AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 522

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Session 522: Rehabilitating the East Asian Community: Recent Historiography on Pan-Asianism

Organizer and Chair: Sven T. Saaler, Sophia University, Japan

Discussant: Michael A. Schneider, Knox College, USA

In postwar Europe, regional integration and regionalism have been identified as highly important instruments to preserve peace. In East Asia, too, voices have emerged in recent years that emphasize the necessity of an “East Asian Peace Community” and the potential of regionalist concepts to achieve that objective. In the East Asian context, regionalism until recently had been mostly seen as identical with Pan-Asianism, an ideology which, due its historical complicity with Japanese imperialism and colonialism, has been predominantly interpreted as window dressing for expansionism and claims to hegemony and domination. However, this assessment has been challenged in recent years in all East Asian countries, where voices have emerged in academia, journalism and diplomacy that challenge one-sided interpretations of Pan-Asianism as a synonym for imperialism and emphasize the potential of Pan-Asianism as a “peace ideology.” In this panel, scholars from Europe and East Asia trace the legacies of prewar regionalist concepts in postwar East Asia, the relations between European and East Asian regionalisms, and identify recent trends in the historiography of Pan-Asianism in China, Japan and South Korea. Christopher Szpilman’s presentation will trace pan-Asian patterns of thought in the Japanese postwar peace movement. Christian Spang’s paper addresses the connections between prewar geopolitcs and scientific geography and the legacies of geopolitcs in postwar Japan. Torsten Weber’s presentation will explore the revival of regionalist concepts and of Pan-Asianism in recent China and Eun-jeung Lee in her presentation will address the “re-discovery” of “East Asia” by Korean intellectuals since the 1990s.

The Pan-Asian Roots of postwar Japan’s Peace Movement
Christopher W. A. Szpilman, Kyushu Sangyo University, Japan

This presentation explores the relation between prewar Pan-Asianism and the Japanese postwar peace movement. The peace movement arose in the 1950s and before the end of the decade grew so rapidly that at one time the demonstrations it inspired led to the resignation of at least one cabinet and the cancellation of at least one presidential visit. The peace movement remains powerful and influential in Japan today with proponents rallying in large numbers to such causes as the defense of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and the elimination of American base from Japan. The characteristics of the peace movement include strong anti-Americanism, mixed with a powerful feeling of sympathy for the peoples of Asia oppressed by Western colonialism, a strong sense that Japan is making significant contribution to world peace, the conviction that Japan is a unique country which gives the Japanese a special understanding of peace that other nationalities cannot easily grasp and that Japan has a historic mission to accomplish in the world. These characteristics are also common to Pan-Asianism. By drawing on a number of published and unpublished sources I argue that this is not a coincidence and that postwar peace movement has been influenced by pan-Asian ideology. Although Pan-Asianism is by and large regarded as a right wing ideology and the Japanese peace movement has been on the whole a movement of the left, a number of (former) Pan-Asianists were prominent in it.

From Boom to Taboo and Back? Japanese Geopolitics before and after 1945
Christian W. Spang, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Around 1940, Japanese scholars and political advisers were looking for a rationale to justify the implementation of pan-Asian concepts and the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Many turned to German geopolitics, specifically to the writings of Karl Haushofer. Two of his concepts were met in Japan with great interest: 1) his understanding of the monsoon area as a geopolitical unit and 2) his Lebensraum theories, particularly his ideas of pan-regionalism. While geopolitics had been used before “Pearl Harbor” as a justification of Japan’s aspirations abroad, after the outbreak of the Pacific War it became an instrument of “total war” propaganda. The main representative of this kind of geopolitics was Komaki Saneshige, who was the head of the Geography Department at Kyoto University and a zealous advocate of Pan-Asianism. Because of its wartime association with Japanese expansionism, geopolitics was discredited in postwar Japan. In Japan, and as well in Germany, well-known geographers in 1946/47 claimed that academic geography had never been involved in geopolitics. However, outside the academic mainstream, a low-profile support for geopolitics has continued in both countries. In the 1980s, Japan even experienced a boom of popular scientific publications on geopolitics, which frequently referred to Haushofer, while ignoring the wartime association of Japanese geography with geopolitics.

Re-discovering “Asia” in China: History Politics and the Revision of Asianism in 21st century China
Torsten Weber, German Institute for Japanese Studies, Japan

With the rising political and economic power of China, a more proactive Chinese stance has emerged with regard to the claim to global and regional leadership. In this context, “Asia” has recently been rediscovered by the Chinese as a useful politico-intellectual concept to increase China’s national influence in the region. As a consequence, the mainly economic and political process of regional integration has been complemented by discursive strategies to appeal to Asian commonality and by a historical narrative that seeks to revive a pre-modern “golden age” of intra-Asian exchange. Affirmations of this “new Asianism,” however, have become a balancing act as they require a revision of the hitherto predominant emphasis on Chinese nationalism on the one hand and of Japanese conceptions of Asianism that had previously been dismissed indiscriminately, on the other. In addition, China’s new embrace of Asianist conceptions is challenged by rivaling Asianist rhetoric – and implicit claims to regional leadership – from both Japan and Korea. While official discourse in China attempts to construct a new Sinocentric conception of Asianism that explicitly draws on models from Chinese history, some Chinese historians and activists prefer to employ “Asia” as a method to critique the rationale of globalization. Reviewing changes and continuities in Chinese Asia discourse from the nineteenth century to the present, this paper examines how historical notions of “Asia” as an assumed political, economic, and cultural body are instrumentalized in public political discourse in contemporary China.

The “Re-Discovery” of East Asia by Korean Intellectuals
Eun-jeung Lee, Freie Universitat, Germany

During the early 1990s Korean intellectuals (re)discovered East Asia. Although participants in this new East Asia discourse come from different fields and ideological backgrounds, they clearly shared certain common characteristics. One of them is the search for convergence and non-convergence in East Asia, which is seen as the Confucian hemisphere. East Asia is represented as an alternative model of civilization in contrast to the dominant Western one. In this sense one of the basic paradigms of Korean discourse on East Asia is to overcome the West. In its normative pretence, just like in similar discourse in Japan, the necessity of the formation of an East Asian Community is taken for granted. Hence, it is not surprising that there is a strong notion of expansionist nationalism in this discourse in Korea. This notion is related to the question of hegemony in East Asia. It is taken for granted that Korea will play a dominant role as a cultural force in East Asia. In this paper, I will analyze the basic characteristics and the historical significance of discourse on East Asia in Korea and I will attempt to answer the following questions: Why did Korean intellectuals develop such great interest in East Asia during the 1990s? To what extent were they influenced by Japanese and Western discourse on Asia? How did they, as “opinion leaders,” influence the public perception of East Asia?