Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, Volume I 1850-1920


Author(s): Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman

ISBN:          978-1442205963

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Year:          2011

Price:        $74.00

Reviewed by Hiromi Mizuno, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota

Despite the significance of Pan-Asianism in East Asian history, there has not been a due amount of scholarship and translations on the subject. Shifting global power dynamics and an increasing interest in the Asian regional integration, however, seem to be contributing a recent rise of publication on the history of intra-Asia movements of ideas, people, and texts. Cemil Aydin’s The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (2007) and Karen Laura Thornber’s Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard University Asia Center, 2009) are just two such examples. Now we have Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman’s two-volume collection, Pan-Asianism, the first substantial compilation of materials on the topic in the English language. “The fruit of several years’ of collaboration by three dozen scholars on four continents,”(xi) the collection not only fulfills the historiographical gap and teaching needs but also opens up further research into the subject of Pan-Asianism.

This is the review of the first volume of Pan-Asianism that covers from 1850 to 1920 (the second volume, from 1920 to the present). As the introduction essay by Saaler and Szpilman—duplicated in the second volume as well—clarifies, Pan-Asianism in this collection entails concepts, ideologies, and movements for Asian solidarity, unity, and integration against the West. The editors do not assume a coherent Pan-Asianism; rather, the strength of this collection lies in its acknowledgement of varieties, tensions, and changes within various voices of Pan-Asianism. This is especially the case in the first volume that covers the earlier period when Pan-Asianism functioned in part as a critique of Japanese policies, in contrast to the 1930s and onward when Japanese imperialism lavishly utilized Pan-Asian discourses. The introduction essay situates the 1910s as the important decade when Pan-Asianism and its associated terms became firmly established in Asia. The introduction also does a good job providing useful historiography, a discussion on problems with terminology, and a general chronological outline of Pan-Asianism from its emergence in the late nineteenth century to its postwar renditions, including recent, post-cold war developments.

Part 1 “The Dawn of Pan-Asianism, 1850-1900” traces the early development of the concept of Asian solidarity in the context of Western expansion, featuring organizations such as Kôakai/Ajia Kyôkai and the Genyôsha as well as such spokesmen as Arao Sei, Inoue Masaji, Tarui Tôkichi, Konoe Atsumaro, and Okakura Tenshin. Part 2 “The Era of Imperialism and Pan-Asianism in Japan, 1900-1914” illustrates the distance between pan-Asianist advocacy and the Japanese government’s official stance against it. Featured organizations and spokesmen here are Tôa Dôbunkai, the Kokuryûkai, Miyazaki Tôten, Suematsu Kenchô, Hatano Uho, and Nagai Ryûtarô. Part 3, titled “Asian Responses to Imperialism and Japanese Pan-Asianism, 1900-1922,” covers non-Japanese voices raised in reaction to Western imperialism and Japan-centered pan-Asianism: Sŏ Chaep’il, Zhang Taiyan, Aurobindo Ghose, Sin Ch’ae-ho, Abdürreşid İbrahim, An Chung-gŭn, Benoy Kumar Sarkar, Li Dazhao, Kurban Ali, and Rash Behari Bose. Part 4 “The Breakdown of the Imperialist Order: World War I and Pan-Asianism, 1914-1920” highlights the peak of pan-Asianism in Japan and East Asia, featuring Sun Yat-sen, Kodera Kenkichi, Sawayanagi Masatarô, Sugita Teiichi, Kita Ikki, Tokutomi Sohô, Paul Richard, Kita Reikichi, Taraknath Das, and Konoe Fumimaro. Part 3 and 4 contain perhaps the most important contribution this volume makes. Those of us who teach in the English-language world would find these translations of non-Japanese voices to be especially valuable, although I wish the collection had included even more non-Japanese pan-Asianists.

Each short chapter comes with an informative, easy-to-follow essay as well as translations of primary materials, making the collection ideal for undergraduate teaching. As Matsuda Kôichirô points out (48), that the concept of Asia functioned both as a new tool to envision non-Sinocentric world order and as a sign of the region’s submission and challenge to the Western dominance. Reading Pan-Asianism Volume I together with Aydin’s The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia and Mark Driscoll’s Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque should productively illuminate this gap between the two complimentary yet problematically conflicting functions for further discussion.

Despite the sense of taboo around the subject of pan-Asianism, or rather because of it, carefully contexualized analyses of its history are highly important. Not only for teachers but also for any critical readers of Asian history and contemporary discussions of Asian integration, Pan-Asianism is a welcome and invaluable collection.



Aydin, Cemil. The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Driscoll, Mark. Absolute Erotic, Absolute Groteqsue: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895-1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Thornber, Karen Laura. Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009.

Suggested citation:

Mizuno, Hiromi (2013). Review of “Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, Volume I 1850-1920” edited by Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 6, no. 6 , Internet file: