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Pan-Asianism as a general term refers to a wide range of ideas and movements that called for the solidarity of Asian peoples to counter Western influences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Japan, where Pan-Asianism had a decisive influence on the course of its modern history and served as an ideological justification for its military expansionism through 1945, it is referred to as "Asianism" or "Greater Asianism."

Origins and Development in Japan

In the late nineteenth century, when the leaders of the Meiji government pursued Western-style modernization, Pan-Asianists emphasized Japan's affinity with Asia. They felt that Japan's progress could not be secured without the liberation of Asian neighbors from poverty and backwardness and that the Japanese had a mission to lead Asians out of stagnation. Many of the early Pan-Asianists began their political activities in the Freedom and People's Rights movement, demanding democratic participation in the national government. Miyazaki Tōten (pen name of Miyazaki Torazō; 18711922) came from a family of rural samurai well known in their area for their devotion to the People's Rights movement. He was an outstanding example of romantic Pan-Asianism who devoted some thirty years of his life to the cause of Sun Yat-sen's republican revolution in China.

Anxiety over national security was at the root of Pan-Asianism. Tarui Tōkichi (18501922), who explored the coast of Korea in the early 1880s, wrote Daitō gappōron (Federated states of great East), a proposal for a federation of Japan and Korea. His idea, that the only hope for survival for the small Asian nations was in joining forces, reflected a perception among the contemporary Japanese that the "white race" was superior in physical, intellectual, and financial power to the "yellow race."

Defense of indigenous tradition was another issue at this time of rapid modernization. Miyake Setsurei (Yūjirō; 18601945) and other cultural nationalists formed in 1888 a political association, Seikyōsha, for the purpose of raising national pride in kokusui (cultural essence of the nation), and published a series of popular periodicals, Nihonjin (the Japanese), Ajia (Asia), and Nihon oyobi Nihonjin (Japan and the Japanese). Naitō Konan (Torajirō; 18661934), a prominent Sinologist, associated with this group in his early career as a journalist. He held China's culture in high esteem but maintained that China had lost its vigor and needed Japan's guidance for reform. Okakura Tenshin (Kakuzō; 18621913), a gifted art historian who studied with Ernest Fenollosa at Tokyo University, called for the resurgence of the East. He underscored the creative vitality of Chinese and Indian civilizations that had adapted to changing historical circumstances over millennia and attained high levels of maturity. "Asia is one," stated at the opening of Okakura's Ideals of the East, was frequently quoted and had enormous influence.

Pan-Asianist Organizations in Japan

To promote good will among Asian neighbors, the Japanese government encouraged Pan-Asianist organizations. Kōakai (Raise Asia society) was the earliest among them, organized in 1880 by Japanese literati and members of the Chinese legation. In 1898 Prince Konoe Atsumaro (18631904), the chairman of the House of Peers, formed the Tōa dōbunkai (East Asia common culture society). It played a major role in enhancing Japan's cultural policies in China through 1945. Tōyama Mitsuru (18551944), of Fukuoka, the most influential Pan-Asianist outside the government, founded Gen'yōsha (Black ocean society), an expansionist association, in 1881 and named it after Genkainada, the sea between Fukuoka and Korea. Uchida Ryōhei (18741937), one of Tōyama's followers, headed Kokuryūkai (Amur River [black dragon] society), organized in 1901. They cooperated with government authorities as unofficial handlers of visitors from Asia. Numerous Pan-Asianist groups were organized under their influence. Their followers served as freelance agents for the Japanese government, military, and commercial establishments in China.

Development in Twentieth-Century Japan

After Japan joined the ranks of colonial powers following its victories over China in 1895 and Russia in 1905, the Japanese government adopted a policy of cooperation with the Western powers. At the same time it asserted Japan's special interest in China. Around World War I phrases like "Asia for Asians," "Asian Monroe Doctrine," and "White Peril" appeared in newspapers and popular periodicals. The earlier emphasis on solidarity with Asian neighbors was replaced by emphasis on Japan's leadership and supremacy in Asia. The opinions of Tokutomi Sohō (Iichirō; 18631957), the long-lived influential publicist, reflected the changing mood in Japan. Kita Ikki (18841937), who once joined the revolutionary activities in China, urged Japan's aggressive expansion in Asia and called for a radical reform in Japan to establish a kind of state socialism under the emperor. Ōkawa Shūmei (18861957) believed that Japan had a mission to replace white men's imperialism with a federation of all nations and to create a new world blending the civilizations of the East and the West. Ōyawa had close ties with ultranationalist army officers, including Ishiwara Kanji (18891949), the mastermind of Japan's conquest of Manchuria in 1931. During the 1930s and early 1940s, when the Japanese government openly adopted military expansionism, Pan-Asianist ideas were expressed in official declarations proclaiming a "New Order in East Asia" and the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."

Asians and Pan-Asianism

Japan's 1905 victory over Russia, a European power, was received as an exhilarating event throughout Asia. During the following decade, a large number of students and revolutionaries from China, Korea, Philippines, India, and other areas of Asia came to Japan hoping to find encouragement for their nationalistic causes. Sojourners in Tokyo developed a sense of community as Asians. In 1907 Zhang Binglin, Zhang Ji, Liu Shipei, and other revolutionaries from China organized a Yazhou heqin hui (Asiatic humanitarian brotherhood) with revolutionaries from India, Vietnam, Burma, Philippines, and Korea, as well as Japanese socialists, to help each other's anti-imperialist activities. Among its members and their associates were Phan Boi Chau of Vietnam and Mariano Ponce of Philippines. This organization and other similar associations did not last long because Tokyo became a less hospitable place for expatriate revolutionaries. Other Asians increasingly criticized Japanese Pan-Asianism as mere rhetoric for Japanese imperialism. In 1919 Li Dazhao wrote that weak nations in Asia must unite themselves to form a "new Greater Asianism" to defeat Japan's "Greater Asianism." Sun Yat-sen gave a lecture on Pan-Asianism in Kobe in 1924 and tried to persuade the Japanese to join a truly pan-Asian movement instead of becoming a watch-dog for Western imperialists. To the 1926 Japanese call for a Pan-Asian conference in Nagasaki, Chinese and Korean newspapers responded with strong protest against Japan's "Twentyone Demands" on China and imperialist oppression of Koreans.

In India, in the early decades of the twentieth century, Bengali intellectuals had lively debates on the civilizations of the East and the West. Rabindranath Tagore (18611941) eloquently advocated the revival of Asian culture and the unity of Asia, but was against political nationalism. Jawaharlal Nheru followed Tagore in spirit in promoting the ideal of united Asia giving peace to a troubled world.

See also Colonialism: Southeast Asia ; Empire and Imperialism: Asia ; Pan-Africanism ; Pan-Arabism ; Pan-Islamism ; Pan-Turkism .


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Jansen, Marius B. The Japanese and Sun Yat-sen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954.

Kuzuu, Yoshihisa. Tōa senkaku shishi kiden. 3 vols. Tokyo: Kokuryūyai, 19331936.

Miyazaki, Tōten. My Thirty-three Years' Dream: The Autobiography of Miyazaki Tōten. Translated by Etō Shinkichi and Marius B. Jansen. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Okakura, Kakuzō. The Ideals of the East, with Special Reference to the Art of Japan. 2nd ed. New York: Dutton, 1905.

Tarui, Tōkichi. Daitō gappōron. In Nihon shisōshi shiryōsōkan, vol. 1. Tokyo: Chōryō Shorin, 1975.

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Noriko Kamachi

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