Lecture 1. Patria as Process: The Eighteenth Century

First of three lectures on
Nationalism and Globalisation: Britons, South Asians and Others, 1750-1950
Page-Barbour Lectures Delivered by C. A. Bayly, University of Cambridge
at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville on 10, 11, 12 April 2001.
(It is expected that these lectures, heavily revised and developed in view of discussions subsequent to their delivery, will be published in due course.)

Theories of nationalism || Theories of globalisation || S & SE Asian archaic globalisation || The ecumene of culture and service || The old patria || Patrias and ecumenes || Readings and Facts

     Nationalism was the most hotly debated academic theme of the 1970s and '80s. Historians were then asking themselves why a social formation which was supposedly on its way out had revived so vigorously. The persistence--or invention--of nationalisms in the Soviet Union; the stubborness of national and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans or Ireland, the emergence of post-colonial ethnic conflicts in south and southeast Asia or Africa-- all this focussed attention on the question of whether nationalism was primordial, contingent or constructed. After about 1995, however, another broad concept began to steal some of the limelight from nationalism. Spurred on by the interest of economists and cultural theorists, historians rather slowly came to consider the value of the idea of globalisation. Here again, contemporary developments had thrust the discussion to the top of the academic agenda. Nation states had apparently become powerless to retain control of their respective economies as computerised flows of capital washed around the world in tidal waves. Local cultures supposedly armed themselves against McDonaldisation or appropriated and fed new cultural meaning into Nike shoes or baseball hats. New 'ethnoscapes' fashioned themselves before the eyes of analysts of public culture.

     As with so many academic fashions, the field has moved on, like a great nomadic army, leaving many half-built structures behind it. But historians are supposed to examine the remnants of the past. So my lectures are designed to give an appraisal of where these two debates have left the discipline of history. I want to consider the relationship between nationalism, or, more broadly, nationality, and globalisation in the last three centuries. I do so from the perspective not of Europe, which has been the origin of most discussion of these concepts, but Asia. The Asian continent, which has been held up as the scene of some of the most 'spiritual' as well as the most 'genocidal' nationalisms, was also, for much of the last two hundred years, a critical arena of conflict between western nation states themselves. I hope to challenge the notion that ideas of territorial patriotism and the nation state diffused in simple progression from revolutionary Europe to Europe's Asian colonies and on to Asia's semi-independent states in the course of the nineteenth century. The lectures also attempt to challenge a predominantly Euro-American understanding of globalisation. Centrally, however, I want to consider the relationship between the two concepts globalisation and nationalism themselves which have generally been considered separately.

Theories of nationalism

     Let us first consider theories of nationalism. Most of these have posited endogenous causes for the emergence of territorial nationalism. In Eric Hobsbawm and John Breuilly's view the state created the nation not vice versa. In Ernest Gellner's theory urbanisation and industrialisation were the social contexts in which competitive nationalisms became social forces. Benedict Anderson sees the circulation of knowledge and sentiment within proto-nations through the means of print capitalism as the key force creating the 'imagined community' of the nation. Yet Asia and Islamic Africa, constituting more than sixty per cent of the world's population, is an uneasy terrain for these theorists. Mature nationalisms, contra Gellner, emerged in the later nineteenth century in India, Indochina and Egypt, territories in which the urban population was less than ten per cent and may well have been falling. This was the very time when national movements, which were far more than simple anti-colonial movements, emerged onto the scene. Industrialisation, Gellner's other demiurge, was pathetically retarded in Asia outside Japan by the policies of the colonial powers. Despite the widespread scholarly reference to Anderson's theories, the envisioning of the nation in Asia can only partially be related to 'print capitalism.' The rooting of the concept of the nation in the bazaars and localities of Asia occurred pre-eminently through non-print media: it came about through the sermons of priests, religious itinerants, and local jurists. It was spread by addresses in the bazaars, the mosque, the temple and the village meeting house when and where they seemed to speak to the economic and social problems of ordinary people. Besides, where print media was important among the intelligentsia, it was often in the form of sheets printed on the lowly lithographic press or by the old style of block-printing. These technologies had an ancient lineage especially in east Asia.

