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The Abacus and the Sword Review

Updated on April 27, 2011

The Abacus and the Sword


Japan emerged as a colonial power during the twentieth century and was the first non-western country to become so coercive. Now the question arises as to what helped Japan succeed and become so powerful? The annexation of Korea was one of the major events in Japan's transformation to become a powerful country. Peter Duus's book “The Abacus And The Sword” is about Japan's acquisition of Korea in 1910, which was a major turning point in Japan political landscape. Duus demonstrates why the Korean annexation was the most significant for Japan, out of all its colonial possessions.

The book beautifully portrays how the entire event took place. The major reason behind the annexation of Korea was not the uncooperative attitude of the Korean leaders, but an attempt of Japan to make its mark as a powerful country and be known by the Western nations. Duss clearly explains how the Korean acquisition was used by Japan as a stepping stone to become a political, economical and strategic country like the Western countries. It was an answer to the demeaning and insulting treaty settlement which was imposed by the Western countries in 1850s.

Summary Contd...

Duss states that the major processes which propelled Japan's imperialism were namely political and economic. Both of these processes were directly proportional to each other, as with Japan's political advancement, new openings for trade emerged and with its increase in economic interests, its political influence increased too. In "The Abacus And The Sword", the Abacus was the agent while the sword its servant.

All in all, "The Abacus And The Sword" essentially highlights that Meiji Imperialism had a lot to do with the colonial expansion. The author also states that a sense of inferiority was one of the primary reasons for Japan turning into a colonial power like the Western countries. Moreover, Peter Duus's book details the history and lifestyle of the Japanese who lived overseas during that time. The book further gives the readers a glimpse of the perceptions that the modern-day Japanese have for Asians generally, as well as the perceptions they have about themselves as a community.



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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good review, and I'm very tempted to get this book. An interesting part of world history--it wouldn't hurt me to learn more about it.