This essay is about Pan-Asianism, what it means, how it came about and the major proponents of the idea. The essay also sheds light on major events that took place during this time, the part played by respective Asian countries with a Japan being the major focus due to reasons which are also discussed herein. The essay also talks about the effects of this movement to Asia as a continent as well as the respective countries. Pan-Asianism has been defined with different opinions which are always contradicting one another. This essay is of the opinion that Pan-Asianism was a way that Japan wanted to control the whole of Asia. The essay explains why it is of the opinion and how far Japan reached with their endeavors, why they failed and the consequences that followed.
Pan-Asianism was the idea of combining all the countries in Asia under one leadership in such a way that it forms one big and powerful country. A Japanese definition puts it that Asian countries should unify under the Japanese leadership in order to defeat the much stronger western powers.1The idea was to promote unity in Asia so as to be in a position to stand steady against European Imperialism. Even though Pan-Asianism was aimed at creating unity among all the people of Asia, it was more evident in East Asia a region which included Japan, Korea, and China. It started to develop in the late 19th century. For this great union to occur it means that it had to have one leader and this would be Japan. From only the definition then we can start to suspect Japan’s intent. There were a lot of Asian countries which were also stable and knowing that Asia is the largest continent on the planet, why was it Japan that had to take the leadership position?
The development of Pan-Asianism
When the western powers started expanding their territory into East Asia and increasing their military, economic as well as their diplomatic might, Asia became awake and that is when the term Asia started gaining popularity in the mid-19th Century. The Opium War (1839-1842) in which British emerged victoriously tipped Asia the threat posed by Europe. During this period different nations had a different perspective of what civilization entailed. Europe, for example, thought civilization was the ability of a nation to protect its people from external threats. Several movements were formed which championed for this movement. People of other nationalities who went to exile in Japan also had the opportunity to interact with each other to become more aware, embrace and spread Pan-Asianism. These included Vietnamese, Indians, Filipinos, Indonesians and other nationalities who sought refuge in Japan.
Asian elites who were present in Japan e.g. students also had an opportunity to interact with each other and develop some sense of Asian consciousness. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905 also acted as a catalyst to this movement. Japan emerged as victors of the war leaving Russia defeated and humiliated. According to Duara this lifted the spirit of the Japanese leaders and people and the whole of Asia. This was because they found out that they could also defeat imperialist powers. The news of Russia’s defeat overwhelmed a lot of people even in Egypt an event which saw an Egyptian inform a Chinese revolutionary leader by the name Sun Yat-sen who was traveling through the Suez Canal. This would favor the Japanese to lead Asia in an attempt to liberate them from the western imperialism.
The defeat of Russia by Japan acted as a motivation for the to pursue their ambition and establish their own rule over Asia which was at this point already bowing to them. Japan initially used to identify with the West and their ideas and suddenly shifted their interest to a sudden interest in Pan-Asianism and reject the western ideologies. Japan’s withdrawal from the league of nations would also be a major turning point for this movement.Esenbel argues that the withdrawal from the league of nations was a hint of Japanese readiness to work with Muslims in Asia as well as Muslim states to gain power and popularity to rule over Asia.This would also promote their idea of Pan-Asianism.
Japanese were threatened by China’s influence in the region and this propelled them to develop more and urgent desire to lead Asia. Pan-Asianism was sometimes used to refer to Japans territorial and colonial expansion. Japan can be seen as opportunists who took advantage of the current and emerging world trends to deceive Asia by making the people believe that they needed to be united under them in order to defeat the Western Imperialism. Japan aimed at establishing its own colonial rule but employ tactics which would raise little or no suspicion at all. It banked on the need that Asia was vulnerable e.g. after China lost the Opium War to Britain but Japan emerging victorious in the Russo-Japanese war.
Responses to Pan-Asianism
Pan-Asianism was important in policy formulation in Japan where we find out that many people supported the development of this movement. It is, however, something that was to unite all Asians so they had a part to play or a say about this movement. Different Asian states reacted to this movement differently. Some were supportive even though others were very critical. Pan-Asianasim made a debut in China in the 1910s even though, in Korea, similar terms were used to describe similar movement i.e. Easternism which referred to Japan, Korea, and China. Koreans were always suspicious of this movement and had a feeling it was a scheme by the Japanese to establish their own colonial rule over the Eastern Asia.
The Koreans also had the fear of a possible eruption of a race war between Asia and the West over some period of time. Koreans highly suspected the intention of the Japanese in the formation of this alliance but were forced to join together an event which saw them become a Japanese protectorate and later colony in 1905 and 1910 respectively. They, however, feared that the white and yellow races would go to war. Koreans, however, were always unsuspicious of the powerful Japan and China and some of the intellectuals from Korea predicted a war between the Great East Asian war or popularly known as the Japanese Empire. This name also elaborates the intention of the Japanese from the beginning. Some Koreans championed for equal rights among the member states. If Japan’s main aim was to bring the people of Asia together, why did it chose to call it ‘Japanese Empire’ and not a name that was all inclusive or why was the division of power not equal?
