Restoring Our Commercial Rights: Silk, Nationalism, Commercial Policy, and the Direct Trade Movement in Meiji Japan, 1868-1890 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Smith, Michael Brady
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • In 1858 Japan responded to demands from Western governments to remove restrictions on trading with foreigners by signing a series of trade treaties which opened up a number of Japanese ports to unrestricted foreign trade. After these ports were opened, Western mercantile firms armed with intimate knowledge of world markets and ready access to capital quickly became the dominant force in Japan's overseas trade. When the new Meiji government assumed power in 1868, government officials, businessmen, and intellectuals who feared foreign domination of Japan's overseas trade, began a concerted campaign to challenge the dominance of foreign merchants in Japan's treaty ports and reclaim Japanese commercial rights (shoken) through the promotion direct trade (jiki yushutsu). Despite vigorous efforts to promote direct trade which culminated in a battle with foreign merchants over the control of Japan's lucrative raw silk trade, the movement failed to break the foreign merchants' stranglehold. This dissertation examines the failed direct trade movement as a way to reassess the popular assumptions about the Meiji government's role in Japan's economic development and modernization. While some scholars have argued the economic successes of the Meiji era were due to careful government planning and guidance from above, this dissertation argues that the story of the direct trade movement shows the government's economic policies in the period were a series of confused and ill-considered extemporaneous measures designed only to meet the immediate needs of the moment. This study also argues that although the Meiji state was an authoritarian regime, it was not invulnerable to influences from below. Businessmen and intellectuals advocating the adoption of direct trade policies were able to influence the direction of the government's commercial policies thanks to a lack of stable institutions and processes for determining economic policy in the early Meiji period. Although the direct trade movement ended in failure, this lack of institutional structures and norms along with close collaboration between the state and the private sector gave commercial policy the flexibility needed to make the later economic successes of the Meiji period possible.
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  • In Copyright
  • Fletcher, W. Miles
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2012

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