Skip to main content Accessibility help

Chinese Asianism in the Early Republic: Guomindang intellectuals and the brief internationalist turn

  • CRAIG A. SMITH (a1)


Until recent decades, historians of modern East Asia generally considered Asianism to be an imperialistic ideology of militant Japan. Although Japanese expansionists certainly used the term and its concept in this way in the 1930s and 1940s, earlier proponents of Asianism looked upon it as a very real strategy of uniting Asian nations to defend against Western imperialism. Showing that Chinese intellectuals considered different forms of Asianism as viable alternatives in the early days of the Republic of China, this article examines a number of discussions of Asianism immediately following the 1911 Revolution. Concentrating on newspaper articles and speeches by intellectuals Ye Chucang and Sun Yat-sen, I show the international aspirations of the Guomindang elite at this crucial point in the construction of the Chinese nation. Despite the dominance of discourse on the nation state, these intellectuals advocated different Asianist programmes for strategic purposes within the first two years of the Republic, dependent on their very different relationships with Japan.



Hide All

1 Here I use the term ‘Asianism’ to refer to a political belief that emphasized a unifying identity across national borders to include multiple Asian nations. This is a catchall term to indicate what in Chinese has been called 亞洲主義 Yazhouzhuyi or 亞細亞主義 Yaxiyazhuyi. In Japanese, it is referred to as アジア主義 Ajiashugi. The prefixes 凡 (fan: pan), 大 (da: great), and 新 (xin: new) are regularly added to these terms, providing different and often opposing understandings of Asianism.

2 Yi, Wang, ‘Sikao ershiyishiji de xinyazhouzhuyi’ [Considering Neo-Asianism in the Twenty-First Century], Waijiao Pinglun 89 (2006): 610. Also, available in English translation by Weber, Torsten in Saaler, Sven and Szpilman, Christopher W. A. (eds), Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 361369.

3 Karl, Rebecca E., Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2002).

4 Duara, Prasenjit, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995); Duara, Prasenjit, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asia Modern (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

5 Duara, Prasenjit, ‘Asia Redux: Conceptualizing a Region for Our Times’, The Journal of Asian Studies 69.4 (2010): 963983, at 969.

6 Banghe, Sheng, ‘19shiji yu 29shiji zhijiao de Riben Yazhouzhuyi’ [Japanese Asianism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century], Lishi Yanjiu 3 (2000): 125135; Ping, Wang, Jindai Riben de Yaxiyazhuyi [Modern Japan's Asianism] (Beijing: Commercial Press, 2004).

7 Takeshi, Nakajima, Ajia shugi: sono saki no kindai e [Pan-Asianism] (Tokyo: Ushio Shuppansha, 2014); Saaler, Sven and Koschmann, J. Victor (eds), Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders (London; New York: Routledge, 2007); Saaler and Szpilman, Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History.

8 Dazhao, Li, Li Dazhao quanji [The Complete Works of Li Dazhao] (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 2006); Yat-sen, Sun, China and Japan: Natural Friends—Unnatural Enemies: A Guide for China's Foreign Policy (Foreword by Jingwei, Wang and edited by Leangli, T'ang) (Shanghai: China United Press, 1941).

9 Saaler and Koschmann, Pan-Asianism in Modern Japan, 1.

10 Same script, same race (Ch/Ja: tongwen, tongzhong/dōbun, dōshu 同文同種), if the lips perish, the teeth will freeze (chunwangchihan 唇亡齒寒), raise Asia (Ch/Ja: xingya/kōa 興亞), Great Eastern Federation (dadongbanghe/daitō gappō 大東合邦), Japan–China cooperation (Ri-Zhong tixie/Nicchū teikei 日中提攜), Asian union (Yazhou liandai/Yaxiya rentai 亞洲連帶), Japan–China alliance (Ri-Zhong tongmeng/Nicchū dōmei 日中同盟), East Asia alliance (dongya lianmeng/tōa renmei 東亞聯盟).

11 ‘The American Attitude Towards Japan’, The Times (23 June 1913), 9. Also quoted in Saaler and Szpilman, Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, 16.

