[Continued from this page.]
Yet, for all this cultural tension, the material advantages of the West and of modernity in general became obvious to most Asians, except for a very small number of reactionary obscurantists. Western-style modernity was an indispensible condition for success in the nineteenth-century world. For that reason, along with the majority of Asians, most pan-Asianists never rejected modernity as such. Many ancient Asian customs and practices were patently useless or anachronistic in the modern world, and, under the circumstances, the chief problem that had to be overcome was the antiquated structure of state and society. But was everything distinctive about the East to be denied? Initially there was a tendency to discard the whole culture, lock, stock, and barrel. In an excess of modernizing enthusiasm, some Japanese even wanted to give up their native tongue in favor of English. Needless to say, such proposals were at best impractical. But were there aspects of Eastern tradition still of relevance in this Western-dominated world? Above all in the realms of ethics, morals, and philosophical and religious thought, convincing arguments could be made for the relevance, if not the superiority, of Eastern traditions—arguments that the reader will encounter time and again throughout this collection.
While the meaning—and even the existence—of “Asian values” remains debatable, the notion of commonly held Asian values and a common culture and racial identity, which together constitute the basis of Pan-Asianism, is closely related to the sentiment of a “common destiny” for Asian peoples. This latter notion represents another recurrent theme in Pan-Asianism—one that perhaps retains much of its appeal even today, if recent statements by Asian governments (e.g., the initiative of former Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio to prioritize East Asian community) or declarations by transnational organizations such as ASEAN, are anything to go by. It is impossible to gauge whether such sentiments will contribute to the realization of closer transnational cooperation or even regional integration in the future. To be sure, obstacles to regional cooperation in East Asia remain numerous. They include not only strong expressions of nationalism and the negative legacies of World War II but also the geography and demographics of Asia. Unlike in the case of European countries, the “Other,” or the “enemy,” for many smaller Asian nations is to be found within Asia, not somewhere outside. While Asia will certainly never be “one,” we may anticipate continued progress in the areas of regional cooperation and integration, developments that can contribute to the stability and the prosperity of the region.
The Origins of Pan-Asianism: Macronationalism and Transnationalism
The term “Asia” came into common use in East Asia only in the mid-nineteenth century in response to the increasing diplomatic, military, and economic presence of the Western powers, and their territorial expansion in East Asia. The Opium War of 1839–1842 was a watershed in the history of Asian–European encounters. The British victory led to the recognition, throughout East Asia, of Europe as a common threat, and it was at that time that intellectuals and politicians throughout the region began to consider the questions of “Asia” and Asian solidarity. With a view to giving the concept of solidarity substance, they began exploring Asian cultural commonalities and the common historical heritage of the continent. It is of course true that, as Hamashita Takeshi and other scholars have pointed out, East Asian countries had a long history of interaction before the nineteenth century. This took the form of an interstate system, centered on China. It was this Sinocentric system (sometimes also known as the tributary system) to which the Western powers had to accommodate when they first came into contact with East Asian states. But it was the acute sense of crisis brought about by the Chinese defeat in the Opium War that forced Asian writers and thinkers actively to pursue the agenda of a united Asia, an Asia with a common goal—the struggle against Western imperialism.
Ideas of Asian solidarity came in a large variety of forms, as did the geographical definitions underlying claims for regional solidarity. Some forms of the concept were based on assumptions of racial unity, following, curiously enough, racial notions that had originated in the West (Hannaford 1996; Dikötter 1997). Others tended to emphasize commonalities in culture and language (more accurately written language). This was especially the case in East Asia, often referred to in the West as the “Orient” (Japanese: Tōyō; Korean: Tong’yang; Chinese:Dongyang), a region which, for thousands of years, had been under the powerful influence of Chinese civilization. (The term “East Asia” was used from the late nineteenth century on [Japanese: Tōa; Korean: Dong-a; Chinese: Dong-ya].) In this context, some thinkers saw the new quest for solidarity as a strengthening of the existing networks of economic and cultural exchange. Others were inspired by pan-movements emerging almost simultaneously in Europe and America. The various approaches to Pan-Asianism, however, all shared a common emphasis on transnationalism and Asian unity.
[TO BE CONTINUED...]
The Szpilman and Saaler on Pan-Asianism — Part 2 by AsiaBizBlog, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.