     Eric Hobsbawm is usually the most congenial of the pundits of nationalism to historians since examples sprout lushly from every corner of his theoretical model. Hobsbawm emphasises the role of the state in creating nationalism: 'Nationalism is the construct of the state, and not vice versa', as he puts it. Now I do not want to detract from the importance of Nations and Nationalism whose second edition was published as recently as 1992. Hobsbawm is certainly the most learned and, arguably, the most influential of historians to pass through my home university since 1930. His status there is only that of a prophet in his own country because his pro-communist political views have tainted his academic reputation even at the fag end of the last, intolerant century. Yet as one reads that book, Hobsbawm's admirable attempt to incorporate Asian examples of nationalism into his analysis seems to coexist with a deep ambivalence about what might have been occurring in that continent beyond the ambit of colonial government, let alone before it. Asian nationalism, he writes, was merely 'anti-colonialism'. But surely, it was much more. At the very least to legitimate and configure anti-colonialism, nationalist leaders needed to invoke a sense of nation and to define and describe its nature. Hobsbawm proclaims disarmingly that his subject is 'rather Eurocentric or at any rate centred in the 'developed'' regions.' His inverted commas around the word 'developed' do not disguise the affinity between even a sophisticated Marxism and modernisation theory. But his historians' sensibility wins out elsewhere. He remarks of the sense of nationality in Asia after 1880: 'Moreover, apart from a few permanent political entities such as China, Korea, Vietnam and perhaps Iran and Egypt, which, had they been in Europe would have been recognised as 'historic nations' the territorial units for which so-called national movements sought to win independence, were overwhemingly the actual creations of imperial conquest…' In other parts of the book, Hobsbawm also seems to exempt Japan and Sri Lanka from this picture of recently constructed identity and Asian political adolescence. But come now! That is some list of exceptions, comprising on my count more than sixty percent of the population of Asia and the Middle East.

     Even the notion of 'historic nations' which Hobsbawm deploys in the case of Europe raises many questions which call into question his very strong emphasis on the politically-constructed origins of nationalism. For he writes of popular 'proto-nationalism' associated with forms of language, identification with territory, icons and the charisma of ancient royal houses. Here Holy Mother Russia is his model. But the nature of these sentiments of belonging and their relationship to later forms of nationalism remain unclear in his account, the more so for Asia. What precisely is meant by the prefix 'proto' in 'proto-nationalism'? I shall hope to show that notions of patria, or a charismatic ancestral land were features of Asian as well as of European history and that they contributed, if only indirectly, to the formation and development of later nationalisms.

     Four theorists of the origin of the nation-state besides Anderson have considered Asia more centrally in their work than Hobsbawm. Partha Chatterjee questions whether Asian nationalism is a 'derivative discourse'. Broadly, his conclusion, though more complex than his critics (including myself) have represented, is that it was indeed 'derivative.' At any rate, he continuously juxtaposes the rebarbative, destructive features of the modular nation state to the apparently more 'natural' order of Indian peasant communitarianism. This I believe to be akin to the romantic narodniki and slavophile ideologies of late nineteenth century Russia. It tells us much about the contemporary sensibilities of the post-colonial intelligentsia, but does not explain why ordinary people, including peasants, came to see national movements as a positive force in which to inscribe their rights and oppose western colonialism. Prasenjit Duara, Michael Roberts and Victor Lieberman are other historians who have tried to theorise the origins of nationality in Asia. I agree with Duara that great political entities with a strong sense of identity existed in Asia before the nineteenth century. But I wonder if the transition from those identities to modern nationalism was so ruptured and indirect that we need simply to 'save history from the nation' At the very least, we need to know why the nationalists' invention of historic nation was so succesful. In contrast, Lieberman's and Roberts's creative juxtaposition of proto-national forms in western Europe and southeast Asia may well create too strong a teleology. As one historian notes of Lieberman, the scheme runs aground in south Asia, the middle east and even much of the Chinese world. In these lectures I hope to propose a middle way between the 'primordial' and the 'invented', between the 'patria' and the seamless Asian 'ecumene', ever the scene of shifting and protean identities.

Theories of globalisation

     By the same token, theories of globalisation have often been curiously ahistorical. They have often neglected both the nineteenth century internationalisation of nationalism and also the wide inter-regional and global connections that characterised the early modern and nineteenth century worlds. I take heart from the statement of Arjun Appadurai, the most intriguing of the globalisation theorists, that the global and the local are in a continuous process of 'cannibalising' each other. My aim will be to give historical substance and weight to this slightly alarming metaphor. Yet, Appadurai's vision of the the world before about 1970 also seems to me to betray the touch of the the dead hand of modernisation theory. No-one doubts that the late twentieth century has seen globalisation of a much greater intensity and wider geographical range than ever before. To adopt Appadurai's sexy neologisms: 'ethnoscapes'--global population movement--'financescapes'--direct capital investment and integration of production over long distances and 'ideoscapes'--the convergence of cultural forms and their representations--have become systematically wider and have incorporated the local.

