Skip to main content Accessibility help

Asia in the Global 1919: Reimagining Territory, Identity, and Solidarity

  • Erez Manela (a1)

Perhaps the first thing to note about a forum on the subject of 1919 in Asia is how awkwardly the spatial frame of “Asia” maps onto the international history of that moment. To be sure, the postwar international conjuncture, which I have elsewhere called the “Wilsonian Moment,” had a revolutionary impact across Asia, perhaps more so than in any other world region outside of Europe. As the three preceding essays in this forum note, that year was a waypoint, and sometimes a launching pad, for a rush of novel or renewed revolutionary discourses, connections, and mobilizations in China, India, and Korea, as it was in other parts of Asia and of the world. These were all propelled by the accumulated material and ideological transformations of the years of war, transformation that imbued the moment with revolutionary potential and gave contemporaries a sense that the international order, its power structures and its norms of legitimacy, were uniquely malleable, amenable to concerted action. Indeed, 1919 was a moment in which the very idea of “Asia”—its spaces, the identities they attached to, and the solidarities that ran across and beyond it—was reimagined in ways that at once stitched it together and rent it apart.

Hide All

1 Manela, Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). One could argue that the impact of 1919 on the Middle East in the aftermath of the Ottoman collapse was as great if not greater than it was in Asia. That reflection, however, reminds us that the post-Ottoman territories most affected at the time were, geographically speaking at least, located in western Asia, though the longstanding if now antiquated line that separates “Asian studies” from “Middle East studies” leaves these regions outside of “Asia” as defined in this journal.

2 Singh, Gajendra, “India and the Great War: Colonial Fantasies, Anxieties and Discontent,” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 14, no. 2 (2014): 343–61.

3 Minault, Gail, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

4 An important recent work that tells the story of Asia in World War I, and particularly in its aftermath, is Guoqi, Xu, Asia and the Great War: A Shared History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

5 Gowen, Robert Joseph, “Ho Chi Minh in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: A Documentary Footnote,” International Studies 12, no. 1 (1973): 133–37.

6 Gunn, Geoffrey C., “‘Mort pour la France’: Coercion and Co-option of ‘Indochinese’ Worker-Soldiers in World War One,” Social Scientist 42, no. 7/8 (2014): 6384.

7 See Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, & the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 382–88 (quote on 383).

8 Ibid., 386–87. See also Emily S. Rosenberg, “World War I, Wilsonianism, and Challenges to US Empire,” Diplomatic History 38, no. 4 (2014): 852–63. As Rosenberg notes, activists in other US colonial possessions, notably Puerto Rico, also tried to mobilize Wilsonian rhetoric in their cause, as did opponents of the then-ongoing US occupation in Haiti and Santo Domingo.

9 Erez Manela, “Imagining Woodrow Wilson in Asia: Dreams of East-West Harmony and the Revolt against Empire in 1919,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (2006): 1327–51.

10 Cited in Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 157.

11 This is worked out in Manela, The Wilsonian Moment, op. cit. note 1, esp. pp. 37–45.

12 On the Pan-African Congress of 1919, see, most recently, Sarah Claire Dunstan, “Conflicts of Interest: The 1919 Pan-African Congress and the Wilsonian Moment,” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters 39, no. 1 (2016): 133–50. On Lamine Senghor, see David Murphy, “Defending the ‘Negro Race’: Lamine Senghor and Black Internationalism in Interwar France,” French Cultural Studies 24, no. 2 (2013): 161–73.

13 On this milieu, see Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, op. cit. note 10.

14 Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, eds., Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, 2 vols. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011) is a rich resource. See also Gal Gvili, “Pan-Asian Poetics: Tagore and the Interpersonal in May Fourth New Poetry,” Journal of Asian Studies 77, no. 1 (2018): 181–203.

15 Young India 2, no. 1 (January 1919), 2.

16 Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1996).

17 Onimaru, Takeshi, “Shanghai Connection: The Construction and Collapse of the Comintern Network in East and Southeast Asia,” Southeast Asian Studies 5, no. 1 (2016): 115–33.

18 On Nehru and the LAI, see Louro, Michele, Comrades against Imperialism: Nehru, India, and Interwar Internationalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018). On Hatta, see Stutje, Klaas, “To Maintain an Independent Course: Inter-war Indonesian Nationalism and International Communism on a Dutch-European Stage,” Dutch Crossing 39, no. 3 (2015): 204–20. On Messali Hadj, see Hassett, Dónal, “Defining Imperial Citizenship in the Shadow of World War I: Equality and Difference in the Debates around Post-War Colonial Reform in Algeria,” in Barry, Gearóid, Lago, Enrico Dal, and Healy, Róisín, eds., Small Nations and Colonial Peripheries in World War I (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 263–80.

19 Fredrik Petersson, “Hub of the Anti-Imperialist Movement: The League against Imperialism and Berlin, 1927–1933,” Interventions 16, no. 1 (2014): 49–71; Daniel Brückenhaus, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe, 1905–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), chap. 5, “The League against Imperialism Years, 1926–1933.”

20 Opening address given by Sukarno (Bandung, 18 April 1955), 2, (accessed December 12, 2018).

21 On the Naga question, see Walker, Lydia, “Decolonization in the 1960s: On Legitimate and Illegitimate Nationalist Claims-Making,” Past & Present 242, no. 1 (2019): 227–64.

22 Cited in Xu, Asia and the Great War, op. cit. note 4, 227.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed