Moments of subversion and resistance: unintended consquences of nationalist/imperialist ideas in the Japanese Empire

Ichijo, Atsuko (2014) Moments of subversion and resistance: unintended consquences of nationalist/imperialist ideas in the Japanese Empire. In: Beyond nationalism? Peacebuilding and religion in Asia; 20 Dec 2014, Tokyo, Japan. (Unpublished)


Nationalism, and nationalism applied in an imperial setting in particular, are generally regarded to be a set of totalising ideas which contribute to domination by homogenisation, a tool of oppression in other words. The paper examines this widely-held understanding by investigating some of the ways in which ideas produce unintended consequences. In particular, it examines three intertwined ‘moments’ when the oppressed and subjugated by Japanese imperialism/nationalism appeared to succeed in taking advantage of imperial/nationalistic ideas to subvert or resist Japanese imperial rule. The three moments are: the world-historical standpoint, the East Asian Community initiative and the idea of the unity of Japanese and Korean races. The world-historical standpoint, an approach developed by the Kyoto School of philosophy, aimed to achieve a more comprehensive, therefore, truer way of capturing the reality of the world and is often seen as constituting an intellectual backdrop to Japanese imperial expansion in the first half of the twentieth century. However, because of its appeal to ‘true’ universality, it necessarily contained rejection of the particular in the form of self-expanding nationalism and the nation-state framework. The short-lived East Asian Community initiative, largely supported by intellectual frameworks based on the world-historical standpoint, also contained similar contradiction that its emphasis on the universality/commonality amongst Asian peoples necessitated acknowledgement of the equality among the imperial subjects, which could be used by the subjugated as a tool of resisting homogenisation and of protecting their particularity, their rights. As the paper shows, a small number of left-wing Korean intellectuals saw an opportunity for overcoming imperialism in the East Asian Community initiative. They also saw the idea of the unity of Japanese and Korean races that accompanied the initiative as an opportunity to preserve Korean nationality rather than a sign of elimination of Koreanness. Their attempts were limited, cerebral and short lived and did not lead to tangible outcomes. The fact that these attempts existed does not compensate for the brutality of Japanese imperialism, either. However, by examining the ways in which the oppressed and subjugated tried to mobilise the ideas of the oppressor to subvert and resist oppression, the paper presents a more-agency centred understanding of workings of nationalism as a set of ideas.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page