Empire Ascendant:

The British World, Race, and the Rise of Japan, 1894-1914

In 1902, the British government entered into a defensive alliance with Japan, a state that had surprised much of the world with its sudden rise to global prominence. For the next two decades, the Anglo-Japanese alliance would hold the balance of power in East Asia, shielding Japan from foreign rivals, and allowing Britain to concentrate on meeting the German challenge in Europe. Yet it was also a relationship shaped by its contradictions. On the one hand, Anglo-Japanese alliance legitimized Japan’s participation in great-power diplomacy, and worked to counteract racist notions of a ‘yellow peril’. On the other, Japan’s defiance of established racial hierarchies made the alliance controversial across much of the British Empire. On the settlement frontiers of Australasia and North America, white colonial elites formulated their own responses to the growth of Japan’s power, charged by the twinned forces of colonial nationalism and racial anxiety, as they designed immigration laws to exclude Japanese migrants, developed autonomous military and naval forces, and pressed Britain to rally behind their vision of a ‘white empire’. On the eve of the First World War, Japan stood at the centre of a series of escalating inter-imperial disputes over foreign policy, defence, migration, and ultimately, over the future of the British imperial system itself. This account weaves together studies of diplomacy, strategy, and imperial relations to pose searching questions about how Japan’s entry into the ‘family of civilized nations’ was complicated by ideas of race.