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Narrating China, Ordering East Asia: The Discourse on Nation and Ethnicity in Imperial Japan

Kevin M. Doak , Georgetown University


            Geography, like the nation, is very much a state of mind. Concepts of place and spatial relationships involve a web of imaginative acts and projections of interests and desires by those who are empowered with the representation of space. Cultural and geographical imaginations draw from and act on both the hard limits imposed by the presence of physical terrain and the past of earlier representations that we often call “tradition.” And yet, the power of geographical mapping lies not only in specific natural features, but also in the cultural and political resources of strategic representations.[i]  As such, the imaginative construction and reconstruction of nations and regions are historical projects.  They draw from the events of their time, as well as the constantly changing discursive frameworks that are available to them, in order to present the image of a necessary relationship among contiguous political bodies.  What makes the process especially complicated and fascinating is that often regional mapping, such as the Japanese construction of a modern East Asia in the 20th century, is simultaneously imposed on national mapping, and changing concepts of the region are often interwoven with, and interdependent on, changing definitions of the nation.

            Modern Japanese attempts to construct a new geography of East Asia provide a good example of the intersection of national and regional imaginations.  As many historians have pointed out, the emergence of the modern Japanese state required a new relationship to East Asia, and especially to China.[ii] The Tokugawa bakufu found in neo-Confucianism a modus vivendi with the Qing policy that China was not merely a nation among others, but the “Central Kingdom,” the center of the cultured world [chuka].[iii]  The new modern Meiji state turned to the West for theories of political legitimacy, and found its strongest support in the theories of the independent modern state.  Consequently, almost from its inception, the modern Japanese state was hostile to any concept of the East Asian region that was not premised on the principle of national autonomy.  I do not intend to rehash the well-worn issues of the Westernized Japanese state and its aggression in “traditional” East Asia in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, although in both wars Japanese officials publicly denounced  their enemies for violating Korean national autonomy (while less concerned about their own transgressions).  Rather, I want to draw attention to a less studied facet of Japanese intervention in modern East Asia:  the role that ethnic concepts of the nation, as distinct from the political state, played in Japanese attempts to reorganize East Asia as an arena of ethnic national cooperation under Japanese state leadership, thus giving the region a new identity as distinct from modern (Western) independent states.  This reimagination of East Asia as an arena of ethnic national identities drew from new definitions of the nation as an ethnic people that were enjoying wide circulation during and after World War I. Yet even as Chinese, Koreans and others in East Asia sought to appropriate this discourse on ethnic nationalism for their own needs, imperialists in Japan responded and attempted to reshape ethnic nationalism as the basis of their own New Order in East Asia. 


Constructing a Modern Vocabulary for National Identity in East Asia

            Definitions and descriptions serve not merely as reflections of realities, but as powerful tools in shaping perceptions of, and even contributing to the construction of, social realities.  One place to begin to appreciate how concepts and narratives of national identity were changing in early 20th century Japanese discourse on East Asia is a 1916 volume The Nations of the Far East .   The Nations of the Far East is a valuable text for de-coding changes in early 20th century Japanese discourse on East Asia.  A syncretic volume in an encyclopedic series, the volume was a summary of state-of-the-field work on East Asian history and ethnology, but it also sought to make these professional findings known to a broad audience.  Apparently written by Nakamura Kyushiro,[iv] a leading Japanese authority on Chinese history, the text employed phonetic furigana throughout so that the text would be accessible to readers with limited formal education.  To a rare degree, The Nations of the Far East sought to bridge the gap between the Japanese elite discourse on East Asia and a more popular audience that included educated ordinary people as well as government bureaucrats and colonial officials who were increasingly in charge of day-to-day affairs throughout much of the “Far East.” 

            If Nakamura’s text sought to reach a broad audience, it also had ambitions of transforming how Japanese thought of themselves and their neighbors in the region. Nakamura combined narrative and semiology to suggest something more significant than a mere theoretical debate over the meaning of terms.  Writing about and responding to current events in Europe and Asia that were transforming nations and nationalist discourse, Nakamura outlined a new vocabulary for understanding and talking about national identity.  New events seemed to require a new language for representing the nation, and Nakamura responded with both a narrative on the origins of ethnic identity in East Asia and a summary of new scientific nomenclature that established new relationships between critical components of nationalist discourse:  the people, ethnicity, race, and that state.  Although Nakamura was an influential historian, the question of his influence on specific individuals through this text is less important than the question of how this vocabulary of the nation developed in the context of growing Japanese imperialism in East Asia. Of course, his text was a self-conscious attempt to explain key concepts like “the Far East,” the (ethnic) nation,” and ‘race” to a broad reading public in Japan, and as such it was no mere description of an objective reality in the Far East. It sought to codify and popularize key understandings of the nation and national integrity, ethnicity, and the state, that would inform subsequent articulations of the problem, even as those later articulations would revise or revert to Nakamura’s basic assumptions about national identity and East Asian identities. 

            Nakamura stated at the outset that the Great War was demonstrating--even as he wrote-- how the problem of ethnic nationality was not fully contained within the contemporary international system that was based on “the authority of the geographical boundaries and historical relations among  existing states.”[v]  This situation was both an opportunity and a concern for Imperial Japan, Nakamura concluded, since Japan was simultaneously alone as an independent state in the Orient and a member of the Western Powers.  Imperial Japan’s ambivalent position-- to be in but not of the Orient-- seemed to Nakamura to call for a re-conceptualization of the meaning and scope of the modern Far East.  Nakamura understood that specific conceptualizations of geopolitical space represented different ways of identifying the subject and therefore carried with them differences in political analysis, and he reviewed various alternatives to the concept of the “Far East” .  He offered the example of the Japanese term kyokuto, a neologism that could refer either to the “Far East” or to the “Extreme East”, but which in either case sought to depict a region that, in contrast to the eastern or southeastern European nations (i.e., the Balkans) of the “Near East”, lay at the extreme edge of the East.  Within the logic of this geo-political imagination, Nakamura concluded that the “Extreme East” was less appropriate as an alternative to “the Far East,” since it would most accurately refer only to Japan.[vi]

            Nakamura’s point was not to reify a Western global taxonomy, but to highlight certain unresolved tensions within it as a first step towards a new imagination of the Far East. He was dissatisfied with the artificial and inadequate Western view of the Orient which neatly categorized the region into the Near East, the Middle East, and the Far East:

[T]here is no consensus on the range of Eastern countries comprised by the term “the Far East.”  Usually, when we speak generally of the foreign relations of the Far East, we speak of the foreign relations between Imperial Japan and China, but [Ernest John] Harrison’s understanding of the Far East in his Peace or War East of Baikal (1910) means the Far Eastern countries of Japan (which includes Korea), China (which comprises four parts of Manchu, Mongol, Turk, and Tibetan), Eastern Siberia and the Philippine Islands.  According to the definition the English China-hand Archibald Little provides in The Far East (1905), the Far East is a general term for Japan, China (including also its various peripheries), Siam, Annam, Chosen (his book was published the year before the Japanese annexation of Korea), and most of the Malay peninsula.[vii]

Once he had uncovered these and other differences in how the term “the Far East” was actually used, and thus having undermined any natural connection between the term and its referent, Nakamura was free to provide his own definition of the Far East:  “in this book, I will use the term Far East as a general term to refer to those Oriental countries [toyo shokoku] in a region that is at the extreme edge of the East [toho no kyokutan]; that is, the region that includes Imperial Japan and the eastern part of the Asian continent.”[viii]

            Significantly, Nakamura’s geographical imagination of the Far East included only one concrete reference to an existing state in the Far East--Imperial Japan.  As the organization of his text made clear, his definition of the Far East followed Harrison but excluded Eastern Siberia and the Philippines.  The arbitrariness in the general usage of the term Far East allowed Nakamura to construct a Far East that focused on China as a multi-national region secured by the region’s only modern state, Imperial Japan.

