Decolonization Resource Collection: Asia

The front page of the Hindustan Times announces Indian independence from the British Empire (1947). Image from the Hindustan Times.

Primary sources

Primary source collections

Dartmouth Vietnam Project
This guide brings together a variety of resources, both primary and secondary, that will help you learn about and contextualize people, events and places associated with the Vietnam War. These sources offer a broader picture of the time and events associated with the conflict at home and abroad

Decolonization of French Indo-China
This site contains primary sources relating to decolonization in French colonies in Asia during the mid-twentieth century. This research site also contains alternative collections for the decolonization of Dutch and British South Asia.

Indian and the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion
This collection contains dozens of primary sources detailing the events of the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion, or India’s First War of Independence.

Extracted primary sources

Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899)
This famous poem, written by Britain’s imperial poet, was a response to the American take over of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Kipling exhorts the reader to embark upon the enterprise of empire, yet gives somber warning about the costs involved; nonetheless, American imperialists understood the phrase “the white man’s burden” to justify imperialism as a noble enterprise of civilization.

Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule (1909)
Perhaps the most famous primary source from the Indian independence era, Hind Swaraj argues in favor of total self-determination, passive and non-violent resistance, and the rejection of western civilization.

George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant (1936)
In one of several essays written during his service in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, Orwell teeters between fiction and autobiography in “Shooting an Elephant,” an essay about a policeman tasked to shoot an elephant. The story focuses on the dilemmas of morality and identity in the British imperial world, and is often regarded as a metaphor for British imperialism.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Presidential Address to the Muslim League” (1940)
In his address to the Lahore Conference that passed a resolution calling for the partition of British India into three sovereign states, Jinnah declares his full-fledged support for Pakistani independence. According to Stanley Wolpert, this was the moment during which Jinnah abandoned his support for Hindu-Muslim unity in favor of an independent Muslim state.

Indian National Congress, “‘Quit India’ Resolution” (1942)
After the rejection of the Cripps Offer, Congress leaders felt compelled to launch an agitation campaign. Gandhi suggested that the British should “Quit India” while they had still  had time to do so. Jawaharlal Nehru was asked to amend Gandhi’s original resolution, and this amended resolution was passed in July 1942. The Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, then imprisoned all Congress leaders before they could take any action.

Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (1946)
This book was written by Nehru during his imprisonment in 1942–46 in Maharashtra, India. In it, Nehru pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of India, its history and its philosophy from the perspective of the indigenous patriot.

“Telegram from Britain’s High Commissioner in India on Kashmir and Sikh developments” (1947)
In this 1947 telegram, the British High Commissioner in India reports to London on guerrilla activities in the increasingly contested area of Kashmir. The telegram also contains reports of violence against Sikhs in Pakistan and the prospect of Sikh retaliation.

Ch’ae Man-shik, “Mister Pang” (c. 1950s)
This short story by a Korean satirical novelist traces the ever-fluctuating identity of one Mister Pang and his experiences under Japanese imperial rule.  This satire confronts notions of identity, class, culture, and liberty in colonial Korea.

Sukarno, “Speech at the Opening of the Bandung Conference” (1955)
In this speech, President Sukarno of Indonesia officially opens the Bandung Conference, organized in an effort to promote and solidify African and Asian unity, particularly between states recently liberated from imperial rule. Sukarno praises political (rather than violent) means of achieving decolonization.

Kazuko Kuramoto, Manchurian Legacy: Memoirs of a Japanese Colonist, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press (1999)
Kazuko Kuramoto was born and raised in Dairen, Manchuria, in 1927, at the peak of Japanese expansionism in Asia. This autobiography is the story of her family’s life in Darien, their survival as a forgotten people during the battle to reclaim Manchuria waged by Russia, China, and Korea, and their subsequent repatriation to a devastated Japan.

Secondary sources

 Articles and essays

Abbas, Amber, “The Solidarity Agenda: Aligarh Students and the Demand for Pakistan,” South Asian History and Culture Special Issue: Defying the Perpetual Exception: Culture and Power in South Asian Islam 5, 2 (2014).
Why did the Pakistan movement attract so many students in this elite institution? Abbas argues that the Pakistan movement was substantively similar to earlier political movements of Muslim empowerment at AMU and that the solidarity agenda driving student activity was not tied directly to the creation of a separate state of Pakistan. This examination moves away from the 1947 borders to investigate the objectives that drew students to the movement for Pakistan long before a notion of Pakistan as a territorially sovereign state actually existed.

