As the world is commemorating the centenary of the First World War, Asia after Versailles is a much needed resource to understand how Asia was affected by the Paris Peace Conference and how Asia, in turn, influenced Versailles. The first chapters provide a general overview of the impact that Versailles had on Asia during the interwar period. This includes Mark Metzler's persuasive demonstration that Asia became a vital part of world economic, monetary and financial systems at this time. Next to this, Cemil Aydin highlights that the First World War and the Versailles system were ‘as crucial for Muslims in Asia as … for Europe’ (pp. 56–7), and that even though the First World War had strengthened the political legality of demands made in the name of national self-determination, ‘Muslim claims to rights in the name of a broader racial and civilizational community ended up being suppressed and curtailed’ (p. 72). Moreover, Torsten Weber argues that ‘Asia’ after Versailles was not the same as before: ‘Through heated debate rather than consensus, and often as an expedient or a mere tool of rhetoric rather than a principle, Asia had become a key concept in political discourse in Japan, China, other parts of Asia and, indeed, in the world’ (p. 89). The rest of the chapters are more specific and deal with individual cases or countries. Naoko Shimazu's, John LoBreglio's and Kevin M. Doak's chapters all discuss different aspects of Japan's relationship with the Paris Peace Conference. Shimazu describes Japan's disastrous performance at the Paris Peace Conference by focusing on the role of public diplomacy—which Japanese leadership failed to understand and appreciate. LoBreglio argues that western infighting, racism, hypocrisy and power politics based on national self-interest at Versailles were key catalysts for Japanese Buddhist observers, and Japan more generally, to eventually abandon universal internationalist ideals and go down the road that would lead to the Second World War. Finally, Doak explores ‘the competing tensions between new forms of particularism and universalism and how they influenced the way nationalism was understood in Japan after the Versailles Treaty’ (p. 175)—suggesting that both particularism and universalism were ‘symbiotically reinforcing each other’ which created ‘a new postwar context in which ideas and ideals were given enhanced status in political life’ (p. 175). Gotelind Müller's and Hiroko Sakamoto's chapters discuss Chinese engagement with the Paris Peace Conference. Müller argues that the peace conference did not curb Chinese anarchist internationalism, since Versailles involved only nation-states and that, while nationalism became a buzzword in postwar China, ‘internationalism was not dead, and among those trying to adhere to it for as long as possible were the anarchists’ (p. 205). Sakamoto, in discussing Versailles's impact on this Chinese nationalism, looks at Shanghai's urban culture from 1919–1931 and argues that, although Chinese nationalism has a long history, ‘it has also absorbed various heterogeneous cultural influences, especially during the early stages of globalization’ (p. 233). During the peace conference this was largely marked by anti-imperialism, ‘but cosmopolitan cultural influences were also noticeable’ (p. 233). Finally, Maria Framke, in her discussion of Indian public opinion and the League of Nations, argues that the First World War and its aftermath turned out to be a turning-point in the history of India and its national development. Asia after Versailles's greatest contribution is through its transnational perspective on Asia during the interwar years. The book highlights that the First World War and the peace conference were ‘as crucial for their impact on Asia as they were for Europe. The war and subsequent events brought about the integration of Asia into global affairs at unprecedented levels, for better and for worse’ (p. 3). A recurring theme across the chapters is that the First World War indicated not only the decline of the West, but also an Asian challenge. Weber highlights this best when he suggests that the First World War ‘constitutes one of the first instances during which the concept of Asia was linked by people from different parts of Asia to criticism of the assumed superiority of western modernity and of globalization along western standards. Encouraged by the self-destructive Great War and incited by continuous racial discrimination, numerous Asian thinkers embarked on a full-scale attack on European civilization as the emblem of western materialistic modernity. Simultaneously, the hitherto neglected concept of Asia was re-evaluated’ (p. 77). These arguments and themes are significant in helping us reset international and transnational understandings of the First World War by instilling Asian voices and perspectives. Finally, although most of the individual contributions are excellent and the introduction brilliantly tries to link the otherwise unconnected chapters, as an edited volume the book has substantial weaknesses. First, although the editor suggests that this volume tries to get away from eurocentric understandings of what constitutes ‘Asia’ by focusing on ‘Asian sensibilities and motivations in their own right’ (p. 3), it would have benefited the book as a whole had the concept of ‘Asia’ been systematically defined and discussed in a more coherent way. Another problem is the unbalanced coverage—Turkey was included, but not Vietnam or Indo-China. Overall, it would have made the work much stronger if it had devoted more space to the issues that affected all of Asia through a global perspective—such as colonialism, internationalism, national development and globalization. This kind of systematic treatment would have ensured not only that most Asian nations were included, but, more importantly, it would have made the book's central theme clearer, connecting the chapters more coherently and systematically. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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