Volume 16, Issue 2, 2019
Conceptual History: China, Asia, and the Global
The Concept of “Asia” in the Context of Modern China
As a part of the geographical knowledge introduced by Matteo Ricci from the West into China at the beginning of the 17th century, the concept of “Asia” had undergone a cool reception for over three hundred years and did not become a common idea of world geography until the early 20th century when it was publicized by textbooks and other mass media. As the author points out, Asia is not merely a geographical concept, but also refers to history, culture, and politics. Although early Western missionaries and Chinese scholar-officials like Wei Yuan endowed Asia with a positive meaning as the origin of world civilization, from the mid-19th century on, Chinese intellectuals, out of a sense of crisis caused by the European invasion of Asia, tended to describe Asia as a backward continent subjugated by the white people. In the 1910s, against the background of Japan’s annexation of Korea, Asia was divided into two opposing parts, “the country invading other countries” (Japan) and “the countries being invaded by other countries” (India, Korea, and China). Along with the occupation of other Asian countries by Japan in the name of “the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” in the 1930s and 1940s, the concept of Asia also lost its charm among Chinese nationals.