Pan-Asianism (also known as Asianism or Greater Asianism) is an ideology that promotes the unity of Asian peoples. Several theories and movements of Pan-Asianism have been proposed, specifically from East, South and Southeast Asia. Motivating the movement has been resistance to Western imperialism and colonialism and a belief that "Asian values" should take precedence over "European values." During the Cold War, the movement became less vigorous, as nations in the region aligned with one or the other of the superpowers.
Before and during World War II, this was a major element in Japanese propaganda to justify Japanese external invasions. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was an example of this propaganda.
Japanese Asianism developed in intertwining among debates on solidarity with Asian nations who were under pressure of Europe and on aggressive expansion to the Asian continent. The former debates originated from liberalism. Their ideologues were Tokichi Tarui (1850–1922) who argued for equal Japan-Korea unionization for cooperative defence against the European powers, and Kentaro Oi (1843–1922) who attempted domestic constitutional government in Japan and reforms of Korea. Pan-Asian thought in Japan began to develop in the late 19th century and was spurred on particularly following the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). This created interest from Bengali poets Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo and Chinese politician Sun Yat-sen.
The growing official interest in broader Asian concerns was shown in the establishment of facilities for Indian Studies. In 1899, Tokyo Imperial University set up a chair in Sanskrit and Kawi, with a further chair in comparative religion being set up in 1903. In this environment, a number of Indian students came to Japan in the early twentieth century, founding the Oriental Youngmen's Association in 1900. Their anti-British political activity caused consternation to the Indian Government, following a report in the London Spectator.
However, Japanese society had been strongly inclined to ultranationalism from the Freedom and People's Rights Movement. The latter debates on aggressive expansionism to Asia became clearly apparent. Their representatives were the Black Ocean Society and the Black Dragon Society. The Black Dragon Society (1933) argued for Japanese imperialism and expansionism, and they led to a debate on securing the Asian continent under Japanese control. Exceptionally, Ryōhei Uchida (1874–1937), who was a member of the Black Dragon Society, was a Japan-Korea unionist and activist of Philippines and Chinese revolutions.
Tōten Miyazaki (1870–1922) consistently supported a Chinese revolution of Sun Yat-sen with spiritual sacrifice and sympathy under imperial Japan. Okakura Kakuzō (1862–1913) criticized European imperialism as a destroyer of human beauty, and argued for romantic solidarity with diverse "Asia as one" against European civilization.
ASIA is one. The Himalayas divide, only to accentuate, two mighty civilisations, the Chinese with its communism of Confucius, and the Indian with its individualism of the Vedas. But not even the snowy barriers can interrupt for one moment that broad expanse of love for the Ultimate and Universal, which is the common thought-inheritance of every Asiatic race, enabling them to produce all the great religions of the world, and distinguishing them from those maritime peoples of the Mediterranean and the Baltic, who love to dwell on the Particular, and to search out the means, not the end, of life.
In this Okakura was utilising the Japanese concept of sangoku, which existed in Japanese culture before the concept of Asia became popularised. Sangoku literally means the "three countries": Honshu (the largest island of Japan), Kara (China) and Tenjiku (India).
However, most Pan-Asianists were nationalistic and imperialistic and were connected with rightist organizations. They discussed self-righteous solidarity which led to ideology such as a "new order" of East Asia and "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" based on Japanese supremacy.
New Greater Asianism from China
In a Chinese perspective, Japanese Asianism was interpreted as a rationalized ideology for Japanese military aggression and political absorption (cf. Twenty-One Demands). In 1917, Li Dazhao (1889–1927) argued for liberation of Asian nations and equal greater Asian union. In 1924, Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) stated that the West was hegemonic and the East was Confucian, and he argued for full independence by resisting colonialism with "Greater Asianism" which unified Asian nations.
Political leaders from Sun Yat-sen in the 1910s and 20s to Mahathir Mohamad in the 1990s argue that the political models and ideologies of Europe lack values and concepts found in Asian societies and philosophies. European values such as individual rights and freedoms would not be suited for Asian societies in this extreme formulation of Pan-Asianism.
The idea of "Asian values" is somewhat of a resurgence of Pan-Asianism. One foremost enthusiast of the idea was the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. In India, Rammanohar Lohia dreamed of a united socialist Asia.
- Tarui, Tokichi (1893) Daito Gappo-ron
- See Osaka Incident of 1885.
- Okakura, Tenshin (1904) Ideal of the East
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- 1924 speech on Greater Asianism
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