The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a supranational framework promoted by Japan from the 1930s to 1945, has a bad reputation in history as a thin disguise for World War II–era Japanese imperialism. But Yellen shows that it was an authentic vision—however murky and evolving—for a new kind of regional order. Drawing on what were then widely accepted ideas about racial hierarchies, regional economic blocs, and economic planning, the sphere’s advocates envisioned Asia as a “familial community” that would free itself from European exploitation under the leadership of an advanced Japan. Each nation would perform its economic role according to its natural abilities, coordinated by a planning system that would ensure a share in common prosperity for everyone. Nationalist elites in Burma and the Philippines—two case studies Yellen uses to illustrate Asian responses to this vision—thought they would be freer in an empire run according to those principles than in the British and American empires, to which their countries belonged, respectively, at the time. This study suggests that Japanese thinking during the war was not so different from that of other ambitious powers throughout history, which believed they were helping other peoples by dominating them.
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