Lecture 2: The Nineteenth Century: Rights and Rites

Second 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.)

Origins of the language of rights || Rites: the right to salvation || The settings: 1. North India || 2. Vietnam || 3. Japan || 4. Thailand || Asian nationalism: constructed? || 1880-1919 || Select Readings and Facts

     Even before the emergence of self-conscious Asian nationalist movements in the 1880s and '90s, Asian elites and intellectuals were fashioning two, competing but overlapping languages of politics to express an inchoate sense of nationality. These were a language of rights and a language of cultural essence. My second lecture considers aspects of the ideological and discursive content of Asian patriotisms and nationalisms. It seeks to direct attention to what colonial patriots and early nationalists thought they were doing; whom they thought they were speaking for. Undoubtedly, many Asian political leaders almost unthinkingly adopted the exclusivist and centralising methodology of the contemporary European nation-state. Yet nationalism was always more than an urge to capture state power, just as it was more than mere anti-colonialism.

Origins of the language of rights

     Let us first step back a generation or so to consider the origins of this nineteenth-century shift of the dominant global ideology towards the language of rights. As we saw, the mobile merchants, men of religion and itinerant administrators of early modern Eurasia created an overlapping set of measures of virtue and trust within which they could transact across cultural and linguistic boundaries. At one level, what has been called 'ethnic theology' provided a guarantee of transregional community. Islam, Christian confessions or the Buddhist-Confucian rites of Chinese homelands helped people to rank and place foreigners.

     At another level, measures of embodied virtue and corruption created assumed descent groups which could be globalised. Casta, the Iberian word for race or group proved infinitely adaptable. It could incorporate archaic notions of European chivalry and villeinage. Extended to the Atlantic and African world, it was able to rank the whole of mankind from the Portuguese grandee to the African slave in a complex hierarchy of embodied groups. This scheme was later adapted by the Dutch, French and English to describe the minutely differentiated mixed-race communities which occupied their Eurasian ethnoscapes from Honduras to Batavia. It was compatible with east and south Asian schemes of embodied status. A strong, idiosyncratic form of caste was eventually to become the currency of social administration in British India. But in the sense I am using it casta, was not unique to India. It was a concomitant of archaic globalisation, whilst still remaining serviceable to the needs of the incipient Atlantic capitalist economy.

     Yet these measures of status were not adequate to facilitate the detailed ad hoc agreements which were being made between entrepreneurs and portfolio capitalists of different origins in the great Eurasian commercial cities. It was in the commercial relationships between Japanese and Annamite property owners in Heian on the Vietnamese coast, or between French-African freed slaves and Indian traders in Mauritius, that there began to crystallise the first pragmatic notions of individual legal rights which transcended zones of culture. This was particularly true of Europeans and Americans. As we know, European rights theories were themselves powerfully influenced by the experience commercial expansion. The encounter with American First Nations made concrete the theoretical issues which absorbed philosophers from Hobbes to Montesquieu regarding the origin of property and government. As one recent commentator states 'To think of peoples as possessors of rights, especially to think of them as holding property rights before the establishment of government, is a characteristic of liberal political thought.' More relevant for us, Grotius who first enunciated the doctrine of terra nullius, the foundation of modern international law, was himself an attorney for the Dutch East India Company and argued against the Portuguese claim to have inherited Asian territory from a papal donation.

     Rights in Eurasia remained flexible and negotiable until the mid-nineteenth century, but for both European and Asian officers of law, the rights of foreigners became a question at issue before the rights of citizens and nations. English law in the East quickly had to recognise that 'Moors'-- Muslims--did, after all, have rights of property, inheritance and legal personhood, despite an earlier denial. Equally, Muslim jurisconsults and other Asian judges were forced by the exigencies of commercial relations to recognise the property of expatriate Europeans, even if they were classed as infidels or barbarians in the local ethnic theologies.

     During the nineteenth century, the language of rights spread across the whole globe with extraordinary speed. The delineation of rights of property and inheritance in European empires became the critical component of administrative and domestic theoretical debate. The anti-slavery movement opened up the issue of the 'rights of man' in Asian and African as well as American contexts. In turn, before mid-century, Asian elites were demanding to know the nature of their rights as colonial subjects. They came increasingly describe them as the rights of Indians, Vietnamese or Burmese, and to include plebeians as well as elites within their scope.

