Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Workshop Two: Modern Empires in Asia in the 'Long 19th Century'

25-26 September 2014

The first workshop in this research project, held in November 2013, considered the historical experience of Empire in Asia during the long period we broadly described as ‘from Chinggisid to Qing.’ That workshop, and the volume it will produce, organized itself around chapters that adopted a primarily regional focus, but addressed a set of common questions. The workshop formed the basis of a discussion that produced a fresh interpretation of a more general Asian historical experience. That interpretation rests on the critical analysis of three key concepts: horizonal states; layered identity and governance; concepts and practices for ordering the world. The argument is that these dynamics shaped a wider, more integrated ‘Eurasian’ historical experience, ranging across time and the wider continental space, than has usually been understood. Those dynamics explain our selection of topics, time frame, and our interpretation of Empire in Asia, in volume one.

We believe that these dynamics were absorbed, but neither subsumed nor overwhelmed, by the evolution of newer profound forces during what we call ‘the Long 19th Century,’ a period we see as ending in 1914. A familiar interpretation has been to see this as the age of ‘high empire,’ resulting in the global projection of Western power. This supposedly incorporated Asian states, space and peoples in a wider global order of power, politics and economics, one driven by the Industrial Revolution and defined by European imperialism. This simplified interpretation needs revision. By the early years of the 20th century Asian states, space and peoples were indeed deeply integrated into wider dynamics of global reordering. But this process was dynamic, volatile, and contested, and it involved, on many layers and in many dimensions, multiple interactions between local, regional and global forces, ideas, concepts, and practices. Empire as an instrument of governance and administration remained a central vehicle through which these processes reshaped Asia, and defined its integrations into a wider global order. Inherited dynamics revolving around horizonal states, layers of identity and governance, and approaches to reordering the world played significant roles in shaping the transition from a Eurasian to a global Asian order. The apparent ‘triumph of the West’ in fact involved constant, significant, and dynamic interactions between Asian and wider projects. Asia did much to shape its own transformation.

The second workshop in our project will bring together scholars who will address this wider discussion, by presenting reflections on a range of significant themes and profound forces that together shaped this reordering of ‘global Asia’ during this period of undeniably expanding European power projection. It will thus squarely address one of the most dynamic, influential and controversial discussions in recent historiography, the ‘Great Divergence’ thesis. Expressed or challenged by such scholars as Andre Gunder Frank, R. Bin Wong, Kenneth Pomeranz, and Christopher Bayly, to note a few, our work proposes to revisit both this newer line of interpretation and the older notion of Asian collapse that it sought to revise.

Our workshop presentations will this time be organized around themes rather than regions, to reflect the wider integration between these forces that we see as shaping this more general Asian global experience, during this period. But each presenter will select particular focal points from which to draw out the wider dynamics of their particular theme.  As an example, Brian Farrell will present reflections on the theme of new approaches to the concept and practice of defining imperial frontiers, a dynamic that became universally significant to the geopolitical reordering of Asia during the 19th century—but will do so by focusing primarily on the British-driven experiences of defining frontiers between India and Afghanistan, Tibet and China, and Hong Kong and China. The selected themes range across discussions related to ideology, concepts of identity, religion and politics, state building and state formation, the relationships between space, people, and sovereignty, the movements of goods, money, people and ideas, and the influence and impact of conflict and military power. The durability of empire as an instrument for governance, administration, and differentiation, will stand as a common theme addressed by all contributors. Through this workshop we will define the set of common questions that contributors will be asked to address, when they move on to compose their chapters. The unifying themes and interpretation that constitute the sum of the parts will be introduced at the workshop, then fulfilled through the overview analytical summary chapter that will pull together the book.

Prasenjit Duara, NUS    Nation vs Empire in 19th Century Asian Political Discourse (East Asia)
Robert Bickers, Bristol  Projecting Empire: Extraterritoriality and Legal Regimes (China)
Bruce Lockhart, NUS   Defining States:  Sovereignty or Suzerainty (Southeast Asia)
Jack Fairey, NUS  Defining Faith: Religion and Asian Empires (Ottomans) 
Donna Brunero, NUS Globalizing Maritime Empires: the Asian experience (Southeast and East Asia)
Tom DuBois, ANU Financing Modernity: Building a Modern Imperial Economy (Japan in East Asia)
John DiMoia, NUS  Engineering Empire: the Asian Experience (telegraph, steam, railway, etc.)
Brian Farrell, NUS  Defining Space: drawing Imperial Frontiers (British India, Hong Kong, Tibet)
Paul Werth, UNLV Settling Empire: Moving Imperial and Subject Populations (Russia in Central Asia)
Ishizu Tomoyuki, NIDS, Tokyo Reshaping Empire: War and the reordering of Asia (East Asia)
Odd Arne Westad, LSE
Analytical summary and overview: The Long 19th Century and Empire in Asia