     On the other hand, I doubt that the world of the past was culturally as limited as Appadurai suggests by the constraints of 'the problems of time, distance and limited technologies'; nor, as he puts it, that 'the forces of cultural gravity' pulled more more resolutely away from the formation of 'large scale ecumenes, whether religious, commercial or political'; nor that 'invented primordial identities' are only a paradox of the present. At the very least, these are matters of degree and what we now take to be the static world of the past or its 'small-scale accretions of identity and interest' were themselves the product of movement change and wide-scale contacts. Network theory should suggest to us that the juxtaposition of many smaller units with their mutually reactive pulsations can create a 'network of networks' as widspread as the direct movement of goods and ideas. Moreover, even today, a great deal of what is taken as globalisation really represents the creation of regional ideological and economic connections, something that was a feature of the world since at least thirteen hundred Christian Era. To take an example: Indian printed cloths, the ideas of luxury they embodied and the commercial transactions they created, spread in the pre-colonial world from the farthest tip of the Indonesian archipelago to the Africa Atlantic shore. Indian merchants themselves only traded across one section of this route. But it was nevertheless a truly global network. After 1550, again, even the New World participated indirectly, through the use of Mexican and Peruvian silver way beyond the limits of Spanish or Portuguese influence as such.

     In many respects, the teleological picture of the gradual widening of global links from the seventeenth to the twentieth century is misleading. In the early nineteenth century colonial states and the indigenous polities that tried to emulate them out of self-protection, strove to reduce the degree of global migration, ethnic mixing and ideological syncretism which had been characteristic of the earlier period. In this respect, a theoretical understanding of the roots of nationality must relate them to pre-existing and contemporaneous global networks. The history of globalisation--and ultimately its theory--needs to incorporate an understanding of its relationship to nationality and ethnicity.

South and souteast Asia in the eighteenth centuries: archaic globalisation

     Now that I have set out the scope of my lectures and some of the problems that I believe we encounter in reading broad theoretical and historical texts, I want to turn to south and southeast Asia in the eighteenth century. My aim is to analyse the relationship between the formation of states and proto-national identities against the background of global flows of trade, war and ideas within the Eurasian arena of globalisation. First, I will try to set out some of the features of what I call archaic globalisation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this force became melded with a more European-driven impetus of proto-capitalism reflected in the Atlantic trades in slaves, and silver and the East India Companies trades in Asian industrial produce.

     Archaic globalisation can be defined by the underlying ideologies and types of bodily practice which sustained it. Modern globalisation responds to ideologies of consumerism, capitalism and nationalism. But the economic, political and religious links which fitfully and unevenly linked large parts of the globe from ancient times through to the modern period were structured by different human predispositions. These were the notions of universal kingship, cosmic religion and valetudinarian bodily practice. Much trade was generated by purely utilitarian regional exchanges of commodities, of course. But preciosities were critical to long distance trade and networks of exchange.

     Kings sought to capture the essence of people, goods and ideas by 'cherishing men from afar.' They reveal themselves as collectors, strategically consuming difference and in turn transformed by it, rather than as consumers. The imperatives of universal monarchy initiated great flows of military migrants in search of kingdoms and service. Patterns of consumption spread from the courts to minor landholders and richer peasants. Kashmiri shawls, for instance became an honorific currency for a large swathe of territory in central and south Asia. Madras printed cloths became prized items of lordship in west Africa. The polities established by great conquerors from Tamberlaine and Genghis Khan, through to the Persian and Afghan conquerors of the eighteenth century, should be seen as globalising projects. They resulted in the spread of ideologies, languages and social forms over vast distances. Even in the eighteenth century, the Chinese Emperor Qian Long learned the Uighur language, sought Turkik soldiers for his armies and maintained herds of steppe animals for the consumption of the Manchu court.

     The search for traces of God by holy men and ascetics underpinned another vast range of contacts, forms of knowledge and cultural patterns of consumption centred on overlapping places of globalised charisma: such were Banaras, Mecca, Jerusalem and the sites of the life of the Buddha, for instance. Finally, the practice of medicine, or rather bodily valetudinarianism, was critical in the generation of global trade links and in the spread of trading communities, ideologies and religious practice along these routes. Much Chinese external trade before 1800 consisted in the search for herbal medicaments and other products which were thought to have a very precise role in enhancing health, bodily strength and potency. The craving for ivory, birds-nests, ivory, medicinal spices and latterly tobacco and opium were not simply a reflection of a generalised luxury. Even sugar appears to have entered the world of Chinese consumption initially as an item which was used in ritual. Only later did it become an aspect of 'luxury consumption.' The demand for these products responded to particular definitions of well-being which were rooted in Daoist and Confucian practices. But the global system of trade and cultural inter-relationships was also energised by similar predispositions among Europeans, Muslims and south Asians. For Europeans, after all, spices, precious stones and, initially at least, tobacco were items which played a particular part in archaic medical and other bodily practices. They were not destined for a modern consumer market.