Rites: the right to salvation

     An important sub-theme in this globalisation of rights theories was the issue of the right to salvation: the issue of rites with a 't'. In particular, the conceptual diaspora of the Christian religion formed a major component in the generation of debates about the right to cultural identity, and hence of nationalism. The formative role in African societies of indigenised Christianity is universal currency amongst African specialists. In a hidden and often reactive way, Christianity was as crucial to modern Asia, although the percentage of confessing Christians was tiny by comparison. To many Asians, Christianity was associated with the lowest of the miscegenated castas of the archaic ethnoscape. But as European powers became stronger in Asia and Africa, they asserted that their co-religionists had individual rights to salvation which over-rode the exigencies of local law and custom. In fact, when Asian people 'converted' to Christianity they rarely themselves sought to opt out of marriage networks, rites to the ancestors or local forms of 'pagan' governance. But a few high-profile cases about the custody of converts' children or property raised a widespread debate about rights of conscience and obligations to the wider society. Opposition to the supposed claims of Christians, or self-definition against them, helped created a new ideological landscape many parts of nineteenth century Asia.

     All this was as profound in its way as the re-shaping of exploitative economic relations by the incoming colonial state. For the ideological and the economic worked together. In the early nineteenth century, much of Asia was converted into a huge agricultural hinterland for the European world economy. Even if some indigenous merchants and property owners thrived, former royal cities, ancient guilds and urban artisans widely lost their status and livelihoods. Amidst rapid social change, the language of rights was useful to colonial authorities trying to stabilise and exploit indigenous landholding and labour. But it was also serviceable to Asians--even those Asians not directly dominated by European power-who were operating within a society where the roles of casta, gender and family head were now extraordinarily dislocated. I will now go on to examine these issues in a number of differing colonial and semi-colonial settings: north India, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand.

Settings: 1. North India

     The modern discourse of rights in India originated among British colonial officials in the eighteenth century. It revolved mainly around the question of land-rights at a time when the East India Company was setting out to establish a stable system for the taxation of land. The debate was particularly furious because it became embroiled in the controversies of contemporary British domestic politics. How far was India an oriental despotism where property rights were the gift of the sovereign? What rights did the indigenous landed class possess? Early colonial officials were, however, indirectly influenced by notions of family and community rights to property which they believed to be rooted in the Indian countryside. They reacted, in fact, to what appears to have been an intrinsic theory of rights inherent in Indian agrarian and social practice.

     Let us consider a rather atypical example. In the early nineteenth century, a 'tribal' pastoralist group in south India, the Todas, were under pressure from European settlers seeking farms in the cool of the hills. They were also losing land to indigenous peasant cultivators who wished to expand their acreage. A series of British officials had intensive parleys with Toda leaders. They affirmed that the Todas had an 'exclusive right and interest in the soil' which was of 'an antiquity remote beyond the reach of tradition'. Each joint family, they reported, had the absolute right to sell their share without permission of others of the tribe.' Similar understanding of land-rights were widespread across the subcontinent. Rioting peasants in eastern Bengal in the 1830s, for instance, refused to pay 'in excess of the custom of the country' or more than 'what was paid by the early settlers'. Throughout Asia, indeed, a right to occupancy of land cleared by original settlement seems to have been popularly regarded as sacrosanct. European concepts of rights, therefore, did not create a wholly new sense of entitlement. What they did was to articulate in transparent legal and theoretical language assumptions inherent in Asian practice.

     Between 1750 and 1850, an indigenous propertied class began to consolidate itself in the environs of the colonial port cities. These elites self-consciously created 'a new language of politics' by deploying the concept of rights to defend their own property. For instance, when, in 1831, British revenue collectors began arbitrarily to revise the assessments settled in perpetuity in 1793, Ram Mohun Roy, the great Bengali reformer, appealed to 'the ancient and existing laws of the country', both Mughal and British in his defence. In petitioning the English king against an attempt by the Government of India to suppress Calcutta's free press, Ram Mohun employed two discursive strategies. Firstly, he appealed to the constitutional forms of British government which he contrasted with the despotism of the Mughals. But at the same time he asserted that the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, had shown 'clemency' to his Hindu subjects and conferred on them 'civil and religious rights.' The British government had later acknowledged these rights. He went further when he implicitly compared this supposed Mughal concession of rights to the Hindus with the British concession of civil rights to their Catholic Canadian subjects under the Quebec Act of 1774. By stressing that this recognition 'saved Canada for the Empire' during the American Revolution, the Bengali reformer was implicitly creating for India not only an 'ancient constitution' in John Pocock's sense, but also a latent justification for colonial revolt.

     The liberal ideology which Ram Mohun Roy and others of his generation begun to formulate went beyond the privileges of wealth and status. He read widely, championing the rights of the poor Irish and the Genoese patriots. He also ventured into the realm of international civil law when he argued that the East India Company had violated its treaties with the Mughal Emperor. This was a global vision. It was also a thoroughly political one. Ram Mohun associated property with the right to political representation. He wrote from time to time about 'the Hindoo race' and its history. He seems here to have been employing a territorial-cum-geographical term which did not exclude either Christians or Muslims.

