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  • Rationalizing the OrientThe "East Asia Cooperative Community" in Prewar Japan
  • Han Jung-Sun (bio)

In the late 1930s an amorphous notion of kyōdōtai (cooperative community) gained currency among a wide range of Japanese intellectuals.1 According to Rōyama Masamichi (1895-1980), one of the leading proponents of the concept, the "cooperative community" should serve as a means of transcending regional ethnic and national conflicts and of facilitating "regional economic development" (chiikiteki keizai no kaihatsu) for the welfare of all Asians.2 The notion also called for reorganizing the political economy of Japan so as to ensure efficient social mobilization and sustainable growth as an empire. In its domestic dimension, the kyōdōtai was to be the basis of a new voluntary collectivity, a "three-dimensional social entity" (rittaiteki na shakaiteki sonzai), encompassing diverse political and social interests.3

The notion of kyōdōtai rested on the following assumptions: 1) the East Asian region needed a new order that would be led by imperial Japan and that was to supersede the existing League of Nations-centered order; 2) this new order, [End Page 481] however, could be sustained only by collaborative relations between metropole and colony, and between Japan and China; 3) such collaborative relations required in turn the rational, scientific, and multicultural redefinition of the guiding principles for governing metropole, Japan, and the Orient so as to promote voluntary individual participation in the multiethnic imperial project.

By analyzing the intellectual matrix underlying the formation and development of the kyōdōtai idea, this article attempts to readdress one of the enduring questions of prewar Japanese society: why did the variety of efforts to create a pluralist and internationalist society in the 1920s in the end converge in the 1930s in the logic of ultranationalist militarism and the assertion of a mythology of Japanese uniqueness?4 Within a larger context, this question relates to one raised by Ronald P. Dore: "in what sense does the prospect that the world might be getting more culturally homogeneous (Westernized, modernized) have implications for the possibilities of sustaining an international order?"5

To explore these questions, I will focus here primarily on the ideas and activities of Rōyama Masamichi in the interwar period. Rōyama has been recognized as one of the leading liberal-minded and internationalist figures of the time. Yet, in the wake of the China Incident of 1937, he came to embrace the wartime mobilization program of the Japanese state. As a charter member of the Shōwa Research Association (Shōwa Kenkyûkai ), a policy-oriented research organization centered around then-premier Konoe Fumimaro (1891-1945), Rōyama actively participated in promoting wartime mobilization by formulating and circulating the idea of an "East Asia Cooperative Community" (tōa kyōdōtai).

Various scholars, highlighting Rōyama's activities during the late 1930s, have categorized his turn to Japan-centered regional ideas as a classical case of "conversion" (tenkō).6 Yet, surprisingly little attention has been paid to his activities during the late 1920s in the Japan Council of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) or, as the Japanese called it, the Taiheiyō Mondai Chōsakai (Pacific Problems Research Association).7 This is unfortunate since Rōyama's activities and writings in association with the Japan Council help to untangle the conceptualization of kyōdōtai from within. I argue that Rōyama's turn to the regionalist notion of kyōdōtai represents less a conversion from internationalist [End Page 482] liberalism to nationalist regionalism than a rationalization of internationalist liberalism that ended up justifying Japanese military assaults.

A few comments on some of these terms are in order. Throughout this essay, I use the term rationalization to denote the intellectual process through which the notion of efficient and effective economic development became the supreme ideal of social organization.8 By internationalist liberalism I mean the intellectual agenda of the 1920s, which presupposed the "open door" or "informal" imperialist order of the late nineteenth century.9

In what follows, I first trace the intellectual development of Rōyama from the mid-1910s to the 1920s. Articulated within the framework of an evolutionary world history...


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