12 John H. Mitchell, quoted in ‘The Chinese Treaty’, The Milwaukee Sentinel (27 February 1886), 1.

13 Ibid.

14 The Manchester Guardian (6 September 1901), 5.

15 Saaler and Szpilman, Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, 16.

16 Asahi (28 June 1913).

17 For example: ‘Mei zhi paiYa’ [American Opposition to Asians], Waijiao Bao 10.29 (1910): 28; ‘PaiYa sixiang zhi guchui’ [The Promotion of Anti-Asian Thought], Guofeng Bao 1.26 (1910): 108; ‘Nanfeizhou paichi Yazhouren zhi yimin faan’ [South Africa's Anti-Asian Immigration Policy], Dongfang Zazhi 9.1 (1912): 18; ‘Meiren duiyu Dongfang yimin zhi yanlun’ [American Discussions on Immigration from the Orient], Zhongguo Shiye Zazhi 4.7 (1913); ‘Huaqiao ru Kan zhi kukuang’ [The Horrible Circumstances of Overseas Chinese Going to Canada], Zhongguo Shiye Zazhi 5.7 (1914).

18 Jiaqing, Xu, ‘Meiguo Jialifoniya-zhou zhi paiRi wenti’ [The Issue of Anti-Japanese Policy in California], Dongfang Zazhi 10.1 (1913): 3649 at, 49.

19 The People's Journal lists the Japanese politician as Ibuka Hikotarō 井深彦太郎. I have been unable to find such a person. However, there was a Diet member called Ibuka Hikosaburō 井深彦三郎 active at this time; Ibuka Hikotarō, ‘Da Yaxiyazhuyi lun’ 大亞細亞主義論, in Minli Bao 民立報 (People's Journal, hereafter, MLB), 752 (7 October 1912), 2.

20 Ōkuma Shigenobu, ‘Dawei Bo zhi shishi tan’ [Count Ōkuma Discusses Current Events] (translated by Xi Yuan, postscript by Xu Xue'er), MLB 755 (10 October 1912), 2.

21 ‘Da Yaxiyazhuyi’ [Great Asianism], MLB (15 March 1913).

22 Suisheng Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 49.

23 Henrietta Harrison, China: Inventing the Nation (New York: Hodder Arnold, 2001), 132.

24 Note that Frank Dikötter translated minzuzhuyi as ‘racial nationalism’. Although the term is now usually translated as ‘ethnic nationalism’, in the first decades of the twentieth century, minzuzhuyi often referred to race, indicating the fluid ambiguity of concepts of race and nation during this time; see Dikötter, Frank, The Discourse of Race in Modern China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 108.

25 Li Dazhao, Li Dazhao quanji; Sun Yat-sen, China and Japan.

26 Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction, 80–81.

27 Henmi Kōzan 逸見甲山, translation by Qiu Hao 邱灝, ‘Zhong-Ri tixie lun’ [On Sino-Japanese Cooperation], Minli Bao (The People's Journal) (27 and 30 March 1913).

28 ‘Zhong-Ri xiehui zhi choubei’ [Preparations for the China-Japan Association], Minli Bao (People's Journal) (3 November 1913).

29 Feng Ziyou 馮自由 and many others were added to the list of members in this publication; unknown author, ‘Zhong-Ri xiehui zhi jinxing’ [The Establishment of the China-Japan Association], Guohui congbao [Journal of the National Assembly] 1, p. waijiao 4–5.

30 Chen Jiading studied at Waseda University in the late Qing dynasty. He joined the Xingzhong Hui while studying in Japan. After the failure of the Second Revolution, he returned to Japan.

31 ‘Zhong-Ri guomin dahui’ [China-Japan Citizens’ Association], Minli Bao [The People's Journal] (29 March 1913), 8.

32 Peiheng, Hu 胡佩衡, ‘Zhong-Ri lianmeng ganyan’ [My Feelings on a Sino-Japanese Alliance], Min Yi [People's Friend] 5 (1913): 13, at 1.

