The Time-honored Peace Maker for East Asia-a subaltern Taiwan's



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The Time-honored Peace Maker for East Asia--A Subaltern Taiwan's
Re-appropriation of Colonial Narratives

Chih-yu Shih

Department of Political Science

National Taiwan University

E-mail: cyshih@ntu.edu.tw

Abstract:

The discourse on East Asia that has become popular since the 1990s was not a product of globalization. This paper first problematizes the rhetoric of post-Cold War to argue that East Asia did not exist under Cold War. To trace the origin of East Asia, this paper identified two related strategies: pre-WWII Japanese imperialism that confronted the West and colonial Taiwan’s hybrid composition of both China and Japan. Tsai Pei East Asia as a method of self-denial reflected that Tsai’s attempt at becoming East Asian had to be a constant process. Since mundane forces keep dragging people back within national borders, an East Asian engaged in national politics at any given point or site in the daily life would have to consciously exercise some conceptual retreat in order to avoid any hegemonic control. This is difficult. In fact, the temporal process that reproduces the feeling of transcendence is opposite to the popular postcolonial and hybrid style of alternating among situations by shifting identities. The postcolonial style desires recognition while the self-denial conscience tries to do with the need for recognition.

East Asia as a method of self-denial reflected that Tsai’s attempt at becoming East Asian had to be a constant process. Since mundane forces keep dragging people back within national borders, an East Asian engaged in national politics at any given point or site in the daily life would have to consciously exercise some conceptual retreat in order to avoid any hegemonic control. This is difficult. In fact, the temporal process that reproduces the feeling of transcendence is opposite to the popular postcolonial and hybrid style of alternating among situations by shifting identities. The postcolonial style desires recognition while the self-denial conscience tries to do with the need for recognition.

huo’s provocative promotion of an East Asian solution to Sino-Japanese War represented the latter approach. Echoing Tsai, contemporary narratives by those East Asian writers who look away from statist for an epistemic ground to engage in non-resistant identity formation have yet to acknowledge their predecessor in colonial Taiwan. Since mundane forces keep dragging people back within national borders, an East Asian engaged in national politics at any given point or site in the daily life would have to consciously exercise some conceptual retreat in order to avoid any hegemonic control. This is difficult. In fact, the temporal process that reproduces the feeling of transcendence is opposite to the popular postcolonial and hybrid style of alternating among situations by shifting identities.

The Time-honored Peace Maker for East Asia--A Subaltern Taiwan's


Re-appropriation of Colonial Narratives
Taking Asianism Seriously

The literature on the debate between International Relations scholars is particularly rich between the Anglophone Realist School and the English School, with one stressing the law of balance of power and the systemic forces that are independent of the will of individual nations and the other, the shared norms coming out of European history as well as culture among them. One string that connects the two schools is their common premise upon the mutually-exclusive identity of nation state, their debate is one between the system of units and the society of units.

A contending approach to IR recently emerges in Sino-phone world by enlisting the metaphor of Tianxia (all under heaven), which attends to images and, therefore, roles, relations, and duties of nations in world politics.1 National units compete with one another on a certain criterion to decide who does better and achieves higher status in a cultural hierarchy. In short, the Tianxia metaphor is ontologically conceived of as the mother giving birth to the national unit either as a model or an emulator. Ironically, the Tianxia metaphor is widely considered in the English literature as the assertion of Chinese soft power.2

Not familiar to the classic debate in the Anglophone world or the nascent debate between the Anglophone and the Sino-phone worlds, but long-lasting, is yet another metaphor embedded in the notion of Asianism. Toward the end of the Cold War, Asianism has re-emerged and gained increasing popularity in Korea, Taiwan and especially Japan. Despite various inconsistent interpretations ascribed to them, both Tianxia and Asianism, each in their contemporary narratives, contrast the two Anglophone schools in the former’s non-confrontational pursuit of harmonious relationship.

Asianism has not been philosophically appealing to the Anglophone writers, though, probably because of its apparent alienation from the identity of nation states. However, it is appealing to Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese writers who similarly look for ways to deal with China. Instead of seeing China as an alien, external and separate identity in the Anglophone IR literature, Writers on Asianism cope with China as an internal component. In face of the burgeoning discourse of Tianxia, Asianism promises an alternative to self-understanding that requires no resistance to “the West” or China.

Like their predecessors before World War II, the contemporary writers on Asianism each have their own idealistic version. What groups them together is their devotion to a frame that transcends national borders so that either the requests for a Japanese apology of past invasion or a Taiwanese commitment to reunification would appear awkward, if not irrelevant. While subscribers to Anglophone IR are abundant in Japan, Korea or Taiwan, and others who have engrossed in Confucianism and would want to compete for higher statue in Tianxia are always available, the English literature has so far paid little attention to Asianism popular in those communities surrounding China.3

Once becoming a worldview, Asianism is no longer a territorial concept. Rather, it becomes a statement of identity. Moreover, the de-territorialized identification moves the nation away from the identity of being and toward the identity of becoming, where the temporal dimension overtakes the spatial dimension. The rest of this paper will discuss how East Asianism, as a version of Asianism in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, has re-emerged during the age of globalization and could in the near future be a useful metaphor to deal with China’s powerful re-entry into world politics, with specific focus on the implications to Taiwan’s quest for national identity. Hopefully, the paper fills in the lacuna of Asianism in the current literature on Taiwan and Cross-Taiwan Strait relations.
An Alternative to the Lingering Signs of Tianxia

While East Asianism could acquire an additional meaning any time a new narrative on it rises, it always embodies a sentiment of avoidance as regard to the relation with China. The spirit of Asianism and East Asiansim is to dissolve China into economic regions, climate zones, administrative prefectures, and ethnic communities etc. that transcend national borders. Pre-war Japan probably witnessed most active Asianism, which was later reduced to an ideology serving Fascist expansion. While pre-war Asianists wanted to explain away Chinese all under heaven in order to redefine Japan, contemporary Asianists similarly face the lingering attitudes in their self-understanding that are associated with the worldview of all under heaven. A few anecdotic examples could be useful here.