     Others of this generation of the 1820s and '30s were fashioning a language of rights which was collective and even 'essentialising' in implication, however. As a good free-trader and hater of monopoly, Ram Mohun wished the abolition of the East India Company to be accompanied by a surge of European colonisation in order to 'improve' the arts and manufactures of Bengal. But the so-called 'orthodox inhabitants of Calcutta' grouped in the Dharma Sabha (Society for Religion) opposed European colonisation. Their argument was that Hindus, in particular, were debarred from travelling abroad for commerce by caste restrictions. The government should therefore reserve jobs in India for the 'Hindoo nation'. The protestors said that lower-class European colonists had already deprived many classes of Indian artisan of their living, notably 'house-builders, carpenters, gold-smiths and tailors.' European colonisation, moreover, would compromise their caste purity. The protestors pointed to the examples of Ireland and Australia to highlight the damage wreaked by British expatriate communities on indigenous peoples.

     These men belonged to the section of the new commercial and landowning elite of Bengal which opposed the legal ban on widow-burning or sati in 1829 . Its members later resisted attempts to give Indian Christians legal status as inheritors of property. Historians have tended to see them as reactionaries, even as distant forbears of today's aggressive Hindu nationalism. But what was happening here was also a most important, alternative prefiguring of Asia's nationalist modernity. For the acolytes of the Dharma Sabha were also speaking the language of rights: rights as Hindus and rights for Hinduism. They did not appeal to an ancient constitution. Instead they employed the language of casta-- embodied status-- to articulate their group rights. Implicitly, they were defining a Hindu cultural zone, an essentialised India, which deserved protection as both a Hindu land and as a 'national political economy.' This was a defensive reaction to European led globalisation, rather than an affirmation of antique verities.

     Before we shift our attention east across the Bay of Bengal, it is worth briefly reviewing the direction of the argument thus far. I have been considering the foundations of nationality from an Asian perspective. I have argued that 'globalised' European notions of secular and religious rights had a profound effect in re-articulating patriotic sentiments which had an earlier Asian lineage. It provided them them with a new language with which to confront the colonial version of modernity. European notions of representation, the public, the state and property were formative. But they were not unique or without analogy in south Asian culture. The self-styled orthodox of Calcutta were drawing on indigenous notions of ritual purity. Elsewhere, conservative colonial patriots invoked duty of the ruler to protect the livelihood of the subject, and to take heed of good counsel, as enshrined in the Islamic-Aristotelian body of ethical writing called akhlaq. They drew on and formalised a repertoire of discrete indigenous notions of empowerment expressed in words such as adhikar and rivaz.

Yet the issue of the indigenous contexts of rights theories in India goes beyond analogies in political thought. It touches the family and bodily practice. It is significant that Ram Mohun Roy himself was the eighth son of a subordinate wife. He had fled his family in an act of rebellion at a time when he also felt deep hostility to British rule. For Ram Mohun and others who later came to denounce the 'oppressions of the Hindu joint family' the conflicts and contradictions of the domestic sphere proved as powerful an incentive to redefine inheritance practice and to establish stable rights as any impetus from European law courts or administrators.

     Western rights theories, then, provided a conceptual discursive 'grid' within which indigenous ideas of human dignity and good government could be mutually adjusted and put to new polemical use. Since western rights theories operated in specific geographical contexts and were ordered through pyramids of district, regional and appeal courts, Indians (and other Asians) began to argue that rights pertained to precisely delineated territorial spaces and, ultimately, to nations. In the process of codification, the colonial state itself often appears to have erased traces of earlier, localised claims to entitlement. Women's property claims under the system of Hindu law prevailing in Bengal were eroded as, more widely, were the claims of tenants, 'tribals' and the poor. Rights theories, however, could be highly subversive, especially in the longer term. They provided a language of comparison and adjustment unavailable in the older localised schemes of freedoms, rights and licences which had sometimes given the poor redress in the older, pre-colonial schemes. This new, transferable and consumable version of rights theories spread, during the nineteenth century, to many classes of people. By 1850 in India, poor fishermen, demonstrating peasants and oppressed small shopkeepers were employing lowly clerks and rustic lawyers to present their own petitions in courts or in magistrates' offices. These remonstrances mixed the language of Tom Paine and Voltaire with couplets from the Quran and the Hindu shastras. Plebeian Indians quickly came not solely to 'resist' colonial power, but to try to become what we would now call 'stakeholders' in it by exploiting its purported adherence to the language of rights. The ideological freight which came to Asia with the modern state was more, therefore, than an engine of subaltern oppression. It was a two-edged sword which was as often used to empower as to marginalise and subordinate.

