Of the Same House: Mariano Ponce and the Pan-Asianist Alliance

Without a doubt, the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 is one of the darkest times in Philippine history. But just a few decades prior to the invasion, the Japanese ardently supported Philippine independence from Spanish and American colonialism. They coordinated with ilustrado Mariano Ponce, “the First Philippine Republic’s representative to Japan,” for the transport of firearms and volunteers who would join the Philippine revolutionary army. Ponce’s letters reveal the deep appreciation he felt for their aid, while the memoirs of famous activist and former samurai Miyazaki Tōten evince the enthusiasm the Japanese felt toward assisting the Filipino effort. Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz, research fellow at the University of Cambridge, notes that Filipinos were aware of Japanese expansionism as early as 1893 and followed the Sino–Japanese War of 1894–1895, yet they found Japan to be “the natural ally to overcome Western colonization.”

In her article titled “Fantasy, Affect, and Pan-Asianism: Mariano Ponce, the First Philippine Republic’s Foreign Emissary, 1898–1912,” published in our September–December 2019 double issue, Aboitiz examines the logic that drove both the judgment and emotions of the Japanese, Filipino, and Chinese actors involved in a Pan-Asianist alliance that played a role in the Philippine Revolution. She employs Caroline Hau and Takashi Shiraishi’s network science methodology to highlight “the role of traveling nationalists, transnational associations, and fantasy” and frame Ponce’s actions against “a transnational Pan-Asianist history” rather than just the Philippine Revolution. (Read Hau and Shiraishi’s article here.) In doing so, Aboitiz opens up Ponce’s work to compare and connect it with “other corollary and contemporary histories of Southeast and East Asia,” and she presents Pan-Asianism beyond the “center” of the Sinic world of Japan, China, and Korea.

Broadly speaking, Pan-Asianism promoted political solidarity and cooperation among Asian nations. Aboitiz differentiates three “threads” at its core during the 1900s: (1) the Sinic thread, which focused on solidarity with China and on various Asian nationalisms united in a racial struggle “against the international world order”; (2) Teaist Pan-Asianism, which highlighted “shared philosophical or cultural traits” from South to East Asia and was “more egalitarian, idealist, anticolonial,” and inclusive with regard to Asian geographical boundaries; and (3) the Meishuron (Japan as leader) thread, which placed Japan “at the head of the Asian alliance (Ajia no meishu) in the crusade to rescue Asia from Western imperialism” and gave it a role to “transform other Asian nations in its image.”

Aboitiz stresses that the colonized nations and the uncolonized “center” advocated different visions of Pan-Asianism. For instance, while Ponce idealized Asian solidarity and adhered to the Teaist thread, his friend Miyazaki felt that the “moral and existential fate” of other Asian countries “necessarily depended on the strength of the center.” Colonized nations “asserted a ‘racial’ relationship for symbolic, instrumental, and strategic purposes,” evincing the movement of non-Sinic Pan-Asianists toward Japan as the power center. Nevertheless, as mentioned, Ponce’s Japanese and Chinese contacts eagerly supported the Filipino struggle against Western colonialism. In general, the Pan-Asianist alliance believed in a shared destiny among Asian nations.

Ponce regarded Japan as a model for the Philippines’s development. While he never envisioned a subservient role for his country under Japan’s plans for a “greater East Asia” later on, he did see the country as “a new tutelary possibility” separate from Spain to guide the Philippines along a “path of universal (somewhat unilinear) Progress.” His letters to one Miura A. on 7 October 1898 expressed his dedication to “studying Japan’s guiding concepts,” particularly its penchant for harmonizing “new and old institutions and foreign and local influences,” in the hope that the Philippines could do the same.

In November 1896, Ponce joined the Hong Kong-based Comité Central Filipino, presided over by Felipe Agoncillo. With Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s arrival in 1897 in the British colony, it was called the Hong Kong Junta. Aguinaldo assigned Ponce as emissary to Japan in 1898, instructing Ponce to ascertain Japan’s policy toward the Philippine Revolution, enlist its aid, and acquire munitions from Japanese supporters. Faustino Lichauco, another junta member, assisted Ponce in answering Japanese officials’ questions about the revolution. They employed the Pan-Asianist rhetoric of “a shared destiny and burden” in appealing to Japan for sympathy and aid. Lichauco hoped to draw Japan in through ideas of moral responsibility and racial solidarity.

In August 1898 Ponce began receiving offers of support from Japanese individuals, despite the Japanese government’s fear of provoking the United States. In a letter to Agoncillo, Ponce describes the proposal of a Yokohama vendor to sell 20,000 Maüser rifles for $10 each, “bayonets for $1.50, artillery belts for $0.80, and cartridges for $30 per thousand units.” Japanese politicians assured Ponce that the new Japanese government, “dominated by the military faction,” would eventually favor the Philippine cause. Volunteers to train the Philippine revolutionary army corresponded with Ponce, ready to start once the Philippine government requested it. One of Aguinaldo’s letters confirms the arrival of one “Mageno” (likely Nagano) Yoshitora, a Japanese military officer who joined the army in February 1899. “This volunteering and organizing,” Aboitiz observes, “was Pan-Asianism in action person-to-person.”

Aside from Miyazaki, Ponce connected with various Japanese, Chinese, and Korean officials. His most notable contacts were: (a) Inukai Tsuyoshi, a prominent Japanese politician and member of the Imperial Diet; (b) Sun Yat-sen, reformist and future president of the Republic of China; (c) Confucian scholar Kang Yu-wei, leader of the “Hundred Days of Reform”; (d) Nakamura Haizan, a member of the Imperial Diet; (e) Hirata Hyobei, an ultranationalist who had been in contact with the Filipino revolutionaries as early as 1895; and the exiled leaders of the Korean reform movement: (f) Prince Park Yeong-hyo; (g) War Minister An Kyong-su, who Ponce compared with José Rizal down to having the “same patriotic ideals and generous impulses”; and (h) Home Minister Yu Kil-chun.

