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Pan-Asianism: Lacking A Consensus

The concept of Pan-Asianism is an old, as well as varied, one. However, the inherent contradictions of Pan-Asianism have hindered its successful implementation in Politics. The fascination of great Indian Poet and Philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941) with Asian Civilisation is well known. In his essay titled ‘Letters of a Chinaman‘, Tagore wrote: “There is a deep and vast unity among the various peoples of Asia.” He used to believe that the ensuing conflict in Europe awakened the civilised Asia, which started perceiving itself consciously and strongly. However, the Chinese philosophers and intellectuals had strongly criticised Tagore’s idea of Pan-Asianism during his visits to China in 1924 and also in 1928.

Although the idea of Pan-Asianism originally emerged to counter Western Imperialism, there has never been a consensus on its goals, centre of gravity and dynamics. Thinkers and political figures of different Asian countries have expressed conflicting views on this concept. Sun Yat-sen (November 12, 1866 – March 12, 1925), the Chinese Political Philosopher, emphasised on cultural diversity while discussing Pan-Asianism, and also highlighted the contributions of China, Japan, India, Persia (Iran), Turkestan (a city in Kazakhstan), Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan and Nepal to enrich the Asian culture. Unfortunately, this generosity is often absent in the narratives of others. In his latest publication ‘Asia Travels: Pan-Asian Cultural Discourses and Diasporic Asian Literature/s in English’, Dr Himadri Lahiri has discussed these issues in detail.

In his ‘The Ideals of the East‘ (1883), Japanese Scholar and Art Critic Okakura Kakuzō (February 14, 1863 – September 2, 1913) discussed the Chinese and Indian Civilisations. However, he considered the Japanese Civilisation as the centre of Pan-Asian consciousness. While former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad (b. July 10, 1925) stressed on the integration of Islamic powers while explaining his idea of Pan-Asianism, Singaporean Statesman Lee Kuan Yew (born Harry Lee Kuan Yew; September 16, 1923 – March 23, 2015) used to consider the ideology of Chinese Philosopher Confucius (BCE 551 – BCE 479) as the driving force of Asian consciousness.

In his work, Dr Lahiri has defined the Pan-Asian consciousness, as well as identified its inner contradictions, apart from discussing the growing and changing range of diasporic culture and literature. The first part of Lahiri’s publication discusses how diasporic cultural dialogue and literature, particularly Asian-American literature, infuse Pan-Asian ideas. In the second part, the author has discussed literature of Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet in the context of the emergence and development of discrimination and ethnic conflicts in various Asian countries. As the forms of literature pertaining to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet have always been under-reviewed, Dr Lahiri’s effort is commendable. He has made an attempt to draw attention to the complexities of the immigrant identity through re-reading of some well-known novels and short stories in the third part of his book. In the final part, the author has discussed the beneficial role of Asian diasporic literature in creating cultural exchange and cooperation between different groups and nations.

Dr Lahiri’s publication has tried to explore the relationship between Asian identity and diaspora literature. However, a few issues have remained untouched. The possibility of constructing a Pan-Asian entity occurs at the intellectual level, and primarily through the literary practice and cultural exchange of Asian-American immigrants. However, there is almost no effect of this, as seen in the case of Asia. Unfortunately, the author seemingly has bypassed this issue.

Dr Lahiri would have done justice to the subject, had he discussed Tagore’s three visits to Japan, the speeches he had delivered on those occasions, and the appreciation of his poetry and thought in Korea in detail.

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