Chinese Asianism: Discussions on China-Centred International Regionalism in the 1920s

With the rise of China and the development of ambitious international projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, discussions of China-centred international regionalism have found new prominence, but many of these ideas have a long history in twentieth century China.

This talk will examine the rise of a discourse promoting China as the future leader of Asia in 1920s publications. After President Sun Yat-sen made a speech titled ‘Great Asianism’ in 1924, intellectual and political leaders created a number of organisations to forward the ideals of Asian unity in major Chinese cities. Journals with titles such as New Asia and the Asiatic Review provided avenues for publication, while international conferences brought Chinese intellectuals in touch with Asianists from other Asian countries. Although the Chinese intellectuals who established these organizations initially focused upon uniting with Indians and Koreans to further the fight against imperialism, Japanese members of their organizations soon brought them into contact with Japan-based Pan-Asianist organisations. Due to their cooperation with Japanese Asianists, the organizations and their members were highly criticized by the Chinese media. However, these events and the subsequent critical responses set the stage for wartime Chinese Asianism and the belief that China had a duty to lead the oppressed nations of the world in the struggle with imperialism.

Craig A. Smith is Senior Lecturer of Translation Studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. He is the author of Chinese Asianism: 1894—1945 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2021) and co-editor of Translating the Occupation: The Japanese Invasion of China, 1931—45 (UBC Press, 2021).

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.

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