Thursday, January 16, 2014

Japan: Champion of Monarchy in Asia

If there is one thing that warms my mad monarchist heart, it is seeing existing monarchies supporting each other and, just as if not more importantly, giving aid to the monarchist cause in countries overrun by republicanism. In our own time we have seen countries pull together out of a shared devotion to their own republican political ideology (liberal democracy on one side, communism on the other) but in recent years there has been very little of this from monarchial countries. It has happened in the past, such as when Tsar Alexis of Russia cut off all trade with England after they cut off the head of their King, when the Prussians sent troops to aid the royalist Orange Party in the Netherlands under attack by republican forces  and when the crowned heads of Europe came together to declare war on republican France after the regicide of King Louis XVI, not excluding the British who had long been the traditional enemy of the Kingdom of France. We saw it when Tsar Nicholas I sent troops in to crush rebellion against the Austrian Empire in Hungary because it was recognized that revolution and republicanism are cancers that spread easily. There were other times, when such solidarity was called for but never achieved such as when the Queen mother of Spain (and the German Kaiser) called for monarchial solidarity against the United States in the Spanish-American War but such cooperation was not forthcoming.

Imperial Solidarity
Once the twentieth century really got going, however, things seemed to change. Suddenly, the common bonds of monarchy seemed to be set aside in favor of agreements and alliances that (it was thought) would be more beneficial to the countries in question, though this was invariably not the case. The Orthodox and autocratic Russian Empire, probably the most devotedly monarchist power in Europe, allied itself with the very liberal French Republic. During World War I, monarchies made war on each other as never before and (since so many fell as a result) as they never would again, dragging the United States into European affairs in the process. There was not a great deal of monarchial solidarity displayed by the Allies (two of the major participants being republican France and America) and while there was more on the side of the Central Powers, even there Germany made the terrible mistake of, albeit very reluctantly and temporarily, making use of the communists in taking the Russian Empire down to get Russia out of the war. The aftermath saw even more bad decisions being made, such as the British Empire putting sanctions on the Kingdom of Italy while signing a naval treaty with Nazi Germany or breaking off their alliance with the Empire of Japan in favor of one with the United States of America. Remember that by the terms of that treaty, Japan was pledged to help defend the British Empire in Asia whereas, even after Britain and America became war time allies in World War II, the U.S. government under Franklin D. Roosevelt made it clear that he wanted the British Empire to be dismantled.

HM the Meiji Emperor
In the midst of this unfortunate trend, although it can sometimes seem like few notice the facts sitting right in front of them, it was the Empire of Japan that was the rare exception, supporting the principle of monarchy and giving aid to monarchists of other nations -even former enemies. The Japanese were well aware of the dangers of revolutionary republicanism and had been for longer than most probably realize. During the period when Japan began to withdraw from isolation, the first to go overseas to Europe learned about the French Revolution and some began to advocate something similar once they returned home. Thankfully, the Japanese public was too staunchly faithful to the Emperor and the whole concept was too distastefully foreign for this to ever get very far but the imperial government recognized that this ideology was a danger that had to be resisted. Japan had looked on with alarm at the triumph of republicanism in China after the 1911 Revolution and the Empire of Japan had dealt with at least pseudo-republicans in the past such as on Taiwan in the First Sino-Japanese War and with some of the rebels who opposed the Meiji Restoration.

When the Empire of Japan first emerged onto the world stage, monarchy was still dominant in the world and the only close neighbors of Japan; Korea, China and Russia, were all monarchies as well. Some conflict was probably inevitable. As Japan modernized, the need for resources grew greater and one early source of vital food imports was Korea. However, Korea was a vassal of China and the Chinese were not too pleased with the increased Japanese involvement in Korea and had a long history of being rather contemptuous toward Japan, mostly for refusing to recognize Chinese supremacy. The first two external wars fought by the Empire of Japan after the Meiji Restoration were, if you reduce it to the most simplistic level, over Korea. First they drove the Chinese out but were robbed of much of their victory when Russia, France and Germany ganged up on the Japanese, forcing them to give back some of their winnings. Russian power was expanding in the region and Japan offered to accept Russian dominance in Manchuria (Chinese power being on the decline) if the Russians would stay out of Korea. Their offer was not accepted and the Russo-Japanese War basically determined whether or not Korea would be a part of the Empire of Japan or the Russian Empire. The Japanese were victorious and in 1910 the short-lived “Great Han Empire” (Korea) was annexed by Japan.

