That Esperanto, a planned language aiming to unite mankind, has long and rich connections to the political left, with its historical focus on internationalism, is reasonably well-known. But it is perhaps more noteworthy that the affinities between the two ideas, with their twin visions of a utopian future, stretched to East Asia and formed part of the transnational flows across the region of people, ideas, and texts in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular, Esperanto’s links to various strands of socialism – the center-left, the anarchists, and the socialists, in particular – gave rise to a series of links between Japan and China.
Amongst a series of connections and contacts, running from Osugi Sakae and the very origins of Esperanto and Anarchism in China, through to Nakagaki Kojiro and Hasegawa Teru’s ties to Chinese students under the shadow of the war in the 1930s, perhaps the most striking thread is that woven by an individual who was neither Chinese nor Japanese: Vassily Eroshenko. Eroshenko, a Ukrainian, was blind since birth, but he nevertheless travelled widely in Europe and then Asia. He arrived in Japan in 1914, and was involved with a wide variety of progressive groups there, from the Shinjinkai student group to the Nakamuraya Salon. After a brief trip to South/South East Asia, he returned to Japan, but was expelled from the country in 1921 due to his connections to ‘dangerous thought’. Making use of his Esperanto and socialist connections he went then to China, where he taught first in Beijing and later in Shanghai, before returning to a Soviet Union formed during his sojourn in Asia.
Esperanto’s connections to socialist thought were contested – some developed sophisticated theories of Marxist linguistics, whilst Eroshenko represented a perhaps simpler, more immediate, sense of common human brotherhood. Despite this, he was representative of the broad spectrum ongoing ties between China and Japan: people moving, shared ideas, and efforts to make use of Esperanto as at once both idea and language.