CHAPTER XIV. THE MEIJI ERA (Continued)
3. Constitutionalism (1889-1899). - This period opened, strange to say, with the "anti-foreign reaction" at its height. This reaction was the natural result of the rapid Occidentalization that had been going on, and was strengthened by the refusal of Western nations to revise the treaties which kept Japan in thraldom.
The year 1889 was a red-letter year in the calendar of Japan's political progress. On February 11 was promulgated that famous documentwhich took Japan forever out of the ranks of Oriental despotisms and placed her among constitutional monarchies; and on April 1 the law of local self-government for city, town, and village went into effect.
The Japanese constitution has very appropriately been called "the Magna Charta of Japanese liberty." It was not, however, like the famous English document, extorted by force from an unwilling monarch and a cruel tyrant, but was voluntarily granted by a kind and loved ruler at the expense of his inherited and long-established rights. The late Emperor, in the language of the constitution itself, "in consideration of the progressive tendency of the course of human affairs and in conformity with the advance of civilization," admitted his people to a share in the administration of public affairs.
That important document, at the outset, however, seems far from generous. The Emperor, "sacred and inviolate," is "the head of the Empire," combining in himself the rights of sovereignty; but he "exercises them according to the provisions of the constitution." It is only "in consequence of an urgent necessity to maintain public safety or to avert public calamities," that the Emperor, "when the Imperial Diet is not sitting," may issue "Imperial Ordinances in place of law." But these ordinances must be approved by the Imperial Diet at its next session, or become "invalid for the future." To the Emperor is reserved the function of issuing ordinances necessary for carrying out the laws passed by the Diet or for the maintenance of public peace and order; but "no ordinance shall in any way alter any of the existing laws." The Emperor also determines the organization of the various branches of the government, appoints and dismisses all officials, and fixes their salaries. Moreover, he has "the supreme command of the army and navy," whose organization and peace standing he determines; "declares war, makes peace, and concludes treaties"; "confers titles of nobility, rank, orders, and other marks of honor"; and "orders amnesty, pardon, commutation of punishments, and rehabilitation." Thus it is evident that the government of Japan is imperialistic, but it is a constitutional imperialism.
The Imperial Diet of Japan consists of two Houses, the House of Peers and the House of Commons. The membership of the former comprises three classes - hereditary, elective, and appointive.The members of the imperial family and of the orders of Princes and Marquises possess the hereditary tenure. From among those persons who have the titles of Count, Baron, and Viscount a certain number are chosen by election, for a term of seven years. The Emperor has the power of appointing for lifemembership a limited number of persons who deserve recognition on account of meritorious services to the state or on account of erudition. Finally, in each prefecture one member is elected from among the highest taxpayers and appointed by the Emperor for a term of seven years.
The members of the House of Commons are always elected by ballot in accordance with the Election Law, by which they now number 381. Their term of office is four years, unless they lose their seats by dissolution of the Diet, as has often happened. "Male Japanese subjects of not less than full thirty years of age" are eligible; but certain officials, as well as military and naval officers, are ineligible. A candidate need not be a resident of the district.
A voter must be full twenty-five years of age; must have actually resided in that prefecture for one year; and must have been paying direct national taxes of not less than 10 yen annually. The present number of eligible voters is over one million and a half (1915).
Some notice must be taken of the rights and duties of subjects under the Japanese constitution. All such persons are eligible to civil and military offices; amenable to service in the army and the navy, and to the duty of paying taxes, according to law; have the liberty of abode, inviolable right of property, right of trial by law, and freedom of speech, writing, publication, public meeting, association, and religious belief, "within the limits of law"; cannot be arrested, detained, tried, or punished, "unless according to law," and can claim inviolable secrecy of correspondence. Moreover, "the house of no Japanese subject shall be entered or searched without his consent," except by due process of law. All subjects may also present petitions, "by observing the proper forms of respect." The freedom of religious belief is granted "within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects."
The constitution recognizes another body, the Privy Council, appointed by the Emperor and consulted by him upon certain matters of state. It consists of about 25 members; and is composed of "personages who have rendered signal service to the state and who are distinguished for their experience," such as ex-Ministers of State and others, whose "valuable advice on matters of state" would naturally be sought. The matters coming within the cognizance of the Privy Council are specified as follows: Matters which come under its jurisdiction by the law of the Houses (of the Diet); drafts and doubtful points relating to articles of the constitution, and to laws and ordinances dependent to the constitution; proclamation of the law of siege and certain imperial ordinances; international treaties; and matters specially called for. The Ministers of State are, ex officio, members of the Privy Council; but although it is "the Emperor's highest resort of counsel, it shall not interfere with the executive."
Naturally, the first decade of constitutionalism was chiefly occupied with the experimental stage, when the relations between the two Houses of the Imperial Diet, between the Diet and the Cabinet, between the Cabinet and political parties, were being more or less defined.
This was also the period during which new civil, commercial, and criminal codes were put into operation; the gold standard was adopted; the restrictions on the freedom of the press and of public meeting were almost entirely removed; and the tariff was revised in the interests of Japan.
