Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review is a peer-reviewed, quarterly online journal that offers its readers up-to-date research findings, emerging trends, and cutting-edge perspectives concerning East Asian history and culture from scholars in both English-speaking and Asian language-speaking academic communities.

Articles | Naming Modernity: Rebranding and Neologisms during China’s Interwar Global Moment in Eastern Asia

Introduction to "Naming Modernity: Rebranding and Neologisms during China’s Interwar Global Moment in Eastern Asia"

The six articles in this special issue of Cross-Currents present case studies in which the national has been “rebranded” as international, and international ideas and institutions have been recast as local in China, Japan, and Korea during the interwar global internationalist moment (1919–1937). Of course, such rebranding was not the conscious goal of the Japanese Communist Party’s (JCP’s) focus on the Chinese Revolution, of the modernization of Chinese popular religious traditions such as Tiandijiao, of Korean students’ appropriation of Asianism for the needs of the Korean independence movement, of Chinese Communists posing Sun Yat-sen’s principle of an alliance of the oppressed as a form of Comintern internationalism, or of the reinvention by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang, or GMD) of the idea of a China-centered Asian alliance based on borrowing the organizational imagination of the League of Nations and the Comintern. Yet behind all of these examples lies a process of organizational borrowing and blending in key areas such as religion, nationalism, and external conduct. These efforts, in turn, rebranded the resulting identities, institutions, and ideas as “modern.” Moreover, ideas and images that had emerged between the wars were then adopted in the same mode after the war in Southeast Asia. Mao’s Sinified Marxism, the best-known adaptation of the interwar period, became the inspiration for further adaptation in Pol Pot’s postwar Cambodia...

Li Yujie and the Rebranding of the White Lotus Movement

Li Yujie (1900–1994) was a walking contradiction: a student leader of the Shanghai May Fourth movement and a Guomindang member and technocrat in the Nanjing government, but also a cadre in Xiao Changming’s redemptive society—the Heavenly Virtues Teachings—and eventually the founder of two redemptive societies in his own right (the Heaven and Man Teachings and the Heavenly Emperor Teachings). Through a biographical study of Li Yujie, this article examines the complex appeal of redemptive societies to parts of the educated elite during China’s Republican period. The author focuses particularly on the period between 1937 and 1945, when Li retired to the sacred mountain of Huashan. There, with the help of Huang Zhenxia, a self-taught intellectual also employed by the Guomindang, Li sought to modernize the “White Lotus” teachings that he had received from his master by incorporating scientific insights received via spirit writing. Li believed that he was creating a new religion more adapted to the twentieth century. Both the texts produced on Huashan and the military and political elite that were attracted to these texts allow us to raise new questions about secularism and religion, traditional beliefs and science in the context of Republican-period China, thereby suggesting that the conflict between the modernizing state and traditional religious culture was not always as stark as we have believed it to be. Keywords: Li Yujie, Xiao Changming, White Lotus, redemptive society, science and religion, Republican era, Nanjing decade

China as the Leader of the Small and Weak: The "Ruoxiao" Nations and Guomindang Nationalism

Frustrated with the “white imperialism” of the League of Nations and the “red imperialism” of the Third Communist International, a number of Chinese intellectuals began discussing possibilities for a third option during the interwar years. Turning away from liberalism and Marxism, they examined Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People and began working to promote his Principle of Nationalism as a concept that focused on the ruoxiao (weak and small nations) and could liberate people around the world that were suffering under imperialism. This discourse often centered on the possibility of creating a new form of “International,” the International of Nations, which would unite the oppressed nations of the world in opposition to the imperialist nations, rather than divide nations along class lines, as Chinese critics perceived the Comintern to do. This article examines Chinese intellectual discussions of a China-centered “International” by a variety of writers, including Dai Jitao and Hu Hanmin, from 1925 to 1937. The author shows that, although this discourse on a China-centered “International of Nations” influenced intellectuals’ perceptions of China’s position and responsibility in the world, it was consumed and invalidated by Japanese imperialism, as the Japanese Empire employed a similar discourse of pan-Asianism to justify militarism in the 1930s and 1940s. Keywords: Asianism, International of Nations, New Asia, intellectual history

Networks, Parties, and the "Oppressed Nations": The Comintern and Chinese Communists Overseas, 1926-1935