Gilmartin, David, “Partition, Pakistan, and South Asian History: In Search of a Narrative,” Journal of Asian Studies 57, 4 (1998).
In this article, Gilmartin questions the language of the historiography surrounding the 1947 Partition of India and offers alternative approaches in method, vocabulary, and moral taxonomy in order to better understand the “search for moral community” that Gilmartin argues functioned at the heart of the partition story.

Haines, Daniel, “A ‘Commonwealth Moment’ in South Asian Decolonization?’” in Leslie James and Elizabeth Leake (eds.), Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
In this article, Haines reassesses South Asian colonial identities in relation to European imperial identity. Haines focuses on the violent and nonviolent decolonization movement that rocked the social, political, and cultural foundations of South Asia during the first half of the Cold War.

McHale, Shawn, “Understanding the Fanatic Mind? The Viet Minh and Race Hatred in the First Indochina War (1945-1954),” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 4, 3 (2009).
This essay examines Việt Minh deployment of propaganda on race hatred and cannibalism during the First Indochina War (1945–1954). It evaluates the literature on the First Indochina War and on historical institutionalism for its ability to help explain this propaganda. It then focuses on the war for the Mekong Delta, arguing that weak state control led to continued violence and the breakdown of social trust.

Silvestri, Michael, “‘The Sinn Fein of India’: Irish Nationalism and the Policing of Revolutionary Terrorism in Bengal,” Journal of British Studies 39, 4 (2000).
In this article, Silvestri explores connections in rhetoric between anti-imperial movements in Ireland and Bengal, and how violence and rhetoric often reinforced one another. This revolutionary link between Ireland and British South Asia may seem far-fetched, but this article is part of a growing movement in decolonization studies focused on comparative historiography.

Talbot, Ian, “Safety First: The Security of Britons in India, 1946-1947,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 23 (2013).
Talbot argues that while anti-British sentiment declined from a peak around the time of the Indian National Army trials of 1945–6, the memories of the wartime chaotic flight from Burma and Malaya and the irreparable damage this had done to British prestige in Asia colored the safety first approach adopted in 1947.

Yechury, Akhila, “Imagining India, Decolonising l’Inde française, c. 1947-1954,” The Historical Journal 58, 4 (2015): 1141-1165.
This article examines the final years of French rule in India. It questions the established narrative of the merger of the French settlements, which implied that they were always a ‘natural’ part of the Indian Union. It argues, on the contrary, that a full merger was only one of several possibilities for the various actors involved in the negotiations that took place between the independence of India in 1947 and the French withdrawal in 1954.

Books and readers

Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007.
In this rich intellectual history, Aydin challenges the notion that anti-Westernism in the Muslim world is a political and religious reaction to the liberal and democratic values of the West. By focusing on the agency and achievements of non-Western intellectuals, Aydin demonstrates that modern anti-Western discourse grew out of the legitimacy crisis of a single, Eurocentric global polity in the age of high imperialism.

Bose, Sugata and Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, London, UK: Routledge, 1998.
In this comprehensive study, the authors interpret and debate the striking developments in contemporary South Asian history and historical writing, covering the entire spectrum of the region’s modern history – social, economic and political. The book provides new insights into the structure and ideology of the British raj, the meaning of subaltern resistance, the refashioning of social relations along the lines of caste, class, community and gender, the different strands of anti-colonial nationalism and the dynamics of decolonization.

Bradley, Mark, Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
In this study of the encounter between Vietnam and the United States from 1919 to 1950, Bradley fundamentally reconceptualizes the origins of the Cold War in Vietnam and the place of postcolonial Vietnam in the history of the twentieth century. Among the first Americans granted a visa to undertake research in Vietnam since the war, Bradley draws on newly available Vietnamese-language primary sources and interviews as well as archival materials from France, Great Britain, and the United States.

Chapman, Jessica, The Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013.
Based on extensive work in Vietnamese, French, and American archives, Chapman offers a detailed account of three crucial years, 1953–1956, during which a new Vietnamese political order was established in the south. It is, in large part, a history of Diem’s political ascent as he managed to subdue the former Emperor Bao Dai, the armed Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious organizations, and the Binh Xuyen crime organization. It is also an unparalleled account of these same outcast political powers, forces that would reemerge as destabilizing political and military actors in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Chester, Lucy, Borders and Conflicts in South Asia: The Radcliffe Boundary Commission and the Partition of the Punjab, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009.
This book is the first full-length study of the 1947 drawing of the Indo-Pakistani boundary in Punjab. Using the Radcliffe commission as a window onto the decolonization and independence of India and Pakistan, and examining the competing interests, both internal and international, that influenced the actions of the various major players, it highlights British efforts to maintain a grip on India even as the decolonization process spun out of control.

