The Idea that Asian Nationalism Development


Nationalism in Asia bears a lot of similarity to nationalism movements in Europe and the rest of the Western world. In fact, the goals of nationalism in both regions (Europe and Asia) are all the same (Metcalfe 45). Moreover, the various circumstances that made countries in both continents unified or divided are interestingly very similar. However, the catalysts for nationalism in Asia and the Western world are quite different. Nonetheless, corruption and governments inadequacies are partially the reasons why nationalism developed but the sources for these movements are slightly different.

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Government inadequacies in the Western world came from within the continent itself, with classic examples of countries like Germany and French showing blatant abuse of power by their rulers during the prehistoric days. Asian movements of imperialism are a direct reactant to imperialistic advances by the Western world as was witnessed through the scramble for economic resources by major European economic powerhouses (Metcalfe 41).

European nations largely perpetrated imperialism when most of its rulers were in a mission to empower themselves, economically, politically and socially through scramble for colonies in Asia. Major economic blocks in Asia today like China, India and Vietnam therefore experienced prolonged periods of imperialism in the hands of European nations like the British.

This prolonged stay by the Europeans made most local rulers revolt against such imperialistic tendencies by the British; later sparking off nationalistic revolts. These movements provide the bedrock to this study because we will explore how such revolts led to nationalistic movements in Asia. Evidence will be given through examples of Asian countries that experienced some of the strongest forces of imperialism by the Western world. Essentially, these facts will point out the fact that Asian nationalism was primarily brought about by Western Imperialism.

Nationalism in China

China is prehistorically known to be under one of the most brutal form of imperialism under the British rule. Initially, Britain took a laid-back role in the interplay of China’s social, political and economic environments because there was already a monarchial system in place (Metcalfe 56). However, the British influenced a greater part of China’s government, up until the end of the 19th century when its dominance started to decline. Nationalism started being effective and successful at this moment as opposed to previous times when it was largely thwarted by British dominance. Essentially, initial failed attempts at nationalism movements in china necessitated stronger nationalism dominance by the locals to oust British rule.

In the 1900s, nationalism began to gain momentum and the then British emperor was overthrown though a nationalistic movement known as the Chinese revolution (Metcalfe 56). This movement was led by Xui Yixian who was very vocal against British dominance. He later on went to establish the Kuomintang which played a part in his successful election as the president of the Chinese democratic government (later on) (Metcalfe 98).

Some of Xui Yixian’s main principles involved stemming out British influence and restoring the lost pride the locals had long lost. Additionally, he wanted to increase modernization in China and also initiate land reforms which were by and large, discriminatory against the Chinese (Metcalfe 89). His successor Jiang Jieshi was no different because he led the Chinese from British influence under the same principles.

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However, within Chinese nationalistic movements, there emerged a rift where some leaders such as Mao Zedong opposed the contemporary leadership principles advanced by Sun and Jieshi (Metcalfe 56). Mao was especially vocal in advancing these divergent principles and instead, advanced the principles of communism under the Marxist principles (Christie 70). This was in contrast to capitalistic principles, previously dominant of the Chinese society. Mao gained favor with the Chinese population during the Communist era revolution. Not only was his victory aimed at stamping out Capitalistic tendencies, it was also a revolt against Jieshi (Metcalfe 77).

Evidence is given of the Long march which over 100,000 communists took part by walking for more than 6,000 miles in protest of capitalistic movements in the society (Duiker 670). While these movements were going on, the protestors were still under fire from the Kuomintang which was largely of a contrary opinion advanced by Xui. The Long March became a symbol of Mao’s increasing prominence in china and helped him rise to power; right after the end of the Second World War. This saw the invasion of Japanese forces in China. After the defeat of Jieshi (in this revolt), Mao ascended to power in 1949 as the ruler of China under communist principles (Metcalfe 63).

It is evidently clear that these general socialistic movements were initially brought about by a revolt against western ideals imposed in China. These movements started by Xui Yixian who initially aspired to liberate the Chinese population from the British, as well as restoring their pride in the wake of Western imperialism. From this analysis, it is evidently clear that subsequent nationalistic movements were further aimed at improving the principles already started by Xui. This then saw the birth of the communist principles in china (Metcalfe 63).