33 Ibid., 3.

34 Dai Zheng cheng 戴正誠, ‘Quan-Yaxiyazhuyi zhi tanyi’ [An Inquiry into Pan-Asianism], Dang Bao.

35 Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction, 82.

36 Only two years after this, Uchida lost faith in the republic and his position on China became much more militant as he argued for Japanese domination in order to save China. Uchida was the founder of the Kokuryūkai—an association dedicated to removing Westerners from all areas south of the Heilong River and reputed ‘as the pan-Asianist organization par excellence’; Uchida Ryōhei 分割乎保全乎, Minli Bao (People's Journal) (13 and 14 February 1914) (from Taiyou 19.3); see Saaler, Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, 123, 124.

37 Xu Xue'er 徐血兒, ‘Japan's Awakening’ Riben zhi juewu 日本之覺悟, Minli Bao (People's Journal) (24 February 1914).

38 Yat-sen, Sun, ‘Da Yazhouzhuyi’ [Great Asianism], Guofu quanji [The Complete Works of the Father of the Nation] (Taipei: Jindai Zhongguo chubanshe, 1989), I: 508–516.

39 Ibid., 136–139, 144.

40 Ibid., 144–145.

41 Ibid., 145.

42 Ibid., 138.

43 Ibid., 158; also see 137, 149.

44 Ibid., 158.

45 Sun, China and Japan, 116.

46 Jentleson, Bruce W., American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (3rd edition) (New York and London: Norton and Company, 2007), 77.

47 Bergère, Marie-Claire, Sun Yat-sen, translated by Lloyd, Janet (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 238239.

48 Wu, John C. H., Sun Yat-sen: The Man and His Ideas (Taipei: The Commercial Press, 1971), 159.

49 Ibid., 193–194.

50 Hu Hanmin, ‘Great Asianism and Opposing Japan’ 大亞細亞主義與抗日, Hu Hanmin xiansheng wenji 胡漢民先生文集, v.4, 38-541 (Taipei: Dangshi weiyuanhui, 1978); Jialun, Luo 羅家倫 (ed.), Guofu nianpu 國父年譜 (Taipei: Dangshishiliao weiyuanhui, 1965), 495497.

51 This speech is also collected in GFQJ III: 159.

52 Hu Hanmin, ‘Da-Yaxiyazhuyi yu kang-Ri’ [Great Asianism and Opposing Japan], Hu Hanmin xiansheng wenji 4: 38–541 (Taipei: Dangshi weiyuanhui, [1936] 1978), 540.

53 Bergère, Sun Yat-sen, 242.

54 Although many questioned the existence of this letter, the original letter surfaced decades ago and is now available in the Ōkuma Archives at Waseda Library ( Accessed on 10 June 2013); Sun, China and Japan, 3–4.

55 Dai Jitao, Riben lun [On Japan] (Taipei: Guxiang chubanshe, [1928] 1987), 108, 109.

56 Very little has been written on Ye Chucang. Most of the biographical information available on him comes from his son's ‘Yi xianfu Ye Chucang’ [Remembering My Late Father, Ye Chucang], which has been summarized and added to in the biographies by Yongjiu, Zhang. These short biographies reveal very little of Ye's political and intellectual thinking: ‘Ye Chucang de bense’ [The Character of Ye Chucang], Shu Wu v9 (2010), 3337; and the very similar: Yongjiu, Zhang, ‘Guanren yuanlai shi shusheng’ [The Official Was Originally a Scholar], Changjiang wenyi v.2 (2013), 120127; Fitzgerald, John, Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 29; also mentioned in Chen Jianyun, ‘Ye Chucang de banbao jingli ji jingli fenge’ [Ye Chucang's Newspaper Publicist Experience and Editorial Style], Xinwen chuanbo [News Dissemination] (December 2012), 199–200.

57 Duara, ‘Asia Redux’.

58 MLB (15 March 1913).

59 Ibid.

60 MLB (16 March 1913).

61 Ibid.

62 MLB (21 March 1913).

63 Ibid.

64 Ye Chucang, Song Yufu (Taipei: Wenxing shudian, [1913] 1962).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed