Changes in East Asia after World War II

Subject: History
Pages: 9
Words: 2226
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


The Second World War was the most devastating and extensive war ever carried out by mankind. This war, which took place from 1939 to 1945, involved almost all nations in the world, and it led to the loss of millions of civilian and troop lives. The major outcome of WWII was the defeat of Nazi Germany and its partners by the Allied forces. The war also saw the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the two military and economic world powers.

While these two countries had fought together against Nazi Germany and its allies during the war, they had major ideological differences that saw them pitted against each other in the years after the war. These important outcomes of the war had far-reaching consequences on various regions in the world. One region that experienced major changes in the postwar years was East Asia.

The futures of the countries in this region were greatly affected by the Second World War and the emerging Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. This paper will set out to show how the political and social realities of various East Asian countries underwent major changes in the years immediately following World War II. Four particular East Asian countries, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, will be used to demonstrate the particular postwar changes.


The political landscape in China changed as the Western-backed Nationalists lost power to the Soviet-backed Communists. Since the early 1920s, the nationalistic Kuomintang (KMT) party had ruled over China (Guoli 27). This party was against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is engaged in various efforts to rid China of the communists. However, the nationalists failed in these attempts, and the CCP grew in strength over the years. During WWII, the communists had engaged in a major recruitment campaign, especially in rural China.

Ebrey and Walthall reveals that party propagandists had glorified the Soviet Union and conveyed the message that the Communist Party could build a better and more egalitarian future for the Chinese (451). This message was well received by the majority peasant population who joined the communist party in large numbers. After the end of the Second World War, the KMT and the CCP engaged each other in numerous battles as each party sought to gain control of the country.

The CCP was supported by the Soviets, who provided it with finances and military equipment. On the other hand, the US offered military assistance to the KMT. However, the KMT suffered from poor administration and lack of support from the population (Guoli 27). It was therefore overwhelmed by the Soviet-backed CCP forcing its leaders and some of its followers to flee to Taiwan. In 1949, China became a communist state under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

The economic and social structure of China underwent major changes in the post-war years. By the end of WWII, China was an impoverished state that had suffered from decades of poor planning by the corrupt KMT government (Ebrey and Walthall 450). In the years following the end of the war, the CCP began to take over territory and impose some reforms. Once the communist party took over, industrialization programs were implemented. This improved the economic well being of the average Chinese.

The postwar years also led to the end of the centuries-old landlord system. Under this system, the powerful landlord class exploited the peasants who were forced to work on the land in exchange for being allowed to subsist on it.

The communist regime abolished the landlord system, and the available land was redistribution to the peasants (Guoli 27). By destroying this exploitative system, the economic well-being of millions of peasant farmers was enhanced. The social order in China also changed as the powerful landowning class was eliminated, leading to a more egalitarian society.


At the start of the twentieth century, Korea emerged as the weaker East Asian state when compared to China and Japanese. This weakness led to the imperialistic Japanese government conquering the state and ruling it as a colony from 1910. The most important change after the end of the Second World War was, therefore, the freeing of Korea. Following its defeat during WWII, Japan was forced to relinquish control of its colony.

Ebrey and Walthall (475) observe that after WWII, Korea had hoped to enjoy its new status as a free country. The idea of granting Korea postwar independence was agreed upon by all the Allied powers, including the US and the Soviet Union. However, the struggle for ideological dominance in the country between the US and the Soviet Union led to conflict in the country.

Following the withdrawal of Japan from Korea, Soviet troops moved in to fill in the power void from the north while the US took control from the south of the country. The two liberating forces failed to agree on the future direction the country would take.

As a temporal solution, it was decided that the country should be demarcated into North and South Korea until a more concrete agreement on the future of the country could be implemented. The first major change was, therefore, the splitting of the previously unified Korea into South Korea and North Korea.

Under Japanese rule, the Korean masses had suffered from political and economic disenfranchisement. Andrain asserts that by the end of WWII, the Korean masses were ready for sociopolitical changes (37). The two Koreas started their post-war years under two different political and economic models. South Korea became a democratic capitalistic state under the protection of the US.

Andrain observes that American military personnel were able to enact land redistribution policies that led to the acquisition of land by many peasants in South Vietnam (38). Private ownership was encouraged, and wide-scale industrialization efforts implemented. Socially, the educational opportunities of the Koreans were increased after WWII. US officials enacted policies that were aimed at promoting education in the country. The expanded educational opportunities led to increased literacy among the South Koreans.

North Korea became a communist state under the guidance of the Soviet Union, leading to the adoption of a markedly different political and social course to that of South Korea. Politically, North Korea blended Korean nationalism with elements of Marxism-Leninism with stress on party dominance and state socialism. The state wielded central authority and sought to control the activities of the citizens.

North Korea encouraged rapid economic development by promoting industrialization and the building of human capital. Policymakers came up with plans aimed at ensuring that the nation had a well-educated labor force. Theodore admits that because the two Koreas started from two extreme ideological poles, they evolved along very different paths with North Korea becoming a monolithic society while South Korea became a pluralistic society (1049).


Japan emerged as a devastating nation following its defeat by the Allied forces during the Second World War. Theodore documents that for the Japanese, World War II marked the end of one era and the beginning of another (953).

After Japan’s unconditional surrender, US forces moved in to occupy the country. The United States hoped to implement radical changes that would have far-reaching consequences on the future of Japan. The US began by replacing the Emperor based political system in Japan with a democracy. A new constitution was drafted, which among other things, introduced the doctrine of popular sovereignty, separated state, and religion and reduced the Emperor to a symbolic leader (Caprio and Suguta 9).