Chinese intellectuals also criticized Japanese Pan-Asianism which was seen as a tool for Japanese expansionism. Most of these intellectuals despite the fact that they were not pleased with this Pan-Asianism still voiced the need for unity in the region. A Chinese scholar and revolutionary known as Zhang Taiyan(1868–1936), branded Japan an enemy of Asia. He also talked about “double enslavement of the Chinese” which came from western imperialism and the Manchu rule. Despite all this, he went ahead and formed Asiatic Humanitarian Brotherhood with the sole aim of promoting togetherness among Asians. Li Dazhao (1888–1927), another revolutionary Chinese leader, was also in disagreement with the Japanese Pan-Asianism. He went ahead and called for the formation of a better new Asianism which would be free from Japanese biases and selfishness. There were also Pan-Asian conferences held by China and Japan in Nagasaki and Shanghai in 1926 and 1927 respectively which also proved Chinese resentment towards Japanese Pan-Asianism.
Japan invaded Chinese in what was termed as the Pan-Asian holy war which would see Chinese resent Asian solidarity movements for several years.According to Hotta’s Japanese 15 years of war, they were actually the oppressors of Asia as opposed to what they allegedly founded Pan-Asianism for. They went to war with China because of China’s criticism and disapproval of their version of Pan-Asianism. Most Indians however, still had hope and believed that Japan was the liberator of Asia because they needed Japan to help them attain independence. They, however, did not know or have a firsthand experience of what it means to be under the rulership of Japan. There was the mixed reaction among the Asians to Japanese leadership and Pan-Asianism. Those that had never been under Japanese leadership and were battling western powers, looked up to Japanese leadership like in the case of Western Asia. We can deduce that Japan won over nations by promising liberation and preaching solidarity while in reality conquering Asia.
Pan-Asianism and the Second World War
The second world war also known as the Pacific War in Asia started in 1941 to 1945. The war broke out after Japan carried out a surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Japanese attacked expecting surrender even though the retaliation by the Americans was way worse. During this period of Pacific War, some Pan-Asianists still remained loyal to the Japanese course of Pan-Asianism. Leaders like Ôkawa Shûmeistill dedicated their time to this course. He devoted his time explaining Japanese war aims and explain how the Greater East Asian war begun as well as its goals. He also monitored the development of the Indian army as Japan had been supporting India to attain their independence.
The creation of the Indian National Army and its independence was one of the greatest achievements of Japan’s Pan-Asianism. Chandra Bose an Indian leader explained how he was ready to shake hands with the devil himself just to drive the British out of India when his preparedness to collaborate with Germany was questioned. It can be assumed that he also viewed Japan as another devil. He was prepared to get involved even with a side that they did not share much in common but an enemy. It could also be true to say that he employed the saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Japan in response to the Atlantic Charter wanted to get rid of the Western forces and their interests in Asia but did not clarify on the way forward after that.
On the 15th of August, 1945, Japans surrender was announced after the U.S.A-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki an event which records Japan in history as the first country to suffer the effects of the atomic bomb. Ôkawa Shûmei regretted how his hard work “toward the revival of Asia had disappeared like a soap bubble.”Even though Japan’s Pan-Asianism crumbled to an end, the decolonization of Asia would be soon complete. After the war ended, Ôkawa Shûmei was charged by Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as a class A criminal owing to his involvement in Pan-Asianism even though the charges were later dropped upon discovery of his brain syphilis. Japanese leaders were found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggression.
This essay has discussed at length the development of Pan-Asianism and the role Japan played in the whole of it. We can see how it was a role of self-interest rather than the proposed which was to liberate Asia. Japan proclaimed themselves stronger and took it upon themselves to liberate the weaker Asia. It is also evident that they resorted to extreme measures to show their dominance in the region. It is after the Pacific War that Asia was truly liberated and this was after the tragic defeat of Japan who was the oppressor rather than the liberator. The nations that supported Japans Pan-Asianism were those in dire need of liberation of the Western powers and were ready to take desperate measures to liberate their countries.
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Duara, Prasenjit. “The discourse of civilization and pan-Asianism.” Journal of World History 12, no. 1 (2001): 99-130.
Esenbel, Selçuk. “Japan’s Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900-1945.” The American Historical Review 109, no. 4 (2004): 1140-1170.
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Schlehe, Judith. “Concepts of Asia, the West and the Self in contemporary Indonesia: An anthropological account.” South East Asia Research 21, no. 3 (2013): 497-515.
Totani, Yuma. The Tokyo war crimes trial: the pursuit of justice in the wake of World War II. Vol. 299. Harvard Univ Council on East Asian, 2009.
- Prasenjit Duara, “The discourse of civilization and pan-Asianism.”Journal of World History 12, no. 1 (2001), 99.
- Ibid, 109
- Ibid, 114
- CemilAydin,The politics of anti-Westernism in Asia: visions of world order in pan-Islamic and pan-Asian thought (Columbia University Press, 2007).
- SelçukEsenbel. “Japan’s Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900-1945.” The American Historical Review 109, no. 4 (2004), 1140.
- Duara, The discourse of civilization, 118
- Hotta, Japan’s War, 3
- Aydin,The politics of anti-Westernism in Asia.
- Yuma Totani,The Tokyo war crimes trial: the pursuit of justice in the wake of World War II. Vol. 299. (Harvard Univ Council on East Asian, 2009).