March 2006 was an exciting month for baseball fans as the first World Baseball Classic was held. Baseball is considered national sports in Taiwan but unfortunately the Taiwanese team was unable to make the final round. As fans in Taiwan watched the series unfold, almost unanimously they supported Cuba over Japan and the United States over Korea.4 In a similar vein, a Korean professor said privately that she was disgusted to watch Japan finally took the title in 2006 because “I hate Japan.” This animosity among East Asian neighbors certainly was not limited to baseball as one easily recalled how the Taiwanese fans catcalled Korean soccer team when Korea defeated Italy in the World Cup 2002 over a couple of controversial calls. In any case, the quest for a spirit of East Asia by contemporary thinkers and philosophers receives little echo in sports.

For another example, Kuala Lumpur promotes tourism in Malaysia in the International Community Radio Taipei, which is popular among Taiwanese locals as well as internationals, by ending its advertisement in the melody “Malaysia is truly Asia.” Note how dramatic, or even ironic, it is for Kuala Lumpur being the ardent advocate of Asian unity while presenting Malaysia as truly Asia in Taiwan. If being a hybrid Asian nation is the highest criterion to judge merit of a nation in Tianxia, Kuala Lumpur is tantamount to asserting its achievement for Taiwan to emulate.

It appears that Tianxia carries double blessings. When an East Asian neighbor does well, other East Asians feel proud at the same time only if they regard themselves belonging to the same under heaven in face of outsiders, who were once called barbarians during the dynastic time. In contrast, when the competitive mood prevails among them, good performance of one East Asian country implies the failure of others to perform at the same level. No wonder in history East Asia was useful only to those who would like to destroy the Chinese world order and assume a dominant role of the region, however its East Asia was defined. Most of time, they used East Asia to support their own project. In the case of pre-WWII Japan, the East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere was to support Tokyo’s endeavor to achieve excellence over Western imperialism. During the cold war, Washington used it to support containment.

Just as Malaysia competes for being more Asian than Taiwan, Taiwan turns anxious when Korean or Japan does better than Taiwan. Obviously to Taiwan, Cuba or the United States would not implicate any sense of shame when their baseball teams do better as Japan or Korea would. Cynical attitudes toward neighbors amongst East Asians subscribing to the all-under-heaven worldview therefore reveal of an antagonistic unity which compels them to look closely at one another, to perhaps use alternative East Asiaism to obscure or appropriate good performance of a particular neighbor. If sticking to the all-under-heaven worldview, they could only use East Asia to assert a model for outsiders that a national identity could not suffice to gird.

Nevertheless, different uses or interpretations of East Asia have over time created a spirit of East Asiaism that Tianxia cannot contain. For a long time, though, East Asia was not faddish. It has emerged frequently since the 1990s probably due to the need for presentable local identities in the tide of globalization. Korean scholars have been most active in devising the discourse on East Asia. The level of attention to East Asia in Japan revived in the same decade despite the notorious pre-war use of it by the Fascist government. Because of this shameful use in the past, nevertheless, both Korean and Japanese scholarships on East Asia make conscious effort to avoid a concrete, tangible or territorial East Asia, with the hope that new East Asia represents a temporal process of mutual adaptation and learning rather than space. On the practical side, the discussion on East Asian community abounds. More and more transnational organizations have emerged in the past 20 years that carry East Asia in their titles.

In Taiwan, which has no access to any of these transnational derivatives of East Asia, the reference to East Asia likewise arose in the same decade. For example, in the United Daily data bank, the reference amounts to 4181 times in the 1980s but 16,788 times in the 1990s. Obviously each reference has its own context as well as its specific scope of referral. One expression appears in the biannual East Asian Games. Others are more academic as the political science department faculty of the National Taiwan University one time seriously considered to substitute East Asian International Relations for the 30-year old required course of Chinese diplomatic history but aborted. On the other hand, East Asian Confucianism has become a leading research agenda at the same university and has later extended to many other campuses. The Center for East Asian Civilizations, the East Asian Center for Democracy, and the Group on East Asian Legal Culture of the same university are most-funded new institutes in the county that have also won numerous awards. The irony is between the reference to East Asia in Taiwan and Taiwan’s exclusion from many processes of institutionalization of East Asia. It is additionally between Taiwan’s desire to be part of East Asia and Taiwan’s obvious mood of competition with Korea and, to a less extent and yet with more ambivalence, with Japan and China.

This paper is a normative and philosophical response to the rise of the East Asia discourses. It first traces the evolution of the discourses on East Asia since the Cold War to show how unstable the meanings of East Asia have always been. While the discussions of the first part of the paper question the hegemonic nature of these discourses, they are intended to show its contested nature as well. Then, the paper makes a turn to a long-forgotten colonial text on East Asia during the Japanese rule of Taiwan. In 1937, a Taiwanese intellectual claimed himself being a “son of East Asia” to appropriate the supposed hegemonic cultures which Taiwan inherited from China and Japan. From the rediscovery of this text, the paper records an alternative identity strategy once available to an anxious Taiwan that has been excluded from the formation of East Asia in 1937 as well as in 2007 and after. Hopefully, a retrospect of this sort contributes to the contemporary writers’ quest for normative meanings of East Asia and their own place each.
Re-presenting East Asia in Global Political Economy
East Asia Emerging in Globalization

No such East Asian consciousness clearly existed before the end of the Cold War. It is not exaggerating to say that globalization has created contemporary sensitivity toward East Asia. Conceptually speaking, therefore, the discourses on globalization are earlier than those on East Asia. To say globalization arrives in East Asia is problematic accordingly. Instead, it is East Asia emerges from globalization. The discourses on globalization generate two related kinds of pressure that feature the emergence of East Asia. The economic pressure pushes East Asians to go to China while under the cultural pressure they want to pull China out to East Asia.

