Sunday, August 26, 2012

Asian Voices in the Colonial Tide

A few days ago, when I requested the librarian at CPR for a copy of Pankaj Mishra's recently released book, "From the Ruins of Empire", I didn't really expect it bring back memories of Prof. Liang Pan's remarkable course at the University of Tsukuba.

Mishra's book goes well beyond the scope of Prof. Pan's sessions which were mostly centered on the dynamics of Meiji Restoration and the consequent transformation of Japan. It explores how the contemporaries of the Meji aristocrats in 19th century Turkey, Egypt, India, China and the Philippines responded to the challenges coming from Western missionaries, traders, soldiers and diplomats.

It follows the life and times of some remarkable individuals: Jamal al-Din Afghani, Liang Qichao, Fukuzawa Yukichi (of the Yen 10,000 note fame) and Rabindranath Tagore. As the drama unfolds, many others make a cameo appearance but play roles that anything but marginal, and these include Qichao's mentor, Kang Youwei; A traditionalist philosopher, Tan Sitong who famously discarded a chance to escape by saying that China would never renew itself until men were prepared to die for it.

Also rather revealing is the role of Japanese intellectuals who sharpened the contradiction between the nation's 'imperative to expand and dominate...and the pan-Asianist desire to express solidarity with other Asian countries.

One of them, Okuwa Shumei, 'Japan's leading scholar of Indian and Islamic cultures' was said to have converted to pan-Asianism after reading a book India's dire state under the British....which book was this?


* Mishra, Pankaj (2012): FROM THE RUINS OF EMPIRE, Allan Lane  Penguin, London, 2012

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