Japan-Korea Teamwork
There is still a great deal of bitterness over this whole period on the part of Korea, some of it completely understandable and some of it incredibly petty. However, restricting ourselves to just the situation of the monarchy, the Japanese were much more careful than other powers in ensuring that the monarchial principle was not damaged. The Korean monarch was reduced in rank to what most Korean monarchs had always been but retained that title, remained in his palace and along with the aristocracy, received generous payments from Japan to allow them to live the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. Keep in mind, according to the modern Korean republics (or at least the south anyway) these were the inveterate enemies of Japan and the Japanese annexation, yet, this is how they were treated. The Korean crown prince was educated in Japan and treated like a son by HM the Meiji Emperor (in fact, some felt he was treated better than the Emperor’s own son). Members of the Korean Royal Family continued to hold prominent positions throughout the remaining years of the Empire of Japan. It was a far cry from the British exiling the last Mughal Emperor to Burma, the French exiling the monarchs of Vietnam or Madagascar to far away countries or even the United States in Hawaii imposing republicanism and abolishing all royal titles.

Emperor "Henry" Puyi with the Japanese
The next major conflict for the Empire of Japan was the First World War, which Japan joined on the Allied side because of their treaty with Great Britain. The Japanese secured the capture of the biggest German base in the Far East and provided warships to escort troop ships from British possessions in Asia and Australia to the European battlefront. Toward the end of the conflict, republicanism and in particular communism became a more prominent concern for Japan. The two largest and most powerful neighbors of Japan, China and Russia, both fell into republican chaos and civil war. In both cases, the Empire of Japan responded by supporting the loyal monarchists wherever possible, even though these people represented the two empires that had previously been the enemies of Japan. In the face of the encroaching forces of communism in Russia and the republican chaos in China, however, that did not matter. Japan began to support and protect the last Emperor of China after his expulsion from the Forbidden City as well as Qing loyalists who hoped for his restoration. The Japanese sent the largest expeditionary force of any of the Allied nations that intervened in the Russian Civil War and the Empire of Japan was quick to support the White Russian forces in the field and even after they had been forced into exile, mostly in Manchuria.

Mongol Prince Demchugdongrub
Along with supplying White Russian exiles with a safe haven, money, guns and military supplies, the Empire of Japan also provided sanctuary, support and security for the last Emperor of China and Qing Dynasty loyalists. Ultimately, as we know, the Japanese also made possible his restoration to his ancestral throne in Manchuria with the establishment of the Empire of Manchukuo. The importance of this should not be shrugged off. How rare is it that an overthrown monarch is ever able to regain their throne, even if only a part of the realm they once ruled? And this was not just for a few years but for more than a decade. It was also from their base in Manchuria that Japanese forces gave aid and assistance to the monarchists of Inner Mongolia who wished to see the communist client-state in Outer Mongolia overthrown and all Mongols reunited under a restored monarchy. The Mongol prince at the head of this effort was Prince Demchugdongrub (aka Prince De Wang) and his family. The Prince was a distant relative and long-time friend and supporter of the last Manchu Emperor and, for years, the Japanese had tried to coordinate a monarchist alliance of the Japanese, Manchu and Mongol peoples across northeast Asia. This was the reason behind the (short-lived) arranged marriage of the Japanese-raised Manchu Princess Kawashima Yoshiko to the Mongol Prince Ganjuurjab whose father would be a general in the Inner Mongolian Army of Prince De Wang.

Prince Cuong De
Even during World War II, the Empire of Japan promoted monarchy wherever possible. The earliest ally of Japan in southeast Asia was the Kingdom of Thailand and in Indochina the Japanese supported Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam becoming independent monarchies again while always respecting the reigning monarchs whether they were friendly toward Japan or not. In Vietnam, for example, the Prince Cuong De had long-established and friendly ties with Japan whereas the reigning monarch, Emperor Bao Dai, had spent much of his life in France. Yet, the Japanese worked with the reigning monarch and supported those sects who were monarchist (the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai for example) while the United States (short-sightedly) supported the communist-led Viet Minh. In Laos, the King was pro-French and so the Japanese worked with a prince who favored independence yet made no effort to depose or harm the pro-French King. In the states of Malaysia, the Japanese restored two monarchs who had unjustly been deprived of their thrones but never removed any reigning monarch even those that supported Britain over Japan. After driving the British forces out of Burma, the first instinct of the Japanese was to restore the native monarchy under a grandson of the last King Thibaw and it was only when they found no support for such an initiative that they turned to Dr. Ba Maw. Even then, when he was installed as head of state he did so with much of the ceremony of the old Kingdom of Burma which some took as a sign that he might have restored the monarchy eventually with himself as king which there was nothing to prevent him from doing given that Burma had no royal succession law and traditionally the throne went to whoever could take it. To further tantalize, Dr. Ba Maw was the son of a royal official to the last of the Burmese kings, and a staunch monarchist who opposed the British out of his loyalty to the Royal Family of Burma.

