‘Envisaging East Asia’: Hyun-ho Joo’s 2022 Wang Gungwu Prize-winning Article

‘Envisaging East Asia’: Hyun-ho Joo’s 2022 Wang Gungwu Prize-winning Article

Associate Professor Hyun-ho Joo is the winner of the Wang Gungwu Prize for the best Asian Studies Review article in 2022. In this piece, he gives an overview of his prize-winning article. The article can be read here and is available open-access to all readers. 

On 28 November 1924, Sun Yatsen (1866–1925) made his famous pan-Asianism speech in Kobe, Japan on his way from Guangzhou, where he was based, to Beijing, the capital of the Republic of China, to meet with influential northern warlords to discuss the complete independence and unification of China. The speech was a significant public expression of his advocacy for the alliance of Asian nations led by Japan and China against Western imperialism.

The Dong-A Ilbo (Dong-A Daily; hereafter Dong-A) and the Chosun Ilbo (Chosun Daily; hereafter Chosun), which were the only Korean-language daily newspapers owned by Koreans in the early 1920s, paid keen attention to his trip to Beijing and his speech in Kobe. At that time, Sun, as an anti-Qing revolutionary leader, the founding father of the Republic of China, and the supreme leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, was one of the most renowned Chinese figures among Koreans, and this image of Sun was conveyed strongly through Dong-A and Chosun.

In addition to Dong-A and Chosun, the Mai-Il Shinpo (Daily News; hereafter Mai-Il), the Japanese colonial government’s Korean-language daily newspaper, also showed a keen interest in his northern trip and the speech. As a matter of fact, his political trajectory revealed a pro-Japanese leaning, as he sought Japanese political and financial support to strengthen his influence in China. He occasionally emphasised the need for China to cooperate with Japan.

By closely examining the events of November–December 1924 – those immediately before and after the speech in Kobe – my article in the Asian Studies Review analyses the coverage of Sun and his speech in these three Korean-language newspapers. My interest lies in explicating how the speech was interpreted by Dong-A and the other newspapers according to their respective editorial outlooks. My primary focus is on Dong-A, as it was by far the most popular and influential newspaper and had much higher circulation than Mai-Il or Chosun. I also compare the coverage in Dong-A especially with that in Mai-Il to highlight the differences in the Korean and Japanese views of Sun and his speech.

In the early 1920s, Dong-A was a nationalist daily, and it was eager to encourage Korean people’s anti-Japanese consciousness and their desire for national independence from Japan by using Sun’s voice. Dong-A’s reporting passionately championed him as an East Asian symbol of anti-colonial nationalism for the purpose of indirectly stirring Korean people’s anti-colonial – thus anti-Japanese – nationalist sentiments, when doing so explicitly was impossible due to the censorship by the Japanese colonial government. By contrast, Mai-Il enthusiastically cast Sun’s pan-Asianism as promoting the idea of Japan–China cooperation and more significantly the former’s replacement of the latter as the new leading power in East Asia. Dong-A and Mai-Il’s contrasting interpretations of Sun’s image, ideology, and political statements were possible because he simultaneously embodied somewhat contradictory political tendencies as both an anti-colonial and pro-Japanese figure. He was thus attractive to both the Koreans and the Japanese, if for different reasons. In addition to analysing his pro-Japanese inclinations, my article examines the tradition-oriented, Sinocentric mindset inherent in his pan-Asianism speech.

Sun’s pan-Asianism speech was not welcomed by Dong-A. This is easily understandable from the Korean people’s point of view, as the speech, which advocated for the anti-colonial liberation of Asia, completely ignored Korea, a nation oppressed and colonised by Japan, and instead supported China’s cooperation with Japan. Yet, Dong-A did not harshly criticise Sun’s speech in Korean, as if the newspaper wanted neither to tarnish his reputation nor to dampen the Korean people’s deep affection for him, so that he could remain the symbol of anti-colonial nationalism for Koreans. Interestingly, when Dong-A did express harsh criticism of the speech, it did so in English rather than in Korean, through a daily English-language column, which was usually placed on the newspaper’s third page and primarily featured editorials. Dong-A used the English-language column to disseminate its voice to international communities in Korea and abroad and to broadcast Korea’s colonial situation to the world, and the column strongly criticised the speech from the Korean people’s viewpoint. Dong-A’s tendency to use the English-language column to deliver anti-colonial and anti-Japanese messages was inseparably linked with the colonial government’s censorship. That is, Dong-A used its English-language column as a channel for messages considered too dangerous to deliver in Korean.

Chosun’s report on the speech was unenthusiastic as well, as the speech advocated for a Japan–China alliance and was indifferent towards Korea. However, as Dong-A did in its Korean-language writings, Chosun did not directly express a highly negative view of Sun’s speech. Instead, Chosun harshly criticised the idea of Japan–China alliance in general. It regarded the idea as something fabricated to serve Japanese propaganda aims and thought that Japan’s promotion of the idea was a manifestation of Japan’s expansionist designs upon China. Chosun’s view was that seeking a Japan–China friendship was simply a mistake.

Unlike Dong-A and Chosun, Mai-Il was eager to positively deliver Sun’s pan-Asianism speech, stressing the need for China to form an alliance with Japan to rescue itself, bring peace to East Asia, and strengthen the unity of the yellow race in the face of Western oppression. Mai-Il praised Sun for his assertion of the need for a grand alliance of all Asian nations and the need for China to maintain good relations with Japan to establish the grand alliance. It spoke highly of Sun’s speech on behalf of an Asian alliance and Japan–China friendship and complimented Sun for having visited Japan. Mai-Il also used Sun’s pan-Asianism to criticise Western imperialism, represented by Britain and the United States.

A close examination of Sun’s anti-colonial and pro-Japanese political messages and how Dong-A, Chosun, and Mai-Il differed in their interpretations of his ideas in colonial Korea provides us with an opportunity to re-examine how East Asia was envisioned differently from the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese perspectives. Furthermore, Sun’s speech reveals how he incorporated his nationalist and trans-national visions into a tradition-oriented mindset. In other words, an age-old Sinocentric worldview and a world order rooted in Chinese tradition were called upon to serve what he saw as the contemporary need for pan-Asianism. The fact that Sinocentric traditional thinking was not only reinvented and redefined, but also intertwined with the newly conceptualised trans-national vision, deepens our understanding of the complicated relationships between tradition and modernity and between nationalist and internationalist visions in East Asia.

Feature image by Simona Sergi on Unsplash

Hyun-ho Joo is an Associate Professor at Yonsei University’s Wonju Campus in Korea. His research interests are the history of Sino-Korean relations and the cultural interactions between China and Korea in the early twentieth century.

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