On the future of Asia, ca. 1935

From the journal of Dr. Austin Craig, then professor of history at University of the Philippines who first moved there from the US around 1902. May 10, 1935.

I want self-government here because that is the next step due, the Filipinos have advanced to it, and there has to be progress. But I don’t want these fourteen millions of Christians – European trained, just as we – to be submerged in the hundreds of millions of heathens that surround them. I believe the Filipinos are the hope of Asia, and no less important to Europe and America, who want this world Europeanized, or Christian-civilized, which is the same thing, and is what we mean when we talk about white people. The Filipino, by Indian inheritance and European association, is European, and I hope the United States is going to protect him against the pan-Asiatic heathen influence – which means Japan.

Of Course Japan is no permanent menace, for the strictly repressed discontent – with all Japanese liberals talked of as Koreans – is going to bring an explosion, sooner or later, and with it the Japanese Republic. The old fetish of a God-like Emperor was ended when an emperor died of tuberculosis, and the special protection of the God has been discredited by earthquakes and a succession of other great alamities.

But until the day of Japanese Emancipation comes, the United States ought, in my opinion, to keep this outpost in the Orient and the Filipinos can be relied upon, with American backing, to hold their own land against any neighbor.

It’s a goodly land, worth keeping, and the people are as good, with “comely faces,” as the old Oriental writer long ago wrote of his native country and his countrymen. I have liked both land and people, or I wouldn’t have stayed here nearly thirty-one years.

I am glad that the Filipinos’ long-cherished dream of freedom is coming true. Only let men deam of teh possibility of anything and, no matter how frequently the failuers by trials, eventually comes triumph!

(Source: Bearers of Benevolence: The Thomasites and Public Education in the Philippines ed. Mary Racelis and Judy Celine Ick)

12 thoughts on “On the future of Asia, ca. 1935”

  1. Aside from the religious tone, is the current prevailing view of Japan all that different? Americans have simply replaced heathenism with other traits that imply Japanese society is backward.

    Just thinking back on recent examples we have “wrong” adaptations of Western technology (“timid” Japanese bloggers who shun politics for obento photography), a supposed “culture of conformity” (recently mentioned in the NYT as a barrier to public protest), and the gratuitous claim that Japan is the “world’s worst economy” from a Newsweek blogger.

  2. The current prevailing view of Japan is different in that it is much more diverse. There are, after all, hordes of anime fans who want to give a round of applause to Japanese rape game makers for standing up to feminists. They look to Japan as a sort of cultural savior for all the wrong reasons. I’d like to think that a majority in North America now think of Japan as having some good and some bad – at least that is something to build on.

    I’d like to see more variety of views from individuals – want to critique the Japanese net? That’s fine. But let’s hear about something good coming out of Japanese public discourse by way of contrast. Or find something good online to point to as an example – an article, a FAQ on war history, etc. – of things done right. Why not even have both in the same essay? It doesn’t have to be a 1:1 ratio either.

    One thing that I wouldn’t mind seeing on the J-blogs – trying to find banal crap on Japanese TV is like fishing with hand grenades. But what about letting me in on a good NHK doco that I may have missed? Or a Kobayashi Takiji feature on Asahi? Some program that might introduce me to something totally new?

    As for someone who would call japan “the world’s worst economy” (missed that), they should be called out as hacks.

  3. “World’s worst economy” sounds like the hyperbole of someone who’s frustrated that Japan isn’t living up to the potential that the writer believes it has, as opposed to someone really believe it’s the world’s WORST economy (which is probably Zimbabwe or something). Of course, not having read the column in question I can’t say for sure.

  4. BTW, what’s everyone’s take on this bit: “Of Course Japan is no permanent menace, for the strictly repressed discontent – with all Japanese liberals talked of as Koreans – is going to bring an explosion, sooner or later, and with it the Japanese Republic.”

    I’m slightly unsure what he means by “with all Japanese liberals talked of as Koreans”. Does he mean that calling someone “Korean” was a standard anti-leftist/liberal slur in the early 30s, or something else?

  5. It sounds like that is indeed what he means Roy. I’ve never seen it in period documents (Aka and Hikokumin are the big ones).

    Of course, as is pointed out relentlessly by the Japanese right for the wrong reasons – “Korean” was not a slur in much of Japan’s elite literature. There was quite a bit of glorification of the Koreans who rose through the ranks of the Japanese military, etc. Calling down the colonials would defeat the narrative of empire – that they were won over by Japan’s superior culture, its fantasic emperor, etc. No matter what the Japanese elites may have thought about Koreans racially, they were WAY too important as a part of national mythology to associate with demonizing an opposition.

    There was, however, grassroots contempt for Koreans. Why? The (stuff) rolls downhill and people at the bottom level of Japanese society lashed out (such as after Tokyo earthquake). Koreans were also being used as a cheap labor source that brought wages down.

  6. I’ve never seen such a slur either, which is why it puzzled me. Of course, this guy’s information could just be wrong, seeing how he’s living in Manila instead of Tokyo, and probably didn’t even know any Japanese.

    Doesn’t your description of Japan’s attitude towards Koreans at that time sound an awful lot like American attitude towards Mexicans today? The ambivalence towards poor immigrants into a rich society has a lot of similarity anywhere.

  7. I was just thinking of a parallel with the movement of poor laborers in the Roman world…. For America, well…. Mexicans are the new Irish.

    Re: the Korean thing. Also lurking behind that statement might be the knowledge that missionaries were having more luck in Korean than in Japan – as in he might be particularily offended that Japanese are looking down on Koreans who are, in his mind, a bit less heathen and thus “better”.

  8. “It put me in mind once again of the similarities in character between Americans and Chinese… on the upside, have fewer barriers to movement within our societies than either Japan or Europe.”

    Holy crap. I wonder if he talked to any Uyghur? And I hear that lots of those 200,000,000 poor farmers who moved to urban areas to work for pennies an hour are running Fortune 500 companies now.

    Anyway, this helps to explain why the “world’s worst new magazine” is going out of business.

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