaped
fundamental thinking. The growth of the Pacific Rim nations
led to some economic rivalries and to the exportation of
industrialization to new Asian regions, such as Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Thailand. China and Vietnam have remained
largely outside the process of development, but have critical
relationships to the Pacific Rim that may result in change.
Concern over loss of tradition and continued frustration over
political authoritarianism have produced some strains. Under
any circumstances, the entry of the Pacific Rim nations into
the world trade system has been dramatic.