A significant change in postwar Japan was the reduction of military spending and the focus on economic reconstruction. Japan had been one of the main aggressors in the Second World War due to the military might of the nation. After the way, the Japanese Prime Minister held the position that military adventurism was harmful to the country (Tellis 70). Proposals by the US for Japan to rearm were therefore rejected.

Japan’s postwar constitution renounced war and led to the depreciation of the country’s military capabilities. The United States promised to provide for the security needs of the country, and Japan only needed to maintain a small army that would provide a domestic defense against foreign invasion.

Without having to worry about its security, Japan could fully concentrate on reintegrating itself into the world economy. Tellis notes that the nation came up with a grand strategy that focused on economic reconstruction (70). The country pursued an economic strategy that optimized access to export markets, national resource supplies, and frontier technologies. The nation was, therefore, able to achieve economic growth leading to the improvement of standards of living for all Japan citizens.

The consumption patterns of Japanese society underwent a dramatic change in the years following the Second World War. Owing to the influence of the Western nations, the people’s attitudes on consumption changed, and Japan embraced consumerism. Theodore explains that before WWII, Japan could be described as a country that valued frugality in everyday life (843). People were focused on diligently saving as much money as they could and engaging in restrained consumption.

World War II led to the defeat of Japan and the subsequent occupation of the country by US forces. This exposed the Japanese people to European and American living patterns. The post-war values of frugality and restrained consumption were abandoned in favor of enjoying life (Caprio and Suguta 9). The lifestyles of the Japanese changed as the nation became westernized, and consumerism became a major feature characterizing the nation.


Vietnam emerged from the Second World War, an independent nation after the unconditional surrender of Japan. A major change in the country was the abolition of the monarchy rule in the country. For centuries, emperors had ruled over Vietnam. These emperors had immense power, and they controlled the wealth of the nation. Ebrey and Walthall reveals that society was divided into classes, and there was great socioeconomic inequality (438). The people also lacked adequate participation in the political affairs of the nation.

After the Second World War, the communists ignited uprisings all over the country and called for political changes. This led to the demise of the monarchy and the establishment of the Vietnam republic. The new communist rulers hoped to implement various land reforms and engage in industrialization efforts in the country.

Ebrey and Walthall notes that it is impossible to implement these plans as France refused to leave Vietnam (438). Following the end of the Second World War, France requested permission to reestablish its old colonial rule in the country, and this request was granted.

The French presence in Vietnam threw the country into chaos in the years after the Second World War. After Japan had given up its rights in Vietnam, the former French colonial administrators hoped to reestablish their rule in the country. To maintain their hold on the country, French forces carried out a deadly rampage in South Vietnam re-established French rule there (Fajardo 6). The communist government was able to maintain hold of the Northern part of the country.

As a result, Vietnam was split into a communist North, and a French-administered Capitalist South. A year after the end of WWII, Vietnam was engaged in the First Indochina War as the country sought to resist French rule. Both the communist and non-communist leaders in the country desired to defeat the French and establish a free Vietnam. Before the war, the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh tried to gather international support for his country’s independence from France.

Fajardo notes that this leader appealed to US President Harry Truman and even asked Soviet, Chinese, and Great Britain leaders to intervene (6). However, his plea was ignored, and the US went on to side with the French during the Indochina War. During the war, the French made use of local Vietnamese recruits in the South and troops from its African colonies.

The economic development of Vietnam was hampered by the Indochina War, which made it impossible for the government to embark on industrialization projects. The war increased communist influence in Vietnam, as the Communist leaders were able to receive support from China.

Ebrey and Walthall notes that before the war, Vietnam leaders had some working relationship with Western powers (438). However, following the war, the Vietnam government embraced communism since the US supported the ambitions of the French to colonize the country. This led to increased fear by the US about expanding Soviet influence in East Asia.


This paper set out to demonstrate how the political, social, and economic landscape of countries in East Asia changed dramatically in the years immediately following World War II. To make this point, the paper embarked on a brief yet informative analysis of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. It began by acknowledging the significance of the Second World War and its major outcomes. The emergence of the Soviet Union and the US as the two world powers had major consequences on the rest of the world.

The paper has documented the political and economic institutions in the East Asian countries changed after World War II. It has shown that most of these changes were influenced by either the Soviet Union or the US. The paper has also recognized the major role that nationalism played in promoting changes in the region. The people in each nation were eager to achieve self-governance and realize economic development, regardless of the political ideologies followed.

Works Cited

Andrain, Charles. Comparative Political Systems: Policy Performance and Social Change. Boston: M.E. Sharpe, 1994. Print.

Caprio, Mark, and Sugita Yoneyuki. Democracy in occupied Japan: the U.S. occupation and Japanese politics and society. London: Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.

Ebrey, Patricia and Anne Walthall. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume II: From 1600. NY: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Fajardo, Margaret. Comparing War Stories: Literature by Vietnamese Americans, United States-Guatemalans, and Filipino Americans. NY: ProQuest, 2007. Print.

Guoli, Liu. Politics and Government in China Understanding China Today. Boston: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print.

Tellis, Ashley. Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy. Canberra: NBR, 2007. Print.

Theodore, William. Sources of East Asian Tradition: The modern period, Volume 2. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2008. Print.