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  • Pan-Asianism and Japan's War, 1931-1945
  • Thomas W. Burkman (bio)
Pan-Asianism and Japan's War, 1931–1945. By Eri Hotta. Palgrave Mac-millan, New York, 2007. xiv, 290 pages. $79.95.

Pan-Asianism, the subject of this engaging historical and intellectual work, is not a new topic to students of modern Japan. But never before have Western readers been offered a monograph with so thoroughgoing and nuanced a treatment of Pan-Asianism and its relationship to Japan's trauma of war in the mid–twentieth century. Those devoted to Japan's international history will come away from this book with an enlarged understanding of the pervasive influence of Pan-Asianist thought in Japan's imperial project.

Eri Hotta, a scholar native to Japan and currently residing in New York, earned her D.Phil. in international relations at Oxford, where she taught from 2001 to 2005. Her study begins with a historical survey of Pan-Asianism, which she traces from the "Teaist" school of Okakura Tenshin and Rabin-dranath Tagore, through the Sinitic ("same letter") thought of Konoe Atsumaro [End Page 169] and Inukai Tsuyoshi, to the Meishuron (Japan as leader) rendition of Ishiwara Kanji and many others—the last being the major focus. The author draws from diplomatic and military records in Japan and London and from a wide range of biographies, memoirs, and philosophical writings. She references secondary works from both sides of the Atlantic. Hotta addresses Pan-Asianism through the minds, personalities, and circumstances of the many individuals who embraced it in its various forms. Throughout the book, she cogently argues two major theses: Pan-Asianism—though diverse and complex—is a rigorously developed intellectual movement; and Pan Asianism is not simply a "disingenuous rhetoric" employed by expansionists to justify actions that were essentially material and hegemonic.

The pre-Meishuron versions of Pan-Asianism were the most egalitarian and comprehensive. Not only China but India as well was part of the picture in the search for Asian cultural commonalities. Asian expatriates living in Japan—such as Sun Yat-sen and Rash Behari Bose—contributed to the intellectual discussion. Japanese adherents saw their nation as a beneficiary as well as a benefactor in the cultural exchange. Up until the 1930s, Japanese Pan-Asianists were likely to affirm the rising nationalisms throughout Asia. Classic Pan-Asianists asserted that an Asian identity existed, that this identity was inherent and not simply an alter-image of the West, and that Asia needed to be liberated from the West. Japan's success in war and engagement in raw imperialism at the turn of the century gave impetus to the urge to help other Asians and set the stage for the predominance of Meishuron thought. At times, Hotta draws fruitful comparisons to Pan-Arabism. For a more extensive comparative study, one might read the recent published work of Cemil Aydin.1 Another related work is the collection of excellent essays edited by Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann.2

In addressing Japan's war, Hotta adopts the "Fifteen-Year War" rubric. While she acknowledges arguments by Sandra Davis and others that the distinct and discontinuous segments of this period make the phrase misleading, Hotta places emphasis upon the ideological outlook of the period, where she sees a unifying thread of Pan-Asianist vindication of violence and hegemony. She aptly ties the impulse for Japanese domination to a need to fill a vacuum: the lack of a philosophical framework for the nation's foreign policy. Thrust onto the main stage of international politics at a time of financial [End Page 170] and strategic instability beginning in the late 1920s, Japan seized upon Pan-Asianism fused with emperorism and invigorated kokutai as a means to unify otherwise fragmented and competing policies, political power bases, and ideological persuasions. By probing the Pan-Asianist element in post– World War I internationalism, the work lines up with other studies that detect the attraction of the regionalist principle well before Mukden.

Hotta devotes extensive attention to the Manchurian Incident and the Manchukuo project as high points in the ascendancy of Meishuron Pan Asianism. It was not a case where weak civilian government, a demoralized Foreign...


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