Look for stories about the deteriorating relationship between Japan and China to be in the news over the next year. The two countries have a dispute over some islands in the China Sea, and the Japanese recently elected a far more aggressive government to deal with the perceived Chinese threat to Japanese interests. The Chinese are reacting to the feeling that the Japanese have long taken advantage of them. The chances are that this dispute will simmer along below the boiling point, mostly because both countries do so much business together, and they have so much to lose if the confrontations go beyond the verbal stage. But face must be saved, and should this area heat up beyond words, it wouldn’t be the first time in history that countries put pride before self interest.
Philatelists are students of recent history. Our stamps are tiny historical documents, and those of us who look beyond the paper and perfs can obtain a better understanding of the world than non-collectors often can. Take what philatelists know about Japan and her relations with her neighbors. Japan rose from her medieval sleep late, but she awoke with a vengeance. Development in the Japanese economy between 1868, at the start of the Meiji restoration, and 1905, at the start of the Russo-Japanese War, was about as rapid as any country ever experienced. Japan went from a feudal, backwater, agrarian society with almost no industry, to an industrial state capable of defeating Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Japanese designs on China resulted in the annexation of Manchuria in 1931 under a puppet government. Manchuria was then called the province Manchukuo, which issued their own stamps. Once WWII formally started, Japan conquered much of China. The atom bomb and Japan’s total defeat led to a renunciation of Japan’s militaristic goals, but the Chinese never forgot their humiliation, especially Nanking and Manchuria.
Interestingly, the stamps of Manchukuo, which were issued by the Japanese government in Manchuria, have always been popular in Japan and never collected at all in China. This shows that the militaristic streak that the Japanese renounced after WWII was suppressed, not squelched. Nearly all of the Manchuko stamps that we sell are sold to native Japanese. What a nation collects, more than what they say, shows a nation’s underlying aspirations. The Germans are not great collectors of their WWII conquered areas and the stamp issues they created for them; they truly want this era behind them. But the Japanese are avid collectors of their Occupation stamps. This is small evidence, I know, but perhaps it foretells that we are more likely to have long lasting peace in Europe than in East Asia.
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