            Underlying Nakamura’s explicit reference to how the Japanese political state, as an empire, included Korea was a specific imagination of the Far East as a field of competing ethnic nationalities in which ethnicity was a historical and dynamic marker of non-Western identity in contrast to the Western privileging of the political state as the fundamental unit of modern collective identity. Nakamura, who had studied in Germany in 1902, shared with German nationalists a juxtaposition of “the legal and rational concept of citizenship” and “the infinitely vaguer concept of ‘folk.’”[ix]  Yet, while nationalists in Germany, Central Europe and elsewhere saw volkish nationalism as a challenge to Western political nationalism, Nakamura was more cautious.  For Nakamura, the lessons of the War for “the problem of the Far East” were to highlight the nature of national identity that was not reducible to existing state structures.[x]  The region would have to be reshaped in accordance with these new principles of nationality.

            Nakamura’s approach to the Far East anticipated what Anthony Smith has recently termed Western and non-Western models of nationalism. In the Western model of the nation, political and legal criteria of membership predominate, whereas “a rather different model of the nation sprang up outside the West . . .  Its distinguishing feature is its emphasis on a community of birth and native culture.”[xi]  Nakamura employed this ethnic approach to national identity in his narration of Chinese history, but he left the status of Japanese nationality unclear, perhaps recognizing in Japan’s case only Smith’s point that “every nationalism contains civic and ethnic elements in varying degrees and different forms.”[xii]  While Nakamura recognized ethnic differences in Japan, he also felt such ethnic differences had not served as an obstacle to the construction of the modern state (with Korean annexation the exception to the rule--but an exemption that caused little concern, given Nakamura’s low regard for Korean ethnic viability). China, however, was a space where five major competing ethnic nations (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Uigur, and Tibetan) vied for dominance.[xiii]  Although Nakamura accepted the existence of a Japanese nationality that approximates a civic model of the nation [kokumin],[xiv] he remained uninterested in the possibility of a modern Chinese version of civic nation (guomin; ) that might transcend ancient ethnic divisions in China. Instead, he offered separate narratives of these ethnic nations in China to demonstrate how ethnic nationality had predated and problematized the movement toward a Chinese political state.

            Given the central importance that this distinction between the ethnic nation [minzoku] and the political nation [kokumin] or state [kokka] would play in his narratives, Nakamura first offered definitions of the key Japanese terms in discussing international relations in the Far East: the ethnic nation [ minzoku] , the political nation [kokumin] and race [jinshu].  He began with a lengthy exegesis of the term minzoku that would provide the foundation for his and many subsequent Japanese imaginations of national identity in 20th century East Asia.  He explained that the term “the ethnic nation” [ minzoku  ] was a neologism, like “The Far East”  [kyokuto], and corresponded to certain aspects of the English word “nation,” the French term “peuple,” and the German word “Volk,” all of which originally had different emphases but which had recently coalesced around the concept of a distinct national people who shared certain attributes. Nakamura listed the elements of an ethnic nation  [minzoku]  as (1) a common ancestral blood lineage; (2) historical and spiritual unity; (3) common culture; (4) common religion; (5) common language and customs; (6) a sense of community or shared economic interest; (7) a common state structure that increases the sense of shared economic interests; (8) a sense of economic or industrial community.  Nakamura listed these ingredients in more or less chronological order, arguing that nations were not entirely modern phenomena, but were rooted in ancient tribal histories and lineages that gained a political sense of community with the arrival of the West in the early modern era and a common economic interest finally only with the emergence of recent economic rivalries, by which he must have meant imperialism.[xv]  These constitutive elements, along with Nakamura’s insistence that the ethnic nation [minzoku] must be distinguished from the legal-political concept of the nation [kokumin; ] and the state [kokka; ] mark out a concept of the ethnic nation as a distinct form of national identity.[xvi]

            As the site where racial and political identities converged, the ethnic nation best captured for Nakamura the tensions of similarity and difference that shaped social and political life in early 20th century East Asia.  While Nakamura insisted on the distinction between a concept of the ethnic nation and that of physical race, he found racial arguments useful in providing explanations for the macro-formation of a Far East context and for the micro-formation of individual ethnic nations.  He drew from the racial classifications of physical anthropologists like Bernier, Keane and Flower to argue that humanity was divided into five races (Yellow, White, Black, Dark [Malay] and Red/Copper), of which the Yellow and White races were “historical” races and the Black, Dark and Red races were passive races that had yet to make any significant contribution to history.[xvii]  And while the White race had the upper hand in the modern era, in the pre-modern and especially medieval era, the Asian race had contributed nearly everything of significance to world history:  paper, printing, gunpowder, the magnetic needle, even the Christian savior had all come from the East.[xviii] .

            Yet, Nakamura did not completely accept the racial collectivization of modern Asia as a homogeneous entity opposed to the West. In place of racial ties, he emphasized that the modern world required a more specifically national sense of identity, an identity that should neither be too broad in a physical, racial sense nor too invested in the Western form of the political state. Modern Asia, as Nakamura understood the region, was a complex arena where racial similarities and national differences were synthesized within a sense of ethnic nationality--the result of historical and cultural mediation of race.  Nakamura conceded that the subject referred to as “the (ethnic) nations of the Far East” could be described in other terms (“the denizens of Asia,” “the Yellow race,” “the Asian lineage”), but he concluded that “the ethnic nations of the Far East” really referred to (1) the Japanese (who included the Koreans);  (2) the Chinese [shina kokujin];  and (3) the various Indian peoples.  No nation was simply a single tribe, and Nakamura recognized the presence of 13 different tribal groups within the Japanese empire (including, of course, the Korean, Ainu and Ryukyuan peoples).[xix]  Even China, which Nakamura understood through the five major ethnic divisions of Han, Manshu, Mongol, Uigur and Tibetan, was more complex than such major ethnic national categories suggested. 

And yet, what we call one Han people is not a single, independent (ethnic) nation.  An extremely complicated series of migrations and miscegenation since the beginning of history has resulted in tribal [shuzoku] differentiation within the Han people.  The greatest division is between the Southern Han (the Southern Chinese) and the Northern Han (Northern Chinese), but in addition there are so many tribal groups that it is almost impossible to count them all.[xx]

            The key point here is that whereas the coherence and independence of the core Japanese ethnic nation within the multi-tribal Japanese empire was never called into question, the Han ethnic nation was divided and sub-divided until it could no longer be recognized as “a single, independent (ethnic) nation.”  The contrast with Japan could not be greater and, in fact, this conviction that Japan was different from China served as the underlying assumption of Nakamura’s entire text.


Narrating Nations, Negating the State: China as an Ethnic Area

            Having laid out the conceptual terms that would organize his imaginative geography of the “Far East,” Nakamura turned away from the ethnic and tribal problems of Japan and Indian peoples to a narrativization of the five ethnic nations that constituted China. 

            Ethnic diversity and instability led Nakamura to open his account with the question of what to call the Chinese.  He noted that Chinese have called themselves “Han” in their foreign relations since the Han period, but in more recent times have called themselves “Central Kingdom People” [zhongguo ren] or related terms like the Central Flower ethnic nation [zhonghua minzu].  Nakamura rejected both of these terms, as the former implied disrespect toward other nations, and the abbreviated version of Flower Tribe [huazu] was too easily confused with the Japanese term for nobility [kazoku].  And anyway, he concluded, “the names China [shina] and Chinese [shinajin] have been used by foreigners for a long time, and recently the Chinese have taken to using these names themselves.”[xxi] The point was to displace any notion of China as a unified country, and to project instead a view of the Asian continent as a field where ethnic national rivalries were played out. As Nakamura put it in describing late Ming China, “the Chinese continent was a sumo ring for the Han and Manchu ethnic nations, just as it was in the case of the (Han) Song and the (Mongol) Yuan.”[xxii] But the continent was a unique ethnic arena, or at least it was culturally an East Asian arena  (hence the metaphor of a sumo ring).  From the outset, Nakamura repossessed China for the Far East by rejecting the theories of Lacouperie and others who argued for the Western origins of Chinese civilization and by accepting instead (Friedrich) Hirth’s conclusions, which drew on art to argue for the independent origins of Chinese civilization.[xxiii]  In doing so, Nakamura reminds us how art and aesthetics can be mobilized to mark off the cultural nation as a particularistic field with its own standards of legitimacy and argumentation.

