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Imposing Capitalism: Japanese and American Colonialism in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Cuba, 1890s-1920s


This dissertation project focuses on the emergence of capitalism in sugar-producing colonies during the early 20th century and seeks to answer two specific questions: how did American and Japanese empires export capitalist modes of production to their respective colonies and how did these new modes of production transform local social class relations. Whereas Japan acquired Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria after defeating China in 1895, the United States acquired the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam after the 1898 Spanish-American War. Despite the fact that Taiwan, the Philippines and Cuba became sugar-producing powerhouses, the social class relations that emerged during their early 20th century colonial experiences differed drastically. I argue that the specific interaction between colonial policies reorganizing property rights and existing class dynamics in the newly acquired colonies led to a complete reorganization of the colony’s socioeconomic structure. In each colony, the newly formed class dynamics not only led to higher levels of production, but also established different levels of class inequality and economic development.

This dissertation is a monograph consisting of six chapters. The first chapter describes the methodological and theoretical imperatives delineating the argument. The second chapter shows the similarities between American and Japanese state development projects. I find that whereas the Japanese state was supportive of its imperial expansion, American imperialism faced staunch opposition from within, shaping its colonial policy. The third chapter discusses Japan’s colonization of Taiwan, a small island neglected by the Chinese government. I find that Japanese colonial policy coerced Taiwanese peasants to grow sugar cane by blocking their participation in other economic sectors. Chapter four focuses on the American invasion of the Philippines, a large archipelago neglected by the Spanish crown. Whereas the American administration encouraged American private investment in the colony, Filipino landed elites halted the American amassment of Filipino agricultural land through the creation of a Filipino-owned commercial bank. The fifth chapter discusses Cuban raw sugar. Before the American invasion, Cuba had a local class of extremely successful sugar millers. I find that the Platt Amendment and Reciprocity Act placed Cuban sugar millers in direct competition with American sugar magnates and millers from other insular properties, leading to the dissolution of Cuba’s sugar miller class. In the concluding chapter, I give an overview of the ways colonial investment affected the well- being of their colonized subjects.

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