In 1889 Prince Haru (the present Emperor) was proclaimed Crown Prince; and in 1891 occurred the attack on the Russian Crown Prince, the present Czar, then visiting Japan.
The most important event of this period, from one point of view, was the war with China in 1894 and 1895. The bone of contention was the mutual relation of the two countries in Korea - the frequent casus belli in the Far East. The war began in July, 1894, although the formal proclamation by Japan was not issued until August 1. Party differences, which had become acute, were buried; and the necessary funds for the prosecution of the war were voted unanimously.
It is scarcely necessary to go much into the details of the conflict. Unexpectedly to most persons, Japan pursued a practically uninterrupted course of victory, both by land and by sea. After Seoul had been occupied without resistance, one Japanese army defeated a Chinese force at Pingyang in northern Korea, and the Japanese fleet defeated the Chinese fleet off the coast of Korea. The Japanese then crossed the Yalu River into Manchuria, and, winning several victories, advanced even beyond Newchwang and threatened Peking. Meanwhile, another Japanese army, under Ōyama, had landed near Port Arthur, and, defeating every force that tried to make a stand against it, had captured that fortress. Ōmaya then transferred the principal division of his army to the Shantung Peninsula and invested Weihaiwei. When that fortress surrendered, the Japanese land and naval forces combined in an attack upon the Chinese fleet. This resulted in the surrender of Admiral Ting, who then committed suicide. Thus China was compelled to seek peace from Japan.The negotiations for peace were carried on at Shimonoseki between the famous Li Hung Chang and his son on one side and the Premier Itō and the Foreign Minister Mutsu on the other side. The negotiations were temporarily interrupted by an attempt, fortunately unsuccessful, on the part of a Japanese ruffian, to assassinate Li Hung Chang. Peace was finally concluded on April 19, 1895, on the following terms:
|1.||China recognizes the independence and autonomy of Korea.|
|2.||China cedes to Japan the Liaotung Peninsula, the island of Formosa, and the Pescadores group of islands.|
|3.||China agrees to pay to Japan an indemnity of 200,000,000 taels.|
|4.||China agrees to open for Japanese trade certain new cities, towns, and ports and to extend the right of steam navigation for Japanese vessels on the Upper Yangtze River and the Woosung River and Canal.|
But the prophecy of the leading Japanese diviner that "three uninvited guests would come" to the Peace Conference, while not literally, was practically, fulfilled. Russia, France, and Germany interfered, and, declaring "that any holding of Manchuria territory by Japan would constitute a menace to the peace of Asia," kindly (?) advised Japan to withdraw her claim to the Liaotung Peninsula. The only two powers that might have assisted Japan against this combination were neither sufficiently interested nor far-sighted enough to interfere; and they (Great Britain and the United States) kept silent. Japan had nothing to do, therefore, but to submit and accept a monetary consideration of an additional 30,000,000 taels for giving up her claim to the Liaotung Peninsula. But therein lay "the germ of the Russo-Japanese War."
The material benefit which Japan received from this war included the acquisition of Formosa and the Pescadores and the receipt of an indemnity which enabled her to prepare for the next conflict, which she knew was inevitable. It needed no special prophetic inspiration to foresee Russia's purpose when she succeeded, with the aid of France and Germany, in robbing Japan of part of the fruit of victory. But the greatest benefit of the war lay in the fact that, while Japan's progress in the arts of peace had not been sufficient to bring acknowledgment of her worthiness to enter the comity of nations, her overwhelming defeat of China at least expedited that recognition. And the result was that in 1894 Great Britain, the United States, and the other treaty powers agreed upon a revision of the old treaties which had maintained the thraldom of Japan, and signed new treaties, which formulated the belated recognition, and were to go into effect five years later.
In educational matters, this period was specially marked by the fact that the Emperor, in 1890, issued an imperial rescript, which has since been the basis of ethical instruction in Japanese schools. The following is the latest official translation, issued by the Department of Education: Know Ye, Our Subjects:
Our Imperial Ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; Our subjects, ever united in loyalty and filial piety, have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and herein also lies the source of Our education. Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all, pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth. So shall ye not only be Our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.In the history of Christianity in Japan, this sub-period may well be called the "Period of Reaction," during which apathy prevailed. The attention of the people was largely given over to political and material civilization; and in Christian circles rationalism and liberalism "chilled enthusiasm" and weakened, even deadened, the spiritual life. And yet it is worthy of notice that in this discouraging period we find the beginnings of such important movements as the Young Men's Christian Association, the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, and the National Temperance League. In fact, before the close of this sub-period, there were clear signs that the reaction had spent itself. The climax of the reaction in educational circles was reached in 1899, when the Department of Education issued an Instruction which forbade religious instruction, not only in the public schools, as was perfectly proper, but also in officially recognized private institutions. This, of course, militated very seriously against licensed Christian schools; but it has become practically a dead letter.
The Way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all thus attain to the same virtue.
The 30th day of the 10th month of the 23d year of Meiji [ October 30, 1890].
(Imperial Sign Manual, Imperial Seal.)
In 1899 the new treaties, which threw Japan wide open for trade and residence, and admitted her to the comity of nations on terms of equality, went into effect; and thus began the new period of Cosmopolitan Japan.