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Sarah Queen

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Winner of the 2017 Oakes Ames Prize.


Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, as a non-Western nation state that had defeated a Western imperial power, has been theorized as a global watershed moment, catalyzing anti-colonial nationalist sentiments across Asia and beyond. In the decades following this military success, Japan transformed into an imperialist nation state. Through engaging in colonial expansion across East and Southeast Asia, Japan supposedly shattered early idealistic illusions of Asian civilizational solidarity against Western imperial power. However, even as Japan engaged in imperialism in East Asia, for some anti-colonial nationalists and intellectual elites from the Indian subcontinent it paradoxically continued to embody Asian modernity and aspired ideals. Japan’s transformation into an imperial power elicited divergent perspectives among these nationalist elites based upon their ideologies and political philosophies. There was a spectrum of opinions and perceptions of Japan and its empire. Some nationalists who were opposed to British imperialism actively attempted to mobilize support for Indian independence in East Asia from the Japanese state and the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Others actively disapproved of Japan’s imperialism and sought alternative alliances in East Asia in opposition.

Within the existing paradigms of area studies and historical scholarship, transnational connections between the histories of South Asia and East Asia have been studied only to a limited extent, and largely overlooked. This study attempts to interrogate transnational pan-Asianist imaginings among Indian nationalist leaders and the Bengali literati with reference to Japan’s empire in East Asia. What did Japan’s political and military successes symbolize for early twentieth century anti-colonial struggles? How did anti-colonial leaders respond to Japan’s imperialism? What do these responses reveal about the political philosophies and ideological divergences within anti-colonial movements? Through an in-depth analysis of available primary sources, this thesis has attempted to close the gap in the secondary literature about the historical relationships between South Asia and East Asia. In attempting a transnational intellectual history, this thesis opens up new possibilities for future research about pan-Asianism as a universalizing ideology within the globalizing world of the early twentieth century, and the relationships and interactions that shaped the development of modernity in the non-Western world.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.