Accepted paper:

Chinese Perceptions of Asia and Japanese Pan-Asianism in the Early 20th century


Shin Kawashima (The University of Tokyo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how Chinese visions of regional order in Asia and Japanese Pan-Asianism evolved and influenced each other in the first half of the 20th century. In particular, the analysis tracks the legacy of the concept of tribute relations in modern nationalist discorse.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation explores the mutual relationship between the Chinese perception of Asia and Japanese Pan-Asianism in the early 20th century, tracking the formation and revision of these views of world order through three successive phases. Firstly, under the 'Guangxu New Policy' the Qing government adopted modern diplomacy. Chinese intellectuals gradually changed their vision of the world, which shifted from a China-centric order towards acceptance of the so-called international society of sovereign states. The concept of tribute relations with the surrounding Asian countries, however, lingered among intellectuals and in the official historiography. Textbooks presented the history of Asia as part of Chinese history, describing the process of colonisation and imperialist advance of the Western powers in terms of China's loss of its 'national rights'. At the same time, there were many Chinese students in Japan who came in contact with textbooks that put the accent on the decline of China in the international order, but with the purpose of denying the central role of China. Japanese intellectuals initially proposed the concept of Asianism with strong sympathy for those countries that faced aggression by the Western powers. In the 1910s, however, Japanese Asianism took a strong imperialist connotation. Chinese intellectuals opposed such discourse, emphasising equality and friendship among Asian countries. Moreover, some politicians and intellectuals, like Sun Yat-sen, re-evaluated positively the traditional tribute relations in contrast to Western imperialism. Others supported an even more nationalistic stance, claiming that all the former tribute countries should be part of the Chinese national territory. In the 1930, the KMT revised its interpretation of the Three principles of the people, insisting on friendship among Asian countries with a shared historical experience so as to oppose Western aggression and pursue independence. Lastly, in wartime, Japan launched the concept of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, while China proposed its counter-concept under the Three principles of the people. Chiang Kai-shek visited India to pursuit cooperation with Nehru as leaders of Asia. However, some intellectuals and officials who harboured strong nationalist sentiments against Japan still imagined that China had to include the former tribute countries.

panel S7_10
Reflecting Mirrors: Sino-Japanese Relations in the International Public Discourse, 1901-1945