Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Stanford University


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Asianism and Korea's Politics of Identity

Journal Article

Author
Gi-Wook Shin - Stanford University

Published by
Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 6 no. Number 4, page(s) 616-630
December 2005


This article examines Korea's politics of identity in the form of Asianism in the modern period, especially since Korea's incorporation into the modern world system in the late nineteenth century. Asianism, and regionalism generally, has become a salient policy strategy for the current South Korean government. However, Asianism has been a primary ideological current in modern Korea whose most recent incarnation should be understood in the larger historical context. This study traces the development of Asianism in four different periods: precolonial, colonial, Cold War, and postCold War. Initially emerging as a bulwark against Western encroachment, the Asianism narrative became irrelevant upon Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 and only survived as a discourse about a glorified cultural past during colonial rule. Upon liberation, Asianism rescinded as the Japancentered regional order was replaced by a new Cold War alignment, capitalist (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) versus communist (China and North Korea). Although discussion about Asianism and a new East Asian regional order have recently resurfaced, the historical legacy of colonialism, war, and national division has added much complexity to the debate. Explicating how the Asianism narrative emerged and evolved through these various historical contexts sheds light on the complexities and difficulties inherent in the current attempt to forge an Asian regional order. By looking at Asianism from a historical perspective, we can also better appreciate the continuity and discontinuity in Korea's politics of identity. While it is still uncertain what the foundation of a new Asianism will be, it is equally obvious that regional interactions will continue to be an important part of the global world order. This study concludes with policy implications of how a historically sensitive understanding of the development of an Asian regional identity can further interaction and integration of East Asian nations.