     Pre-colonial Bengal was firmly linked into the wider Indo-Muslim ecumene which stretched from central Asia to the Burmese borders. It appears historically to have exhibited a relatively weak sense of patriotic identity, compared, for instance, with the Maratha polity of western India or the contemporary kingdom of Sri Lanka. All the same, Bengali-speakers do seem to have felt an implicit sense of cultural and linguistic community and, in the eighteenth century, a fitful political identification with the governing Muslim family of the Bengal province. These sentiments formed a living tradition out of which the poets and politicians of the late nineteenth century could forge the myth of Golden Bengal and its mahajati, or great people.

2. Vietnam

     If we move across the Bay towards Thailand and Vietnam, however, we see cases where the literati of pre-colonial patrias engaged much more directly with the debate about the rights and individuals and states unleashed by the European onslaught. By 1802, the Annamite King, Gia Long, had unified his country and built on a latent conception of Vietnamese identity which had been forged through warfare over many centuries with the Chinese, Lao and Khmer. He created a mandarin system which taught the Chinese classics, but was centred on the city of Hue. He built roads, centralised taxation and protected his country with forts based on the design of the French engineer, Vauban. French soldiers and merchants had aided Gia Long in consolidating of the kingdom. But they soon became a problem for him and his immediate successors. They demanded trading privileges. Worse, French priests and Christian Vietnamese were emboldened to demand greater rights for themselves. They pressed not only freedom to worship, but for exemption from the customary payments made to the upkeep of temples and the worship of cosmic and Vietnamese deities.

     Early nineteenth century Vietnamese kings were not strong enough to extirpate Christianity or expel French shipping from the booming southern delta. They, nevertheless, devised a number of policies which helped nurture a tradition of anti-colonial resistance and also define the rights and boundaries of Vietnam as a cultural area. Despite the Confucian injunction to 'revere, but keep apart from the spirits', Gia Long stated: 'I regard ancestor worship as one of the foundations of our education and throne.' Christians were classed, along with millenarian Buddhists as members of an 'unorthodox religion.' In the 1830s, a later king denounced Christianity as an 'intoxicating faith', rather as orthodox Indian pandits of the same period denounced it as a 'dharma of distraction.' Christians, the literati said, 'plucked out the eyes of invalids, corrupted the morals of young girls, abandoned the worship of Vietnamese spirits and of their own ancestors.' They 'established distinct religious organisations which assembled large numbers of people.' During the French invasions of the 1850s to '80s the language of cultural protectionism evolved further. Though the then king failed directly to support patriotic revolts against the French, fearing further loss of territory; he wrote poetry which later entered the nationalist lexicon. For instance, one melancholy verse bewails the decline of the quoc on the day when '[t]he rains toppled the incense vase and the winds tilted the ancestral altar.'

     As in the case of the Dharma Sabha of India, the Vietnamese of the early nineteenth century were beginning to articulate a language of cultural self-defence which redrew the concept of patria or quoc. Elites made similar moves during China's inner opium war, the 'strengthen the country, expel the barbarian' movement in Japan during the 1850s and '60s or in contemporary southeast Asia. They should be seen as contrasting moments in the history of Asian patriotisms rather than as waves of conservative reaction. At the same time, the neo-Christian notion of individual rights, which these essentialising projects were confronting, themselves worked in unexpected ways. They provided the basis for a new generation of nationalist programmes. There had always been a conflict between the rigid Confucian understanding of Vietnamese rural society, later elaborated by the French, and the reality which conferred considerable power and rights on village clan elders and their deliberations. Mandarins were often inferior to village elders in their own birthplaces, as distinct, it seems, from gentrymen in China. As early as the 1860s, people were heard to say: 'The mandarins were more capable of beating us with well-applied canes than they were of beating the French.' By the 1880s young colonial Vietnamese were stirring together a heady brew of Christian ideas of brotherhood, the Rights of Man and more traditional notions of the autonomy and dignity of the Vietnamese patria. By 1905 Gilbert Chieu's News of the Six Provinces had brought the two strains together. He argued that the nation should be improved, that Chinese and other foreign businesses should be expelled and that all should have the right to free state education and the vote.

