The paradox of racial liberation: W.E.B. Du Bois and Pan-Asianism in interwar Japan, 1931–1945
Abstract Racism in the Second World War has often been confined by Western historians to atrocities on the European continent, the Holocaust in particular. However, it is also important to note that from the very beginning the US government viewed the Asia-Pacific War as a racial conflict between Asians and the white race. Under such explicit racial prejudice and policies against the Japanese, many non-white intellectuals and activists in the United States, African-American intellectuals in particular, first showed academic interest in and then explicitly supported Japan’s Pan-Asianism. This article focuses on W.E.B Du Bois’s writings on Imperial Japan in the interwar period. Du Bois portrayed white supremacy as colonialism but endorsed Japan’s presence as a colonizer in East Asia and supported Japan’s invasion of China in 1931. Du Bois also endorsed Japan’s vision of a Pan-Asian empire during the Asia-Pacific War as he developed harsh critiques of American racism against ethnic minorities. By revisiting Du Bois’s writings on Japan and Asia, this article sheds new light on the paradox of racial politics in Japan and the United States in the early 20th century.
Key words: Pan-Africanism, Pan-Asianism, multi-ethnic empire, anti-Westernism, racial liberation
Seok-Won Lee is an Assistant Professor of History at Rhodes College, Memphis, USA. He has published several articles on East Asian intellectual history in the 1930s and 1940s. He is working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled, “Empire Beyond Empire: Pan-Asianism and the Construction of a Multi-Ethnic Empire in Wartime Japan, 1931–1945.”