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  • Hi, I'm John Green, this is Crash Course World History, and today we're going to return to

  • our old friend, the rise of the west.

  • Ugh, Mr Green, we know. The west rose, we've talked about this a million times.

  • Yeah, me from the past, I'm sympathetic to your position, but the thing is, this is a

  • big deal in world history circles and today, we are going to talk about the rise of the

  • west from the perspective of people who don't live there.

  • So today, we're going to look at how some people who experienced the rise of the West

  • firsthand responded to it. We're going to focus on East Asia and also the Middle East,

  • which is also Asia. Anyway, both of these communities dealt with European imperialism

  • in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • So, just a quick note here, European imperialism affected millions of people, including agricultural

  • and industrial workers, very few of whom left records of their experience. So we end up

  • relying on the words of people who wrote things down, intellectuals. Now, many of those people

  • were European, but in this case, most of what we'll be examining today is covered by a fascinating

  • book by Pankaj Mishra, called "The Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the

  • Remaking of Asia." Mishra's book draws heavily from the perspectives of three Asian thinkers,

  • and I will remind you, mispronouncing things is my thing. He looks at Middle Easterner

  • Sayyid Jamal Ad-Din Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao from China, and Rabindranath Tagore from India.

  • Through their eyes we can see that Asians did recognize the coming dominance of Europe,

  • but they also developed ideas about imperialism that provided a counterweight to Western dominance

  • and gave them a way of imagining their role in this new world.

  • Alright, let's go straight to the Thought Bubble.

  • Although we tend to equate European imperialism with the late 19th century, especially the

  • carving up of Africa after the Berlin Conference of 1884, for many Asians, the disaster began

  • earlier. In China, the Opium Wars began a train of humiliations, most memorable of which

  • occurred with the destructed of the Summer Palace in 1860. And imperialism wasn't great for the Muslim

  • world either. By 1896, Al-Afghani described Muslims under European imperialism this way:

  • "The foreigners chain up Muslims, put around their necks a yoke of servitude, debase them,

  • humiliate their lineage, and they do not mention their name but with insult. Sometimes, they

  • call them savages and sometimes regard them as hard-hearted and cruel and finally consider

  • them insane animals. What a disaster!"

  • Just like today's historians, Asian intellectuals were quick to recognize that the reason Europeans

  • were able to dominate and humiliate them was Europe's superior industrial technology and

  • organization, one early response was to say, "well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, or

  • at least, try to follow their models of military organization and education." We see this in

  • attempts at reform, like the Tanzimat in the Ottoman Empire, Al-Afghani initially echoed

  • these calls to study more science and philosophy, but his comparison of philosophers with prophets

  • was too radical for the Ottomans and he ended up being expelled from Istanbul.

  • Chinese intellectuals responded similarly to the humiliation of the Opium Wars, with

  • calls for self-strengthening, a phrase coined by its biggest supporter, Feng Guifen. Given

  • China's almost 2,000 year history of an education system based on Confucian values and classical

  • texts, which, to be fair, had worked pretty well for them for most of that time, adopting

  • Western models of education and organization was gonna be a tough sell, as Yan Fu, a Chinese

  • writer and translator put it,

  • "China governs the realm through filial piety, while Westerners govern the realm with impartiality.

  • China values the sovereign, while Westerners esteem the people. China prizes the one way,

  • while Westerners prefer diversity. In learning, Chinese praise breadth of wisdom, while Westerners

  • rely on human strength."

  • One Chinese reformer, Kang Youwei, took up the challenge of blending Western and Chinese

  • ideas of governance by attempting to update Confucianism for the modern world and arguing

  • that political reform and mass mobilization were central concerns for Confucius himself.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble. So all of that gets to a big question, imperialism was a disaster

  • for a lot of people, but there were things about what the West was doing to control much

  • of the world that were obviously working. So the question for people outside the West

  • became: What, if anything, do we take from this and try to borrow and integrate into our own communities?

  • Well, in addition to education and military reforms, many Asian intellectuals felt that

  • Europe's strength was rooted in its political organization, into nation-states. That sounds

  • a lot like today's historians and also economists. Everyone's crazy about nation-states. Except

  • the Mongols.

  • And, you know what, I stand with the Mongols on that. I think empire is underrated. I would

  • make an excellent emperor, for instance. You know what they'd call me, Stan? Genghis John.

  • Anybody? Yeah?

  • I hate myself.

  • But anyway, some of these intellectuals became proponents of nationalism, like, by 1879,

  • Al-Afghani was advocating that Muslims begin to think of themselves as a nation, in the

  • sense of a culturally unified people. Here he is in words that recall the German nationalists

  • of the time: "There is no happiness except through nationality and no nationality except

  • through language...a people without unity and a people without literature are a people

  • without language. A people without history are a people without glory, and a people will

  • lack history if authorities do not rise among them to protect and revivify the memory of

  • their historical heroes so that they may follow and emulate...all this depends on a national

  • education, which begins with the fatherland, the environment of which is the fatherland,

  • and the end of which is the fatherland."

  • Are you sure that wasn't a German nationalist, Stan, because that was a lot of fatherlands?

  • Maybe it was translated by a German.

  • And then there's India. As the most thoroughly colonized Asian territory, India's feelings

  • about nationalism were very complicated. Some Indians wanted to create a European style

  • state organized around Hinduism. But of course, India had a large Muslim minority and also,

  • Hinduism, with its caste divisions, wasn't great for creating political unity. Others,

  • like Aurobindo Ghose were critical of adopting too many European ideas, worrying that India,

  • quote, "was in danger of losing its soul by an insensate surrender to the aberrations

  • of European materialism."