            Chinese history, as Nakamura told it, was a story of ethnic strife. The underlying theme of his narrative was the struggle of the Han ethnic nation to control affairs in its own country and its own destiny, and the continued frustration at being ruled by ethnic minorities.  Like all great tragedies, the history of Han China began with a golden age, the conquest of the Miao people by the Han under the leadership of their founding hero, the Yellow Emperor, around 2700 B.C.[xxiv]  During the Xia, Shang and Zhou periods, the Han ethnic nation pursued a policy of national unification against the pressures of various other ethnic groups, a policy that Nakamura explicitly called “revering the emperor and expelling the barbarians” (sonno joi), thus associating it with the late 19th century Japanese nationalist campaign to throw out the West.[xxv]  Predictably, the Jin and Han periods were reduced to the building of the Great Wall to keep out non-Han ethnic groups, and to Ban Chao (32-102 A.D.) and his policy of “using barbarians to control barbarians” (iyi zhiyi). 

            Next, Nakamura suggested that between the Han and Sui periods, the Han ethnic nation had lost so much of its earlier strength against other ethnic nations that the former “Great Han” (da Han) or “Strong Han” (qiang Han) was now described in the historical records as the “Han children” (Han zi). [xxvi]  But the Tang period, not surprisingly, was represented as a restoration of Han power.  As Nakamura wrote, “In short, the Han period was a glorious period for the Han ethnic nation, but with the period of invasions by the five barbarian groups (Xiongnu, Jie, Xianbei, Di, Qiang), the Han ethnic nation entered a period of terror.  And if one can say that the Sui period was a return of the pendulum for the Han ethnic nation, then the Tang period truly should be called a period of the highest, crowning glory for the Han ethnic nation.”[xxvii]

            The Song period was also an important pivotal moment in Nakamura’s narrative of the Han ethnic nation.  The Song period drew upon the Han period’s foundational work in political institutions and the Tang period’s development of Han ethnic culture in cultivating a Han ethnic national sense of identification with China.  But this ethnic national identity was cultivated in the context of increasing oppression of the Han ethnic nation by other “ethnic nations” throughout the Song period:  first, the Khitan and the Xi Xia, then the Jurchen, and finally the “great oppression” (dai appaku) by the Mongols, which culminated in the Yuan dynasty.[xxviii]  The overthrow of the Mongol Yuan dynasty was attributed solely to the fact that “the Han ethnic nation could not long bear being oppressed by the Mongols.”[xxix] Nakamura asserts, with citations from Chinese historical documents, that Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, acted self-consciously as a representative of Han ethnic national resentments against the Mongols.[xxx] Here, Nakamura connects his narrative on China with his own concerns in an unusually candid manner.  In a chapter sub-section titled, “Late Song-Early Ming and Our Japanese,” Nakamura suggests that the Japanese learned loyalty from the Song Han Chinese and, pausing to remind his readers that Coxinga (Zheng Chenggong) was half Han-Chinese and half-Japanese, noted that “the people of our country were filled with sympathy for the Ming and did not welcome the Qing court’s rule over China.”[xxxi]

            Nakamura’s narrative of Han China concludes where it began:  with arguments against Qing ethnic minority rule over the Han Chinese and with doubts about the viability of a truly multi-ethnic Chinese polity.  Here, narrative form served to reinforce analytic definitions.  Qing policy toward ethnic nationality was not unique, but merely one of a limited set of possibilities in ethnic relations that Nakamura had outlined in his preface:

            The Manchu court’s policy toward the Han ethnic nation was extremely multi-dimensional, but it may be summarized as . . . (2) an actual case where the ethnic nation (minzoku) and the political nation [kokumin] are not the same; that is, where members of the same political nation are not of the same ethnic nation . . . . 

[in this case] the conquering minority, possessed of extraordinary power, tries to absorb the conquered majority and to assimilate them.[xxxii]

            In short, the Manchus tried to avoid assimilating into the Han Chinese but rather sought to assimilate the Han into the Manchu.  Significantly, Nakamura drew from Wang Jing-wei, a future collaborator with the Japanese in China, who shared Nakamura’s belief in the importance of maintaining even slight ethnic differences (between the Han and Manchu) as a form of resistance against complete political and cultural domination.[xxxiii]

            But Nakamura realized that his narrative ended before the story was over.  What to do about the fact that some Chinese protested that in the “New China” these ancient ethnic squabbles were subsumed in the new modern national identity of “Republican” China?[xxxiv]  Nakamura’s response was two-pronged.  First, he pointed to the 1911 Wuhan Uprising that spawned the Chinese revolution as proof of enduring ethnic tensions between the Han and Manchu ethnic nations.[xxxv]  And he drew for good measure on the authority of a litany of Japanese sinologists, including Inoue Tetsujiro, Ichimura Sanjiro, Hattori Unokichi, Shiratori Kurakichi, Kuwabara Jitsuzo, Naito Konan, Inaba Kunzan, and even Professor Edward Alsworth Ross of the University of Wisconsin, whose 1914 The Changing Chinese Nakamura considered an authoritative introduction to Han ethnic nationality.[xxxvi]  In fact, Nakamura concluded his narrative of the Han ethnic nation with  fifty-five pages of text devoted to establishing the “ethnic nationality of the Han people” [Kanjin minzokusei], more pages than any of the remaining four ethnic nations of China received for their entire narratives.[xxxvii] History and science joined in confirming for Nakamura that Han ethnic national consciousness was here to stay and that China should belong to the Han Chinese. 

            In his conclusion, Nakamura made explicit his hopes that his book would redirect Japanese attention back to the Orient before the West, currently absorbed in war in Europe, could return to the Orient.

How can we Japanese ignore East Asia at this point in time?  We must step forth, go to the continent, and do our utmost to manage affairs there.  Given the state of affairs, those who cannot leave Japan, must lend a hand.  Those who cannot lend a hand, must open their eyes and pay attention.  To fail to pay careful attention to the Far East arena will have profound implications for the fate of our country.  How can we not study the situation of the ethnic nations in the Far East?[xxxviii]

            Yet, the political implications of Nakamura’s call in 1916 for engagement in East Asia from an ethnic national perspective are not without ambivalence.  His book was promoted and read by liberals and populists in Japan, and Yoshino Sakuzo and Tokutomo Soho, two of the most influential liberals in Japan at the time, both wrote glowing introductions to the book.  It is important to recall that during the First World War and immediately after,  many Japanese intellectuals joined liberals and other leftists around the world in espousing ethnic nationalism as a critique of imperialism and colonialism.[xxxix]  Nonetheless, ultimately, the historical significance of Nakamura’s text was not in bringing down imperialism, but ironically in enhancing a discursive framework that combined an ethnic national view of East Asia with a sense of Japanese entitlement, a sense that the Japanese must adopt an activist stance in reforming political structures in the new East Asia to reflect modern ethnic national identities.


