A New 17th-Century World Power?

Just suppose that in Japanese history there had been no “closed country”; that is to say, suppose that the Tokugawa shogunate had reunified the nation but continued the policy of “the southern-barbarian trade”.

In our world, a few years after seeing their first firearms the Japanese had copied the Portuguese model and fought a major gun-battle. In no time at all, Hideyoshi Toyotomi was trying to conquer Korea with a musketeer army bigger than anything yet seen in the West. They had built a state-of-the-art oceanic vessel, the San Juan Bautista, and sent an envoy to the Pope via Mexico. It is no more improbable than other outcomes with which that writers play to imagine the amazing technological and industrial catch-up of the Meiji era happening in the early Tokugawa period instead.

An allohistorian could then ask himself, what would that have done to European colonialism in Asia? If Japan had played exactly the same games as the Europeans, which it surely would have done, we might have seen the Aztec and Inca gold flowing west instead of east. No Spanish Golden Age, then, and thereby a totally different European history. Above all, what would Japanese dominance of the Pacific have done to the European sense of ethnic superiority?

2 Responses

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  1. Written by The Ghost in the Machine
    on June 7, 2018 at 17:05

    After reading this, I suddenly have a vision of England and the rest of Europe being forced to allow Chinese and Japanese opium dealers free rein. With widespread opium addiction in the West, a full-fledged Industrial Revolution would have happened only in the East?

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on June 9, 2018 at 19:50

    Full marks for a perverse imagination! I had not thought of reverse Opium Wars to impose Indian-grown opium on England via Bristol and Liverpool as extra-territorial treaty ports, but it belongs in the allohistory proposal.

    Except that I never said that opium addiction was in itself enough to prevent China industrialising. That was surely a matter of intrinsic attitudes, ones that the Japanese simply did not have.

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