SHORTLISTED FOR THE CUNDILL HISTORY PRIZE 2021
AN ECONOMIST AND HISTORY TODAY BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
'Compelling and highly original ... The Asia that we see today is the product of the 'underground' which Harper describes with skill and empathy in this monumental work' Rana Mitter, Literary Review
The story of the hidden struggle waged by secret networks around the world to destroy European imperialism
The end of Europe's empires has so often been seen as a story of high politics and warfare. In Tim Harper's remarkable new book the narrative is very different: it shows how empires were fundamentally undermined from below. Using the new technology of cheap printing presses, global travel and the widespread use of French and English, young radicals from across Asia were able to communicate in ways simply not available before. These clandestine networks stretched to the heart of the imperial metropolises: to London, to Paris, to the Americas, but also increasingly to Moscow.
They created a secret global network which was for decades engaged in bitter fighting with imperial police forces. They gathered in the great hubs of Asia - Calcutta, Singapore, Batavia, Hanoi, Tokyo, Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong - and plotted with ceaseless ingenuity, both through persuasion and terrorism, the end of the colonial regimes. Many were caught and killed or imprisoned, but others would go on to rule their newly independent countries.
Drawing on an amazing array of new sources, Underground Asia turns upside-down our understanding of twentieth-century empire. The reader enters an extraordinary world of stowaways, false identities, secret codes, cheap firearms, assassinations and conspiracies, as young Asians made their own plans for their future.
'Magnificent - it reads like a thriller and was difficult to put down' Peter Frankopan, History Today
Magnificent - it reads like a thriller and was difficult to put down.
Compelling and highly original ... The Asia that we see today - of nationalist states that owe a great deal of their identity to anti-imperialism - is the product of the 'underground' that these individuals forged in the 1910s and 1920s and which Harper describes with skill and empathy in this monumental work.
A magnificent, sweeping history of Asian revolutionary movements ... Harper makes the intriguing point that as imperialism fostered globalisation, drawing together Aden, Alexandria and Bombay with Calcutta, Hong Kong, Penang and Singapore, so this same process allowed Asia's anti-colonial activists to establish connections with each other ... Harper has a fine eye for the telling detail.
Brilliant, superbly original ... Underground Asia breaks new ground by showing how a collective consciousness emerged among revolutionaries on this shifting terrain ... Though many of the revolutionaries Harper evokes are now forgotten - or, for some Asian nations, too inconvenient to remember - their underground stories still echo through time.
Underground Asia is a monumental and magnificent study of anti-colonial revolutionaries who forged solidarities across the globe to mount a connected onslaught against the British, French, and Dutch empires. Written with verve and panache, this is riveting narrative history at its very best that would evoke the envy of the finest novelists.
Tim Harper's Underground Asia is a marvel of a book. I have never seen anything like it. Harper has the storyteller's gift. He makes connections across space and time and race and place that most people can't dream to emulate. No one understands the warp and weft of the absolute powder-keg explosion of the beginnings of nationalism in Asia writ large better than Tim Harper.
PRAISE FOR FORGOTTEN WARS: 'Lucid, inexhaustible scholarship ... majestic.'
They have done a marvellous job in recovering the largely forgotten history of its end in Asia. Their work is not only a model of scholarship, but a delight to read.
PRAISE FOR FORGOTTEN ARMIES: 'An essential and stimulating account of this crucial time.'
This is a spectacular book: in its scope, encyclopaedic knowledge, understanding of southeast Asia, and the light it throws on a neglected subject, the struggle for British Asia.