Speaker: Pankaj Mishra, Author


Japan was a huge inspiration to Asians wherever they were, whether it was Buddhist monks in Burma or nationalists in Java or Egyptian nationalists in Cairo. Japan was a model for most of these Asians, who felt extremely humiliated by Western power, as to how to modernize yourself, how to strengthen yourself to the point where Western powers start to treat you with respect and dignity that you thought was your due.

The crucial milestone here was Japan's victory over Russia in 1905, with which this book begins, which is the Battle of Tsushima, a relatively small battle but a hugely important one, in that it was the first to prove for any number of people—Gandhi, who was a lawyer in South Africa at that point; Atatürk, who was a soldier in Damascus; Nehru, who was a public schoolboy in London, England; and Sun Yatsen, who was an activist at that point—they all responded to this ecstatically. For them it was evidence that an Asian power could match the West, and could match it militarily, economically, socially.

Soon afterwards, the news of that victory spread. It sort of acquired a kind of consequence, in the sense that what you had was a constitutional revolution in Persia, you had revolutions all across a broad swath of Asia, by people inspired by this victory, thinking "Japan has a constitution, it has managed to check the arbitrary power of its rulers, so we must do the same, have a constitution and have an elected parliament of some sort."

Any number of students from all across Asia headed to Japan to learn the secrets of Japanese power.

Transcript of entire lecture

Lecture based off discussion of From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia