In a 2011 video installation, Hanoi art collective the Propeller Group set out to "rebrand" Communism in the visual language of TV commercials, mocking contemporary global "progressive" discourses. The Propeller Group used this kind of postmillennial rebranding to mock both capitalist advertising and Communist propaganda in Vietnam. Such rebranding, however, is neither new nor limited to challenging public art. Political and cultural rebranding, which involves new labels and discourses and aims to develop a new identity, was not a term used to describe Mao's recasting of Soviet Marxism for Chinese use in the 1930s (he called it "the Sinification of Marxism"). However, the current Chinese government has embarked on a campaign to effectively rebrand Marxism and socialism with Chinese characteristics that any Madison Avenue advertising agency could understand, with campaigns to revive the "Red classics" that appeal to the nostalgia of those who lived through the pre-reform era (1949–1978). This rebranded Marxism remains the space in which revolutionary nationalism has driven China to become a central international power. Similarly, a rebranding of China's indigenous ideology, Confucianism, has provided credentials for China to participate in the global capitalist project (Liu 2010; Mao 2014). Rebranding involves creating new words and repurposing common words to achieve new goals. While "rebranding" is a term we associate with capitalist advertising, the comprehensive application of adaptation and diversion to new purposes is just what we see in the vibrant intellectual world of the interwar years. [End Page 491]
The six articles in this special issue of Cross-Currents present case studies in which the national has been "rebranded" as international, and international ideas and institutions have been recast as local in China, Japan, and Korea during the interwar global internationalist moment (1919–1937). Of course, such rebranding was not the conscious goal of the Japanese Communist Party's (JCP's) focus on the Chinese Revolution, of the modernization of Chinese popular religious traditions such as Tiandijiao, of Korean students' appropriation of Asianism for the needs of the Korean independence movement, of Chinese Communists posing Sun Yat-sen's principle of an alliance of the oppressed as a form of Comintern internationalism, or of the reinvention by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang, or GMD) of the idea of a China-centered Asian alliance based on borrowing the organizational imagination of the League of Nations and the Comintern. Yet behind all of these examples lies a process of organizational borrowing and blending in key areas such as religion, nationalism, and external conduct. These efforts, in turn, rebranded the resulting identities, institutions, and ideas as "modern." Moreover, ideas and images that had emerged between the wars were then adopted in the same mode after the war in Southeast Asia. Mao's Sinified Marxism, the best-known adaptation of the interwar period, became the inspiration for further adaptation in Pol Pot's postwar Cambodia.
These efforts at "rebranding" by various actors in Korea and Japan were shaped by the same structural factors of the global moment as in China. These factors included the expansion of networks, the changed geopolitical situation (Cheek and Yeh 2016), and governance needs. In all of the case studies presented in this special issue, actors in China, Korea, and Japan sought to cope with local challenges in a time of crisis, responses that were materially shaped by the circulation of ideas and the challenges of the day. The interwar ideological moment was shaped by violence, national crisis, Japanese aggression, and the impact of World War I, as Professors Timothy Cheek and Wen-hsin Yeh (2016) noted in the keynote address for the workshop that inspired this volume.1 Given the extraordinary global synchronicity of the time (Zachmann 2017), the Versailles Treaty (1919), the Great Depression, and Japanese aggression amplified crises in colonial Korea and in Japan itself (Ward 2014). The historical context and ideological moment of the interwar global world as it refracted in Eastern Asia is the focus of this special issue. [End Page 492]
The concept of rebranding, while certainly anachronistic for the interwar actors, can nonetheless help us make sense of what Cheek and Yeh have called the distinctiveness of interactions in East Asia in...