     By the eighteenth century, however, new and distinctly proto-capitalist types of global connection were coming into being. They spread from the Atlantic world to Asia, Africa and the Pacific through the actions to the European state monopolies and East India companies. It is important that to begin with they expanded by using and subordinating older patterns of archaic globalisation and the forms of consumption and bodily practice which sustained them. So, for instance, Indian opium expanded its grip on Malay, Indochinese and Chinese consumers by exploiting and transforming its medicinal character and connection with social and sexual ease as reflected in the idea of 'smoke'. Tea and tobacco, likewise, announced its arrival in western Europe as a mentally-enhancing drug, only later to become accompaniments of sociability and finally palliatives for the drudgery of working-class labour. What Europeans were able to do in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was to retain and enhance the mystique of archaic consumption in their markets but, at the same time, ruthlessly reorganise and generalise production, the control of labour and financial control in these global trades.

     Far from being static and bound by the locality, eighteenth century Asia, therefore, beat to the pulse of innumerable medium- and long-term migrations. Chinese and Japanese traders encountered Malay and Annamite traders in emporia such as Heian on the south China Sea or Malacca on the Sumatran straits. Indian traders were found on the Swahili coast of East Africa. Armenian traders controlled networks which spread from Venice to Burma and contributed to state-building along this whole route. Long-range migrations of this sort were matched by the movement of peasants and labourers over considerable distances as they responded to local political conflict or the emergence of new political centres. A large part of the population of south, central and west Asia was highly mobile in the eighteenth century. The notion that Asians were tied by custom to their villages was an invention of later colonial powers and some early twentieth century anthropologists. Peasant families, of course, wished to remain stakeholders in their villages, but younger sons, women going to marry outsiders, monks and soldiers moved over great distances.

     If ethnoscapes and financescapes were regionalised and globalised in the eighteenth century, so too were ideoscapes and mediascapes, to return to Appadurai's categories. An important feature of the period was the large-scale movement of political and ideological specialists. The widening of early modern trading patterns encouraged the flow of ideas and what might be called long-range ideological syncretism. Jesuit astronomers appeared at the Mughal and Chinese courts, not mainly because of the so-called expansion of Europe but because of the demand among Asian rulers for more accurate astronomical and astrological sciences befitting larger and more complex kingdoms. West Asian methods of classification, accounting and admninistering people and revenues became valuable to rulers in Burma and Thailand. One of the most powerful families in eighteenth century, re-founded Bangkok was of Persian origin. In pursuit of religious knowledge, the kings of eighteenth-century Burma sent knowledge-finding embassies to Sri Lanka, China and later to the Buddhist holy places in India.

     This world was not yet a world of stable pragmatic knowledges, but one where the search for traces of great heroes and mythical events subsisted with the desire for more exact understanding. Global knowledge today flows along channels created by the legends of Madonna and Manchester United Football Club, among other icons. In the eighteenth century observed knowledge was still set for many Europeans as well as Asians within a world created by the imaginings of Alexander, Caesar and the great dynasties which descended from the Prophet. For Muslim travellers, the sufi idea of revelation through physical closeness to traces of God's grace structured archaic geographies. For many Christians in Asia, the search for the traces of St Thomas or the early expansion of the Gospel message remained more important than the naval survey or the revenue account.

     I have been trying to establish that the eighteenth century world of Asia and, by extention Eurasia, north Africa and the Pacific was a profoundly globalised world. But its 'network of networks' was structured by a set of ideologies, beliefs and bodily practice which were different in many respects from those of modern consumer globalisation. What was the relationship between these flows and linkages and the polities and human communities which inhabited this landscape? How did archaic and proto-capitalist globalisation relate to the roots of nationalities and states in this huge terrain?

