- Makers of Modern Asia ed. by Ramachandra Guha, and: Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974 by Stefan Huebner, and: Asianisms: Regionalist Interactions and Asian Integration ed. by Marc Frey and Nicola Spakowski, and: The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future by Prasenjit Duara
The Fortunes of Asian Regionalism: Past, Present, and Future
The origins of "Asia" as a geographical term are European rather than Asian: it was coined by the ancient Greeks to refer initially (in Herodotus, for instance) to Anatolia and the Persian Empire. Asians themselves began to use and identify with the term only in common response to Western imperialism in the nineteenth century. As Stefan Huebner writes: "The term 'Asia' was now no longer just a concept imported from the West, but began to be filled by transnational Asian actors with ideas of Asian commonalities such as common ethnicity, common culture, common history, and a common opponent or enemy in the form of the West" (p. 5). In other words, from the late nineteenth century onward "Asia" became much more than merely a geographical term; in the search for "Asian commonalities," it took on wide and profound political and cultural implications. Indeed, it even inspired a new ideology: pan-Asianism. Today China, with its grand vision of a new Silk Road, its "Belt and Road Initiative," is perhaps the main driver of one form of pan-Asianism: that based mainly on mutual economic interests. To some skeptics, of course, this may invoke unfortunate historical memories of Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," a notorious justification for aggressive empire-building in the 1930s. Although Xi Jinping's China is nowhere near as [End Page 296] aggressive towards its Asian neighbors as was 1930s Japan (not yet, at least), in this case too nationalistic intra-Asian territorial and historical disputes are proving to be a stubborn obstacle to the realization of the old dream of Asian unity. With all this in mind, the time now seems appropriate to take a new look at the history of Asian regionalism or pan-Asianism, as well as its legacy and future prospects. The four books reviewed here allow us to do exactly that, each from its own fascinatingly different perspective.
Makers of Modern Asia, edited by Ramachandra Guha, provides biographical studies of eleven major twentieth-century political leaders: four from China (Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping), three from India (Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi), and one each from Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh), Indonesia (Sukarno), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew), and Pakistan (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). Reading these eleven political biographies together, one gets a sense of post-colonial Asian history as a contest between a number of dialectically opposed forces, played out not only in the external world but within the minds of the major historical figures dealt with here: socialism versus capitalism, religion versus secularism, modernity versus tradition, the ethnic or religious idea of nationality versus the civic idea, non-alignment versus alliance with great powers, Western influence versus Asian or national identity. And another significant example is the often very real tension between the ideals of pan-Asianism and the realities of intra-Asian conflict. Of course, as already pointed out, pan-Asianism had a checkered history from the beginning, as both an idealistic transnational cultural movement and as a naïve or cynical justification of Japanese imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But by the late twentieth century the situation had become more complex. A good example may be found in the career of the...