Dissemi-Nation: Imagining Ethnicity/Enforcing Empire

            I have spent considerable time discussing a single text, Nakamura’s The Nations of the Far East in detail. This text deserves close analysis not because it was original or compelling or even widely influential in changing how Japanese thought about the nation.  Rather, The Nations of the Far East deserves our attention precisely because it was both ordinary and exceptional: ordinary, in that it summarized a widely shared understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of national and regional identity around the time of the First World War; but exceptional, in that Nakamura sought to bring that conceptual apparatus to a more popular audience through a text that was both readable and widely available.  As a historical text, The Nations of the Far East claims our attention not because of influence, but because of its social nature:  the way in which it embodied and disseminated a historically specific understanding in Japanese society of national and ethnic identity in East Asia, particularly how such forms of collective identity were seen in relationship to the modern state.  We now need to step back from Nakamura’s text to see how this grammatology of the nation responded to new events and places in the years after World War I, especially in the context of growing Japanese imperialism in East Asia.

            If World War I provided the framework for Nakamura’s understanding of the problem of ethnic national domination, regional events increasingly played a role in shaping the development of the discourse on ethnic nationalism and imperialism in East Asia.  In 1918 Uchida Ryohei, a leading activist in the Japanese nationalist movement, dismissed Chinese calls for national independence by re-asserting his theory that China was not a state.  China, he asserted, “may have the name of an independent country, but the reality [of an independent Chinese state] is almost completely absent.”[xl]  China’s political problems indicated to Uchida deeper cultural and moral failings that ultimately left the Chinese people completely bereft of any belief in the state.[xli]  Before China could be a state, it had to become a nation first--and there were many Japanese who felt willing and able to teach the Chinese what a nation was and how to become one. 

            Uchida’s assumption that China was not a state was informed by a widespread belief among Japanese political theorists in the years after World War I that the nation, as an ethnological concept, was a moral and cultural prerequisite to a secure independent political state.[xlii]  The sinologist Hattori Unokichi argued that Confucianism was an ethnic national doctrine [minzoku-teki kyogi], but that in the modern era Japan had succeeded better than the Chinese in adopting “the teachings of Confucius” which, unlike “Confucianism,” incorporated the progressive spirit required by the modern age.[xliii]  By thus juggling Confucianism as an East Asian culture with Japan’s own particular national culture, Hattori could suggest both a sense of Pan-Asianism and a rationale for Japanese leadership in a new East Asian regional order.  As Stefan Tanaka points out, “Hattori turned Confucianism into an alternative to Wilsonian internationalism.”[xliv]  Yet, it is important to grasp that Hattori’s Confucianism only opposed Wilsonian internationalism to the degree that he believed Wilson’s principle of (ethnic) national self-determination would lead immediately to ethnic nation-states in Asia that would be independent of Japan’s influence but dependent on the West.  That is, Hattori followed Nakamura in accepting Wilson’s principle of “ethnic national self-determination” (minzoku jiketsu) and in suggesting that an ethnic national approach to the East Asia region could serve as a replacement for the Wilsonian concept of an international order composed of autonomous states anchored in the European dominated League of Nations.

            Korea represented an early test case for these ideas about ethnic national identity as distinct from the modern political state.  After the March 1, 1919 movement for independence, Saito Makoto was appointed governor-general of Korea, and Japanese policy in Korea began to emphasize “cultural containment.”[xlv] One of the targets of cultural containment was the Korean ethnic national historians (Minjok sahakka) such as Sin Ch’aeho and Ch’oe Namson who sought to write narratives that “aimed at enhancing the inherent national ideas, elevating the Korean spirit, and emphasizing traditional ideas of cultural superiority to compensate for Korea’s political defeat in the real world.”[xlvi]  The high point in the Korean expropriation of the discourse on ethnic nationality was reached when Yi Kwang-su explicitly proposed a “reconstruction of the Korean ethnic nation” in the May, 1922 issue of Kaebyok.  Yi’s embrace of ethnic Korean nationality was written within and against the dominant discourse on Korean ethnic nationality that came from the office of the Japanese governor-general.  Only one year earlier, in 1921,  the education office of the Government-General had published a volume called Chosenjin which listed strengths and weaknesses in the Korean ethnic character as part of an overall argument that Korean ethnicity should be assimilated into the Japanese ethnic nation.[xlvii]  In Japan, Nakayama Kei reinforced this rejection of Korean ethnicity in his article “A Basic Policy for Assimilating the Korean Ethnic Nation:  We Must Convert All Korean Names to Japanese Names”.  Nakayama was quite serious and he did not stop at changing names: he proposed a series of reforms that meant cultural genocide for Koreans.[xlviii]

            As a nation annexed to the Japanese imperial state, Korea was a particularly advantageous space for exploring some of the complexities and contradictions in the discourse on ethnic nationalism in East Asia.  Yi Kwang-su drew from this Japanese discourse on the separation of an ethnic nation from the state to suggest that Korean nationalism was alive and well even without the reality of an independent Korean state, but he was criticized by fellow Koreans for this camouflaged “betrayal against his nation.”[xlix]  Even as they concluded that Koreans were not a viable ethnic nation, Japanese colonial officers shared Yi’s ethnic nationalist assumptions, as did Japanese intellectuals like Nakayama who suggested cultural genocide (chosen minzoku naru mono ga naku naru yo ni suru koto) as the only solution for ending discrimination against Koreans.[l]  Throughout all these arguments ran a consistent belief in the centrality of ethnic national identity as a form of national identity that was distinct from the political nationalism centered on the modern state.  But the argument for assimilating Korean ethnic identity into the Japanese ethnic nation--an argument which Nakamura Kyushiro had shared and which he explicitly had tied to a sense of the historical rather than racial nature of the ethnic nation--remained the exception to the dominant imagination of an ethnically sub-divided Far East.  Because Korea had been annexed to Japan since 1910 and because of what were perceived as unusually close cultural similarities between Koreans and Japanese, undermining ethnic national identity would apply only to Korea.  As Nakayama concluded, “With ethnic nations other than Korea, Japan must always interact equally, within a greater Asian federation (dai-ajia renpo).”[li] Nearly all sides of the debate agreed that it was not healthy for a political state to encompass multiple ethnic nations.

            Korea may have been exceptional, but it was not isolated from events that were shaping nationalist discourse in East Asia.  The Korean Government-General was concerned about the potential of an anti-imperialist ethnic nationalism stemming from the Soviet Union and working through China to disrupt the Japanese empire. A 1930 report from the Korean Police Affairs Bureau on The International Communist Party and the Chinese Revolution  discussed topics like “Soviet Russian policy for the East,” “China’s Red Revolution,” and “International Communist Party and China’s Guomindang.” It provided a narrative of the Chinese revolution that detailed Sun Yat-sen’s alleged turn to revolutionary ethnic nationalism, noting that after China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Sun “advocated ethnic nationalism (minzokushugi) as a means to overthrow the Qing dynasty and to establish a Han state [Hanjin no kuni].”[lii]  Sun’s ethnic nationalism was said to have gradually changed its meaning until after 1921 when he had moved beyond a celebration of Han ethnic identity located within a broader pan-Asianism.  He now agreed with Lenin that “the weak ethnic nations (jakusho minzoku) of the Orient must work together with the proletariat of Europe and the U.S. to fight back at world imperialism from both sides.”  Sun, the report concluded, was now thoroughly a bolshevik, and the Chinese national revolution had been hijacked by the Soviet Union and its policy that “all ethnic nationalist movements must first be linked to Soviet Russia.”[liii]  The Police Affairs Bureau report emphasized that ethnic national formation did not take place in a vacuum.  From this vantage point, the threat posed by communism was as much centered on propagating revolutionary ethnic nationalism and anti-imperialism as on fomenting class consciousness and proletarian strife in Japan’s cities.


