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Underground Asia

Underground Asia

Global Revolutionaries and the Assault on Empire

Tim Harper

ISBN 9780674724617

Publication date: 01/12/2021

An Economist Best Book of the Year

A Financial Times Best Book of the Year

A major historian tells the dramatic and untold story of the shadowy networks of revolutionaries across Asia who laid the foundations in the early twentieth century for the end of European imperialism on their continent.

Previous praise for Tim Harper

This is the epic tale of how modern Asia emerged out of conflict between imperial powers and a global network of revolutionaries in the turbulent early decades of the twentieth century.

In 1900, European empires had not yet reached their territorial zenith. But a new generation of Asian radicals had already planted the seeds of their destruction. They gained new energy and recruits after the First World War and especially the Bolshevik Revolution, which sparked utopian visions of a free and communist world order led by the peoples of Asia. Aided by the new technologies of cheap printing presses and international travel, they built clandestine webs of resistance from imperial capitals to the front lines of insurgency that stretched from Calcutta and Bombay to Batavia, Hanoi, and Shanghai. Tim Harper takes us into the heart of this shadowy world by following the interconnected lives of the most remarkable of these Marxists, anarchists, and nationalists, including the Bengali radical M. N. Roy, the iconic Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, and the enigmatic Indonesian communist Tan Malaka. He recreates the extraordinary milieu of stowaways, false identities, secret codes, cheap firearms, and conspiracies in which they worked. He shows how they fought with subterfuge, violence, and persuasion, all the while struggling to stay one step ahead of imperial authorities.

Underground Asia shows for the first time how Asia’s national liberation movements crucially depended on global action. And it reveals how the consequences of the revolutionaries’ struggle, for better or worse, shape Asia’s destiny to this day.

Praise for Forgotten Wars:
“[A] compelling book.”—Philip Delves Broughton, Wall Street Journal
“Lucid…majestic.”—Peter Preston, The Observer
“Authoritative.”—Pankaj Mishra, New Yorker

Praise for Forgotten Armies:
“Panoramic… Vivid.”—Benjamin Schwarz, New York Times Book Review
“A spectacular book.”—Martin Jacques, The Guardian


  • A clearly written, brilliantly researched examination of the people and movements that shaped Asia’s course in the 20th century and continue to influence the continent today…Helps western and non-specialist readers grasp some key questions and debates on which the course of Asia’s revolutions turned…Provides rich if unsettling insights for American readers trying to understand the role of human rights in Asia today.

    —Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal


  • Tim Harper is Professor of the History of Southeast Asia and Director of the Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. His books include The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya and, with Christopher Bayly, Forgotten Armies and Forgotten Wars (both from Harvard).

Book Details

  • 864 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press