State capacity and naval buildup : the sino-Japanese divergence in the late nineteenth century

  • Xinyi SHEN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


The East Asian modernization divergence in the late nineteenth century has long puzzled historians and social scientists. As Qing China, given its vast territory, large population and dominating influence spreading to neighboring countries, failed to modernize herself as its small island neighbor Japan did after the forced opening up by the West. One important divergence is their military capability, especially that of navy. The relatively higher capacity of the Imperial Japanese Navy has played a decisive role in its victory over the Beiyang Fleet in the 1894/95 First Sino-Japanese War. Following the defeat, Qing China was burdened with huge indemnity, eventually collapsed and entered long decades of chaos, whereas Meiji Japan continued rapid modernization, further demonstrated its military power in war with Russia, and became the only recognized power in Asia. Explaining the Sino-Japanese divergence in naval buildup is the first step to tackle the entire modernization puzzle. Having challenged two conventional explanations of national security decision-making and economic modernization, this thesis offers a new perspective by arguing that the root of divergence lies in their different resource mobilization capacity. Specifically, I demonstrate that the elastic tax revenue, fiscal centralization and enormous borrowing capacity equipped Meiji Japan as a strong state able to quickly mobilize a vast sum of resource for expensive naval buildup and war. In contrast, in Qing China, the growingly decentralized fiscal system, together with the stagnated tax revenue and limited borrowing capacity, made resource mobilization a prolonged struggle for the central government. Consequently, despite the statesmen’s repetitive emphasis of naval security and buildup, the Chinese state’s weak resource mobilization capacity has significantly hindered its pursuit of naval power and gradually widened the gap with the stronger Japanese state.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Political Science
SupervisorBaohui ZHANG (Supervisor) & Che Po CHAN (Supervisor)

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