2. Japan

     You may well think that consideration of Japan is a leap too far for a non-specialist like myself. But let me note that rights theories were transformed in two, comparable directions in that other, archetypical old patria. Most historians are well aware of the way in which the Meiji elite of the later nineteenth century created a modern state on the indigenous foundations of reverence for Edo and the emperor. Schooled in international law, these elites soon began to assert the Japanese state's rights against extra-territoriality and unequal treaties. At the same time, during the 1880s and 90s, rural Japanese intellectuals instigated a movement for popular, indeed peasant rights, which drew explicitly and openly on forms of western liberalism and demanded a council chamber elected by the people. With extraordinary fervour both urban and rural intellectuals disseminated the works of Locke, Mill and Rousseau. Travelling the country dressed in black capes and broad-brimmed hats, perhaps reminiscent of these celebrated Europeans, they gave public lectures and distributed hundreds of thousands of handbills. Again, this globalisation of European ideas was rooted locally by its capacity to bond with and articulate indigenous ideas: the notion of the honourable peasant, of familial self-sufficiency and of the honour of the samurai warrior. It is not surprising that Samuel Smiles's, Self Help sold more copies in Japan than in Britain and the United States combined.

4. Thailand

     A final context in which I want to trace the impact of global rights theories and investigate some autonomous roots of the nation state is the case of Thailand. Thailand, like Japan, was never directly brought under European control which makes it a particularly interesting case. Even here the crisis of the early modern world between 1780 and 1820 appears to have had subtle effects on the nature of statecraft and the conception of polity. In the last twenty years of the eighteenth century, King Rama I founded Bangkok and rebuilt his kingdom after a devastating war with the Burmese and in the expectation of Chinese attack. Rama set up a kind of law commission which created positive law drawn from Buddhist remedies to deal with new situations. His purging of the Buddhist clergy and attempt to unify Thai custom paralleled a drive to centralise and rearm the kingdom. Rama's successors in the early nineteenth century initiated a drive for useful knowledge. They also patronised a new rationalistic movement within the prevailing rite of Theravada Buddhism. This emphasised the existence of a 'single, universal, all-encompassing truth' over-riding the differentiated truths of local cults. Nevertheless, an exception was made for the quasi-brahminical cult of the king himself. Here, doctrinal change paralleled the creation of a more centralised state bureaucracy and defined the state's rights in regard to religion, education and orthodox practice.

     However, even in the apparently unpropitious context of patriotic royal absolutism, Buddhist ideology in Thailand was, at least in the longer term, malleable and creative. It left discursive space for the emergence of notions of individual and group rights which emboldened a sense of popular nationality. Especially in the twentieth century, Thai reformers have come to argue that the Enlightenment (Nirvana or Nibbana) promised by the Buddha was accessible to all. All the people- the lok- and not merely the monarch should then take responsibility for purging the clergy and refounding the kingdom in righteousness. All people should have the right occupation and the right to work in order to achieve Nirvana, reformists argued, in a kind of Weberian demystification. Finally, and ironically, modern Thai rights theorists have argued that the prominence of the royal family and royal cult temples is itself a left-over from a dark age of Indian Brahminical dominance over the Thai people. Ironically, I say, because Indians could and did deploy their own version of spiritual egalitarianism. The same argument was being used to assert their rights of low-caste people in western India as early as 1850. Christian missionaries had helped to propagate this low caste ideology. But indigenous notions of the spiritual equality of the soul (bhakti) were equally formative.

Asian nationalism: constructed?

     The lecture now moves on to the later nineteenth century. I want to consider more broadly the links between the old patriotisms I described last week and the more formal nationalist movements of the later period which were fired by these concepts of rights. Was there any link? Or did the activists of the 1880s and after merely 'construct' a fiction of the nation modelled on western lines. Until recently, the 'constructivists' among historians were outright winners in this argument. Nations were invented communities whoever and whatever invented them. Even in Hobsbawm's scheme the links between the 'old' nations of Europe and late-nineteenth century nationalism were at best indirect. Other writers pointed to nineteenth century Greece or the former Soviet Union as telling examples. The link between Ancient Greece and modern Hellas or between the old Kingdom of Lithuania and the modern state of that name was, historians argued, purely fictive. Among major theorists of nationalism only A.D.Smith seemed to hold up the case for some continuity between the old 'ethnie', as he called it, and the modern nation, though he often found himself branded as a 'primordialist' for his pains. Recently, however, there have been signs of a change. The swelling band of populist academic critics of post-modernism and social constructivism have poured withering scorn on the idea that nations such as Britain and France were merely recent constructs of statist elites. With greater scholarly weight, Adrian Hastings has recently traced the deep origins of European nationality to medieval military and religious communities.