The New (Ethnic) Order in East Asia, 1938-1945

            These concerns by Imperial Japan’s civil servants over the use of ethnic nationalism as an anti-imperialist tool were not merely theoretical, nor were they misplaced.  The full potential of ethnic nationalism as a critique of imperialism was not revealed until after Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro announced a “New Order in East Asia” in November 1938. While no one seemed to know precisely what this “New Order” meant, the proclamation was a discursive intervention that renewed excitement over the ethnic nation as a substitute for the state as the basic organizational unit for political arrangements in East Asia. The sinologist and spy Ozaki Hotsumi suggested, adopting a Marxist attack on the civic state, and adjusting Uchida’s theory that China was not a state to argue that China’s lack of a civic state was a virtue that Japan should follow.  Ozaki placed the problem of ethnic nationalism, which he defined as a comprehensive representation of all the Chinese people, at the center of the New Order in East Asia, and he believed that the Soviet Union had a unique history in encouraging Chinese ethnic nationalism.[liv]  But Ozaki pushed his attack on Western civic nationalism in the wrong direction for Imperial Japan; he was arrested in 1941 for espionage and executed with his co-conspirator Richard Sorge in 1944.  Although he was a spy against Imperial Japan, Ozaki’s actions were motivated by a patriotism that cannot be understood without serious consideration of his support for ethnic nationalism and how he connected ethnic nationalism with a belief in a new East Asia constructed around ethnic national cooperation.

            As Ozaki’s case revealed, the proclamation of a New Order in East Asia in 1938 that followed the outbreak of war with China unleashed a wide variety of competing claims in Japan on how East Asia ought to be refashioned. Most of these claims promoted the ethnic nation as the new organizing principle of the region.  New organizations and reformed old ones appeared, all devoted to the problem of how to solve the crisis in East Asia.  Lt. General Ishiwara Kanji formed the East Asia League (toa remmei) in 1939 around the principle that all ethnic nations of East Asia should unite in a “Great Harmony” (daido danketsu), with Japan at the center.  In the same year, the Institute for Common East Asian Culture (toa dobun shoin) was elevated to university status.  Along with such institutional efforts to re-conceive “East Asia,” the years 1938-1945 witnessed a tremendous spate of books, pamphlets, and articles on ethnic nations and East Asia.[lv]  With such a wide range of ideas and opinions, there was considerable disagreement over concepts and methods, but there was almost unanimous agreement that the relationship between the ethnic nation (minzoku) and the political state (kokka), rather than Japanese imperialism per se, was the key to solving the longstanding instability in the East Asian region.

            The debates raised during the late 1930s and early 1940s over a separate ethnic national identity and a common East Asian tradition are fascinating in themselves, but space does not permit much more than a cursory examination of them here.  Perhaps the most intriguing issue to emerge was whether, given the historicist and socially determined character of the ethnic nation, the concept of ethnic nation could be expanded beyond existing national cultures to form an entirely new ethnicity that encompassed much of East Asia.[lvi]  This theoretical pan-Asian ethnicity was a new approach to the problem of ethnic national identity, and it was greatly encouraged by Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke’s proclamation of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in August 1940.  Just a few months before Matsuoka’s official proclamation, sinologist Tachibana Shiraki had argued that “there is no other way to satisfy the demands of ethnic nationalism, the emancipation of the Oriental ethnic nations, than to settle the issue by forming all the ethnic nations of the Orient into a single group.”[lvii]  Tachibana’s call for a pan-Asian ethnic national identity was echoed by the editors of the journal East Asia (Toa) in their September 1940 issue:

Seen in its entirety, East Asia is the victim of oppression by the non-East Asian powers. . . .  In this sense, Japan, Manchuria, and China possess a common fate. Consciousness of this common fate will remove the obstacles posed by a provincial ethnic nationalism to the inauguration of an East Asian New Order.   Above and beyond this ethnic consciousness that sees Japan, Manchuria and China in opposition, there is an ethnic national consciousness [minzoku ishiki] that sees East Asia as one body and which springs from a philosophy of East Asia as a community of fate . . . .  We call this ethnic nationalism that has its basis in East Asia, East Asian ethnic nationalism [toa minzokushugi].[lviii]

            The author(s) of this essay went on to say that since this monolithic East Asian ethnic nationalism was founded in response to a common experience of oppression by Western colonization, it need not remain limited to East Asia.  Indeed, “East Asian ethnic nationalism possessed the necessity of expanding into Asian ethnic nationalism” since “it is precisely in the concept of East Asia as a community of fate and in the promotion of East Asian ethnic nationalism that one finds the future of East Asia, [which is] the future of Asia.”[lix]

            The rhetoric employed in this article refers directly to one of the key elements in prevailing definitions of the nation in interwar Japanese political discourse.  In suggesting that the concept of the ethnic nation (minzoku) could be expanded from the boundaries of the modern state, or even the nation-state, to a trans-national region like Asia, the author(s) drew on a definition of the nation as a community of fate that was associated with Otto Bauer, Joseph Stalin, and Ramsay Muir--much the same leftist discourse on the nation that informed Nakamura’s text. And yet, this strategy of rejecting previous understandings of the ethnic nation as too narrow and offering instead an ethnic nationalism that was regional returned to Nakamura’s distinction between “ethnic nation” and “race,” if only to rearrange the terms and scopes of definition.  Why not simply suggest a common Asian racial (jinshu-teki) identity, instead of this cumbersome concept of an ethnic nation (minzoku) that was not a state (kokka) and was broader in scope than traditional notions of the ethnic nation? Others certainly did.  But the leftist discourse on the nation as a populist and historically constructed identity that was not reducible to the state held out greater promise than the concept of a biological race of absorbing nationalist aspirations throughout Asia, while at the same time avoiding the question of a variety of independent nation-states in the region. This belief in the malleability of the ethnic nation enhanced its prestige as a non-Western alternative to the bourgeois Western state.  For many Japanese working in this tradition, the advantage of ethnic national identity over “race” reflected a confidence that cultural and ethnic identities were separate from states, but also a concern that other ethnic nations eventually might insist on their own independent states.  The call for a single pan-Asian ethnic nationalism was one, if rather extreme, response to the post-Versailles call for “one nation, one state” and in this case, of course, the “one state” was Imperial Japan.

            Not all Japanese imperialists were willing to blend their identities with those of Chinese, Mongolians, Tibetans and others. In fact, most Japanese advocates of ethnic nationalism upheld the distinction among the ethnic nations of East Asia, even when they called for some form of East Asian “cooperation.” Kamei Kan’ichiro, former intelligence analyst for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Social Masses’ Party Dietmember, returned to Japan in April 1938 after eight months in the United States and Nazi Germany where he had gathered information for Prime Minister Konoe and the Army.  What Kamei found overseas prompted him to propose a new direction for the nations of East Asia, one in which ethnic differences would remain crucial. Kamei, who spent the war years as the director of the Foundation for Technology in the Holy War (zaidan hojin seisen gijutsu kyokai), insisted that “without liberating the oppressed ethnic nations of East Asia, there can be no promotion of an East Asian ethnic national culture . . . .  The reason is that without the particularity of each ethnic nation there can be no ethnic national culture, and without [individual] ethnic national cultures, there can be no cultural exchange.”[lx] Of course, Kamei did not mean liberation from Japanese imperialism, but Japanese liberation of Asia from the West.  Practically on the eve of Pearl Harbor, Kamei wrote that the coming war would be 

a holy war for the liberation of the oppressed ethnic-nations from Anglo-Saxon economic internationalism.  That is, the goal of the Axis powers is the construction of a greater familistic world and the repair and firming up of those states that float around like jellyfish.  Or, in other words, the goal is to build a new world order with ethnic nations (not races [minshu])--which are living communities--as the structural unit, rather than modern states that are nothing more than lifeless mechanisms.[lxi]


            Kamei shared Nakamura’s distinction between individual ethnic nations and race, and Nakamura’s insistence that the ethnic nation is not purely biological but also includes cultural and historical elements. Cultural distinctiveness was important, for it would respond to the nationalist aspirations of various peoples in East Asia, including a Japanese sense of pride in achieving East Asia’s only powerful empire.

