I was listening to the New Books in East Asian Studies Podcast on Michael Kevaak's Becoming Yellow: A short history on Racial Thinking. It was interesting to hear the development of the colour 'yellow' being used to describe Asians and then how this also emerged as the 'Yellow Peril.' Kevaak discussed a picture that was created on the orders of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1895. It showed St Michael with a group of armed women, including Britannia, peering from a cliff top at an approaching, menacing Buddha. The picture was reproduced in Harper's Weekly thus reaching a wide audience.
Peoples of Europe, guard your dearest goods (Source)
The media has been full of stories recently about increased tensions in the South China Sea due to the ongoing territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands. One of the most interesting developments in the most recent verbal exchanges has been the US announcement that it would review the military needs of the Philippines for defence. This can be seen from a number of different ways but I would like to explore just two views on this statement. First, it showed that the US is moving beyond its focus on terrorism in Southeast Asia. Second, it showed that the US was not withdrawing into an isolationist stance.
I recently read David C. Kang's book East Asia before the West and was very interested in his argument that there were less wars between the Sinic states (China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam) in East Asia during the 'Middle Ages' and early modern historical period than in Europe during the same time period. This argument was not a 'why Asia is superior to the West' diatribe but an observation. He believed that the reason that there were less wars was that there was a dominant hegemon, China, and that the Confucian system that China followed was essentially adopted by the other states, although to a lesser extent in Japan. I have included below the table that he used in his book to demonstrate his idea. Note that he is talking about wars between Sinicised states as there were constant raids by nomads and pirates that could be described as wars or raids depending on definitions. I think that he has a point. In western military history there is almost an assumption that inter-state war (100 Years War and 30 Years War as easy examples) were part of the natural course of events while amongst the states of East Asia that assumption would not hold so true, inter-state war was not regular.
I have recently been catching up with podcasts and one of the podcasts that I enjoy is from the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The specific podcast that got me thinking was one by Anthony Bubalo and Dr Malcom Cook on Horizontal Asia. The start of their paper can be read at The American Interest and in essence it posits that our traditional maritime and East Asian focus towards 'Asia' has to change, we need to realise that Asia is moving west, towards India, Iran, Central Asia, etc. Asian countries are also more continentally focused than we realise. I am not particularly stunned by this view as I believe that we are seeing the re-emergence of traditional strategic concerns that were overshadowed by the Cold War.
China traditionally looked west and northwards towards the barbarians, the Great Wall was built in the interior and not on the coast to ward off sea threats. China's view on maritime affairs seemed to be riverine and by exception, as the Zheng Ho trips showed, ocean going. The Mongols showed that Asia was part of the Eurasian landmass and made it as far as both Europe and the Middle East. India has seen invaders sweep down from what is now Central asia and has also had dynasties try to head the other way as well. While it does have a maritime legacy, such as from the Chola Empire it is the continental influences that have proved most dominant.
I doubt if anybody is claiming that Asia is exclusively focused towards the geographic West now I think people are using this trend as a way to show that the way that we view Asia, as East Asia and from a maritime perspective, is not correct and is not how Asians see themselves. I think by taking a longer historic view we will not be surprised at this and will understand that the traditional strategic concerns are re-emerging while Asia is still intent to embrace the opportunities presented by countries such as the USA. The Mongols had no trouble understanding that there were benefits in both the East and West.
I recently purchased the book Military Orientalism by Dr Patrick Porter of King's College London as it seemed to fit an interest that I want to pursue about Western perceptions of Asian military prowess. I am steering clear of using the word capability because I think that there can be disdain for the capability while there remains arespect for the prowess. The Japanese Army was probably a good example of this where during the latter part of WW2 the Allies knew that Western weapons were superior to the majority of Japanese weapons but the Japanese were still going to fight doggedly despite that. I tried to search for resources on the web to see if Patrick Porter had presented a paper on the concept but I was unable to find any. Once I finish my current reading I will be straight into it.
Why this post - This post is the datum setter for my blog and will explain my bottom line for building my posts on. These are my views as of January 2007 and just as the world changes so my views may change as the situation changes. That said, one intent of this post is to give any readers a chance to understand my basic stand point so that my posts have some context. I have avoided writing a thesis here and so please expect some generalisations and over simplifications. Hopefully I will hopefully expand on these themes as the blog progresses.