1. The ecumene of culture and service

     I would like to isolate two types of entities which may acts as useful heuristic categories for us. I will call them respectively the 'ecumene of culture and service', on the one hand, and the 'old patria', on the other. The first of these -'the ecumene of culture and service'-was a shifting network of political ideas and rights losely bounded by language, religion and elite sensibilities. I will illustrate the category with reference to the Malay and Indo-Muslim worlds. The entity at the other end of the spectrum-the 'old patria'- represent a more rooted and bounded polity, already fortified with a stronger sense of exclusiveness and regional patriotism. The examples here are the south Asian patrias of Maharashtra and Sri Lanka and the southeast Asian kingdom-communities of Vietnam, Burma and Thailand. This latter category bears comparison with Hobsbawm's 'historic' European nationalities.

     The Malay-Indonesian world in the seventeenth and eighteenth century certainly seems to have exhibited some sense of Malay distinctiveness: a way of doing things associated with customs, clothes, language and deportment and above all the particular regional form of the Islamic religion. There are references to a Malay bangsa, a term which was later distorted by nationalists to mean 'race'. But in the pre-colonial and early colonial periods 'Malayan-ness' appears to have been a permeable and absorbative set of cultural patterns. Populations could become 'Malay', whether they were outsiders such as Thais, Chinese or Indians who adopted some aspects of the religion and spoke the language or 'tribal people', orang asli, who became settled paddy and fruit cultivators and began to live in typical Malay style-houses. While colonial and post-colonial historians and anthropologists have put much store by the nature of the Malay and Javanese rulership, with its supposedly magical qualities, it is important to realise that the state was an ideological conception, not a fixed substantiated point. The charisma of the once great kingdom of Malacca or of Srivijaya and its successors in central Java remained powerful. But many shifting and evanescent polities claimed their inheritance. Areas such as Kelantan in the northwest Malay Peninsula or Bali and the eastern Indonesian islands remained largely outside the ambit of these ancient polities, but influenced nonetheless by the more pervasive sense of Malay culture. The shifting and absorbative nature of 'Malayness' was reflected also in the decentred form of habitation and land rights. The quite self-sufficient kampong house in its own plot cut out of the jungle and straggling up the mouths of rivers into the interior was the typical settlement form. Even in central Java, population and settlement patterns remained fluid and mobile until well on in the nineteenth century.

     Indo-Islamic south and central Asia, especially in the eighteenth century, displays analogous features, though much of the region was landbound, of course. It can be classed broadly in this same category of ecumene of cultural and service. True, Delhi had always been a more powerful agrarian centre than Malacca or the Javanese capitals. But Turkik, Afghan and Mughal elites, with their south Asian clients, remained highly mobile, as was much the urban community and many peasant cultivators. Political centres rose and fell and in the eighteenth century many smaller centres vied for the supremacy and charisma which had once resided in Delhi or Heart or Kandahar. The Mughal empire and the central Asian Khanates formed a huge cultural area for service, with a emerging ecumenical language, Perso-Turkish, Urdu or Hindustani, whose elites whether Hindu, Muslim or even Christian European became partners and co-sharers in a cultural enterprise which determined their comportment, consumption and bodily practice. Members of arious generic human groups, qaums, distinguished by complementary cultural attributes left their own homelands or watans to find service and honour with the Mughal rulers and their successors. Service brought land-rights and office to families within the culture area Hindustan or the 'Empire of the Seven Climes' or Turanistan to the north. By the later eighteenth century such families had widely developed a sense of belonging. Literati wrote of the fruits, poets, holy men and even ancient Hindu divinities of the land in which they settled. But this cultural identification had only given rise to a weak and fluctuating sense of local patriotism.

     The picture I have been painting has some analogies, once again, with a large part of the Ottoman-Arab ecumene as described by another great, but too little-known academic hero of my youth, Albert Hourani: He writes of 'a group of countries stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, along the southern Mediterranean coast to the Indian Ocean, united by ties of religion and language, but divided in many ways, having undergone many changes of political organisation from the seventh century until today.'

2. The old patria

     There were, however, other Asian communities in the eighteenth century for which the word patria was much more appropriate. In these cases an emerging state form was more strongly rooted to a particular terrain to the extent that people well beyond the court had developed a profound sense of attachment to land, local genii and custom. This second type of Asian pre-colonial political and cultural community bears closer analogy with the 'old nations' of Europe such as France, England or Catalonia. Vietnam provides a strong example of this form. Though divided between warring regional lords through much of the sixteen to the eighteenth century what became Annam, Tonkin and Cochin China displayed congruent cultural patterns, a largely mutually intelligible set of dialects of a common language and a common customary law. This latter was in part drawn from Chinese practice but had a distinct Vietnamese character. The claims of Confucianism and Buddhism were always balanced against the omnipresent ancestral spirits of Vietnam. It was this relative cultural homogeneity and history of resistance to Chinese domination which allowed King Gia Long to unify the country at the end of the eighteenth century. Of course, the opening of the southern deltas and contact with the west and Chinese and Japanese settlement in central Annam had give rise to different ways of being Vietnamese. But these were still ways of being Vienamese, striving for means to retain affinities with the old political centres. Literary and political sources make it clear that there already existed a sense of patriotic communion, even before Gia Long began to consolidate it further.

