From the Ruins of Empire Book Summary By Pankaj Mishra

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From the Ruins of Empire is an enlightening and eye-opening read from author Pankaj Mishra, who takes readers on a journey through the previous two centuries from Eastern empires to nation-states.

From the colonization of Persia, India, China and Japan in the nineteenth century to the rise of nation-states in the twentieth century, Mishra explores in detail through selected stories about influential figures how cultures interacted and clashed violently in this tumultuous period.

This book provides a fresh look at history that allows us to keenly observe how individuals dramatically altered cultural narratives.

From the Ruins of Empire Book Summary

Book Name: From the Ruins of Empire (The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia)

Author(s): Pankaj Mishra

Rating: 3.9/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Politics

Author Bio

Pankaj Mishra is a renowned author and journalist who has been writing for some of the largest publications in the world, like The Guardian, The New York Times, London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.

His notable books include Butter Chicken in Ludiana, An End to Suffering, Temptations of the West and From the Ruins of Empire.

Mishra never ceases to amaze readers and critics alike with his vast knowledge on both Eastern and Western culture and politics—spanning from literature to philosophy.

He has an impressive capacity for bringing factual history alive with vivid metaphors, helping us gain new insights into our present global circumstance.

How Colonialism, Confrontation And Conflict Shaped The East In The Face Of Western Modernism

Western Modernism

In From the Ruins of Empire, you’ll discover how the East responded to Western imperialism and its violent policies – not by submitting to Western rule, but by actively fighting back against aggression while embracing and adapting some of their own Western modernism into their existing cultures.

The book takes a look at this fascinating period through the stories of those who fought for Eastern systems and traditions, exploring recent history and movements that led to nation-states as we know them today.

It shows us how a single naval battle changed the course of history; how a Persian intellectual helped form pan-Islamism; and other equally riveting tales.

Finally, it illuminates how pork fat sparked one of India’s bloodiest mutinies.

In short, this book presents a fascinating tale behind how The East fought against the West’s aggression whilst at the same time adopting some of their ideas in order to survive.

The Opium Trade And The Indian Mutiny Led To The Subjugation Of Asian Countries To Western Powers

Trade interests were the driving factor for Western powers wedging themselves into Asian countries such as China and India in the eighteenth century.

This started with Napoleon at the head of a 40,000-strong French army entering Egypt with the intention of protecting French traders.

In addition, international trade between China and the West was heavily imbalanced, due to China exporting more than it imported.

To gain an advantage, Western traders used opium as a tool to reduce the deficit.

As addiction spread throughout China, prices rose and money flowed back to the West.

Over time, this gave more power and control to European states inChina.

Around this same time period, attempts to suppress mutiny in India further opened up access by British forces leading to increased control and dominance by Britain.

As a direct result of these actions British citizens successfully carved up India into separate regions giving substantial political power over vast areas which kept growing as more soldiers were brought on land.

The Meiji Emperor’S Fusion Of Eastern Values And Western Progress Paved The Way For Increased East Asian Power Despite Western Dominance

When Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, it was a watershed moment.

Not only did Japan succeed in taking control of Manchuria and Korea, but it also gave other Eastern powers newfound hope that Western dominance could be curbed.

It all started when American ships arrived at Japanese ports in 1852 to try and set up trade relations.

In response to this shock at the superiority of the foreign vessels, Emperor Meiji decided to move Japan’s traditional values with western structures like industrialization so as to better compete with Western forces.

Japan fought hard and triumphed over Russian forces in 1905 – an event which led to greater Japanese influence around the world and inspired other Eastern leaders like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – first president of the Republic of Turkey – that a different approach could be taken against hegemonic powers.

Ataturk advocated for modern technology and politics while also emphasizing secularism, nationalism, rather than looking at religion or socialism as a unifying tool.

Ultimately, Japan’s victory against Russia signified that Eastern countries had their own ways of advancement without having to rely entirely on Western systems – giving hope that hegemony didn’t have to always remain on one side.

Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani: Unifying Muslim Nations To Resist Western Interference

Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was a nineteenth century thinker with an ambitious dream.

He believed in the power of a united Muslim force to combat the growing influence of the West, an idea he developed while travelling across the Middle East.

His experiences in India solidified his belief that pan-Islamism could represent a powerful form of resistance against Western encroachment.

Al-Afghani became the ideological advisor to Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and advocated for greater pan-Islamic unity amongst all Muslim nations in order to better meet the Western challenge.

Over time, his vision shifted from one focused on national autonomy to one that stressed cooperative ties between Muslim nations.

As well as putting forward ideas for pan-Islamic solidarity, al-Afghani also warned native Persians of foreign control over their resources.

He highlighted how critical resource sales to foreign companies created economic vulnerability by effectively taking money from Persians and giving it directly into the hands of foreign powers.

By recognizing the insidious threat of foreign influence, al- Afgahi was an influential figure who put forward ideas on how Muslims could form a strong enough force to break free and reclaim their agency in a rapidly shifting world.

Liang Qichao: Combining Western Values And Economic Systems With Confucian Ideals To Forge A New Path For China

Liang Qichao was an influential intellectual who had to find a balance between modernity and Confucianism in order to respond to the Western encroachment.

Born in 1873, Liang’s interpretation of Confucianism helped form his ideas on how to combat Western powers.

Established centuries earlier, Confucianism is a humanistic worldview that emphasizes learning, familial piety and loyalty, abiding by social and ethical norms.