            To Kamei, what was at stake was not merely a new order for East Asia, but a seismic shift of global proportions.  He believed two ethnic national policies were competing for dominance in the world. The League of Nations World Order cynically promised ethnic self-determination as a means of perpetuating English imperialism, while the Marxist answer, an ethnic national policy of “liberating the oppressed ethnic nations” (hi-appaku minzoku no kaiho) simply reflected the Soviet Union’s desire for world conquest. Japan, however, offered a third alternative, a “new ethnic national policy,” which in cooperation with totalitarian Germany and Italy, would usher in a new era of true national cooperation and co-prosperity.[lxii]  Not surprisingly, the details of Japan’s “new ethnic national policy” were sketchy, but Kamei did offer three points where Japan’s policy was different from the other two: a distinction between the ethnic nation and race; ethnic national policy wedded to a concept of regional-destined cooperative bodies; and new relations between the leading states and the led states.[lxiii] Informing Kamei’s appropriation of the liberal discourse on the ethnic nation that Nakamura had outlined earlier were two key characteristics that Roger Griffin has recently identified as central to fascism everywhere:  “a revolutionary, forward-looking thrust” and “a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism.”[lxiv] Griffin’s analysis helps clarify the relationship between ethnic nationalism and fascism at a theoretical level, but for readers of Kamei’s text, there could be no question of Kamei’s fascist sympathies.[lxv]  My point is not to portray wartime Japan as a monolithic fascist polity.  The issue of Japanese fascism has been widely debated, and the complexities of Japanese politics during the war years are now well known.[lxvi]

            But it is important to recognize the role that ethnic definitions of the nation, and especially a re-imagination of East Asia as a realm of ethnic nationalities, played in shaping the political consciousness of those in wartime Japan who openly supported fascism.  A crystallization of those tendencies occurred in late in 1942, when the Institute for Research on the Ethnic Nation (Minzoku Kenkyujo) was founded and Takata Yasuma was named as its director.  In the Institute’s Bulletin, published in 1944, Takata emphasized that the Institute’s work in clarifying the problem of the ethnic nation was central to “the Japanese ethnic nation’s unprecedented experiment . . . in liberating East Asia and promoting the construction of a New Order in East Asia.”[lxvii]  Takata’s essay in the Bulletin employed Kamei’s distinction between the English “liberal” ethnic national policy which emphasized distance between ethnic nations (kyori seisaku) and Japan’s ethnic national policy which encouraged closeness (sekkin seisaku) in working toward the same goal, which was of course, “the liberation of East Asia.”  The problem was how to pursue a policy of proximity without falling into complete assimilation and thereby “endangering Japan’s position in East Asia.”[lxviii]  The dilemma Takata identified was common to fascism everywhere.  Takata’s colleague Nakano Seiichi suggested a solution might be found in M.H. Boehm’s attempt to overcome the “modern western European thesis . . . that equated the ethnic nation (minzoku) and the state (kokka).”[lxix]  The distinction between the ethnic nation and the state, which Nakamura had employed to suggest the legitimacy of national aspirations throughout Asia, was re-employed now in asserting Japanese rights over other ethnic nations in Asia.

            Interwar discourse on East Asia in Japan was a complicated interweaving of various elements, but at its core it focused on a sense that the 20th century required a new geo-cultural structure in the region that was premised on national identities, in contrast to both the cultural hegemony of traditional China as the Middle Kingdom and the cultural hegemony of the West through the political form of the modern state.  With the emergence of a new sense of the nation as an ethnic people, separate from (and at times hostile to) the political state, Japanese imperialists, ideologues, civil servants, and others were able to portray modern China as a nation in search of a state, while Korea’s ethnic identity could be negated in favor of an ethnically assimilated Japanese empire.  The same logic of ethnic nationality appealed to those Japanese interested in dividing China into different ethnic groups, and thereby providing the grounds for legitimizing the ethnic nation-state of Manchukuo.  In part, the power and durability of the concept of the ethnic nation as the organizing principle for a New Order in East Asia rested on its ability to respond to both longings for traditional cultural identities in a disorienting new era and nationalist aspirations to resist modern forms of imperialism and colonization.

            As a political concept, the ethnic nation drew both from the re-imagined cultural traditions of the newly conceived historical subjects of the region and from a modern sense that the basic unit of political membership in the world was the nation.  This dual promise of the ethnic nation as affording both a more progressive political identity than dynastic Confucianism as well as a more traditional identity than the modern state lay at the very heart of Japanese imperialism in East Asia.  We should not forget that this discourse on East Asia as a geo-cultural arena of ethnic identity projected Japanese concepts of self-identities and assumptions onto others in East Asia, with little concern for how well such concepts fit actual lived experiences in the region.  Such an awareness, however, does not diminish the importance of this early 20th century Japanese representation of East Asia, once we accept that all geographical representations are in part imaginative constructions of spatial relationships. Yet, in both the specificity of its terms and the power of its narratives, this  discourse of East Asia in Imperial Japan ironically helped establish the contours for any subsequent attempt to imagine East Asia as a coherent and meaningful geographical space.


(Research for this article was supported in part by an Asia Library Grant from the Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan)


  Kevin M. Doak is a Professor and Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Georgetown University. His PhD is from the University of Chicago. This article was originally published in Kai-wing Chow, Kevin M Doak, and Poshek Fu,eds., Constructing Nationhood in Modern East Asia (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001): pp. 85-113). Permission has been granted by the University Michigan Press to reprint this article here.


[i].  See Martin W. Lewis and Kären Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley and London: The University of California Press, 1997) for an exploration of the imaginative aspects of geography. For a provocative application of the concept of “geographic imagination” to Japanese history, see Kären Wigen, “The Geographic Imagination in Early Modern Japanese History: Retrospect and Prospect,” Journal of Asian Studies 51, no. 1 (1992): 3-29.  Wigen adopts a micro-approach to the problem of geography, looking at a specific regions in Japan rather than Japan’s position in the East Asian region, but her theoretical insights into the constructed nature of geography apply to the approach I am suggesting here.

[ii]. See, for example, Harry D. Harootunian, “The Functions of China in Tokugawa Thought,” and Bunso Hashikawa, “Japanese Perspectives on Asia: From Dissociation to Coprosperity,” both in Akira Iriye, ed. The Chinese and the Japanese (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980);  Marius B. Jansen, Japan and Its World: Two Centuries of Change (Princeton: Princeton Univeristy Press, 1980); and Toyama Shigeki, Meiji ishin (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1951).

[iii].  On the problem of China as a trans-national cultural model (zhong-hua; chunghwa; chuka) in the context of emerging nativism/nationalism in Japan, see Harootunian, “Functions”; Stefan Tanaka, Japan’s Orient:Rendering Pasts into History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), esp, 203-205, and Ronald P. Toby, "Contesting the Centre: International Sources of Japanese National Identity," International History Review 7, no. 3 (1985): 347-518.

[iv].  The only information about the author given in the text is that he was a “Nakamura, Bachelor of Literature, who is conversant in history, and who currently lectures on Oriental history at the Tokyo Higher Normal School” (“Preface,” Kyokuto no minzoku, 3).  After an exhaustive search, I have concluded that this Nakamura must have been Nakamura Kyushiro (1874-1961), who later changed his name to Nakayama Kyushiro.   Nakayama was a renowned historian of China who graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1899, studied in Germany, and was a lecturer  at the Tokyo Higher Normal School around 1910.  He received his Ph.D. in 1925.  On Nakamura/Nakayama’s name change, see Dai jimmei jiten: gendai hen, vol. 9 (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1955): 508.

[v]. Nakamura, Kyokuto no minzoku, 1.

[vi].  Nakamura, 4.

[vii].  Nakamura, 5.