The economic pressure challenges the global (or other local) manufacturers to transform their products into forms friendly to local consumers. Local consumers enter the global arena by consuming global products as if they could trespass borders. The more successful the localization of a global product is, the less competitive the local products are. The formation of East Asian economic circles reflects efforts to dissolve the pressure of globalization through regionalization, which enhances the scale of economy among East Asian countries. To regionalize is tantamount to going to China. Few firms, if any, can compete well in the local as well as global market without going to China.

The cultural pressure challenges the local actors to adopt images presentable to global (or other local) consumers. This is a greater challenge to all East Asian countries except China, which has already established historical distinction in the rest of the world, embedded in the exotic characters such as Dr. Manchu Fu, Bruce Lee, and, Jacky Cheng or images of the Great Wall, China Town, and dragons, etc. In short, China does not need Asia to achieve the global representation. This explains why the Chinese are rarely as enthusiastic to the notion East Asia as its neighbors, who could achieve broader representation through some East Asian identity. In other words, the barrier is greater for other East Asian countries to achieve representation in the rest of the world, more so for Taiwan than for Korea, and Korea, than Japan.

Taiwan used to represent China to achieve such exposure during earlier years through “Manchurian” Palace Museum, for example. Taiwan was similarly the site of social science research on China before the 1980s, for another example. No longer representing China since the 1980s, Taiwan can only achieve global representation by somehow sharing the representation of Asia. In actuality, China is intrinsically part of East Asia to make East Asia a marketable identity. It would be just nice to resolve the Chinese into the East Asian identity so that the global actor extends their exotic expectation of China to Taiwan, who then benefits from being an East Asian. It would be troublesome to Taiwan, however, if Korean or Japanese dominate the East Asian identities to the effect of squeezing the room available to Taiwan. Making China Asian is therefore the shared task of China’s East Asian neighbors, but Taiwan’s Asian identity is simultaneously registered in the defense against Korean and Japanese representations.

All this identity strategy of Taiwan makes sense only under its subscription to the discourse on globalization. During the Cold War, political allianceship with Korea and Japan overwhelmed cultural competition. It was “containment” that gave meanings to Taiwan’s relationships with the two neighbors. Globalization contextualizes the nascent discourses on East Asia in Taiwan.


A Layer Added to the Cold War

Amidst the celebration of globalization in the aftermath of the Cold War, a few Taiwanese intellectuals dispute the Cold War historiography by pointing to the living legacy of the Cold War. On April 24, 2005, a workshop entitled “Post-Cold War Has Never Been in East Asia” was held in Taipei.5 The theme centered around the continuing Cold War behavior such as arms race among two Koreas, Japan, China and Taiwan, a new bottle of old containment water by hegemonic ideology, the spread narrative of clashes of civilization, and the staying of the American troops in both Korea and Japan. In Japan, they noted the rise of right-wing forces that had promoted the revocation of the peace clause of Constitution, the rearmament of the Japanese state, and the reinterpretation of Japanese role in WWII.

These are not compatible with the myth of globalization. In fact, globalization was not the least product of the new world order declared by the George Bush government in 1990, along with Mikhail Gorbachev, which purported to substitute human rights for the Cold War worldview defined by bloc or superpower politics. The subjects of the new world order were said to be individual human beings, not nation states. The rhetoric of globalization fit well in the individualistic thrust of the new world order. If, however, the Cold War behavior has continued despite the rhetoric, globalization is no more than a myth.

Paradoxically, both the hegemonic new world order, which harbingered globalization, and the aforementioned local workshop, which uncovered lingering Cold War reality, share a common implication, namely, the China threat. The June 4th 1989 Tiananmen massacre, which took place not too long before the new world order speech, expediently evaded the attention due to the prevailing Japan-bash in the late 1980s and the upcoming operation of Desert Storm in Iraq. The first reference of the world to the China threat nonetheless appeared in a Japanese journal in May 1990. As the Middle East turmoil abated and Japan running into a bubble economy, both the China threat and the clashes of civilization attained popularity. The strategic debate regarding US China policy between the containment and the engagement schools, the vicarious voices for the Cold War and the globalization worldviews respectively, disagreed with each other only under the shared premise that China could not be allowed to continue as it had been. Accordingly, globalization is added to, not substitutes for, the Cold War, so the post-Cold War and the Cold War coexist as layers of thought.

In any case, the irresistible myth of globalization dominates the world, with the concomitant China threat, allowing the realization that both globalization and the Cold War are discursive in nature. While confrontational preparation does not change much throughout, East Asia moves from non-existence to a meaningful representation. If neither arms race nor stationing of troops overseas in the age of globalization affirms the Cold War, the Cold war might as well have never occurred in the first place. What existed but has already changed is ideology. Globalization does not guarantee peace just as the Cold War never meant the necessity of conflict. They even label China in a remarkably similar, negative tone. Theory overtakes practice.

For a small national actor, i.e. Taiwan, the Cold War containment becomes self-containment under globalization. There has been no such thing as the Western, liberal bloc any longer to belong to in the new era. To survive the representation test in the global age, joining something East Asian is the most natural move in order to dissolve the global intrusion and to achieve representation in the world. For Taiwan, unfortunately, the East Asia solution hardly includes China since Taiwan is exclusively the productive source of China threat in the 21st century. From the hindsight, what was being contained by Taiwan’s allianship with the United States during the Cold War, so to speak, was not China, but the East Asian consciousness. Even under globalization, the Cold War continues to block the possibility of a full-fledged East Asian identity in Taiwan through the notion of the China threat.