     In turning to the case of nineteenth century Asia, I think that we need first to deconstruct the notion of 'construction' itself and interrogate the metaphor of 'invention.' Nationalist leaderships certainly willed their particular form of nation into existence. They tried to sharpen the differences between the national community and 'others' who had earlier been peripheral tributaries, conquering intruders or guest-foreigners. They drew maps which formed the nation's irreducible boundaries. But how far were the nationalists constrained in these inventions by the inheritance of ideas and social processes into which they were born? One approach might be to ask whether there was any continuity between the types of social actors who enunciated old patriotism and the devotees of modern nationalism. In England, for example, one can detect a clear connection of lineage and sentiment over the generations. Queen Elizabeth's minister, Robert Cecil, who enunciated a Shakespeare-like patriotism and loyalism, was lineal ancestor of Lord Salisbury, the imperial nationalist of the late nineteenth century. To a limited extent such connections can be seen in Asia. Though Thailand was re-orientated by its entry into the world economy as a primary producer after 1850, its royalist and patriotic elites survived through from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. At a less exalted level, the same dominant landed groups and their priestly clients who ruled in interior Ceylon and Maharashtra in 1750 retained much influence in 1900, though they had been beaten into submission by the colonial power in the meantime. Many even of the non-Brahmin and lower caste leaders who appropriated the notion of the Maratha patria were also descended from lineages connected with the eighteenth-century royal centres.

     Elsewhere, however, colonial conquest had ruptured and dislocated the archaic social order. The French froze and attenuated the power of the Vietnamese mandarinate. The new version of nationalism arose among clerks and school teachers in new port cities, notably Saigon. In Burma the British totally demolished the old royal centre of Ava and relegated its impoverished aristocracy to rigidly delineated village communes. They flattened Burmese society in a manner that had no parallel anywhere in India after conquest of Bengal in the 1760s.

     Yet does this mean that Burmese or Vietnamese nationalists had no moral connection with the old patrias? Were these nations were simply intellectual inventions similar to Hellas or Lithuania? I think not. In Burma, Vietnam, and comparable societies, ordinary people as well as the detritus of the former nobility passed down stories, texts, direct memories, sentiments and testimonies of the old order to their children and grandchildren. The spirits of the patria still lived amongst them. No-one in nineteenth century Greece was descended from the sculptors of the Elgin Marbles. But every village in Burma in 1940 still had old men who had served the last king. Every dramatic performance or pwe summoned up living memories of the recent past. In Vietnam, as late as 1916 a royal prince led a legitimist rebellion against the French. Continuities of religious rite were important too. The eighteenth century Balkan world of Orthodox Christianity does not yet seem to have been divided between its Greek and Bulgarian or Romanian parts. But Myanmar Dharma-Burmese Religion-- and the 'spririts of Vietnam' already had a real social existence in 1800. Everyday the inhabitants of Rangoon passed the glittering Sule Pagoda where in the 1760s, Aulangpaya, founder of modern Burmese unity, had entombed the last prince of the ruling lineage of the southern Delta, symbolically burying disunity.

     In these cases discursive and ritual continuities between old patriotism and nationalism were 'real', but only in the sense that they encompassed an actual chain of human lives and experience. They were enacted in commonly venerated and still charismatic sites of memory. This was the case even where much of the old social landscape had been obliterated by colonial rule. We might go further and argue that old patriotism was transformed into nationalism precisely at the point of rupture where discursive and ritual continuities were incommensurable with the individual's lived experience of subordination. U Tin Tut, a Burmese officer of the Indian Civil Service stated in 1942: 'A Burmese child is brought up on history and traditions which have as their background the ancient glories of the past and it is with a shock that he realises in his adolescence that he is a member of a subject race.' It is often said that the nineteenth century Ceylonese Buddhist leader, Anagarika Dharmapala, is a good example of a modern, essentialising nationalist who owed little to the inheritance of the old kingdom of Kandy. But Dharmapala came from the traditionally dominant Buddhist Goyigama caste, servants of the old monarchy and guardians of Ceylon-ness or Sihadipa. He wrote: 'My family which is Sinhalese has been Buddhist without a break for twenty-two hundred years.' It was the intolerable clash between this community tradition and Christian education amongst the strutting eaters of filthy pigs, the British and their converts, which powered his fierce ethnocentrism.

     What I hope I have demonstrated here is that the metaphors 'invention', 'imagine' and 'construct' need to be analysed. It is not that Anderson, or Chatterjee or, for that matter, Hastings, are wrong. It means that the battle between 'constructivist' historians and subscribers to 'continuity' is meaningless as currently fought. If as postmodernists tell us, discourse is a social act, then constantly reiterated discourse and ritual performance must be as potent an element in the evolution of identities as continuities in what used to be called 'social structure.' The 1960s Lithuanian intellectual dreaming of the glories of the twelfth century is, clearly, at one end of the spectrum. But what of the young Burmese nationalist whose mother told him of the day in 1886 when she saw King Thibaw and his young wife pass through the ranks of bewhiskered redcoats and on to the barge which took him to exile? His sense of nation was 'constructed' perhaps. But it was constructed from lived traditions and immanent memories. Here old patriotism flowed quite directly into later nationalism.

