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.
[An] entertaining and illuminating collection of essays… The chapters on Sukarno, by James Rush, and on Bhutto, by Farzana Shaikh, are exceptional.
Biographies of 11 galvanizers of modern Asian nationalism, from Gandhi to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, underscore the importance of politics before economics… Editor Guha reminds Western readers in his introduction that to concentrate on Asia’s stunning recent economic rise without studying the nationalist developments that preceded it is to ignore (again), at our great loss, the essential makeup and character of these nations. He argues that through understanding the lives of these founders, many of whom—Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh, for example—gleaned their first political understanding from the West, we can grasp the wider political and social processes they effected in their own countries. Composed by various Western and Asian scholars and writers, these essays offer pithy highlights of each individual’s early life and political development, followed by delineation of how each applied his or her beliefs (for good or ill) to anti-colonial campaigns.
A much-needed collection… Compared to many biographies of Western political leaders, these stories lack the commercial drama and overheated sensationalism of the bestselling variety, but that characteristic may be a welcome respite for many readers.
It is all too easy to forget the volcanic history that lies just beneath Asia’s recent economic boom. Makers of Modern Asia reminds us of the immediacy of this history by bringing together biographies of eleven national leaders of the 20th century whose ruthless pursuit of modernity and power must continue to shape Asia’s course in the future.
- 400 pages
- Belknap Press
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