     This unity went well beyond the enforced obeisance to a particular dynasty. As French and Spanish observers pointed out and local texts proclaimed, this was a quoc, a homeland or patria, dominated by the Viet or Khin people. The word was adapted from the Chinese word for state, represented by the revealing ideogram of a wall and a sword. But, as David Marr cogently pointed out, it soon came to bear a particularly ethnic and communitarian meaning. By the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries the intelligentsia used the term to designate a strong, national identity. As well as being a sentiment, the creation of patria was also a process whereby village lineages and even non-Viet hill-men became mandarins and loyal servants of the Hue court. But the bonds of cultural inter-relationship were much tighter and less permeable than they were in Mughal north India or the Malay world. This might be called 'tight political syncretism', though it was not yet homogenisation.

     I think we can see this pattern in many other Asian contexts, particulary the ones which Hobsbawm finds so difficult to incorporate into his model. In Thailand and Burma we can see similar styles of patria emerging in the period of the great growth of world trade and global connections between the fifteenth and the eighteenth century. Indeed, I shall shortly go farther and argue that the creation of patriotic homelands was, in part, a response to this very process of globalisation. The patria and the global 'cannibalised' each other. In Thailand, the defeat by the Burmese in 1760 led on to a re-centralisation of power around the Bangkok of King Rama I. But Rama's reorganisation was based on the principle that there was a specific form of Thai Theravada Buddhism, an already defined sense of Thai language, customary right and bodily deportment reflected in dress, marriage patterns and food.

     Similarly, in contemporary Burma, despite the division of the country between the northern river plain and the southern Delta a parallel congruence of custom, bodily practice, language and a local form of Theravada Buddhism had given rise to a broader, though still contested, sense of Myanmar which was reflected in contemporary literature. It was this bundling up of social, economic and cultural processes that King Aulangpaya and his successors were able to able to forge into a proud and expansive military kingdom on the very cusp of British colonial expansion.

     Similar varieties of old patriotism can, I believe, be seen in contemporary Sinhala Sri Lanka and even in a context such as Iran where the disunity of the eighteenth century did not preclude the persistence of a sense of the homeland and its eventual re-emergence under the Qajar dynasty in the early nineteenth century. Further afield, Japan may well provide a good example of the persistence of cultural patriotism and a sense of god-given polity even in the midlst of the so-called 'feudalism' of the pre-1860 period.

     What general principles, then, can we invoke to explain the formation of such patrias, however, fragile within the loosely textured world of the great ecumenes?

     One point is a purely geographical one. Patrias often appear to have formed on the fringes of the great ecumenes and the world-empires that embraced them from time to time. They were frontier marcher or peripheral territories, subject to invasion, taxation and cultural discrimination by the universalising elites. But for reasons of cultural and military distance, the globalising empires were never quite strong enough to erase administrative and cultural distance. So, despite long Chinese occupation, Qing attack and Chinese commercial penetration, the Beijing emperors never managed to subdue Hanoi and make it into another southern province, even when Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the Chinese script and the Chinese classics took root there. Ironically, the post-1790 Vietnamese monarchs produced a little China, one in which the Vietnamese themselves were described as 'barbarians' in the texts. But it was a little China centred on the Temple of Learning in Hanoi and not on the Forbidden City in Beijing. In a fully confucian system, the 'spirits of Vietnam' were kept at a distance but treated with great respect. A version of the mandarin system was created, but it was one which did not erase the republicanism of the Viet village. Perhaps we should not regard this as any more surprising than when eighteenth century British elites, universally schooled in Latin, read the books of Caesar and Tacitus where the 'British' were described as woad-painted 'barbarians.'

     Something similar, as I have written elsewhere, can be perceived on the fringes of the great Indo-Islamic ecumene which subsisted some of the time with the Mughal universal empires. The Maratha kingdoms of west central upland India lay on the fringes of Indo-Islamic governability and suruplus extraction. Their rulers adapted and adopted Indo-Islamic forms of government and justice, but at the heart of the realm was the institutionalised defence of Hindu cult, first Maratha popular devotional religion, but over the course of time an insistence on more orthodox, brahminical forms. Local Muslims remained, in general, a constituent part of the patria. But  'Turks' were demonised, as latterly were 'hatmen' or Europeans from the coast who represented another, still more menacing form of global intervention.

