Following the recent trends of globalization and regionalization, the idea of Asia has been revived in political, economic, and cultural fields. This essay examines some of the multiple uses of the idea of Asia in modern East Asian and especially Chinese history.
Part One discusses how the idea of Asia developed from modern European history, especially the nineteenth century European narrative of “World History,” and points out how the early modern Japanese “theory of shedding Asia” derived from this narrative. Part Two studies the relationship between the idea of Asia and two forms of Narodism against the background of the Chinese and Russian revolutions. One, exemplified by Russian Narodism, attempted to use Asian particularity to challenge modern capitalism; the other, represented by Sun Yat-sen, attempted to construct a nation-state on the basis of a socialist revolutionary program, and to develop agricultural capitalism under the particular social conditions of Asia. Part Three considers the differences and tensions between the “Great Asianism” of Chinese revolutionaries such as Sun and the Japanese idea of Toyo (East Asia), and discusses the need to overcome the categories of nation-state and international relations in order to understand the question of Asia. Part Four discusses the need to go beyond early modern maritime-centered accounts, nationalist frameworks, and Eurocentrism in reexamining the question of Asia through historical research by focusing on the particular legacies of Asia (such as the tributary system) and the problems of “early modernity.” [Full text]