Of course, I know there will be those who doubt the sincerity of the Japanese in these events as there are many anti-monarchy and/or anti-Japanese people who would decry anything Japan did for any reason. I am sure some would say that Japan only did this because it served Japanese interests. My only response to that is to ask, “So?” Do you really expect any country to act against their own interests? Do you expect a nation at war to give aid to those who oppose them and support their enemies? Would anyone expect that? Of course not. Thankfully, as a monarchy, it was in the interest of Japan to support monarchy and that just happened to be in the best interest of all those involved as well, in my view certainly. Others, monarchist opponents perhaps, might ask, ‘well, why didn’t Japan try to make the whole of China a monarchy again, or make The Philippines a monarchy?’ or, in other words, impose a monarchy on people who did not desire one. The obvious answer is that Japan was trying to solve problems, not create new ones by trying to impose a form of government on people who did not want it. However, to any who would downplay the pro-monarchy policies of the Empire of Japan, I have a simple question, “Who did more?” That is all. If what they did was not enough to be praiseworthy for proponents of monarchy, show me a country that did more. I would be glad to hear about it and give them all due praise as well. As for the Empire of Japan, the record speaks for itself. Some, I am sure, may be unable to get beyond old grudges but as a pan-monarchist if for no other reason, I for one will always have a heartfelt salute for the Empire of Japan, champion of monarchy from Russia to southeast Asia.


  1. There were even plans at some point to collaborate with the exiled Young Turks to place Ottoman princes on thrones in Central Asia and Xinjiang.

    1. Yes, Prince Abdul Karim I think was the one who was supposed to become Sultan of Xinjiang (had it worked out). Other readers should also be aware that the "Young Turks" mentioned here were of course those opposed to the secular republic "Young Turks" in Turkey.

  2. I think the best example of monarchical solidarity today is in the Arab World where monarchies tend to stick together (the GCC is an example) against real and perceived threats from Iran, Syria and Al-Qaeda among others. We could do with more of that.

    1. That is true and there was support for royalists in places like Yemen. What I would like to see though is more support for monarchy as well. Such as support for a monarchist alternative in Syria rather than just supporting anyone who is anti-Assad. Most monarchies in Europe are united in NATO but they do not push for monarchy in their policies. Unfortunately, just as there were (and are) many people blinded by their hatred of Japan, today there are many people who look at the Middle East and are blinded to examples like Jordan or the Gulf States and focus only on their hatred of Saudi Arabia without ever considering that what would replace the House of Saud might be far worse rather than better.

    2. Yes part of it is the whole geopolitical struggle which entails Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the Palestinian cause. The problem is that the radical crowd hate the monarchies and see them as tools of the West (and of Israel!), and unfortunately some misguided "monarchists" fall into line with them because of their hatred of the usual.

  3. Another issue is that just who should be King in Syria, the Hashemites are the only ones with any claim, but they have no real popularity and no one outside of Jordan would really be interested in supporting that dynasty.

  4. Thailand also reached out to help its neighbor's monarchy from being overrun by the communist rebels. In the end, though, Thailand is the only country to get away from cold war with its monarchy in tact. Cambodia reinstated its monarchy in 1992, but the damage had been done.

  5. True, which is why, some time ago, I wrote an article on just that subject, knowing how the war against communist expansion in Indochina tends to be seen only in the American context whereas other countries, such as Thailand, were very much involved in holding the line against Bolshevik takeover.

  6. Excellent piece. I'm from Bangkok. The Thai monarchy continues to enjoy good relations with other royal families such as those from Japan and Bhutan. Although neighbor Cambodia technically restored its throne the country is still controlled by a former Khmer Rouge commander. I hope all existing monarchies maintain solidarity. There aren't many left now. God bless the Crown.


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