Asian nationalism: 1880-1919

     The final section of today's lecture considers some features of that nationalism in the Asian context between 1880 and 1919. This is the period described as the high point of nationalism by several theorists. For Hobsbawm, it was the period when the nation-building of elites and the literati was overwhelmed by a racially exclusive and often violent form of nationalism emanating from the lower middle classes. Emerging socialist and peasant movements frightened the demagogues of the ballot box into greater intransigence and racism. Asian historians have conventionally see it as the period of the 'emergence' of nationalism spurred to self-awareness by a new, more aggressive western imperialism and the yawning disparities of wealth between European manufacturers and Asian primary producers. Formal nationalist associations were founded in India in 1885, in French Indochina in 1888 and in Dutch Indonesia in 1892. Chinese nationalists staged an abortive coup against the Qing regime in 1898. Further to the west, Persia was convulsed by anti-colonial riots in 1892. The cry 'Egypt for the Egyptians' was driven underground, but not suppressed by the British Occupation of that country in 1882.

     Along with broadening communications, international liberalism continued to play an important part in the generation of nationalist ideologies. British and Irish liberals helped to establish the London branch of the Indian National Congress and were active in it as office holders. The Congress, wrote William Wedderburn, was first and foremost 'a British reform movement.' Liberals and radicals believed that the rights of British subjects were intimately bound up with those of the Irish and colonial peoples. The same, supposedly liberal governments had occupied Egypt, suppressed the Irish land movement, turned its face against the Indian nationalists and imposed income tax. If 'three acres and a cow' was the catch-cry of liberals in the rural British Isles, how much more apposite was it in India. If 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite' was etched on the school wall where the young Ho Chi Minh studied, why had they not been extended to the Vietnamese quoc?

     Yet these European and American visions of the rights of subjects and of nations were vigorously disseminated along with equally vigorous non-European versions which find little place in the theoretical literature on the dissemination of ideas of nationhood. Pan-Islamism which ran strongly after 1870 consisted in a dialogue between west Asian, Indian and Indonesian clerics and intellectuals. It was critically important in raising the question of the relationship between Islam and the nation state in all the old Islamic ecumenes: the Ottoman-Arab world, the Iranian-Indian world and the Malay world. The doctrines of the Pan-Islamic leaders such as Jamal-uddin al Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and the Indian Ali brothers were fashioned in the aftermath of subjugation to the West, of course. But they also reflected a longer period of gestation when Islamic ethical and religious norms were exposed to internal critiques and assimilated and transformed the doctrines of the liberal age. International Buddhist revivalism also proved an appropriate medium through which a sense of national identity could be energised in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka where regional patriotisms had already coalesced around the nation of sacred land and rite.

     Most important, however, remained the example of Japan. Her status as an exemplar was already constantly in the writings of Asian nationalists well before that country's spectacular defeat of Russia in 1905. Europeans praised Japan as the only Asian country which had thrown off the sloth of ages. Some spoke of the Japanese risorgimento in the same breath as Italy's and Germany's. But in Asia Japanese-made manufactured goods had begun to reach consumers as early as the 1890s and Indonesian, Vietnamese and even Indian students had joined the large concentration of Chinese radicals and students in the country before 1900. The Japanese doctrine of the 'honourable peasant' and protection of home industry and culture proved irresistible to Asians fighting the combined industrial and cultural invasion of the west. 1905, however, gave the clarion call. Indian and Burmese students and radicals flocked to Tokyo. Phan Boi Chau founded the 'look to the east' movement in Vietnam. Babies throughout the Asian lands were given the names of Japanese admirals and generals.

