Northeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Geographical Motions and the Formation of ‘Diplomacy’: Rethinking China and Japan’s Transformation of Foreign Relations in the 1860s-70s

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

In the latter nineteenth century, while Japan adapted to Western international society, China stuck to its traditional order and was eventually half-colonized. Although this scheme has been criticized by many scholars, they rather treated different periods and elements, not fully reinvestigating the late 19th-century diplomacy per se. The traditional framework is therefore still important, however, the recent studies provide a viewpoint for overcoming it; the emphasis on ports/frontiers/legations.


This paper will rethink China and Japan’s foreign relations by focusing on the two countries’ ‘geographical motions’ in their foreign policy-making mechanism. The first foreign offices of China and Japan, respectively, the Zongli Yamen and Gaikoku-gata, adopted council systems in their institutions, and local officials’ opinions were collected and discussed by them. This characteristic resulted in the failure of strategic approaches towards the West, allowing for arbitrary decisions of local officials. Around the Tianjin Massacre and the Meiji Restoration, both governments tried to establish centralized systems. The Gaimusho in Tokyo managed to build it, whereas in China it was informally constructed by Li Hongzhang in Tianjin. After the middle of the 1870s, the period when both countries started putting their legations, the communication/miscommunication between Tokyo and legations became the main feature of Japanese foreign relations; Contrarily, China, owing to the internal confusion between Beijing and Tianjin, their diplomats faced difficulties in adopting a coherent approach. By concentrating on the regional aspects of foreign policy-making, this paper reveals the internal dynamism in the East Asian world.

Isami Sawai

London School of Economics and Political Science, Japan

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2 - Geographical Motions and the Formation of ‘Diplomacy’: Rethinking China and Japan’s Transformation of Foreign Relations in the 1860s-70s



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