In addition to the logic of racial solidarity and a “shared burden,” emotions heightened the bonds underpinning the ideology of these Pan-Asianists, which strengthened their feelings of community and affection. Aboitiz highlights Miyazaki’s emphasis on sentiment for the Filipinos in his recollections of Sun and Ponce. According to Miyazaki, Sun implored him to “use all [his] strength for these valorous Filipinos” and described Ponce as having a “spirit . . . exactly the same as ours.” Miyazaki emphasized Sun’s desire to live up to Ponce’s trust by quoting the Chinese leader: “It was our very first meeting, and see how he trusted me! I must do everything within my power for this cause.” Sun’s petition moved Miyazaki, who responded: “My heart was instantly aflame. Sun, Hirayama, and I made secret plans, and I resolved to reveal these to Inukai and to tap his wisdom.” Miyazaki also recalled how Ponce “pounded the table, as if unable to control his indignation” toward the US declaration of war against the Philippines. “I was full of sympathy,” Miyazaki wrote. “We got along well together, and the more we talked the more passionate our talk became.”

Fantasy also motivated individual aspirations, even working toward building a sense of community in Miyazaki’s case. While Miyazaki saw himself as a “chivalrous hero working for the colored races of mankind,” he also idealized the “cast of ‘characters’ he wished to associate himself with.” In describing his first meeting with Sun, he expressed joy over how his fellow Pan-Asianist “trusted [him] completely” but felt that Sun “should have more dignity,” referring to the casual way Sun had received him. Ponce, to Miyazaki, was “the valorous, trusting Filipino revolutionary,” while Sun was “the noble, charismatic, modern leader figure.” Nonetheless, Miyazaki appreciated Sun, saying that while speaking Sun’s “true nature sparkled, and it seemed a nature full of the music of the spheres and the rhythm of revolution. . . . At this point I committed myself to him.”

Another figure motivated by fantasy was Nakamura, who Inukai described as having recently been diagnosed with diabetes but still “very anxious to make a name for himself.” Miyazaki recalled Nakamura’s response upon being assigned to acquire arms for the Filipinos: “I know my life cannot be very long. How fortunate for me, that I can follow you gentlemen and be entrusted with such a noble task!” Nakamura arranged the purchase and shipment of surplus Japanese army munitions to the Philippines, employing the Nunobiki Maru tugboat to deliver the arms and three Japanese volunteers. It set sail from Formosa, only to sink in a typhoon on 21 July 1899.

Six other Japanese volunteers had departed for Luzon earlier and had arrived safely, managing to deliver Inukai’s gift of a Japanese sword and a letter of encouragement to Aguinaldo. (Read Satoshi Ara’s article on Aguinaldo’s relations with Japan here.) The loss of the Nunobiki along with the firearms, however, greatly discouraged these volunteers. They “ultimately abandoned their mission, narrowly fleeing the Philippines disguised as Filipino fishermen.” Although the incident “strengthened solidarity among the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos involved,” Japan’s government “curtailed all further activity of this sort” after American soldiers captured a Japanese in Manila. Worse, Nakamura had embezzled most of the funds, greatly distressing the Pan-Asianists. Aboitiz opines that affect and community bonds had blinded the Pan-Asianists’ judgment of character, just as they had failed to foresee Nakamura’s betrayal.

At this point, revolutionary efforts both in the Philippines and abroad began to falter. The Japanese government stopped any further shipments from leaving for the Philippines, and American intelligence based in Hong Kong closely monitored Japanese movement. In contrast, Sun’s uprising in Huizhou on 8 October 1900 “successfully broke out.” He then implored that the Hong Kong Junta loan the guns to China because “the Philippine effort had failed [and] the weapons were of no further use there.” Moreover, he argued that the success of his revolutionary movement would surely “lead to independence for the Philippines.” The Filipinos conceded the munitions to Sun.

Although the revolution failed, Ponce succeeded in raising sympathy not only among Japanese, but also among the Chinese, for the Philippine struggle against its colonizers. His Cuestión Filipina: Una Exposición Histórico-crítica de Hechos Relativos a la Guerra de la Independencia, a book on the Philippine Revolution, was published in Tokyo in 1901 and translated to Chinese and distributed in Shanghai the next year. It universalized the Philippine Revolution as a “global discursive problem” and won over Chinese intellectuals, who simultaneously allied themselves with the Filipinos and vilified the Westerners. Asianism had waned in terms of influence by 1912, Aboitiz comments, but a “fellow-feeling” lingered among Asians in general. Filipinos rejoiced over the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, “moved by racial affinity” and hope that it would spur Philippine independence.

By 1917, however, the Filipino Pan-Asianists had become disillusioned with Japan, aware of its “inhuman humiliations and its disdain toward the weak nations.” Japan became no less violent than the Western imperialists in its conquest of the Pacific. (For further reading, see Takamichi Serizawa’s article on Japanese solidarity with Filipinos during American colonialism here.) In the following decades, Filipinos moved on from Asianism to other intellectual visions in the light of the Second World War and the Japanese occupation.

Read the full article of Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, volume 67, number 3–4, 2019.

This essay forms a part of Aboitiz’s recently published book, titled Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887–1912, reviewed by Sven Matthiessen here.

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