Nationalism on Vietnam

European imperialism movements were also felt to the Southeastern part of Asia, including Vietnam and other countries in the Southern Peninsula of Indo china. However, imperialism in Vietnam was not exclusively perpetrated by the British because the French had initially established their influence in the area (including other countries such as Laos and Cambodia) (Metcalfe 46). In Vietnam, one nationalistic leader especially stood out to lead the people into self-rule and out of the afflictions imposed by the British, Ho chi Monh. Ho chi Monh was the man who vocally spoke for the Vietnamese population to be liberated against the influence of foreigners (Metcalfe 33).

This happened at the treaty of Versailles in 1919, soon after the First World War (Siba 11). Predictably, western nations ignored his plight and this later led to revolts throughout Vietnam; advocating for liberation against the French. Nonetheless, Europeans took notice of these movements after the Second World War. The success of Ho chi was witnessed after he established the northern territory of Vietnam but through military help from other existent communist regimes (Metcalfe 63).

Another Western power, the United States of America (USA), joined Vietnamese politics to establish capitalist system by imposing Ngo Dinh Diem in Southern Vietnam to curb the spread of communist values in the general Vietnam society (Solheim 27). This happened after the US took control of the region (Southern Vietnam) from France. They established a democratic form of leadership. This sparked conflict in Vietnam between the North and the South, from the advancement of different social, political and economic principles advanced by the Western nations. This war only ended in the 70s (Metcalfe).

Nationalism in India

Great Britain had colonized India for more than 400 years, beginning in the early 70s. Indian nationalistic movements were thereafter witnessed soon after the establishment of Britain’s imperialistic tendencies in the continent. However, some of these early attempts at nationalism were not entirely successful because like other countries, the British thwarted these movements. Some of these early movements were advanced by bodies such as the Indian National congress and others. In addition, one of the greatest Indian socialistic pioneers, Mohandas Gandhi, took part in spearheading Indian nationalistic movement to liberate Indians against British imperialism (Metcalfe 56).

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Popularly known as Mahatma, Gandhi forced the British to end their imperialistic rule in India through a strict policy of non-violence and resistances which were largely passive in nature (Rai 268). One of the biggest types of revolts was the Salt march which was a civil boycott initiative (Metcalfe 45). This was to be later followed by hunger strikes. Back at home, mahatma initiated social reforms against the contemporary Hindu caste system. This system was largely retrogressive in nature because it inhibited religious and political mobility across different castes. Lower castes which largely constituted laborers and outcasts therefore had to stay in that position forever (Chakrabarty 114).

Violent movements were later witnessed at the height of these changes such as the Amritsar massacre (Metcalfe 47). These movements largely inhibited political, economic and social reforms in India (Dalton 22). Great Britain later caved in under these events in 1948, especially after it was weakened at the end of the Second World War. Interestingly, even after the end of British imperialism and the influence of Gandhi, India still fell under social disorder.

The division was majorly witnessed across religious lines because the Indian Hindu wanted an all Hindu state while the Muslim Indians preferred an all Islamic Sate. The Islam Hindus majorly fought under the umbrella of the Muslim league. This conflict marked the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Pakistan was later formed as a largely Muslim state (Paul 193). It is therefore imperative to notice that nationalism movements saw the liberation of India but also saw its division into Hindu and Muslim states. Mahatma Gandhi’s story is also still marked in historical books as the strongest case of historical irony (Metcalfe).

Comprehensively, it can be observed that the denial of Indian rights by British imperialism led to the formation of the Indian national congress in 1885 which was among India’s first nationalistic movements. However, these movements never started as a self rule imposition movement, but a loyal entity to Indian politics. It later transformed into a vehicle to champion Indian independence. Most notably, the “home charge payments” imposed by Britain as a form of administrative cost advanced under imperialistic principles was a major national grievance factor. However, this flow declined in national importance until India’s independence in 1947.

Interestingly, the divisive nature if India’s Islam and Hindu population was never noted by the start of nationalistic movements because they all united to criticize existent British policies at the time. It was not until the ousting of the British that they started to clash. The British are to date blamed for the split of India’s Hindu and Muslim states because they initially supported the Muslim confederation (Muslim league) in 1906 (Nanda 125). They also supported the establishment of separate jurisdictions for religious minorities. This fact is still regarded as one of the factors that contributed to Hindu and Muslim discord.