East Asia Re-emerging in Post-Cold War

What has changed upon the emergence of globalization is not about arms race or other Cold War practices, but the re-emergence of East Asia from the ashes of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. The East Asian consciousness was weak during the Cold War. It was even conceived of as anathema in Japan. As the ideology of the Cold War declined due to the breakdown of the Soviet bloc, the containment ceased making sense, allowing Japan and Korea to cross the borders of China in general and Taiwan and China to reintegrate socially and economically in particular. East Asia re-emerges. The first act in Taiwan, for example, was the lifting of Martial Law which sent opposition politicians, who later ironically became ardent pro-Taiwan independence supporters, to visit the Chinese motherland (for the sake of humiliating Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang who had claimed to represent China). More important was the re-association between Japan and China. Note, though, reflections on East Asia amongst the Japanese intellectuals begin to focus on Asia or East Asia as a temporal process instead of a piece of geographical space.

Obviously this re-emergence of East Asia, as a temporal process, came from the wary toward a historical context of pre-war preoccupation with territorial East Asia. This conceptual move away territorial East Asia could also be a device to avoid any future split to be caused by containment or its like. Just look at the so-called East Asian studies in Taiwan during the Cold War. Research faculty of East Asia either conducted China studies to serve the Chinese Civil War or divide the work between Communist and “free” countries. The academic division reproduced the political split to take empowering capacity away from anyone carrying the East Asian identity. In contrast, the urge for a temporal East Asia proposes that one can only become East Asian but never just be an East Asian. The constant becoming of an East Asian presumably generates agency of an East Asian to transcend national boundaries so that political intervention by any hegemonic power in specific East Asian countries will be mediated by the East Asian consciousness.

That said, both Japanese and Korean intellectuals have another worry that territorial East Asia would lead to the contest between China and Japan for leadership over it. The contest of this sort would invite external intervention and split East Asia into territorial camps again. What the split would deprive is East Asian consciousness as well as the empowering capacity of the East Asian identity. In retrospect, earlier containment appeared to contain the communist bloc militarily, but additionally also did East Asian Consciousness emotionally, to the effect that East Asia lost its usefulness as a reference point. East Asia remained integral in a peculiar way, nonetheless. East Asian neighbors watched one another anxiously, much more than they cared about countries of South Asia. It was a kind of dialectical unity from which no initiative could be derived.

Only when China is ready to become East Asian would East Asia be a real base of action. Becoming East Asian is in a sense not to be Chinese. The role of Taiwan looms significant here. If Taiwan were to practice becoming East Asian, its re-association with China would be a bridge for China to practice becoming East Asian. In contrast, if their re-association answers primarily to Chinese nationalism, China would not practice becoming East Asian and East Asia would be reduced to a null identity. From the Chinese nationalist point of view, on the contrary, to see Taiwan as East Asian debunks East Asia into no more than a hegemonic project to split China. For East Asia activists, they would rather avoid Taiwan in order to attract Chinese nationalists to East Asia.
Aborted Counter-hegemonic Projects
East Asia as Resistance

The evolution of East Asia over time reflects distinctive meanings its various narrators respectively ascribe to it. Most of the time, narrators intended to reformulate the meaning of East Asia in order to break through the conceptual constraint of the time, imposed by a hegemonic power, on the self-knowledge. Each time, however, the reformulation simultaneously generated new constraint on self-identity and led to behavioral adaptation detrimental to the further growth of the East Asia discourse. Through the cycles of reformulation, East Asia is both a reproduction of a similar kind and a creation of something new. It is therefore both a hegemonic and a counter-hegemonic project.

In modern history, the notion of East Asia ironically emerged as a negative identity in the Japanese quest for modernity.6 The famous quote of Fukuzawa Yukichi that Japan had to sever any relationship with its backward East Asian neighbors opened Pandora’s box, even to the extent of believing that Japan should have a colony in East Asia in order to become part of Europe/modernity. The Western countries did not take Japan as part of Asia, though. The Japanese media as well as academic watched closely how Japan was received in the Western countries. From the Western countries forcing Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula to China in 1895, through the Great San Francisco Earthquake in which Japanese residential immigrants became scapegoats, to the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 where Japan’s naval power was restricted to 1/5 of the United States, most Japanese thinkers were convinced that Japan could only lead the East in order to achieve equality with, or even overtake, the West. Concomitant and subsequent discourses on East Asia thus centered around Japan’s duty in East Asia.

All kinds of Asianism narratives flourished, most urging more integration of East in one way or another and a majority of them taking Japan’s leadership in East Asia for granted. In other words, Japan could not be respectfully present in the world without East Asia standing together. For Japan to resist the Western hegemonic intervention, not only did Japan have to integrate with East Asia, but force the West out of East Asia. East Asia was therefore an inevitable contribution to Japanese selfhood which could no longer leave China, Korea and Taiwan lagging in backward conditions. Quickly, the nascent counter-hegemonic East Asia acquired hegemonic characteristics. However, this notorious Pre-war East Asia practiced by the Japanese Fascist regime totally disappeared during the Cold War both because East Asia brought a memory of humiliation and because containment in actuality split East Asia.

The late 1970s witnessed a change in mood as well as world politics. In light of the demise of South Vietnam, the hegemonic discourse shifted from containment, which was considered a loss by now, to modernization. The notion of Pacific rim emerged to replace containment. References to the four East Aisan “tigers” or “dragons,” including Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea reversed the failure story of capitalism primarily in Latin America. The revocation of left-wing dependency theory of Latin America in the beginning soon incurred the ensuing revocation of Western liberalism. Even Confucianism was popular again in the reinterpretation of the success stories of East Asia. Note the context of the 1970s in which Confucian Japan had established the image of an economic giant.