[viii]. Nakamura, 6.

[ix].  Han Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background (New York: Collier Books, 1944), 331

[x].  Nakamura, 1-2.

[xi].  Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991),  11.

[xii].  Smith, 13.

[xiii].  Nakamura, 35-37.

[xiv].  Eiko Ikegami argues for the Japanese concept of kokumin as an approximation of citizen and the civic nation in her “Citizenship and National Identity in Early Meiji Japan, 1868-1889: A Comparative Assessment,” in Charles Tilly, ed., Citizenship, Identity and Social History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Yet, as she admits, the concept is closer to that of the political nation than citizen.

[xv].  Nakamura, 6-9.  Nakamura’s list is not at all an idiosyncratic one. Most early 20th century commentators on the problem of the nation came up with a similar list. In 1913,  Stalin identified the elements of the nation as language, territory, economic life, psychological make-up and a community of culture.  See Joseph Stalin, “Marxism and the National-Colonial Question,” reprinted in Omar Dabhour and Micheline R. Ishay, eds., The Nationalism Reader, 192-97 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press).  In his 1917 book Nationalism and Internationalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917)--which had a considerable influence on Japanese theorists of the nation--Ramsay Muir explored the roles of geography, race, language, religion, common history, community of economic interest, shared sentiment of being a nation as the key elements in the nation.  While most theorists emphasized that no element or combination of elements was determinative for all cases, they were responding to Ernest Renan, who as early as 1882 had explored race, language, religion, community of interest, and geography before concluding that the nation (which he did not want to equate with the state) was merely a spiritual principle. See Renan, “What Is a Nation?” in The Nationalism Reader, 143-55.

[xvi].  Nakamura argued that “the (ethnic) nation [minzoku] approaches things from a blood-and-cultural perspective; the (political) nation [kokumin] approaches things from a political and legal perspective:  the two are not the same thing.” Kyokuto no minzoku, 10. .

[xvii].  Nakamura, 18-28.

[xviii].  Nakamura, 28-30.

[xix].  Nakamura, 34-35.

[xx].  Nakamura, 35.

[xxi]. Nakamura, 39.

[xxii].  Nakamura, 121.

[xxiii].  Nakamura, 41-46.

[xxiv].  Nakamura, 47-48.

[xxv].  Nakamura, 50.  Later on, Nakamura suggests that “one can understand how the attitude toward Western countries [in late Tokugawa period Japan] grew so deeply entrenched by recognizing that . . . the ethnic exclusive consciousness of the Song and Ming people was directly transmitted to the late Edo period ‘men of high purpose’ (bakumatsu shishi)” (129).

[xxvi].  Nakamura, 57.

[xxvii].   Nakamura, 72-73.

[xxviii].  Nakamura, 89.

[xxix].  Nakamura, 104-5.

[xxx].  Nakamura, 106-7.

[xxxi].  Nakamura, 124-131.

[xxxii].  Nakamura, 133-34.

[xxxiii].  Nakamura, 135-45.

[xxxiv]. The Japanese/Chinese term for “republican,” [dai kyowa koku; da gong he guo] more explicitly signifies (ethnic) harmony than the English “republican.”  Note the similarly named “Concordia Association” [kyowa kai; gong he hui] that purported to bring together Japanese and Manchu ethnic interests in Manchukuo. 

[xxxv].  Nakamura, 180-183.

[xxxvi]. Nakamura, 186-207.   Most of the Japanese sinologists Nakamura lists are discussed in Tanaka, Japan’s Orient, esp. 192, 235-237.  Nakamura summarizes Ross’s arguments on 207-240.  Ross treats the Chinese as a “race” in the most crudely racist manner (see Edward Alsworth Ross, The Changing Chinese [New York: Century, 1914]).  For example, in Chapter 3, “The Race Mind of the Chinese,”  Ross contrasts the “yellow men” of China with the Anglo-Saxon “race.”  (51-69, at 52). His appeal for Nakamura appears curious, given Nakamura’s insistence on the distinction between the “[ethnic] nation” (minzoku) and “race” (jinshu) and his explicit rejection of “race” to describe the Chinese as a group.  In his summary of Ross, Nakamura does not translate Ross’s use of “race” as minzoku nor does he miss the ethnic focus of Ross’s analysis--which in spite of the use of the term “race” does distinguish the Chinese from other “yellow men” like the Japanese.  Consequently, although Nakamura does translate Ross’s trans-ethnic “Anglo-Saxon race” as anguro sakuson jinshu, he coins the terms minshitsu and min’i to translate Ross’s “race fiber” and “race mind” of the Chinese, which Ross argues is distinct from that of the Japanese. See Nakamura, 206-220.

[xxxvii].  One crude but suggestive measure of the historical significance Nakamura attaches to the various other ethnic nations in China is the length of narrative history each receives:  Manchu 43 pages; Mongol 47 pages; Uigur 10 pages; Tibetans 8 pages.  The combined length of their narratives, presented as “Chapter 3: The Four Ethnic Nations of the Manchu, Mongol, Uigur, and Tibetans” [dai san-sho: Man Mo Ui Zo no yon minzoku] is, at 108 pages long, only slightly more than half the 202 pages that narrate the Han ethnic nation in “Chapter 2: The Han Ethnic Nation” [dai ni-sho: Kan minzoku].  The history of China was mainly, one was supposed to conclude, the history of the Han ethnic nation.

[xxxviii].  Nakamura, 351.

[xxxix].  On the liberal discourse on ethnic nationalism in Japan around the time of the First World War, see my “Culture, Ethnicity and the State in Early 20th Century Japan,” in Sharon Minichiello, ed., Japan’s Competing Modernities: Issues in Culture and Democracy, 1900-1930, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), 181-205.

[xl].  Uchida Ryohei, “Shinajin no ganchu ni kokka nashi,” Chugai (January 1918); reprinted in Taisho dai-zasshi (Tokyo: Ryudo Shuppan, 1978), 157.

[xli].  Uchida, 160-161.

[xlii].  A succinct general history of the relationship between ethnic nationalism and the events surrounding World War I may be found in Habu Nagaho and Kawai Tsuneo, ”Minzokushugi shiso,” in Tamura Hideo and Tanaka Hiroshi, eds., Shakai shiso jiten (Tokyo: Chuo Daigaku Shuppanbu, 1982),  326-346, esp. 330-333.  There are also many testimonies from texts written during the interwar period that assert ethnic nationalism (minzokushugi) came into the public eye most forcefully after World War I, and especially with President Woodrow Wilson’s support for “ethnic nation self-determination” (minzoku jiketsu).  See, for example, Kamei Kan’ichiro’s statement that “the word ethnic nation (minzoku) first appeared in print in actual world politics after the Versailles Treaty”  (Kamei Kan’ichiro, Dai toa minzoku no michi [Tokyo: Seiki Shobo, 1941], 301.)

[xliii].  Tanaka, 149.

[xliv].  Tanaka, 185.

[xlv].   Lee Joung-sik, “Nature and Characteristics of Nationalist Movement in Korea,” Korea Journal 6, no. 1 (1966): 9-10.

[xlvi].  Lee Ki-Baek, “Historical View of Nationalism in Korea under Japanese Occupation,” Bulletin of the Korean Research Center 27 (December 1967): 18.

[xlvii].  Yun Kon-cha, “Minzoku genso no satetsu: ‘nihon minzoku’ to iu jiko teiji,” Shiso 834 (December 1993): 25

[xlviii].  Nakayama Kei,  “Chosenjin no na o zenbu nihon na ni henzubeshi--chozen minzoku doka no konpon saku,” Nihon oyobi nihonjin (September 1924) reprinted in Taisho dai-zasshi,156.  In addition to providing examples of Japanese versions for some major Korean surnames that played on linguistic similarities (Kim--> Kaneda; Yi-->Inou), Nakayama offered a thirty year plan for abolishing the Korean language, intermarriage with Japanese, allowing Koreans to serve as imperial officials and be subject to the draft.  He also foresaw little Korean resistance to this plan since “when the Koreans see this, when they see that as Japanese with a superior culture they are treated identically to native Japanese, their former feelings of enmity will be swept away, and they will be happy to be Japanese” (156).

