Nationalism emerged in East Asia as a result of the influx of Western-derived political thought in the nineteenth century, but its formation drew heavily on pre-existing notions of identity. In Japan, the Meiji Restoration of 1868 set the path for a modern, state-driven nationalism that would underpin the country’s economic and diplomatic resurgence as an imperial power. China, in contrast, was unable to repel foreign incursions, and used nationalism to articulate resistance to the domination of the country by other powers. Resistance to Japanese imperialism also shaped Korean nationalism during this period. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, key shapers of nationalism in East Asia included ideas of race, Social Darwinism, and pan-Asianism. World War II was a confrontation between various types of nationalism in China in particular, with ‘collaborationist’ models losing out to those that articulated strong resistance to domination by the West or Japan, in particular Chinese communism.
The period under consideration was one of profound political, ethnographic, and ideological transformation in the Middle East. The centralizing policies and Turkish-nationalist agenda of the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks) in the years following the Ottoman Empire’s 1908 Revolution led to tensions with sociopolitical elites in the empire’s Arabic-speaking regions. Ottomans’ entry into the First World War was the occasion for the organization of the Armenian Genocide, while the Greco-Turkish conflict of the early 1920s culminated in the massive transfer of Muslim and Greek Orthodox populations between Greece and Turkey. Ottomans’ defeat in the First World War also led to the partition of the Arab Middle East between Britain and France under the cover of League of Nations mandates. Britain’s Balfour Declaration created a framework for the resumption and acceleration of Jewish immigration to, and land purchase in, Palestine under the auspices of the Zionist movement. With the disappearance of the Ottomans’ pan-Islamic and supra-national framework of political legitimacy, the region’s Arab elites embraced the nationalist idea as the organizing principle of their political praxis. Yet the division of the region into separate European-ruled territorial entities (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, Palestine) created long-term tensions between the ideals of Pan-Arab unity and loyalty to one’s individual state.
Indian nationalism has often been seen as an exemplar of the nationalisms of colonial subjects struggling to be free—but with one striking difference. Whereas most colonial nationalists sought to break free from and carve ‘national’ states of their own out of those empires, Indian nationalists alone aspired to take over an empire as a whole; claiming every province and principality the British ruled for the nation. It was, in this sense, a movement not only profoundly ambitious but also, in critically important ways, unique. Yet paradoxically, the very breadth of its scope circumscribed its modalities and constrained its programmes. Rather than seeking to explain why nationalism in India ‘failed’ to conform to other models, European or Latin American or Arab, or to speculate why other anti-colonial nationalisms did not subsequently emulate the ‘norm’ it might be thought to have established, this essay maps Indian nationalism’s distinctive development until 1947.