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The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia

by Pankaj Mishra

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-24959-5
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A widely researched, ambitious study of several important early agitators against Western domination in India, China and the Muslim world.

Mishra (Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond, 2006, etc.) asserts that the intellectual and political awakening of Asia as it moved into the modern world forms one of the great themes of the 20th century. The author touches on defining historical moments in terms of galvanizing Asian self-consciousness and nationalism—e.g, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Boxer Rebellion, the Russo-Japanese War, the founding of Turkey on Ottoman ruins and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Mishra focuses mostly on three thinkers in the Asian world less well-known than Gandhi or Mao, but whose ideas and writings influenced them hugely. They include Persian-born Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who developed a virulent hatred of imperial powers while moving among Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Egypt and Persia, stressing the need to form a Pan-Islamic front to resist Western incursions; Liang Qichao, a reform-minded journalist who escaped from arrest in China and found in cosmopolitan Japan a refuge and model for resistance and national survival; and Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali who founded experimental schools and preached rural harmony against urban aggressiveness, rejected “mindless imitation of the West,” and urged Eastern spiritual wisdom as a replacement for Western venality. All well-traveled, these thinkers observed the West’s moral bankruptcy, such as America’s treatment of blacks, huge inequality in wealth and restriction of immigration to Japanese, and developed a transformation of consciousness. They were critics of the West, “revitalizers of tradition” and often religious purists, and their ideas would catch fire in such avenues as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and modern Salafism.

A perfect springboard for many necessary ideas and historical characters to be studied in depth.