[xlix].  Song Uk, “Han’guk Chisigin kwa Yôksa jôk Hyônsil,” Sasanggye (April 1965): 215; cited in Lee Ki-Baek, “Historical View,” 8.

[l].  Nakayama, 154.  Nakayama expressed this concept that I am calling here “cultural genocide” in a variety of ways.  Along with the expression above (“chosen minzoku naru mono ga naku naru yo ni suru koto/make that which defines the Koreans as an ethnic nation disappear”), he also expressed this same goal as “karera ga chosenjin de aru to iu koto no shoko o zenbu inmetsu seshimuru koto/ make them destroy all evidence that they are Koreans” (156).

[li].  Nakayama, 156.

[lii].   Chosen sotokufu keimukyoku, ed. Kokusai kyosanto to shina kakumei, (Seoul: Chikazawa Insatsubu, 1930), 58.

[liii]. Ibid.,  114-116, 144.  The phrase “weak ethnic nations” [jakusho minzoku] was often used interchangeably with “the oppressed ethnic nations” [hi-appaku minzoku] in 1930s leftist affirmations of ethnic nationalism as anti-imperialist forces.  Both terms were also red flags, although ambivalent ones, to Japanese imperialist officials who knew their Soviet origins but could also adopt them to mean the oppression of Orient nations by the West instead of the imperialist oppression suggested in marxist usage. 

[liv].  Ozaki Hotsumi, Gendai shina ron (Tokyo: Keiso Shobo, [1939] 1964), 141-42, 211-212. How central the problem of ethnic nationalism was for Ozaki can best be discerned from his section on “Minzoku undo no tokushitsu,” 148-167. See also the discussion of Ozaki’s concern with minzoku in Tanaka, 223.

[lv].  The range of works that appeared during these years is too numerous for a comprehensive listing, but the following sample provides a sense of the magnitude of this discursive shift on East Asia: Komatsu Kentaro, Minzoku to bunka (Tokyo: Risosha, 1939); Izawa Hiroshi, Minzoku toso shikan (Tokyo: Sangabo, 1939); Takata Yasuma, Toa minzoku ron (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1939); Tanase Joji, who worked for the Toa kenkyujo, wrote three books on the problem of ethnic nationality in East Asia, including Toa no minzoku to shukyo (Tokyo: Kawade shobo, 1939); Matsuoka Juhachi, Shina minzokusei no kenkyu (Tokyo: Nihon hyoronsha, 1940); Kamei Kan’ichiro, Dai toa minzoku no michi (Tokyo: Seiki shobo, 1941); Koyama Eizo, Minzoku to jinko no riron (Tokyo: Hata shoten, 1941) and Minzoku to bunka no sho-mondai (Tokyo: Hata shoten, 1942); Kaigo Katsuo, Toa minzoku kyoiku ron (Tokyo: Asakura shoten, 1942); the 12 volume Minzoku series published by Rokumeikan in 1943, of which eight volumes dealt with Asian ethnic nations (the other three were the Latin ethnic nations, the Anglo-Saxon ethnic nations, and the Slav ethnic nations); Ogawa Yataro, ed., Nihon minzoku to shin sekaikan (Osaka: Kazuraki shoten, 1943); Hirano Yoshitaro, Minzoku seijigaku no riron (Tokyo: Nihon hyoronsha, 1943); and Minzoku kenkyujo kiyo (Tokyo: Minzoku kenkyujo, 1944).  Numerous translations from Chinese sources also appeared, including Suyama Taku’s translation (with a preface by Okawa Shumei), Shina minzoku ron (Tokyo: Keio shobo, 1940); and Oguchi Goro, an employee of the intelligence bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who translated Song Wen-bing’s Zhongguo minzu shi as Shina minzoku shi (Tokyo: Daito shuppansha, 1940).

[lvi].  Perhaps the most consistent advocate of a common East Asian ethnic identity was Professor Komatsu Kentaro of Kansai Gakuin University.  In his Minzoku to bunka (1939), Komatsu had made it clear that “the ethnic nation (minzoku) is not limited simply to blood groups. . . rather the ethnic nation . . . is a complex social group” (40-41).  A few years later, Komatsu offered this ethnic concept of the nation, in which blood mattered but was not the sole criterion, as the key to “forming a Greater East Asian ethnic nation.”  As he put it, “Those called the yellow race [kiiro jinshu] who live in Greater East Asia have intermarried due to regional proximity. . . .  This situation has given rise to a distinctive race [tokushoku aru jinshu], and is the basic premise for considering the Greater East Asia ethnic nations as a single ethnic nation [dai toa minzoku o hitotsu no minzoku to miru konpon-teki no joken].”  Komatsu, “Dai toa minzoku no keisei,” in Ogawa, ed. Nihon minzoku to shin sekai kan, 109-110.

[lvii].  Ozaki Hotsumi, Gendai shinaron, 240; also cited in Tanaka, 224. Tachibana made these comments in the midst of a round table discussion held 31 May 1940 on “The Social Composition of the Orient and the Sino-Japanese Future” with Ozaki, Hosokawa Kiroku, and Hirano Yoshitaro.  The proceedings were published in the Summer-Fall 1940 issue of Chuo koron.

[lviii].  ”Toa minzokushugi no koyo,” 1-2.

[lix]. “Toa minzokushugi no koyo,” 2.

[lx].  Kamei, Dai toa minzoku no michi, 225.

[lxi].  Kamei Kan’ichiro, Dai toa minzoku no michi, 261-262. The emphasis is mine, although the interjection about race in contrast to the ethnic nation is Kamei’s.

[lxii].  Kamei, 174-178.

[lxiii].  Kamei, 178-181.

[lxiv].   Roger Griffin, Fascism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 4.

[lxv].  Among his many books, Kamei also wrote Nachisu kokubo keizai ron (The Nazi Theory of National Defense Economics) (Tokyo: Toyo Keizai Shuppanbu, 1939), where his Nazi sympathies are also explicit.  The fact that he was arrested and convicted for criticizing Prime Minister Tojo in 1942 (his sentence was suspended) is only further evidence of the extremist nature of his nationalism, and the complicated relationship between the modern Japanese state and ethnic nationalism. Many extreme nationalists, like Kamei and Nakano Seigo, were critical of Tojo.  For a general outline of the relationship between the wartime Japanese state and ethnic nationalists, see my “Nationalism as Dialectics: Ethnicity, Moralism, and the State in Early Twentieth Century Japan,” in James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 174-96.

[lxvi].  See, for example, George Macklin Wilson, “A New Look at the Problem of ‘Japanese Fascism’” Comparative Studies in Society and History 10, no. 4 (1968): 401-12; Peter Duus and Daniel I. Okimoto, “Fascism and the History of Prewar Japan: The Failure of a Concept,” Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (1979): 65-76; Miles Fletcher, “Intellectuals and Fascism in Early Showa Japan,” Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (1979):39-63; and Gregory Kasza, “Fascism from Below? A Comparative Perspective on the Japanese Right: 1931-1936,” Journal of Comparative History 19, no. 4 (1984): 607-29.

[lxvii]. Takata Yasuma, “Sokan no ji,” Minzoku kenkyujo kiyo, 1.

[lxviii].  Takata Yasuma, “Minzoku seisaku no kicho,” Minzoku kenkyujo kiyo, 17-18.

[lxix].  Nakano Seiichi, “Toa ni okeru minzoku genri no kaiken,” in Minzoku kenkyujo kiyo, 45.



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