Previously an ardent Westernizer, Singapor’s former Premier Lee Kuan Yew raised the idea of “Asian Value” to juxtapose Asia and the West. Former Malaysian Premier Mohamad Mahathir echoed Lee most actively. Worrying the confrontation between Confucianism and liberalism, the half Taiwan-trained Harvard neo-Confucian writer Tu Wei-ming painstakingly tried to demonstrate that there should be multiple paths to modernity. His theory of “multiple modernities” reconciles East Asia and the West by presumably recognizing the teleological historiography toward modernity while stressing its non-linearity. Re-appropriating Confucianism into hegemonic liberalism aborts Lee and Mahathir’s Asian resistance.


Counter-“counter-hegemonic” East Asia

Late Japanese literate critic Takeuchi Yoshimi pointed out the impossibility for “Asianity” to be an intellectually productive concept unless its purpose was to resist one’s self, not someone else, such as the West. In his ideal, the West could and should be part of Asia so that Asia could be truly universal. In this sense, for Takeuchi, Asia was a method of self-denial, denying the self from becoming a substantive Asia which would soon fall into Fascist expansion, a blind disciple of Europe since Asia was not Europe, and from anything concrete, tangible or substantive. As a result, Asia should not be the same Asia in the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, Asian Value, East Asian Dragons, the neo-Confucian alternative. It should be neither an instrument to counter the West nor a rationale to take the East. The double denial of leadership of Asia and follower of Europe inspired subsequent thinkers on East Asia.

According to Takeuchi, the most effective resistance was to resist becoming oneself, so that no other discourse could ever dominate the self. Asia was legitimate and productive only when it enabled one to engage in self-denial. He thus called Asia “a method” of constantly becoming someone else. Any other understanding of Asia would eventually reduce Asia to a sheer source of legitimacy to Westernize Asia. This is because even if one tries to practice Asia a base of resistance to the West, all the power required to resist the West always comes from first Westernization of the self. Consequently, one could only resist the West by oneself ontologically joining the West.

Takeuchi borrowed his methodology from Republican Chinese revolutionary/critic LU Xun. He especially lauded Lu’s technique of resistance, which Takeuchi called “struggle,” a form of self-denial to keep the West from one’s subjectivity. China was such a source of insight for Takeuchi even though he did not mention China in his “Asia” method. For Takeuchi, as long as self-denial was a continuous process, there would be no need to worry about how China and Japan would come together under the label of Asia. Theoretically, they should contribute to each other’s quest of genuine subjectivity. Chinese literature critic Sun Ge picks up this particular message and turns it into an argument for a diffused, directionless, permissive space for all subjectivities to co-exist and mutually permeable.

Less sanguine about the relationship with China, Korean and Taiwanese narrators on East Asia usually devise their formulation with China in mind. Without naming China, BAIk Youngseo’s “peripheral” method in actuality tries to convince Chinese to read meanings into East Asia by empathizing peripheral perspectives. East Asia should be, accordingly, an arena of experiment, where all peripheral perspectives are free to exchange with one another. He is against any politicization of East Asia and hence suspicion to the national state. He believes that East Asia can still be a legitimate identity if it enables the transcendence of previous tendency to “civilize” peripheral communities. He specifically mentions Mongolia, Ryukyu, Tibet and North Japan.

Taiwanese cultural critic Chen Kwang-hsing echoes Baik by promoting the “principle of small countries.” By small countries, he meant not small nation states, but peripheral communities. Chen nonetheless pays more attention to multiplicity. He conceives of East Asia as composed of multiple histories, which are not about geography. It might not be coincidence that both Chen and Tu are sensitive to multiplicity as political nativism in Taiwan has recently launched a de-sinification campaign to the frustration of those who used to be comfortable with practicing Taiwanese and Chinese identities simultaneously. Chen is under the political pressure of Taiwan nativism that treats multiple identities as betraying. It is politically difficult for him to simply add Chinese identity to the Taiwanese one. Alternatively, he resorts to Asia, with the hope that Asia can be useful to the dissolution of Chinese nationalism so that his move away from nativism does not necessarily respond to Chinese nationalism.

These narratives reflect different concerns but all share the same alert to hegemonism, be it Japanese Fascism, Taiwanese nativism or Chinese nationalism. Their methods of thinking are to warn against any substantive contents of East Asia and to be cognizant of the co-existence of multiple East Asian perspectives. Except Tu’s, all the other narratives took place in geographical East Asia and are not as alert to the harmony between East Asia and the West. In fact, they are generally suspicious toward the West. Despite Tu’s subscription to Western liberalism, he would certainly agree that his reflection is more a self-reflection than differentiation from another. In other words, the contemporary discourses on East Asia by late Takeuchi as well as Koyasu, Sun, Baik and Chen are less about resistance to hegemony, as its predecessors of pre-War Japan or Asian Value advocates in the 1980s, than about self-reflection.

Against this contemporary intellectual history of East Asia, which is full of philosophical abstraction, the following discussion will introduce a much earlier attempt of how such an East Asian conception could have ever evolved into actual narratives. This was the self-expectation of becoming “the Son of East Asia” by a Taiwanese political and cultural activist, Tsai Pei-huo, during the Japanese colonial rule and during the Sino-Japanese War.


The Identity Strategy of a Taiwanese Subalten
The Process of Becoming

The re-emergence of East Asia in Taiwan under Globalization is not dissimilar to the origin of East Asian consciousness in the final stage of Japanese colonial rule of the island. Both are conceptual attempts to identify a place for Taiwan that might shun the stereotyped image of a subdued people on a backward land. Short of the support from Chinese, Japanese or Korean intellectual sources which contemporary Taiwan has enjoyed, one must wonder why and how East Asia could inspire colonial Taiwan under the colonial authorities and amidst the atmosphere of the Sino-Japanese War, neither friendly to views transcending national borders. However, the origin of East Asia as a mutual constituting process among its self-identified members could still registered in colonial Taiwan, to suggest that the contemporary welcome of East Asia has a deeper and must longer string than currently noticed.