     After 1905, then, there was a discernible shift in the imagining and the methodology of Asian nationalists who increasingly stressed states rights and the essential unity of the religious, cultural and racial units as against the popular rights movements which had been the seed-bed of colonial patriotism. In part, this reflected the strident racial doctrines of the new imperialism and the beginnings of rigid racial exclusionism and racist legislation, especially in the United States. Western racism gave ammunition to cultural nationalists throughout Asia. But exclusionary nationalism was also a response to the high point of moral dislocation and economic subjugation which had accompanied the final push of western firms, railway companies and settlers into the Asian world. Almost everywhere, both moderate and radical nationalists began to value action, discipline and unity against the dictates of representation and popular rights. In India, the Hindu nationalist Madan Mohan Malaviya, complained that the British Parliament was a pit of faction. Indian democracy, he said in a Hindi speech should reflect the dominance of religion (dharma) over pointless debate (batchit). The Anglo-Ceylonese cultural nationalist Ananda Coomaraswamy presented a vision of national art conjoined to what he called National Dharma. Bewailing the 'universal degradation of taste in India', he announced that Japan had succeeded militarily and politically because she alone among the Asian nations 'still has a truly national art.'

     There is no doubt that the growing tendency of Asian nationalists to essentialise their motherlands in terms of race, art or culture resulted to a considerable extent from the rhetoric of the colonial powers.The rulers had imagined colonial politics in terms of racial or religious essences. But there was more too it than this. Coomaraswamy railed against 'a premature and artificial cosmopolitanism.' Beyond the realm of colonial policies, it was global forces which impressed on Asian nationalists the need for racial and religious self-strengthening. The uniformity of industrial production and education; the growing streams of international capital and labour; the universality of armed aggression against smaller societies. It was these rather than discursive mimicry at the level of texts and electoral registers which fuelled the rush towards integral nationalisms. The World was beating at the doorways of the Home to an unprecedented degree. In my final lecture, I shall consider how this contest between rights theory and national essentialism persisted through to the bloody wars of decolonisation in the mid twentieth century.

Back to the top

Previous Bayly lecture Next Bayly lecture

    Select Readings and Facts: Bayly Lecture 2
  • M.G.Saiz, Las Castas Mexicanas (Mexico City, 1992) [for global 'caste']
  • Thomas A. Horne, Property Rights and Poverty. (Chapel Hill, 1990)
  • R. O'Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology (Cambridge, 1985)
  • Sumit Sarkar, A Critique of Colonial India (Calcutta, 1982)
  • Ranajit Guha, Rule of Property for Bengal (Paris, 1963)
  • B.C.Robertson, Raja Ram Mohun Ray (Delhi, 1995)
  • K. Nag and D Burman (eds.) English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy (Calcutta, 1945)
  • C.A.Bayly, Origins of Nationality in South Asia (Delhi, 1988)
  • Richard Fox Young, Resistant Hinduism (Vienna, 1981)
  • Peter A. Jackson, Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict (Singapore, 1993)
  • Milton E. Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia (Berkely, 1971)
  • David Marr, Vietnamese Tradition in Trial 1920-45 (Berkeley, 1981)
  • G. Obeysekere, 'The viccisitudes of the Sinhala-Buddhist identity through time anc change' in M. Roberts (ed.), Collective Identities. Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka (Colombo, 1979)
  • A.D.Smith, Ethnicity and Nationalism (Leiden, 1992)
  • Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood (Cambridge, 1997)
  • A. Milner, The Invention of Politics in Malaya (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Marius B. Jansen (ed), Cambridge History of Japan, vol 9, 402-415.
  • Ananda Coomaraswamy, Essays in National Idealism (Colombo, 1910)

    Facts

  • Casta (Port.), genus or species; used as translation of jati (endogamous group) and varna (ritual order) in the Indic system.
  • Toda- south India 'tribal', polygamous group found in the Nilghiri Hills
  • Bengal land revenue settled permanently by Governor-General, Lord Cornwallis in 1793; created a class of landowners or zamindars.
  • Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833), Bengali monotheistic reformer and founder of the Brahmo Samaj (Society of the Supreme Being)
  • Dharma Sabha (Society for Ancient Religion) founded by 'conservatives' in reponse to Brahma Samaj and British government's banning of widow-burning, 1829
  • 1834 India opened to free trade
  • adhikar (Skt; Hindi) = power, 'right'; rivaz (Urdu) = custom, 'right'
  • Quoc (Vietnamese, from Chinese) = state, country.
  • Rama I, refounded Thai monarchy and purged Buddhist church of the Theravada rite, late eighteenth century.
  • Nirvana (Skt.) Nibbana (Pali) = Enlightenment
  • Aulangpaya: refounded Burmese, Theravada Buddhist monarchy and rite, late c.18
  • Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933), neo-Buddhist revivalist and Sinhala nationalist
  • Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940), Vietnamese nationalist who advocated a 'turn to the east' ie Japan, especially after Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-5.
  • Indian National Congress, founded, Bombay, 1885
  • Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1946) Indian nationalist of 'Hindu' bent.

Back to the top

Previous Bayly lecture Next Bayly lecture

Webber Philip McEldowney
Last Update - Wednesday, 18 July 2001