Sino-Japanese relations in the first half of the 20th century through an analysis of public opinion and official discourse: competing visions of world order and critical turning points.
Most narratives on the relations between Japan and China in the first half of the 20th century have stressed the reasons for conflict, tracing a continuous line from the crisis over Japan's 21 Demands in 1915 to the outbreak of total war in 1937. Japanese scholars, in particular, have long framed this interpretation into a broader discourse on the inescapable consequences of imperialism. This view has been challenged by those who claim that the Great War led to the emergence of a 'New Japan', which actively engaged in international cooperation through the 1920s. The question, in the latter case, is how to explain the steady worsening of bilateral relations in the next decade.
The aim of this panel is to re-examine both theses through an investigation of public opinion and official discourse in China and Japan, with the addition of Great Britain as an external observer. We argue that mutual perceptions of the prospects for peaceful cooperation were not just an outcome of political and military events, but also one of the factors that influenced policy makers in taking decisions that led to such events. Moreover, we point out that public opinion reacted to the representation of one's country that came from overseas, as filtered by the domestic media. This consideration brings forward the need to further readdress national histories in terms of interconnected narratives, inquiring the role of information networks in the development of foreign policy. Accordingly, the panel attempts to bridge the methodological divides between studies that focus on either institutional actors (as typically in diplomatic and political history) or the social dimension (intellectual history and media studies).
The first paper outlines the evolution of competing visions of regional order in Asia by comparing China-centred views with Japanese Asianism. On this premise, each of the other two papers discusses a turning point in bilateral relations. One analyses the international impact of the 21 Demands through the lens of British sources, while the other illustrates how Japanese public opinion reacted to the establishment of the Nationalist government in China.