Cullather, Nick, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.
Food was a critical front in the Cold War battle for Asia. While Kennedy and Johnson envisioned Kansas-style agribusiness guarded by strategic hamlets, Indira Gandhi, Marcos, and Suharto inscribed their own visions of progress onto the land. Out of this campaign, the costliest and most sustained effort for development ever undertaken, emerged the struggles for resources and identity that define the region today.

Friend, Theodore, Between Two Empires: The Ordeal of the Philippines, 1929-1946, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965.
Based on extensive documentary research and numerous interviews in all three countries, this is the first in-depth study of the Philippines’ relationship with the United States and Japan between 1929 and 1946.

Haines, Daniel, Building the Empire, Building the Nation: Development, Legitimacy, and Hydro-Politics in Sind, 1919-1969, Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 2013.
This book examines tensions between representative and developmental sources of state legitimacy. It argues that the democratic trend of constitutional changes during the middle of the century conflicted with the authoritarian economic imperatives of the barrage projects, which Sindh’s rulers believed to be necessary for the projects’ successful execution. The barrage projects were based on the concept, endorsed by British officials and their Pakistani successors, that material progress would bring prosperity and happiness to Sindh.

Harding, Christopher, Religious Transformation in South Asia: The Meaning of Conversion in Colonial Punjab, Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 2008.
This book investigates mass Christian conversion movements in late colonial India, examining the internal dynamics of conversion and Christian community-building in the region of Punjab. It follows the tempestuous local relationships which lay at the heart of religious transformation, from tensions both within and between the missions of the (Catholic) Belgian Capuchins and (British Evangelical) Church Missionary Society to the incompatibilities of aspiration where oppressed rural low-caste — so-called ‘Chuhra’ — converts, as well as mission personnel and institutions, were concerned.

Howlett, Jonathan and Robert Bickers, Britain and China, 1840-1970: Empire, Finance and War, New York, NY: Routledge, 2015.
This book presents a range of new research on British-Chinese relations in the period from Britain’s first imperial intervention in China up to the 1960s. Topics covered include economic issues such as finance, investment and Chinese labor in British territories, questions of perceptions on both sides, such as British worries about, and exaggeration of, the ‘China threat’, including to India, and British aggression towards, and eventual withdrawal from, China.

Khan, Yasmin, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.
Khan examines the context, execution, and aftermath of Partition, weaving together local politics and ordinary lives with the larger political forces at play. She exposes the widespread obliviousness to what Partition would entail in practice and how it would affect the populace. Drawing together fresh information from an array of sources, Khan underscores the catastrophic human cost and shows why the repercussions of Partition resound even now, some sixty years later.

Kumar, Megha, Communalism and Sexual Violence in India: The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity, and Conflict, London, UK: I. B. Tauris, 2016.
This book examines the specific conditions motivating sexual crimes against women based on three of the deadliest riots that occurred in Ahmedabad city, Gujarat, in 1969, 1985 and 2002. Using an in-depth, grassroots-level analysis, Megha Kumar moves away from the predominant academic view that sees Hindu nationalist ideology as responsible for encouraging attacks on women. Instead, gendered communal violence is shown to be governed by the interaction of an elite ideology and the unique economic, social and political dynamics at work in each instance of conflict.

Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
In 1899 the United States, having announced its arrival as a world power during the Spanish-Cuban-American War, inaugurated a brutal war of imperial conquest against the Philippine Republic. Over the next five decades, U.S. imperialists justified their colonial empire by crafting novel racial ideologies adapted to new realities of collaboration and anticolonial resistance. In this transnational study, Kramer reveals how racial politics served U.S. empire, and how empire-building in turn transformed ideas of race and nation in both the United States and the Philippines.

Leow, Rachel, Taming Babel: Language in the Making of Malaysia, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
This book sheds new light on the role of language in the making of modern postcolonial Asian nations. Focusing on one of the most linguistically diverse territories in the British Empire, Leow explores the profound anxieties generated by a century of struggles to govern the polyglot subjects of British Malaya and postcolonial Malaysia.

Lewis, Su Lin, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920-1940, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the port-cities of Southeast Asia were staging grounds for diverse groups of ordinary citizens to experiment with modernity, as a rising Japan and American capitalism challenged the predominance of European empires after the First World War. Moving away from a nationalist reading of the period, Lewis explores layers of cross-cultural interaction in various spheres: the urban built environment, civic associations, print media, education, popular culture and the emergence of the modern woman.