Pre-War Japanese writers predominantly treated East Asia as a territorial object to be assimilated to “the princely way and the land of happiness” under the blessing of the Japanese God. It was also a base of expansion for Japan to eventually bless all under the roof of the universe. East Asia was therefore a substantive thing to support Japan to face the West and a metaphor of the future for the rest of the world. Taiwanese subalterns, who belonged to blessed land of East Asia, supposedly acquired their understanding of East Asia from the same teaching. With that said, one thing that Japan could not teach was, by learning all this princely way, how a previous Chinese Taiwan could learn from the experience of becoming Japanese. “The process of becoming” that the Taiwanese intellectuals had undergone was a key addition to the making of East Asia into a temporal concept.

The Youth Tsai Pei-huo (1889-1983) was known for a number of his intellectual as well as political endeavors, most important of which included the publication of the journal Taiwan Youth in Japan and in Japanese, the devising of a Romanized, written Taiwanese vernacular, and a series of petitions for installing a legislative council in the colony. Democratic as well Christian critics during the Taisho period such as famous Uemura Masahisa, Yoshino Sakuzo, and Yanaihara Tadao inspired Tsai with knowledge on man and on democracy. To promote Taiwanese legislative council, however, Tsai was able to additionally, specifically utilize his Chinese identity to enhance the legitimacy of his call.

In his petition, he pointed out that Taiwanese and Japanese were racially of different constitution in terms of kinship and culture. Obviously he was referring to his underpinning Chinese component. He had no intention to resist the emperor’s princely way, though, but believed that a Taiwanese council could assimilate the colony more successfully to the motherland (i.e. Japan). There was neither any attempt to elect or send any Taiwanese representative to attend the Japanese Diet. His life-long effort on Romanize Taiwanese vernacular purported to replace Han characters, arguing this would actually expedite the transition to the Japanese system.7 Indeed a written Taiwanese could both preserve Taiwanese, considered a Chinese dialect popular in South Fukien, in the long run and facilitate better learning in the Japanese primary school. Unfortunately, the Japanese governor throughout did not appreciate the preservation of a backward Chinese language.8 Nonetheless, Tsai had no intention to refute the Japanese language since his purpose was for better learning of the advanced knowledge taught in Japanese.

Tsai stylistically brought something Chinese into his lines whenever advocating rights for the Taiwanese. He thus created a space not belonging strictly to either Japan or China, hence potentially East Asia of a kind. This was in effect not unlike a variety of Japanese modern thinkers/schools such as Uchimura Kanzo (1861-1930, Christian School), Okakura Tenshin (1863-1913, East Renaissance), Hiratori Kurakichi (1865-1942, Tokyo School), Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945, Kyoto School), Takeuchi Yoshimi (1910-1977, Pan-Asianism School) , and contemporary Mizoguchi Yuzo (1932—Multicultural School), etc. to want to find a place for Japan in the formation of a universal way. They have represented tremendously different platforms but shared with one another the strategy of accommodating something East Asian, Oriental, or Chinese with Japan, ideas that the West could not appreciate. In comparison, they have held, Japan knew both the East (including Indian Buddhism and Chinese Confucianism) and the West to assert that Japan was the only site for true universalism. Tsai’s strategy paralleled the Japanese thinking but not fully realized this potential until his role as “son of East Asia” was in concrete formation.

As East Asia enabled Japanese writers to have self-respect in facing the West, Tsai’s reliance on distinctive Taiwanese (i.e. Chinese) enabled him to assert rights in facing the Japanese government. There is no need for him to settle down in a definitive identity except institutionally ready to live the Emperor’s princely way. This identity strategy is not at all unfamiliar in contemporary pro-independence activists.9 For example, a pro-independence group went to Yasukuni Shrine in 2005 on the Chinese Ancestors’ Day (April 5) to worship the Taiwanese martyrs dying for Japan during the War. They picked up the day to show that they were not Japanese but deliberately used the site to enrage the Chinese who typically treated the shrine an anti-China establishment.
Representation through Self-denial

The Chinese identity of Taiwan was converted into a disturbance after the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937. Indeed a subsequent Japanization campaign staged intensely, compelling the Taiwanese to carry out an ancestor-cleansing ritual to complete their conversion to the Emperor’s subjects. Chineseness was an asset turned into a debt. There was no room for ambiguous loyalty. On the other hand, to choose side for any Taiwanese would be tantamount to inflicting an internal split. The only solution for Taiwan to remain integral was that China and Japan returned to peace. Tsai decided that a narrative must be available to bring the two sides together. However, the image that Taiwan was culturally subordinate to China and politically to Japan rejected the possibility that Taiwan could forge any resolution between its two motherlands. Tsai had to lift up from the colony before he could even speak to either side for any possible rapprochement.

What he did was to redefine Taiwan away from the hybrid product of the Chinese and Japanese components. Instead, he now claimed that he was an East Asian. Specifically, in 1934, he was “the son of East Asia.” Both the Chinese and the Japanese were East Asians, too. The Taiwanese East Asian then challenged the Chinese East Asian and the Japanese East Asian to stop battling each other. He borrowed the Japanese metaphor of God’s state to designate the identity of East Asia with the purpose of persuading the Japanese military that only peace could activate the princely way and reach the land of eternal happiness. On the one hand, Japanese socialist critic/revolutionary Ozaki Hotsumi denounced Tsai for betraying his resistance and becoming an Emperor’s subject. On the other hand, the Japanese military accused Tsai of shaking the conviction of the Emperor’s troops and imprisoned him for a few months.

