Tuesday, January 7, 2014

But I'm Not Chinese Or Japanese!

Pan-Asianism - Not So Scary, Not So New.

In a previous post I suggested that Asian male athletes, for some reason, have served as occasional catalysts for spontaneous expressions of unity amongst Asian-Americans, and that this suggests that Asian male empowerment is an essential component in establishing a uniquely Asian-American identity. One of the commenters on that post made mention of the idea of Pan-Asianism, which I suppose was something implied in that post, given the idea of Asian-Americans "cross-referencing" their identification with different ethnicities.

A commenter made the following comment which I thought was probably fairly representative of what many Asian-Americans feel.....
I used to dislike the concept of "Asian Americans." I was proud of my ethnicity, but I didn't like the idea that I should feel some kind of kinship with, say, a Taiwanese and a Filipino just because we were "Asian," an identity that's been dictated to us by White Americans.
I have also had this feeling - frustrated that my experience was defined by who I was not, rather than who I was. That is to say, that the idea of "Asian" as represented by the plethora of stereotypes and xenophobic hostilities deriving largely from fears of growing Chinese or Japanese economic and political muscle. As an Asian of non-Chinese or Japanese origin, I felt that part of my struggle was to assert my separateness from these concepts of Asian-ness, by, perhaps, asserting the "different-ness" of the various Asian ethnicities and cultures and blah, blah, and so on and so forth. But I learned pretty early on in my early teens that this approach is actually disempowering and sets one on a path of constantly tweeking the perceptions of those around you without actually addressing the main issue of the implicit and explicit dehumanization that such attitudes carry with them.

Some respond by downplaying or rejecting commonality in favour of an assertion of specific identity (most of us have probably done this), but some also respond by decrying the very notion of "Asia" as an identifier or even as an entity, and suggest that "Asia" is merely a Western concept that implicitly denies agency of Asian peoples to self-identify. Strangely, whilst I think that both of these ideas are fair reactions that have a place in the dialogue, as well as reflect (in the case of the use of the term "Asia") a historical reality, they might well be an incomplete way of understanding Asian identity and the Asian historical narrative.

Whilst it is definitely true that the term "Asia" is a western designation, that in no way changes the fact that prior to western involvement in the region, there existed a healthy and vibrant state of interaction between Asian peoples and nations which involved an exchange of cultures, languages, and ideas. Naturally, conflicts and wars took place between these people, but just as importantly, philosophical and religious ideas spread across the region between Asian countries carried by ancient trading routes, which also saw the movement of peoples between nations. Aside from being historically interesting, the point here, is that this fact of a regional commonality, defined by peaceful exchanges of ideas, and driven by vibrant trade, existed for centuries before the west showed up to teach us our place in the world.

It is well known that Chinese merchants and their families were settling all over SouthEast Asia (and, apparently, without the ethnic strife we see today) for centuries, Indian influence throughout SouthEast Asia shaped language, culture and religion, interactions between India and China over the centuries paved the way for the exchange of world-changing philosophical and religious ideas and their dissemination. Asians have been interacting and influencing each other for centuries. This is not to say that there were any notions of an "Asia" with a specific identity - there may have been, but history has not really explored this possibility - but it is to say that Asian cultures were influencing each other, and learning about each other such that it might be possible to suggest that without western colonial aggression, a more cohesive notion of regional commonality could have developed, and with it, a regional identity.

The point is this; just because "Asia" is a term that has been foisted on the region by imperial powers, it does not mean that the idea of commonality, the possibilities of union, or the history of cross-cultural and ethnic relations should be overlooked or rejected. In a culture that conceives of Asians as de-individuated and their cultures as fundamentally interchangeable, it might seem expedient or necessary to want to challenge these notions as a way of asserting identity, and this may well be appropriate in some cases. The issue is that doing this often misses the opportunity to assert an even greater truth; Asian identity, commonality, and inter-relations, pre-date western interference, and thus removes from the consciousness - derived from the habit of colonial thinking - the very powerful notion that the modern Asian "identity" is in some ways an entirely western invention. This notion is a distortion of history and since the historical experience is one of the most important pillars of cultural endeavour, and hence identity, not taking ownership of this history when the opportunity arises, is tantamount to impeding the development of an Asian-American culture. It is the anxieties of racist xenophobia that has rendered suspicious or undesirable any commonality between Asian cultures and ethnicities

This highlights just how insidious are the effects of anti-Asian racism; the implicit dehumanization of identifying an entire region of diverse people as merely "Asian", leaves many an Asian reacting in such a way that implicitly downplays the very thing that they should be celebrating - any sense of commonality between varying nations and cultural groups that moves people towards greater mutual understanding and respect is surely a good thing.  Another way of saying this, is that Asian-Americans, in addition to being made to feel ashamed of their own race, are also made to feel ashamed of their historical connection and inter-relatedness with neighbouring peoples and cultures. In turn, this means that Asian-Americans are quite possibly conditioned to be suspicious of their own historical experience, but worse, be suspicious of a process of unity that when applied to Western nations (union of Europe and US/European "commonality") is viewed with great pride that union and recognition of commonality leads to peacefulness and prosperity.