Logevall, Frederik, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, New York, NY: Random House, 2014.
This 2013 Pulitzer Prize Winner in History is a balanced, deeply researched history of how, as French colonial rule faltered, a succession of American leaders moved step by step down a road toward full-blown war. Logevall delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another.

Long, S. R. Joey, Safe for Decolonization: The Eisenhower Administration, Britain, and Singapore, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2011.
Based on a wide array of Chinese- and English-language archival sources from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States, this book examines in depth the initiatives—both covert and public—undertaken by the United States in late-colonial Singapore. Apart from simply analyzing the effect of American activities on the politics of the island, Long also examines their impact on the relationship between Great Britain and the United States, and how the Anglo-American nuclear policy toward China and the establishment of a regional security institution (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) affected the security and decolonization of a strategic British base.

McGarr, Paul, The Cold War in South Asia: The United States, Britain, and the Indian Subcontinent, 1945-1965, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
This book provides the first comprehensive and transnational history of Anglo-American relations with South Asia during a seminal period in the history of the Indian Subcontinent, between independence in the late 1940s, and the height of the Cold War in the late 1960s. McGarr re-examines how and why the Cold War in South Asia evolved in the way that it did, at a time when the national leaderships, geopolitical outlooks and regional aspirations of India, Pakistan and their superpower suitors were in a state of considerable flux.

Menon, Jisha, The Performance of Nationalism: India, Pakistan, and the Memory of Partition, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
This book considers the formation of the Indian and Pakistani nation, in the wake of the most violent chapter of its history: the partition of the subcontinent. Menon offers a fresh analysis of nationalism from the perspective of performance. Menon recuperates the manifold valences of ‘mimesis’ as aesthetic representation, as the constitution of a community of witnesses, and as the mimetic relationality that underlies the encounter between India and Pakistan.

Nguyen, Lien Hang, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
This book renders transparent the internal workings of America’s most elusive enemy during the Cold War and shows that the war fought during the peace negotiations was bloodier and much more wide ranging than it had been previously. Nguyen explores the politics of war-making and peace-making not only from the North Vietnamese perspective but also from that of South Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States, presenting a uniquely international portrait.

Rai, Mridu, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.
How did religion and politics become so enmeshed in defining the protest of Kashmir’s Muslims against Hindu rule? This book reaches beyond standard accounts that look to the 1947 partition of India for an explanation. Examining the 100-year period before that landmark event, during which Kashmir was ruled by Hindu Dogra kings under the aegis of the British, Rai highlights the collusion that shaped a decisively Hindu sovereignty over a subject Muslim populace.

Sherman, Taylor, Muslim Belonging in Secular India: Negotiating Citizenship in Postcolonial Hyderabad, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
This book surveys the experience of some of India’s most prominent Muslim communities in the early postcolonial period. Muslims who remained in India after the Partition of 1947 faced distrust and discrimination, and were consequently compelled to seek new ways of defining their relationship with fellow citizens of India and its governments. Using the forcible integration of the princely state of Hyderabad in 1948 as a case study, Sherman reveals the fragile and contested nature of Muslim belonging in the decade that followed independence.

Simpson, Bradley, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.
Offering the first comprehensive history of U.S relations with Indonesia during the 1960s, this book explores one of the central dynamics of international politics during the Cold War: the emergence and U.S. embrace of authoritarian regimes pledged to programs of military-led development. Drawing on newly declassified archival material, Simpson examines how Americans and Indonesians imagined the country’s development in the 1950s and why they abandoned their democratic hopes in the 1960s in favor of Suharto’s military regime.

Thapar-Bjorkert, Surichi, Women in the Indian National Movement: Unseen Faces and Unheard  Voices, 1930-1942, New Delhi, India: Sage, 2006.
This book focuses on the nationalist participation of ordinary middle-class women in India’s freedom movement, especially in the United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh). To construct the nationalist narrative of unheard voices, Thapar-Bjorkert goes beyond conventional sources of history such as official and archival records, instead employing a diverse range of materials-including oral narratives, poetry, cartoons, vernacular magazines, and private correspondence-in order to let these women speak for themselves.

Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali, The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007.
In this study based on ethnographic and archival research, Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar argues that the combined interventions of the two postcolonial states were enormously important in shaping these massive displacements brought on by the partition of India and Pakistan. She examines the long, contentious, and ambivalent process of drawing political boundaries and making distinct nation-states in the midst of this historic chaos.