In the late 1920s, the overseas chapters of the Chinese Communist Party allied with the Third Communist International (Comintern)’s pursuit of world revolution and made efforts to take part in anti-colonial movements around the world. As Chinese migrant revolutionaries dealt with discrimination in their adopted countries, they promoted local, Chinese, and world revolutions, borrowing ideas from various actors while they built their organizations and contributed to the project of China’s revival. This article offers a window into the formation of globally connected Chinese revolutionary networks and explores their engagement with Comintern internationalism in its key enclaves in Berlin, San Francisco, Havana, Singapore, and Manila. These engagements built on existing ideas about China’s revival and channeled localization needs of the Chinese migrant Communists. The article draws on sources deposited in the Comintern archive in Moscow (RGASPI), as well as on personal reminiscences published as literary and historical materials (wenshi ziliao). Keywords: Chinese Communist Party overseas, Guomindang, Comintern, League against Imperialism, anti-colonialism, San Francisco Chinese, Berlin Chinese, Manila Chinese, Chinese in Singapore, Chinese in Philippines, internationalism, interwar period, institutional borrowing

New Revolutionary Agenda: The Interwar Japanese Left on the “Chinese Revolution”

To achieve socialist revolutions in Asia, the Third Communist International (Comintern) recommended to Asian revolutionaries the strategy of a united front comprising the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie, which would prioritize the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle. The early Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (1922–1926) resisted this recommendation, which lumped together colonized India and semi-colonized China with the only empire in Asia, Japan. The JCP insisted on the priority of the domestic national struggle, arguing that without toppling the imperial government at home by means of a socialist revolution, there could be no dismantling of Japanese imperialism and therefore no Chinese Revolution. After the outbreak of Japanese aggression in China in 1927 (the first Shantung intervention in May of that year) and the rise of popular nationalist support for the empire at home, members of the Japanese Left recognized that they had failed to properly engage with Japanese imperialism in Asia. Based on Comintern archives and the writings of leading Japanese Communists, this article argues that, as a strategy to rebrand and redeem itself in the new critical situation in Asia, the Japanese Left began to regard the Chinese Revolution as the only path to liberation, not only for Asia but for Japan as well. Keywords: Japanese Communism, Chinese Revolution, Comintern, Japanese imperialism

“Awakening Asia”: Korean Student Activists in Japan, "The Asia Kunglun," and Asian Solidarity, 1910-1923

The contributions of Korean and Taiwanese authors to the many and varied formulations of interwar pan-Asianism have so far remained a relatively unexplored subject of scholarly research, despite an unbroken interest in the trajectory of state-based Japanese pan-Asianism. Focusing on Korean students and independence activists, this article discusses alternative configurations of regional unity and solidarity that emanated from the interactions among Korean, Taiwanese, and other Asian actors who resided in Tokyo during the 1910s and 1920s. When the ethnic-nationalist interpretations of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination failed to materialize, a portion of anti-colonial activists in Asia began to emphasize the need for solidarity by drawing on what they perceived as traditional and shared “Asian” values. While challenging the Western-dominated international order of nation-states that perpetuated imperialism, such notions of Asian solidarity at the same time served as an ideology of liberation from Japanese imperialism. Examining journals published by Korean students and activists, including The Asia Kunglun, this article adds another layer to the history of pan-Asianism from below, a perspective that has often been neglected within the larger context of scholarship on pan-Asianism and Japanese imperialism in Asia. Keywords: pan-Asianism, Korean independence movement, Taiwanese activism, self-determination, Japanese imperialism, anti-colonialism, The Asia Kunglun, Taishō liberalism

From Revolutionary Culture to Original Culture and Back: “On New Democracy” and the Kampucheanization of Marxism-Leninism, 1940-1965

In Mao Zedong’s 1940 essay “On New Democracy,” he states that the Chinese Communists fought to build a new China with new politics, a new economy, and, most crucially, a new culture. Decades later, Saloth Sar (Pol Pot, nom de guerre) read French translations of Mao’s works in Paris, and drew from the Khmer past and Buddhism to call for democratic reform of a Khmer cultural type. While he had read and appreciated Mao Zedong Thought before, it was not until he visited Beijing in 1965–1966 that Sar awoke fully to Mao’s ideas, returning to Cambodia a Maoist convert. In Democratic Kampuchea (DK, 1975–1979), Sar, like Mao, sought to create a new culture, but this time through the lens of Maoism (exported Mao Zedong Thought). Party documents and speeches show how he sought to create a “Kampucheanized” Marxism-Leninism along the lines of Mao’s “Sinified” Marxism and with a “clean” revolutionary culture. This article argues that by tracking Pol Pot’s approaches to rebranding Cambodia, from his earliest political writing to his experiences abroad to the grotesque human experiment of DK, we can uncover the underlying problems of “Kampucheanizing” ideas from Maoist China. As the article shows, despite some similarities, Mao’s application of Marxism to the Chinese case—as he outlined in “One New Democracy”—and his vision for a new revolutionary culture were vastly different from Pol Pot’s efforts in Kampuchea. Keywords: intellectual history, Mao Zedong, Maoism, Pol Pot, Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia, communism