Japan also nullified its naval disarmament agreements with the Western powers.

Militarists Gain Power

In the early 1930s, ultranationalists were winning support from the people for renewing foreign conquests and taking a tough stand against the Western powers. Members of extreme nationalist societies assassinated a number of politicians and business leaders who opposed expansion. Military leaders plotted to overthrow the government and, in 1936, briefly occupied the center of Tokyo.

Revival of Traditional Values

Civilian government survived, but by 1937, the unrest forced the government to accept military domination. To please the ultranationalists, the government cracked down on socialists and suppressed most democratic freedoms. It revived ancient warrior values and built a cult around Emperor Hirohito, who had ascended to the throne in 1926. According to Japanese tradition, the emperor was descended from the sun goddess and was himself a living god.

In theory, Hirohito was the nation's supreme authority. In practice, however, he merely approved the policies that his ministries formulated. To spread its nationalist message, the government used schools to teach students absolute obedience to the emperor and service to the state.

Expansion into China

Japan took advantage of China's civil war to increase its influence there. By 1937, as you have read, its armies had invaded the Chinese mainland and overran eastern China.

Japan expected to complete its conquest of China within a few years. But in 1939, while the two nations were locked in deadly combat, World War II broke out in Europe. That conflict swiftly spread to Asia, where France and Britain had large empires.

In 1936, Japan had allied with two aggressive European powers, Germany and Italy. These three powers signed the Tripartite Pact in September 1940, cementing the alliance known as the Axis Powers. That alliance, combined with renewed Japanese conquests, would turn World War II into a brutal, wide-ranging conflict waged not only across the continent of Europe but across Asia and the islands of the Pacific as well.

Photo of lines of men in military uniforms marching with bayonets to a drummer through a Chinese city street.

Japanese soldiers occupied Beijing in 1937. Japan took control of large parts of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, from 1937 to 1945.


  1. Summarize What political and economic changes occurred in Japan during the 1920s?
  2. Identify Cause and Effect Why did the new republic of China fall into chaos after 1912?
  3. Integrate Information Why did the Communists and the Guomindang cooperate during the Northern Expedition in 1926? How did the expedition affect their long-term relationship?
  4. Infer Judging from the example of Japan, why might a nation turn to military leaders and extreme nationalists during a crisis? Cite details from the text.
  5. Identify Central Ideas How did the Japanese invasion affect the civil war in China?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments