Napoleonic View of Mod­ern Asia’s Rise

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by Nayan Chanda, founder of Yale­global On­line and a Global Asia Ed­i­to­rial Board mem­ber.

In this am­bi­tious vol­ume, run­ning close to 700 pages, the au­thor presents a breath­less ac­count of Asia un­der colo­nial rule. Be­gin­ning in the early 20th cen­tury, Basu takes his very de­tailed ac­counts of the depre­da­tions of Euro­pean colo­nial pow­ers, es­pe­cially the Bri­tish un­til the end of the Sec­ond World War.

In his re­count­ing, which flows like a swollen river in a mon­soon car­ry­ing events big and small in its tide, he has re­served a spe­cial place for the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army and its ally Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose of the In­dian Na­tional Army, as change agents. He nar­rates in de­tail Bose’s dal­liance with Adolf Hitler and his heroic wartime sub­ma­rine jour­ney from Europe to Asia. In the course of the per­ilous voy­age, Bose trans­ferred from a Ger­man to a Ja­panese sub be­fore con­tin­u­ing to Su­ma­tra. The hos­pitable Ja­panese com­man­der va­cated his own cabin and made spe­cial ar­range­ments “for cur­ries to be cooked.”

Basu’s cen­tral ar­gu­ment, he says, is that “Ja­pan’s role in 20th-cen­tury Asia was akin to Napoleon’s in 19th-cen­tury Europe,” cre­at­ing wide­spread in­sti­tu­tional change that helped mod­ern­ize Europe. But bogged down in the minu­tiae of wartime de­vel­op­ments, he seems to have run out of space to fully de­velop that the­sis other than bare­bones re­ports of a num­ber of stu­dents go­ing to school in Ja­panese-ruled Korea or how many steel mills were left as a base from which mod­ern South Korea and Tai­wan could rise. The au­thor gives a fairly siz­able bib­li­og­ra­phy but no notes in­di­cat­ing prove­nance of facts he de­tails.

Asia Reborn: A Con­ti­nent Rises From the Rav­ages of Colo­nial­ism and War to aNew Dy­namismBy Prasen­jit K. Basu Aleph, 2018, 680 pages, 1,999 ru­pees (Hard­cover)

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