From being simultaneously Chinese and Japanese to being neither of them, Tsai’s new identity of East Asian used the metaphor of “son” to remind that both China and Japan were “parents” of East Asia. Taiwan was no longer subordinate to either China or Japan since all three were East Asians. Tsai’s discursive strategy replicated the Japanese left-wing and Asianist philosophers’ adaptation. Note that many of them appeared to make a drastic turn to militarism after the shelling of Pearl Harbor in 1942. A workshop to support the declaration of war on the United States, entitled “Overcoming of Modernity,” witnessed the left-wing support of the war. Despite their being notorious for giving up principled position against war, however, these writers were able to remain somewhat sympathetic to China since what they supported was sheer Asian unity in opposition to Western imperialism. This indirect but nonetheless reservation about Japan’s invasion of China and the rest of Asia foreshadowed Tsai’s seeming subjugation to the princely way.

In the same vein, Tsai was not for Japan’s war on China when he raised high the princely way. Because the princely way by all accounts prevailed in East Asia, he was no less than denying Japan-centrism as well as China-centrism. Both Japan and China had a place, though, since both belonged to East Asia. To be an East Asian was an exercise of self-denial—denying being either a Chinese or Japanese. There would be no rationale for an East Asian to think of expansion to another part of East Asia. Refraining from fighting other East Asians would win recognition from all other East Asian. This means to win recognition of all other East Asians required self-denial of previous national identity. Here, Baik’s vision of East Asian freely trespassing national borders found its origin.

Equally importantly, Tsai’s East Asia was not a response to the invasion of Asia by Europe, which almost all modern Japanese thinkers felt imperative to say something. Remember that both late Takeuchi and Mizoguchi have worried about the confrontational implications of forging an East Asia. Takeuchi wanted an Asia that helped denying anything coming into being while Mizoguchi even avoids involvement in the trendy Asia rhetoric. Tsai targeted the relationship between China and Japan, leaving Europe or the West irrelevantly aside. His East Asia therefore was not emotionally anti-West in the first place. By denying Chinese as well as Japanese identity, not by opposing the West, Tsai’s East Asia was one of a kind.


Bottom-up Transcendence

East Asia was meaningful to Japanese earlier thinkers because it was an identity that took Japan to the West. Doubtlessly East Asia had such a strengthening function because it contained China. Japan together with China under Japan’s leadership composed a respectful force in the world and demonstrated true universalism that could combine the East and the West. In contrast with Japan’s adamant quest for recognition in the world, there was no clue or motivation for Taiwanese intellectuals to envision such a mission to achieve either a power position in world politics or universalism in world civilization. Taiwan’s was at best a humble desire to enhance participation in the colonial governing system. In Tsai’s effort, which included reassurance that Taiwanese would be subjects of the Emperor, there was not even the attempt at political recognition of Taiwan’s autonomous status.

The Sino-Japanese war ruined Tsai’s effort. It coincidently ruined the ontology of his world in which Taiwan was hybrid of, and naturally inferior to, China and Japan. The collapse of his assumption in effect emancipated him from the inferiority associated with hybrid characteristics of Taiwan. He was able to see himself directly belonging to East Asia. He declared him the son of East Asia, not of Taiwan, China or Japan. Tsai’s East Asia was qualitatively different from probably any Japanese thinkers’ East Asia before him to the extent his was not facing the West.

The implication of Tsai’s scheme able to transcending East-West confrontation arguably reflects the limitation of the system of nation-state to resolve war. The East Asian identity brought in to rescue Japan from its ill treatment by European countries necessarily led to anti-West sentiment. It does not matter if East Asia was considered better than the West or more universal than the West, the confrontational mood was present. It was confrontational on both fronts, to integrate the rest of Asia and to overtake countries in the West. Japanese military set up the impossible mission of transforming China and at the same time overtaking the United States. The result was neither East nor Asia as China joined the Allied Forces to defeat Japan, virtually destroying the reputation of the name of East Asia in Japan for a few decades to come.

Japanese thinkers had no luck of being in colony and could not appreciate the non-confrontational East Asia. Even though the meeting of “Overcoming the West” indirectly criticized Japan’s invasion of East Asian neighbors, there was no ready narrative of East Asia for its participants to construct selfhood without looking from some perspectives of Western modernity. In comparison, Taiwan the colony acquired modernity from Japan and was exempt from any direct confrontation with the West. As Tsai declared himself the son of East Asia, he asked for no more than a change of attitude. According to his vision, both Japan and China were already East Asian. There was no additional action needed for them to be an East Asian except stopping fighting. In a sense, Taiwan became a model of East Asia where China and Japan coexisted in harmony. Taiwan could not threaten to revoke any national borders or any national cultural convention. Tsai’s East Asia was therefore an invitation than an enforcement.

There was no so much worry that East Asia would cause war in Chen and Baik as in Takeuchi. For Takeuchi, the discourse on Asia had the danger of falling into imperialism. Chen and Baik owe their East Asia narratives to Tsai’s aborted self-designated son of East Asia in the sense they all denied domination by one particular vision of East. However, Tsai’s vision was more plausible because he intended a kind of self-denial, retreating from hybrid selfhood into a place that has no concrete substance. In comparison, China and Japan continued to overshadow Chen and Baik. Note, for example, Baik’s peripheral cases are consistently inside the national borders of China or Japan. Self-denial was in the spirit of Takeuchi’s call for an Asia method.

Tsai’s problem foretold the problem Baik or Chen are facing today. Specifically, the colony, the periphery or the small national community are simply unable to draw attention. They run into dangers if they do as Tsai was immediately arrested by the Japanese military upon the publication of the son of East Asia. The arrest suggested that Tsai was legally and institutionally a Japanese national despite he was a Taiwanese by today’s stand, considered himself an East Asian at the time or had previously thought of himself simultaneously racially as a Chinese. The power that enforced the will of law made the final decision on Tsai’s identity.
East Asia Again Represented by Taiwan?
Despite East Asia was a pre-War colonial narrative in the beginning, the notion of East Asia has re-emerged since the 1990s in response to the need of local identity under globalization. However, the Cold War split geographical East Asia and destroyed the credit of the nation state to raise the banner of East Asia in its aftermath. It nonetheless attracts Korean and Japanese scholars. With the relative peripheral position of Korea and the pro-Western position of Japan, the new East Asia rhetoric appears more as self-assertion than as resistant to the West. On the other hand, the Southeast Asian narratives, from Malaysia and Singapore in particular, continue to appropriate the name of East Asia within basically the anti-Western discourse. It is in this context that the spread of signs of East Asia reaches wide in Taiwan.

Contemporary narrators of Taiwan may know very little about Tsai Pei-huo, the collection of whose writings sit quietly in the library without drawing much attention even the pro-independence politics in Taiwan has been promoting reinterpretation of Taiwan’s colonial history in the positive tone. For pro-independence writers, perhaps anything the Chinese dislike should be read positively. It is not coincidence that they are not ready to pick up Tsai Pei-huo as they have tried to read contemporary meanings into the lives of Lin Hsien-tang, Chiang Wei-hsui, or Li Pang-you, all contemporary of Tsai and activists during the colonial period. The challenge of Tsai is that he was neither against the Japanese or the Chinese. For contemporary pro-independence writers, who acquire their knowledge of identity from the Western cultural studies, their technique is invariably construction of differences between the self and its other, which China represents. Tsai’s non-confrontational approach cannot fit here.

In other words, although by belonging to East Asia directly so as to avoid the China question, East Asia seems to be a solution to Taiwan’s identity problem, it is failing Tsai’s self-denial test. Rather, contemporary East Asia rhetoric is purely instrumental to the assertion of Taiwan’s nationhood, resulting in a negative attitude toward both the East Asian neighbor Korea that outperforms Taiwan and the East Asian neighbor China that obscures Taiwan’s distinction. Chen devises the discursive trick by dissolving China through recognizing various and multiple small East Asian communities, likely with the hope that quest of Taiwanese nationhood is dissolved along, his pro-independence contemporary are interested only in dissolving the Chinese nationhood, reducing Chen’s East Asia into sheer political expedience.

Tsai began his transcendence only after the war completely blocking the possibility of being Japanese and Chinese at the same time. He realized that his hybridity meant little to the colonial authorities. Instead of using the racial Chinese identity to improve his legally Japanese rights, he understood that his way out was to be neither. This retreat from both identities took him to the place of nothingness which Nishida Hitaro had envisioned. From there, Tsai’s discovery of East Asia could be all encompassing but still without a substance. His Taiwanese identity made it impossible that this retreat to the place of nothingness could be turned into imperialism as Nishida’s was by the Japanese military. Takeuchi’s idealist Asia that teaches self-denial was in shape 25 years earlier in Tsai.

East Asia as a method of self-denial reflected that Tsai’s attempt at becoming East Asian had to be a constant process. Since mundane forces keep dragging people back within national borders, an East Asian engaged in national politics at any given point or site in the daily life would have to consciously exercise some conceptual retreat in order to avoid any hegemonic control. This is difficult. In fact, the temporal process that reproduces the feeling of transcendence is opposite to the popular postcolonial and hybrid style of alternating among situations by shifting identities. The postcolonial style desires recognition while the self-denial conscience tries to do with the need for recognition.

To avoid the Fascist drive toward Taiwan nativism since the 1990s, Taiwan is at the cross road, a point to decide should Taiwan represent a hybrid site so that Taiwan can be both Chinese and Japanese contingent on the situation, or a process of transcendence that Taiwan is East Asian that needs no recognition to be Taiwan itself. Even though Fascism is the dominant trend in Taiwan that neither postcolonialism or self-denial are able to abate, the same question will still have to be answered when pro-independence forces eventually lose steam.



1 ZHAO Tingyang, The System of Tianxia: A Philosophical Introduction to the World Institution (tianxia tixi: shijie zhidu zhexue daolun) (Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press, 2005).

2 See, for example, Peter Katzenstein, “China’ s Rise: East Asia and Beyond,” EAI Working Perper Series 12 (Seoul: East Asia Institute, 2008); William Callahan, “Nationalizing International Theory: The Emergence of the Egnlish School and IR Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” presented at IR Theory in the 21st Century: British and Chinese Perspectives (Beijing: 2002.04.22)

3 More discussion on Asianism in Japan is available in English, though, for a good example, see Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann (eds.), Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders (London: Routledge, 2007).

4 According to Baseball Fans’ Electronic News (bangqiu mii dianzi bao), for example, if not for the unique and unfair regional system of the Games, Japan and Korea should not have even entered the final round. See http://www.baseballtaiwan.com/2006/04/04/wbc-analysis-run/ (accessed 2008.09.10); More Taiwanese fans praised the Korean team when it clinched the gold medal of Beijing Olympic 2008. This may have related to the worst performance ever of their own team in an international game to the extent that the headlines one after another called its losses as “national elegy.”

5 Forum of Cultural Critic (wenhua pipan luntan) no. 36 (Taipei, 2006.04.24), printed by Cultural Critic Monthly (wenhua pipan yuebao) 57 (2006.04.25), also accessible (2008.08.27) at http://www.cc.ncu.edu.tw/~csa/journal/57/journal_forum36.htm

6 Asia and East Asia are not separately in the discussion for both are used in an elusive way but both are conceptual instruments to bridge a national self and the world.

7 It has been proven true in many of the Chinese ethnic communities that the devising of a written language could more effectively assimilate the local school children into competitive participants in the mainstream culture. During the Cultural Revolution, the written ethnic language once disappeared on the same ground that the Japanese governor refused the use of a written Taiwanese language.

8 During the same period in Japan, the campaign to remove Han characters as much as possible seriously challenged the current from of the Japanese language. It was allegedly a polluted language no longer suitable to God’s land of Japan. Ironically the colonial governors in different East Asian countries continued to teach the language under fire as if there was no controversy to the language they spread in the name of the emperor.

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