Hardly more than a decade old, the twenty-first century has already been dubbed the Asian Century in recognition of China and India’s increasing importance in world affairs. Yet discussions of Asia seem fixated on economic indicators—gross national product, per capita income, share of global trade. Makers of Modern Asia reorients our understanding of contemporary Asia by highlighting the political leaders, not billionaire businessmen, who helped launch the Asian Century.
The nationalists who crafted modern Asia were as much thinkers as activists, men and women who theorized and organized anticolonial movements, strategized and directed military campaigns, and designed and implemented political systems. The eleven thinker-politicians whose portraits are presented here were a mix of communists, capitalists, liberals, authoritarians, and proto-theocrats—a group as diverse as the countries they represent.
From China, the world’s most populous country, come four: Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Revolution; Zhou Enlai, his close confidant; Deng Xiaoping, purged by Mao but rehabilitated to play a critical role in Chinese politics in later years; and Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang party formed the basis of modern Taiwan. From India, the world’s largest democracy, come three: Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi, all of whom played crucial roles in guiding India toward independence and prosperity. Other exemplary nationalists include Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, and Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. With contributions from leading scholars, Makers of Modern Asia illuminates the intellectual and ideological foundations of Asia’s spectacular rise to global prominence.