Thursday, February 24, 2005

Reclaiming Asia For Global History

I've just been sent an interesting essay by Wang Hui, an historian of ideas and chief editor of Dushu (Beijing). It's based on a talk he gave at the LSE last year. In it he discusses nineteenth-century Orientalist conceptions of Asia as well as two competing projects of Asian modernity: the Japanese imperial notion of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity sphere and the socialist conception of Asia based on national liberation movements. He points, correctly in my view, to the ambiguities and contradictions in each of these competing projects. This opens up an interesting set of conclusions, especially about the potential to overcome narrow nationalism:
The keys to transcend or overcome such derivativeness, ambiguity and inconsistency can be discovered only in the specific historical relations that gave rise to them.

The criticism of Euro-centrism should not seek to confirm Asia-centrism but rather to eliminate the self-centred, exclusivist, expansionist logic of dominance. We will not be able to understand the significance of Asian modernity if we forget the historical conditions and movements .... In this sense, new Asian visions need to surpass the goals and projects of 20th-century national liberation and socialist movements. Under current historical circumstances, they must explore and reflect on the unaccomplished historical projects of these movements. The aim is not to create a new cold war but to end forever the old one and its derivative forms; it is not to reconstruct the colonial relationship but to eliminate its remnants and stop new colonising possibilities from emerging.
Read the rest.


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