For Asian-Americans - a group whose loyalties are often casually called into question - it could well be that the idea of supporting a strong, independent, and co-operative Asia runs counter to our claims of being true and loyal Americans. But this only makes sense if it is accepted that Asia, Asian prosperity, and Asian cultures, are implicitly and irrevocably doomed to be incompatible, and at odds, with the western cultures which we call home and to which we are truly loyal. Yet, given that modern western thought and the secular Enlightenment that brought it about were influenced heavily by Confucian, humanist, ethics, and thought, belies this notion of incompatibility. Additionally, the adoption and great affection in the west for Buddhist teachings and practices further casts doubt on these ideas. No, incompatibility is not a reasonable argument, and there are no reasosns why a prosperous, united Asia, would, or should be even considered to be an insurmountably threatening entity - unless of course, there are other, racially xenophobic considerations to take into account.

My point is that I see no reason why as an American of Asian descent I should not be as proud or motivated to encourage my country - America - to support and welcome "Pan-Asianism", or Asian union, as much as it supports and welcomes European unity. Unity in Europe has brought unprecedented peace and unprecedented prosperity - surely Asians should work towards this goal also, and Americans of Asian descent even more?

Of course, it is precisely because America seems to see itself as engaged in an existential battle with Asian economic might that it views Asian unity as a problem, and this stance may well be the result of irrational xenophobia. But perhaps that could be a significant contribution that Asian-Americans make to the culture of America that through our acceptance of the historical commonality of Asian peoples and cultures, and the development of this notion through an autonomous culture, we can pave the way for an America that is less parochial in its Euro-Centrism.


  1. "My point is that I see no reason why as an American of Asian descent I should not be as proud or motivated to encourage my country - America - to support and welcome "Pan-Asianism", or Asian union, as much as it supports and welcomes European unity"

    You lost me here. It's obvious why you can't encourage your new home to do this. They hate Asians. The west views the world as a zero sum game and the only way to win is to rob everyone else - while pretending to be heroic.

    1. Yun

      I agree that there is a huge degree of hostility towards Asia - I think I said as much in the post - it does not mean that Asians should not embrace Asia's history of cross-influence, nor fight against the idea that a united Asia and its people are an implicitly negative force in the world. I think you would agree with that.

  2. There's a misunderstanding.

    I want Asian unity. I hope other Asians (anywhere) will support it.

    However, I don't think any *western* country like America would ever support Asian unity.

  3. example: One or more filipinos - flip pride, two filipinos and a chinese - asian pride. there should be 2 distinct categories, asian being the umbrella term. the umbrella term is racial, the cultural term ( filipino) is distinct from racial pride. Both racial pride and cultural pride are separate but racial pride immediately becomes effective in the presence of non-Asians. if the same meeting took place in say, a party where the host is filipino and there is a chinese there, or in the filipines, of course Asian identity may not work as well. that said, considering there are a certain amount of non-Asians in the filipines, it also works out.

    In china, it should work out the same too. Chinese arent as 'classist' towards filipinos as say the Hong Kong-ese, so a party or say 2 Chinese and a filipino in China or a party with a Chinese host should also establish 'Asian' identity.

    Examining the above examples i laid out it seems Asian racial identity works best where there are plenty of non-Asians ie a western society or environment. Its like a protective racial code. Its also a code that needs working on, because of the ever-changing set up that exists between different Asian cultures in order for it to work. This code is enhanced by producing culture to give that code an identity - music, arts, fashion, and give it more value that it currently has where we are basically a sea of yellow people to non Asians and inferior to other Asian cultures depending who the Asian majority is at the time.

    Once the code has its own dialogue, and a protective racial identity classification, it doesnt need to dominate because its purpose will have been served.

    1. Indie

      I think that I'm getting at a visionary type of identity - for example, what does it mean for Asian nations and individuals living outside of Asia, to succeed and prosper?

      To me this represents a dramatic shift away from the idea that whiteness is most deserving of political and economic power. That is to say that Asian prosperity carries with it an implicit statement that hegemonic whiteness need not be the norm. This is an inspiring sense of identity that could pave the way for more egalitarian sharing of the world's resources and political power.

    2. Ben
      Agreed but i dont think the west/whites want to share. In certain parts of the economiically depressed west, white advertising and media imagery is still full-on and relentless

      I dont blame you, being an Asian for suggesting a sharing identity, but the promotors of white identity dont think its something worth sharing. Because as far as they are concerned, it was conquered ( privilege and all) fair and square.

      Also talking about resources, looks like the South East part of Asia is in a bubble,


      Asians should make their move now, but in hindsight Asian prosperity and all the prosperous identity that we get will be gone, and the only thing Asians and non-Asians will be sharing will be a worsening rich-poor divide.

    3. Indieking

      Maybe I'm an optimist, but my sense is that most people (including white people) are apathetic rather than actively racially hostile, meaning that most people do what they are told and just follow direction about how to act and what to believe because someone with a more dynamic personality tells them to do so.

      Sure, America's cultural xenophobia makes it easy to incite open widespread hostility, but that is a complication of the basic fact that most racism is likely characterized by apathetic and morally desensitized people following the dictates of a passionate few.

  4. I agree with you, but let's pin point the sources.

    media + government + some private interests + minority of shitheads + some af (j/k...sort of..) + some Asian cultural weak points that are easily taken advantage of --> (affect) parents --> (affect) children --> (feed this back to the start once they grow up)

    1. Allow me to correct you: media + government + many private interests + majority of whites being shitheads + superiority complex and hatred for Asian phenotype embedded culturally and genetically in whites and those mixed with whites + majority of Asian females being traitorous slutty bitches + Asian men not being aggressive enough and falling for daoist/Buddhist bullshit.