The 1919 Moment in East Asia: New Perspectives at the Centennial

AHA Session 86
Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Evan Dawley, Goucher College
Tze-ki Hon, City University of Hong Kong
Noriko Kawamura, Washington State University
Chunling Peng, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Session Abstract

With the arrival of the centenary of the formal end of the Great War, its resolution in the Treaty of Versailles, and the birth of the League of Nations, it is time for a reexamination of that moment that transfers focus from the traditional center of attention—the North Atlantic—and explores 1919 in settings in East Asia. In the mainstream historiography of the twentieth century, 1919 is rightly perceived as a year of great significance, but scholars have, with few exceptions, framed that importance only in terms of events that occurred within Europe and North America or as an outward emanation of Euro-American power. The treaty negotiations and the settlement of World War I created formal structures, such as the League of Nations and the mandate system, that undeniably altered the institutional and ideological underpinnings of empire. Yet, the same actors that fill the historiography of international narratives of the “long nineteenth century” continue to dominate those of the “short twentieth”. Historians have stressed that 1919 also marked a drastic shift in the center of gravity of international power from the Eastern to the Western shores of the Atlantic Ocean, but they have not given sufficient attention to important developments in the Western Pacific region that, in fact, influenced much of what occurred elsewhere in 1919 and after.

The goal of this roundtable is to reassess the significance of the 1919 moment from principally Japanese and Chinese perspectives. We do not discount or ignore the global influence of the war and peace in Europe, where Japanese and Chinese voices received limited hearing at Versailles and the Soviet Union was excluded from the world order defined by the League of Nations. Nor do we overlook the fact that 1919 was the year that the United States attained predominance in global affairs at the expense of the demise of Pax-Britannica. Nevertheless, we emphasize that events in East Asia, and the actions of Japanese and Chinese leaders and intellectuals, had their own internal dynamics that were not always dependent upon the decisions made in Europe and the United States. In addition, developments within East Asia during and immediately after 1919 re-shaped global balances of power, and the networks through which ideas and models circulated, in ways that were fundamental if not always immediately apparent. The participants will engage in conversation with each other, and with members of the audience, around common questions about the history and historiography of 1919 from the standpoints of Japanese and Chinese intellectuals, and Japan’s political and military leaders. Collectively, we will argue that these figures helped shape the inter-war world and defined their own realities within that context. In the process, they offered a significant and new challenge to European and American hegemony within the established international order.

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