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  • Kenkoku University and the Experience of Pan-Asianism: Education in the Japanese Empire by Yuka Hiruma Kishida
  • Cemil Aydin (bio)
Kenkoku University and the Experience of Pan-Asianism: Education in the Japanese Empire. By Yuka Hiruma Kishida. Bloomsbury, London, 2020. xvi, 266 pages. $115.00, cloth; $39.95, paper; $103.50, E-book.

Earlier historiography of Japanese empire categorized Pan-Asianism as the ideological tool of Japan's expansionism, and its domination in East Asia, behind the facade of antiwhite internationalism. Recent scholarship, however, has normalized the study of Japanese imperialism and Pan-Asianism. [End Page 228] Instead of seeing Pan-Asianism as simply a discursive mask for brutal occupation, it is now taken more seriously as a project of universalism and potential cosmopolitanism, without denying its legitimizing role in imperial expansion. In the scholarship of the last two decades, Japan's use and abuse of Pan-Asianism is increasingly treated in a way similar to the British Empire's championing of internationalism or the U.S. claim to promote democracy in the postimperial world order. As scholars have consistently shown the white supremacism and blatantly racist agendas behind the discourses of Western internationalism and universalism, historians of modern Japan similarly interrogate the praxis of Pan-Asianism to understand how internationalism as well as antiracist cosmopolitanism could coexist with the brutal aspects of Japanese colonialism. It is the mixture of anticolonial sensibilities challenging white supremacy in Asia and Africa with rightwing notions of a Japanese imperial mission to lead Asian revolt against the West that makes the study of Pan-Asianism often controversial. Pan-Asianism, for example, facilitated the cooperation between anticolonial nationalists and the Japanese empire during World War II in locations such as Indonesia. Yet, Pan-Asianism also served as a tool for creating domestic consensus within Japan in relation to the occupation of Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War. Thus, studying Pan-Asianism within the context of Japanese-occupied China requires attention to archival sources as well as to delicate theoretical controversies. Yuka Hiruma Kishida achieves both with her focus on the institution of the top university in Manchuria built with the purpose of actualizing and spreading the ideology of Pan-Asianism to diverse imperial subjects.

Hiruma Kishida offers a nuanced and original contribution to the study of Japan's nationalism, universalism, and Pan-Asianism by examining the experience of students from ethnically Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Russian, Taiwanese, and Japanese backgrounds, as well as those of the faculty and staff, at Kenkoku (Nation-Building) University from 1938 to 1945. The university was built in Changchun, the capital of Japan's puppet state of Manchukuo in Northeast China, by the Kwantung Army, with the Pan-Asianist visions of General Ishiwara Kanji. It was the most important Pan-Asianist educational institution of Manchuria tasked with the ideological formation of the state's proclaimed goal of ethnic harmony. It was well funded, with free board and stipends for selected students and promised employment opportunities to its diverse student body in order to create future leaders of an inclusive Pan-Asian empire based on the idea of ethnic harmony of all the subject population. As the university was tasked with bringing the ideal of Pan-Asian solidarity into practice and making it a future reality, students were given a chance to criticize the existing practices on behalf of their proclaimed ideals, which, in principle, meant that non-Japanese students would become equal partners in the future empire. [End Page 229] In order to recreate the culture, conversation, and power relations during the seven years of Kenkoku University's existence, Hiruma Kishida tracks all the records, minutes, newspaper and journal articles, and diaries of about two hundred staff members and several hundred students. She successfully classifies faculty and students from different ethnicities to present a portrait of each ethnic group's experience with the Pan-Asianist curriculum at the university. While chapter 2 is devoted to the planning period, curriculum, and ideological visions and divisions among the faculty, chapter 3 focuses on Japanese students. She then discusses the ideas and political activities of Korean and Taiwanese students in chapter 4 and Chinese students in chapter 5. Chapter 6 presents a...