Patrias and ecumenes in the eighteenth century

     The creation and resiliance of these Asian patrias were not therefore a reflection of some kind of primordial identity. They resulted in part rather from the contingencies of geography and distance from the cosmopolitan centres of the ecumenes. But in time the intervention of outside agents and histories of warfare created a stronger and more resolute sense of difference and discourses of cultural superiority to support them. It is sometimes contended that all Asian forms of life were loose, open and community-based before the intervention of Europeans. This at least Eric Hobsbawm has in common with many proponents of subaltern and post-colonial studies. But patria and ecumene of service and culture represent two ends of a spectrum of political forms. Nor were they mutually exclusive. Patrias could emerge, dissolve and subsist within ecumenes. In a manner of speaking,the Chinese world of the eighteenth century was a global ecumene of overlapping Chinese and Manchu culture, within which persisted a tighter Han Chinese patriotism. This the Qing rulers ambivalently acknowledged.

     How did Europeans operate within this system? As generations of authors have pointed out many of them initially participated in the great global ecumene of trade, honour and service in much the same way as the Turkik, Persian or Armenian administrators, soldiers and holy men who moved vast distances within them. For the Scottish highlander or Irish servants of the English East India Company their identity as what were called 'north' or 'west' Britons was at best ambivalent. They became 'English' only in the sense that Turks became 'Hindustanis'. They participated in the global scramble for honour, wealth and office on the same terms as the Indo-Muslim elites. Lewis Namier's characterisation of the eighteenth century British Empire as a vast, global system of patronage has a great deal to recommend it. Perhaps the 'big' ideologies that informed it were much more malleable than his critics have incessantly asserted since his death. Perhaps this was indeed a world of 'strategising', even cynical individuals. But, contrary to Namier, ideology was important. It worked, however, at the level of the family, marriage and deportment. Younger sons went to Asia (as they went to the Americas) where they were happy to marry and breed children from local women as just as Asian adventurers did. As Asian children were attached to the soil through association with sufi pirs or patrimonial relations within Indo-Muslim courts, so mixed raced children--the young black 'highlanders', as one source put it--were guaranteed a future by casual baptism into the Anglican church. 'We need someone to 'sprinkle a little holy water over him', as the same writer notes. For many Europeans in India before the 1780s or '90s patria was process not a nationalist exclusivity, just as it was for Indians, central Asians and Malays.

     Yet at the end of the eighteenth century-contemporaneously with the wars of revolution in Europe-Asia too began to experience a epochal tightening of the bonds of both state and homeland. This is not the place to analyse the emergence of the colonial state, though it was to play a formative role in the further history of nationality. But colonialism generated the forces which were to transform both patria and ecumene in the course of the nineteenth century, the subject of my next lecture. The loose relationship of patria and process was redrawn. Beginning in the 1790s, and beginning with the British territories, governors made a conscious effort to insert race, not even broad nationality as a criterion for office. Officials and British public moralists often cited the 'corruption' of association with Indians, Malays and Chinese as a reason for excluding them from the international competition for office and honour. Bodily practices were increasingly designed to exclude Asians from the European sphere, as wives, as cooks, even ultimately as wet nurses for expatriate children. Meanwhile, in European-controlled territories, resources of land revenue and trade were increasingly ring-fenced for the exclusive use of European states and their agents.

     Asian patrias and ecumenes had already felt the impact of European-led globalisation in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. This had forced them to try to mitigate the effects of European economic penetration and the ideological tainting which it was often perceived to bring. China, Japan and later Annam and Mataram in Java had sought to control the corrosive effects of 'King Silver' and international trade on their realms. Especially, in the smaller and more compact patrias, this privileged exclusion had almost helped to create a 'national political economy' before the turn of the nineteenth century. The Kings of Burma in the 1760s and '70s had, for instance, forbidden trading relations with Europeans and Indians except under royal licence. They had also tried to insist that travellers take Burmese wives in order to tie them to the interests of the patria. King Gia Long of Annam stated in 1802, with particular prescience, that 'the English were a deceitful nation' and it was better 'to have no dealings with them.' A later Vietnamese edict shows how economic self-defence might be legitimated through a broadening sense of cultural-racial difference. Europeans were as different from Viet people, it was said, 'as cows are from bullocks; they do not have the same customs and learning as we do.' Similarly, a Burmese courtier insisted that the 'white barbarians' had no right to rule over any of the people of Myanmar. Of Sri Lanka its king stated in 1819: 'Through the protection of the four gods; the guardians of its religion and the accomplishments of its king for five thousands years, no foe will continue to reside here.' The protection of the great ecumenes and failing universal empires was intrinsically more difficult, based as they were on the very principal of inclusion and fluidity.