As a result of nationalistic movements, Japan was able to eliminate all forms of Western imperialism in 1641. It however allowed Dutch ships to penetrate their territories but under strict observation from Japanese authorities. However, the freedom from western influence was short-lived because Japan lost its independence to the US after the US sent a series of naval ships into the now modern Tokyo harbor. US navy later demanded for concessions from Japan after declining to sail to Nagasaki. The Japanese authorities declined their demand and this forced the US to move closer to their harbor as a show of their might. These events made the Japanese realize that they were lacking in form of technological advancements because the US posed a stronger force than their own (O’Brien 22).

This issue saw the birth of Meiji restoration which united the country (Japan) to undertake administrative modernization (Duara 40). This also led to a series of economic advancements in Japan (Calman 5). The economic development made Japan realize that it lacked in natural resources; later leading to the development of a series of imperialistic tendencies on other Asian nations like the Chinese in 1895. The country later engaged other Asian nations like Korea in conquest wars to increase its superiority and by 1914; Japan emerged as a strong Asian force in the Far East (Antonio et al. 40). In addition, later in the First World War, Japan fought alongside the British to conquer the Germans.

As can be evidently seen, the perceived threat by the US in naval strength made Japan realize that it lagged in economic development, sparking a series of technological and economic advances (DIANE 157). This is even evidenced in the 21st century where Japan is a major technological and economic powerhouse. The nationalistic progress can be attributed to the economic advancements made by the Japanese rulers in the event of perceived Western influence. This even marked the start of Japanese imperialism out of nationalistic movements that had already matured in the political, social and economic arenas of the country.

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Nationalism in Asia can be greatly attributed to the influence of Western imperialism. Major Asian countries like China, Vietnam, Japan and India can all trace their political, social and economic reforms to nationalism movements during the height of British Imperialism. These reforms can also be witnessed to date through social, political and economic make ups of the Asian continent.

Japan is evidence to this fact because most of its technological and economic advances were triggered by the perceived threat of the US naval power. This even led to the development of Japan as an imperialistic entity; just like other European nations including the British or the French (as could be witnessed with the Chinese and Korean wars). Nonetheless, the country is now united in those lines (technological and economic fronts) to stamp out its authority in Asia and indeed the world.

China on the other hand traces its communism movements as a development of nationalism movements started by Jieshi and Xui; initially aimed at liberating the Chinese against British imperialism. India also affirms this trend because its present nature of Hindu and Islam state split can be largely traced to the era of British imperialism. Nationalism movements especially spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi are also evidence to this fact because such movements were aimed at restoring the lost pride of the Indian population and imposing self rule. The same trend is also noted in Vietnam. It is therefore appallingly true that most nationalism movements in Asia trace their roots to Western imperialism.

Works Cited

Antonio, Et Al. Turning Points Ii’ 2007 Ed. New York: Rex Bookstore, Inc, 2007.

Calman, Donald. The Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism: A Reinterpretation of the Great Crisis of 1873. London: Routledge, 1992. print.

Chakrabarty, Bidyut. Social And Political Thought Of Mahatma Gandhi. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006. print.

Christie, Clive. Southeast Asia in the Twentieth Century: A Reader. New York: I.B.Tauris, 1998. print.

Dalton, Dennis. Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings. New York: Hackett Publishing, 1996. print.

DIANE. Making Things Better: Competing in Manufacturing. New York: DIANE Publishing, 1993. print.

Duara, Prasenjit. The Global and Regional In China’s Nation-Formation. London: Taylor & Francis, 2009. print.

Duiker, William. World History: From 1500. London: Cengage Learning, 2006. print.

Metcalfe, Adam. Asian Nationalism. 2003. web.

Nanda. Jin. Conflicts and Co-Existence, India. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1991. print.

O’Brien, Phillips. Technology and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Routledge, 2001. print.

Paul, Tev. The India-Pakistan Conflict: An Enduring Rivalry. Oxford: Cambridge University Press. 2005. print.

Rai, Raghunath. Themes in Indian History. New Delhi: FK Publications, 2010.

Siba, Nanda. History of the Modern World (1919-1980). New York: Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 2002.

Solheim, Bruce. The Vietnam War Era: A Personal Journey. Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press, 2008.

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