ABOUT THIS BOOK
An Economist Best Book of the Year
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
A major historian tells the dramatic and untold story of the shadowy networks of revolutionaries across Asia who laid the foundations in the early twentieth century for the end of European imperialism on their continent.
This is the epic tale of how modern Asia emerged out of conflict between imperial powers and a global network of revolutionaries in the turbulent early decades of the twentieth century.
In 1900, European empires had not yet reached their territorial zenith. But a new generation of Asian radicals had already planted the seeds of their destruction. They gained new energy and recruits after the First World War and especially the Bolshevik Revolution, which sparked utopian visions of a free and communist world order led by the peoples of Asia. Aided by the new technologies of cheap printing presses and international travel, they built clandestine webs of resistance from imperial capitals to the front lines of insurgency that stretched from Calcutta and Bombay to Batavia, Hanoi, and Shanghai. Tim Harper takes us into the heart of this shadowy world by following the interconnected lives of the most remarkable of these Marxists, anarchists, and nationalists, including the Bengali radical M. N. Roy, the iconic Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, and the enigmatic Indonesian communist Tan Malaka. He recreates the extraordinary milieu of stowaways, false identities, secret codes, cheap firearms, and conspiracies in which they worked. He shows how they fought with subterfuge, violence, and persuasion, all the while struggling to stay one step ahead of imperial authorities.
Underground Asia shows for the first time how Asia’s national liberation movements crucially depended on global action. And it reveals how the consequences of the revolutionaries’ struggle, for better or worse, shape Asia’s destiny to this day.
Previous praise for Tim Harper
Praise for Forgotten Wars:
“[A] compelling book.”—Philip Delves Broughton, Wall Street Journal
“Lucid…majestic.”—Peter Preston, The Observer
“Authoritative.”—Pankaj Mishra, New Yorker
Praise for Forgotten Armies:
“Panoramic… Vivid.”—Benjamin Schwarz, New York Times Book Review
“A spectacular book.”—Martin Jacques, The Guardian
A clearly written, brilliantly researched examination of the people and movements that shaped Asia’s course in the 20th century and continue to influence the continent today…Helps western and non-specialist readers grasp some key questions and debates on which the course of Asia’s revolutions turned…Provides rich if unsettling insights for American readers trying to understand the role of human rights in Asia today.
-- Walter Russell Mead Wall Street Journal
The first comprehensive look at this dense web of resistance. The Asian underground laid long-burning fuses across great distances—attacking colonial officials, organizing strikes, founding schools, plotting insurrections, and raining down tracts and pamphlets…Provides an unexpected key to understanding contemporary Asian politics.
-- Thomas Meaney New Yorker
Harper’s magnificent, sweeping study of Asian revolutionary movements from 1905 to 1927 is packed with sharp insights and entertaining details. The book argues convincingly that this was the period when anti-colonial activists in China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam fatally undermined European imperialism in Asia.
-- Financial Times
Superbly original…Breaks new ground by showing how a collective consciousness emerged among revolutionaries.
-- The Economist
Magisterial…Harper does not simply challenge the conventional view of Vietnam’s history but also other Great Man accounts of liberation struggles in different Asian countries, from Indonesia to India, the Philippines to China. He does this through life stories of intriguing individuals, downplayed or completely ignored in standard histories because their approaches diverged sharply from those of the figures now seen as the key saviors of their countries, or because they moved between and influenced activists in different locales, meaning their actions do not fit in a single national frame.
-- Jeffrey Wasserstrom New Republic
A magisterial history of anti-imperialism in Asia in the first three decades of the twentieth century…The scale and ambition of his work are nothing short of remarkable…Harper’s book arrives at another moment of rebellion across Asia.
-- Adom Getachew Foreign Affairs
A sweeping account…Harper’s broad perspective reveals the interconnectedness of these anti-colonial struggles and their reverberations more than a century later…Asia scholars and students of international affairs will find this revisionist history to be of exceptional value.
-- Publishers Weekly
It is breathtaking in its sweep, matchless in its command of diverse sources spread across different archives, remarkable in its empathy for the lives and emotions of forgotten men and women, and for the clarity of its prose.
-- Rudrangshu Mukherjee The Wire
Tim Harper’s Underground Asia is a marvel of a book. I have never seen anything like it. Harper has the storyteller’s gift. He makes connections across space and time and race and place that most people can’t dream of emulating. No one understands the warp and weft of the absolute powder-keg explosion of the beginnings of nationalism in Asia writ-large better than Tim Harper.
-- Eric Tagliacozzo, Cornell University
Underground Asia is a monumental and magnificent study of anti-colonial revolutionaries who forged solidarities across the globe to mount a connected onslaught against the British, French, and Dutch empires. Written with verve and panache, this is riveting narrative history at its very best that would evoke the envy of the finest novelists.
-- Sugata Bose, Harvard University
Underground Asia is the most gripping work of history I have ever read. It is a truly profound meditation on the struggles for freedom that shaped modern Asia, it is an astonishing feat of archival detective work, and it is a flat out literary masterpiece.
-- Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Waters
Tim Harper is a rare historian-storyteller…Interesting anecdotes propel a powerful story that lends credence to the belief that the empires were quite rattled by the audacity of these groups of men and women who could not be repressed into submission…This book has truly brought alive all those characters who were either erased or faded away from memory and paid them a tribute they richly deserved.
-- Ajay Singh Indian Express
A timely book for a moment of re-emerging popular rebellion, from the militant farmer protests in India to the pro-democracy upsurges in Thailand, Burma, and Hong Kong.
-- Bill Weinberg Fifth Estate
Harper succeeds in conveying a genuine sense of this ‘underground’ world, bringing many lesser-known figures to the fore and placing the likes of Sun Yat-sen, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Tan Malaka, and Ho Chi Minh in new contexts…Innovative in its scope…A rich social and cultural history of an era that saw new national identities forged.
-- Peter Zarrow Journal of Interdisciplinary History
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Illustrations and Photographic Credits
Prelude: On the Threshold of Free Asia (1924) Hypo-Colony
Evening at the Victoria Hotel
A Man Without a Country
The Bicycle Party
A Swan Escaped from Its Cage
Sharing the Same Sickness
The Devil’s Snare
The Asphyxia of Empire
The World, Steerage Class
In the Country of the Lost
Under Western Eyes
The Birth of the Underground
Across the Black Water
‘At Home’ in South Kensington
Down and Out in Paris and Tangier
A Republic of Asia
If I Were a Dutchman
Graveyard of Empires
The Hunt for Fat Babu
A Modern Rishi
The Wedding of the Bomb
A Flare That Lights the Way
Vancouver to Budge Budge
A Postcard from London
The Battle for the Underground
Waiting for the Just King
A Lonely Man in a Small Country
Panic in Suburbia
Lahore to Mandalay
Isla Socorro to Balasore
Alone in Shanghai
The Merchant of Kobe
Reverend Martin Heads East
The Plot Against America
The Human Nation of the World
Barefoot into the Streets
The Packet-Liner Revolution
A Man with No Past
Deli: The City of Gold
Days in the Hotel Lux
Nights in the Great World
The Man Who Would Be King
Berlin to Kanpur
Europe Is Not the World
First Falling Leaves
The Birth of Aslia
The Bobbed-Hair Woman
The Battle of Nanjing Road
A Thunderbolt to Clean the Air
Beneath the Walls of Wuchang
The Coming of the Just King
Faith and Treason in Doomed Cities
No Harvest but a Thorn
Living in Normal Time
The Orchestra at the World’s End
Fierce Births, and Deaths . . .
And Dreams, and Visions, and Disenchantment
Principal Archival Sources