Spanning from the turn of the 20th century until right around its mid-way point, there was an American publication focused solely on all things Asia.
Originally established in 1898, the Journal of the American Asiatic Association (later simply called “Asia” magazine) was founded to increase awareness of the cultures and the current events of the Far East.
The understanding it sought to foster was not solely based on an appreciation of Asian cultures, it was additionally aimed at facilitating America’s expanding presence as an economic power in the Asia-Pacific.
An editorial from the March 1917 issue summed up the magazine’s focus, at that time, quite well:
“The ignorance of our people (Americans) in regard to the countries of the Far East is unquestionably a serious obstacle to the legitimate extension of American influence.”
Those are likely the words of owner and editor in chief Willard Straight, who bought the magazine in 1917, and shortened the name to the much more succinct, “Asia.”
Straight was an ardent supporter of increased American trade and investment in both China and Korea. He had extensive experience in the region, first working in China at the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service in Nanjing and later as a correspondent for Reuters covering the Russo-Japanese War.
From 1934 to 1946, the magazine was edited by Richard Walsh and his wife, Pearl S. Buck.
Straight died of Spanish Influenza in 1918 in Paris, where he was a member of the Paris Peace Conference following the Great War.
Over the next three decades, many interesting figures would come and go at Asia magazine. One such person was writer and editor Gertrude Emerson Sen –a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The younger Emerson was quite an impressive force in her own right. Upon returning from teaching English in Japan, Emerson Sen joined the magazine, as well as a becoming a founding member of the Society of Woman Geographers –which still exists today.
She would later trek around the world until finally settling down in India, where she was an outspoken western voice calling for Indian autonomy.
From 1934 to 1946, the magazine was run by Richard Walsh and his well-known wife, Pearl S. Buck.
It was while they were at the helm that prominent Asian literary and political figures would increasingly enter the stream of the American conscious –beyond the caricatures dreamed up by the imagination of political and business interests.
In 1946, after several years of financial trouble, including another name change in 1941 to Asia and the Americas, the magazine called it a quits –merging with a newly formed journal, United Nations World.
The covers of Frank McIntosh
Arguably, one of the most enduring remnants of Asia magazine are the wonderful covers created by California-based artist, Frank McIntosh.
Originally from Portland, McIntosh graduated from the California School of Fine Arts, before opening his own studio in San Francisco from 1923-24. McIntosh was well known at the time for producing much of the Matson Shipping Lines advertising art, as well as establishing studios in Los Angeles and in New York City.
Eventually, McIntosh returned to California where, in the 1960s, he had a gallery in Los Angeles that focused on Oriental art. He later died in Santa Cruz in 1985.
We’re happy to share with you some of those fabulous covers from Asia magazine –a wealth of which are easily found floating around the internet ether.
Back in the days of Asia magazine, the world was not simply a plane ride away as it is in our time. For Americans, the East, with all its unknowns, was an exotic mystery defined by an often ill-informed print journalism of that period.
McIntosh and his art managed to capture a romantic aspect of Asia in an extensive series of vibrant, Art Deco styled covers that graced the magazine through much of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
It is quite interesting to think, in this cyclical world in which we live, that Western publications (even such as this one) are once again turning their attention to Asia and all of the fascinating people, places and ideas that it has on offer.
We’re sure Frank McIntosh would appreciate that.