  • Aberrations of European materialism? I don't know what you're talking about.

  • Oh, that is delicious. Hold on, I gotta play Floppy Bird for a second.

  • But many Asians considering adopting European models of nationalism look to one of its biggest

  • success stories: Japan.

  • For Europeans, Japan became kind of a confirmation of a modernization program, industrialization,

  • centralization, and to a lesser degree, liberal constitutionalism, could work. And this was

  • also true to some extent for Asian intellectuals, including Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore,

  • both of whom visited Japan. But ultimately, Japan didn't provide a great model for other

  • Asians attempting to reform their own states, especially because Japan embarked on its own

  • imperial expansion.

  • It's almost as if, in addition to industrialization and centralization and et cetera, imperialism

  • was just part of building a strong nation-state.

  • So by the early 20th century, many Asian intellectuals were looking beyond Western models. Some,

  • like Liang Qichao and Al-Afghani, considered supranational movements, like pan-Asianism

  • and pan-Arabism. They envisioned these huge political conglomerates that could transcend

  • Europe's dominance, but eventually, both they and Tagore turned to their own traditions

  • as a source of strength. And what they all had in common was a loss of faith in liberal

  • democracy as a source of strength, especially after the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Like

  • after flirting with Pan-Arabism and being expelled from a different Ottoman city, this

  • time Cairo, Al-Afghani became convinced that, quote,

  • "Modernization hadn't secured the Ottomans against infidels. On the contrary, it had

  • made them more dependent."

  • He embraced the idea that the best defense against the West was Islam. Mishra says of this,

  • "As he saw it, attacking religion risked undermining the moral basis of society altogether and

  • weakened the bonds that held communities together, precisely the weakening that had plunged Muslims

  • everywhere into crisis."

  • Now, this doesn't mean that he became what we today think of as an "Islamist radical"

  • or an "Anti-Modernist." Instead, he believed that the Qur'an contained its own calls for

  • reform, and that Islam could be a catalyst for change. Ultimately, Al-Afghani believed

  • that the transformation of Islamic society had to come from within. Like his favorite

  • Qur'anic injunction was:

  • "God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition."

  • In China, Liang Qichao came up with a different source of reform, the strong state. After

  • the failure of the Boxer Rebellion in 1901, he wrote his awesomely titled, "On The New

  • Rules For Destroying Countries." This was a critique of European imperialism, but it

  • was also a call for a strong, somewhat authoritarian state that could stand up to the West.

  • Nah, China would never do that. Oh, wait. Wait a second. They did!

  • Eventually he came to the conclusion that the Chinese people must now accept authoritarian

  • rule. They cannot enjoy freedom. Well, that's pretty extreme.

  • Ohhh, it's time for the Open Letter. But first, let's see what's in the globe today. Oh, look,

  • it's some underappreciated authoritarian rulers.

  • An Open Letter to Authoritarianism:

  • Dear Authoritarianism: Listen, I am all for democracy, but the tyranny of the majority

  • is no joke. And there have been many times when democratically elected governments were

  • less pluralistic than authoritarian ones. Not only that, if you can keep corruption

  • out of it, there is an astonishing efficiency to doing it your way. Like, who's gonna make

  • this decision. Oh, I know, the Queen! It's always the Queen, no need for exploratory

  • committees or different houses of Congress, the Queen can do it! Maybe I'm just a little

  • frustrated with Congressional gridlock, authoritarianism, but I kind of think you're underrated.

  • Best wishes, John Green

  • p.s. Just wanna confirm that I am not advocating for authoritarian rule in the United States.

  • So Liang also visited the United States, which made him more convinced that liberal democracies

  • did not provide an answer, especially because they discriminated so much against Asians.

  • And then, World War I and the insane map-drawing spree of the Treaty of Versailles just further

  • confirmed all of it. I mean, despite the lofty rhetoric of Woodrow Wilson's 14 points and

  • the League of Nations and everything, the result of the war looked suspiciously like

  • the pre-war imperialism that many Asians believed was a cause of the war in the first place.

  • But perhaps no one was more skeptical of the "if you can't fight 'em, emulate 'em" strategy

  • of dealing with imperialism than Indians. Gandhi, for instance, went very far in his

  • critique of the West's modernism, saying that it lacked spiritual freedom and social harmony,

  • even rejecting many aspects of the industrial revolution itself. I mean, this was a person

  • who sewed his own clothes.

  • And interestingly, one of the most vocal Indian critics of the West was the one who was perhaps

  • most positively received there. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for

  • a body of work that essentially said "you guys are terrible at everything." To quote Mishra,

  • Tagore's message to the West was that "their modern civilization built upon the cult of money and

  • power was inherently destructive and needed to be tempered by the spiritual wisdom of the East."

  • Now, he didn't reject industrialization completely, and he acknowledged that, quote,

  • "the age belongs to the West and humanity must be grateful to you for your science,"

  • but cautioned an audience in New York that, quote,

  • "you have exploited those who are helpless and humiliated those who are unfortunate."

  • So, as we've talked about before, our perspective on events really colors our version of the

  • truth. Living as we do, in an age dominated by more or less liberal nation-states with

  • varying degrees of market freedom, it can be tempting to consider their development

  • as both inevitable and good.

  • And I'm certainly not going to throw rocks at both a political system and a nation-state

  • that allows and enables me to put up videos like this and provides a space for millions

  • of you to agree and disagree.