     By building on the work of regional specialists, I have tried to find a decentered vantage point for the study of nationalism and ethnicity. It is one that emerges from the longer term experience of Asian societies, rather than one which assimilates its history into a European exemplar. I have tried to show that pre-colonial Asian identities were not constituted only by the shifting, non-statist, effusions of religious syncretism and peasant styles of life. Alongside the great ecumenes of culture and service there also existed patriotic formations which bear comparison with the 'old nations' of Europe. They differed from European ones in that they represented forms of tight cultural syncretism and economic redistribution rather than being states and communities already based on exclusive religious practice or unitary sovereignty. The mercantilist states of early modern Europe had already developed tools of economic exclusion which fitted them well for the predatory military fiscalism which they were soon to spread across the world. Though not yet nation- states-in-the-making, the concept of the Asian patria, or rather of quoc, qaum, jatiya and desh- helps to explain the nature of contemporary Asia. It allows us differentiate the experience of some Asian peoples from regions of the world, including other parts of Asia, where fragile nation states were indeed little more than ad hoc creations of colonialism. These histories and traditions provided varied contexts for the projects of later nationalists. My next lecture will move on to the nineteenth century. It will examine the reaction of Asian peoples, both subjugated and yet-to-be subjugated, to a new form of globalising ideological impetus. This was the worldwide expansion of the notion of the rights both of subjects and of states.

Back to the top

Next Bayly lecture

    Readings and Facts: Bayly, Lecture 1.
  • Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism (London, 1993)
  • E. Gellner, Nationalism London, 1998)
  • John Breuilly, Nationalism and the State (Manchester, 1993)
  • Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural dimensions of globalisation (Minneapolis, 1996)
  • Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation (London, 1993).
  • V. Lieberman (ed.), Beyond Binary Histories: Re-imagining Eurasia to c. 1830 (Ann Arbor, 1990)
  • Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (New York, 1986)
  • M. Roberts, Collective Identities; nationalism and protest in modern Sri Lanka (Colombo, 1979)
  • James L. Hevia, Cherishing Men from Afar (Berkeley, 1995)
  • Evelyn Rawski, The Last Emperors  (Berkeley, 1998)
  • Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure (Berkeley, 1998).
  • Adrian Vickers, 'Malay identity; modernity, invented tradition and forms of knowledge', Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, June 1997.
  • Jos Gommans, The Indo-Muslim Empire (Leiden, 1995)
  • Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (London, 1992)
  • David G.Marr, Vietnamese Anticolonialism (Berkeley, 1971)
  • Mark McLeod, The Vietnamese Response to French Intervention (New York, 1991)
  • Li Tana, Nguyen Cochinchina (Ithaca, 1998)
  • S. J. Tambiah, World Conqueror. World Renouncer (Cambridge, 1981).
  • William J. Koenig, Burmese Polity 1752-1819 (Ann Arbor, 1990)
  • Thant Myint U, The Making of Modern Burma (Cambridge, 2001)

    Facts. -----------
  •   Malaya-Indonesia: the Dutch East India Company had a grip on coastal Java by 1740 and was dominant in the interior before 1805; the English East India Company seized Penang on the west coast in 1786. The Malay world and outer Indonesia remained under the control of indigenous sultans, some with maritime interests, until the 1880s.

  •   The Mughal-central Asian world; following the decline of the Mughal Empire after 1707, Persians, Marathas and Afghans vied for power across the whole ecumene; the English East India Company seized power in Bengal in 1765 and had achieved dominance in the subcontinent by 1818. Russia penetrated central Asia after 1850.

  •   In Vietnam, a long period of regional division and peasant rebellion was brought to an end by King Gia Long in 1802; French invasions began in the 1850s

  •   In Burma, King Aulangpaya unified the Mon south and the Burmese heartland in the 1760s; in Thailand, King Rama I re-established the Thai kingdom following Burmese invasion in the mid eighteenth century.

  •   In Sri Lanka (Ceylon) a Tamil dynasty took power at Kandy in the later eighteenth century but attempted to resist Dutch and British pressure; it was conquered by the British in 1818.

Back to the top

Next Bayly lecture

Webber Philip McEldowney
Last Update - Wednesday, 18 July 2001