The forgotten ancestors of East Asian developmentalism
2021 marked the centenary of the creation of the Chinese Communist Party, born of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. History textbooks tend to claim that the Movement emerged out of a widespread realization that China’s rights as a victorious power during WWI had been sold out at the Paris Peace Conference by the European Powers. Students were angered by elite collusion with Japan and the corruption of the early Chinese Republic—also known as the “Beiyang Regime.” The activists found hope in the new Soviet model, and May Fourth is credited with bringing Bolshevism to China and beginning its socialist phase.
In Japan, conversely, state-led economic development has often been attributed to a deliberate attempt to mimic the West industrially and militarily since the Meiji era. Japanese developmentalism is perceived to be strategic and straightforward, enabled after WWII by a foundation of free market capitalism.
In fact, state driven economic development in both countries is the product of a long and complex ideological history. In the late nineteenth century, Chinese and Japanese economists drew inspiration from Hamiltonianism (also known as the “American School”) and German State Socialism