Liang thought these could create powerful defenses against foreign influence – specifically, he believed the concept of ren encouraged harmony which was an antidote to Western economic control.

At the same time though, Liang knew that China needed to modernize in order to compete.

He looked towards works by Adam Smith who described how nations could become more wealthy with capitalist production systems.

Additionally, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics gave a useful framework for achieving the greatest good for individuals and society at large.

By studying these works as well as drawing from Confucian values, Thinker Liang Qichao juggled modernity and traditional Chinese rhetoric to protect his people from Western aggression.

Rabindranath Tagore’S Vision Of Bridging Divisions Through Art

Rabindranath Tagore was an intellectual and spiritual leader born in 1861 when the world was divided between British colonial power and Indian nationalists.

To oppose both sides, Tagore used his art to bridge the divide between them.

He wrote novels, poems, painted pictures and composed music that addressed the damaging effects of nationalism on people.

He believed that art could manifest and accentuate the common elements among everyone – not just East or West, but all peoples regardless of race or nation.

In addition to writing novels like Gora and Home and the World, he famously became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Tagore’s efforts became more visible after winning this award as he traveled extensively to discuss cultures of not just India but of other Eastern countries as well.

His lectures focused on a cosmopolitan worldview without centering around any one specific country or nation.

Through this approach he promoted a spiritual unity amongst people while simultaneously denouncing European colonialism and nationalism.

By basing non-nationalist unity on shared goals instead of xenophobia, he opposed Western colonialism in India and sought to unite its divided populace through understanding and respect for different cultures.

The Ottoman Empire Struggled To Preserve Its Traditions In The Face Of Westernization


The Ottoman Empire was thrown into cultural chaos as the tug of war between traditional values and modern ideas from the West raged.

Traditionalists wanted to stick to their roots, embracing Islamic law and shunning technological advances, such as industrialization, that could potentially diminish local industry.

They also opposed Western fashion replacing traditional garments.

Meanwhile, modernists sought to adopt certain ideas from the French Revolution, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution – even allowing non-Muslims to join the Ottoman army, in order to make it a more inclusive force that protected the empire’s future.

In response to this clash of cultures, between 1839 and 1876 there was a series of social reforms known as “Tanzimat movement” which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to all Ottoman subjects regardless of religion – based on ideas inspired by the French Revolution – and pushed for technological improvements in armaments production to keep up with their Western counterparts.

Despite attempts at reform, religious communities and imams still urged their congregations to stay true to traditional values, yet they were too late to stop the influence of Western culture from gaining ground in the Ottoman Empire.

China’S 19Th Century Opium Wars And Defeat In The Sino-Japanese War: The Driving Force Behind National Unity

The facade of ancient China was torn asunder by the opium trade wars and a militaristic Japan in the 19th century.

In particular, Britain sent addictive opium to address imbalances of trade since China only exported tea, silk and porcelain in quantities, while importing few if any Western goods.

As a consequence, China fought – and lost – two wars with Britain which led to even more liberal treaties with their victorious opponents.

With increased trade came Western ideas, including economic production methods from the Industrial Revolution which meant low-cost goods coming into China in large quantities.

This was followed by Japan’s rising military strength resulting in a war over Korea which saw China conceding defeat due to their embarrassingly weak military.

Chinese thinkers at the time believed that national unity was needed to oppose the West and stand up for their culture.

The Barbaric West: Examining European Imperialism In The East

The idea that the West was a “civilizing” force in the East has long been questioned due to numerous examples of Western nations engaging in extreme violence when dealing with Eastern people.

This was true when Britain ruthlessly crushed the Indian Mutiny in the mid-1800s for rebelling against their high taxes and affronts to their faith.

British soldiers even resorted to old Mughal practices such as strapping captured mutineers to the mouth of a cannon before it was fired as retribution for their rebellion.

This horrendous yet typical example of Western cruelty exposed how they were no more civilized than those they deemed as “barbaric”.

In response, Mahatma Gandhi led a movement against these oppressive forces by using peaceful means and traditional Eastern nationalism to fight back against British imposed taxation laws.

By boycotting British goods and organizing marches, his methods showed how violence is not always necessary to achieve justice, thus undermining any claim of being a “civilizing” force.

How Eastern Countries Adopted And Utilized Western Ideas To Oppose Western Dominance

Eastern Countries

Despite rising tensions between East and West, some Eastern countries adopted Western values while still resisting Western political dominance.

This is demonstrated by the case of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in the 1950s who unified Iranians against the West and nationalized Iran’s oil industry to give his country more control over its resources.

However, despite adopting various aspects of Western government – particularly the concept of nation-states and social reforms – his attempt to use these tools against the West was met with a hostile response from Western powers and ultimately led to his downfall.

The concept of a nation-state had been a foreign one to many Eastern cultures that were used to having empires rather than citizens.

Yet in taking note of Western experience, certain countries thought it made sense both politically and economically for Eastern powers to become more involved in global politics by embracing this idea.

Nevertheless, resistance towards the overwhelming political influence of the West continued even as certain countries adopted more modern models of government.

Wrap Up

From the Ruins of Empire provides a valuable insight into how our world is today, and most importantly, why.

The author argues that it is impossible to understand the distinct relationships between Western countries and Eastern cultures without first understanding their tumultuous history.

He takes us through this history, starting from colonialism to the rise of Japan and India and China, as well as the relationship between Muslim countries and the West.

Ultimately, he shows us that many of the current issues can be traced back to colonialism.

In short, this book offers an important reminder as to why understanding our past is essential for building a better future.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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