Contested Asia: Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan in North East Asia
Contested Asia: Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan in North East Asia (China, Mongolia, Siberia)
My project is about the experiences of Japanese state and non-state agents in Russia, Mongolia, and North China, which during the 1920s-30s were the North East Asian frontiers of the Japanese Empire. It reconstructs how these experiences influenced Japanese visions of “Asia”: its contours, meaning, and content. I examine how cultural policies and ideologies, which were the results of Japanese experiences at the frontiers, in turn, shaped, constrained, or enabled the economic, social, and political conditions of Japanese actions in North East Asia.
In particular, I focus on the less known direct clash between Soviet Russia and Japan in eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East during the Japanese Intervention (1918-1925) after the Russian Revolution. The Japanese adventure in Siberia not only paved the way for the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, it also became a testing ground for Japanese attempts, by both state and non-state people, to formulate and conceptualize “Asia” and Japan’s role in it. I also investigate the support of the Japanese actions by the nationalist Buryats, indigenous people of Eastern Siberia, and the Mongols, who became attracted by Japan’s pan-Asianist slogan of “Asia for the Asians.”
This project therefore touches on the ideas of racism and anti-racism, hegemony, pan-movements, and ethnic nationalism. A focus on the boundaries between nations, rather than on the nation itself, illuminates how much nation and empire building was a contingent process, an uncertain interplay of forces from without as well as from within.
I hope to draw together the fields of East Asian and Russian studies, which have been often treated in isolation from each other. This project will be a contribution to the new field of Russian/Asian Studies because it will reconstruct the transnational intellectual dialogues between Russia and Japan (and China and Mongolia) that created “Asia” as an idea and contested object of inquiry.