During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, while key decisions were debated by the victorious Allied powers, a multitude of smaller nations and colonies held their breath, waiting to see how their fates would be decided. President Woodrow Wilson, in his Fourteen Points, had called for "a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims," giving equal weight would be given to the opinions of the colonized peoples and the colonial powers. Among those nations now paying close attention to Wilson's words and actions were the budding nationalist leaders of four disparate non-Western societies--Egypt, India, China, and Korea. That spring, Wilson's words would help ignite political upheavals in all four of these countries.
This book is the first to place the 1919 Revolution in Egypt, the Rowlatt Satyagraha in India, the May Fourth movement in China, and the March First uprising in Korea in the context of a broader "Wilsonian moment" that challenged the existing international order. Using primary source material from America, Europe, and Asia, historian Erez Manela tells the story of how emerging nationalist movements appropriated Wilsonian language and adapted it to their own local culture and politics as they launched into action on the international stage. The rapid disintegration of the Wilsonian promise left a legacy of disillusionment and facilitated the spread of revisionist ideologies and movements in these societies; future leaders of Third World liberation movements--Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Jawaharlal Nehru, among others--were profoundly shaped by their experiences at the time.
The importance of the Paris Peace Conference and Wilson's influence on international affairs far from the battlefields of Europe cannot be underestimated. Now, for the first time, we can clearly see just how the events played out at Versailles sparked a wave of nationalism that is still resonating globally today.
At the close of WWI, America seemed the foe of Western imperialism, according to this probing historical study. Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points peace framework and his rhetoric of self-determination and equality of nations appeared to expectant Africans and Asians like a formula for their liberation from European colonial rule. One Indian leader hailed Wilson as another "Christ or Buddha," and a Chinese academic called him the "number one good man in the world." Wilson was bombarded by petitions from colonial nationalist leaders (including Ho Chi Minh). who hoped he would champion their cause at the Paris Peace Conference. But the other Allies proved unsympathetic to self-determination in their colonial domains and Wilson backed off, provoking disillusioned nationalists from Egypt to Korea to stage uprisings and turn to Soviet communism for inspiration. Manela, an assistant professor of history at Harvard, offers a well-researched, if somewhat dry, survey of anticolonial politics during this fraught period. Wilsonian principles, he contends, laid the conceptual groundwork for the 20th century's nationalist revolutions; yet Wilson's betrayal ensured that anti-imperialism would shift from a liberal internationalist ideology to a radical, anti-Western one. The author presents an enlightening analysis of a shortsighted failure whose convulsive effects are still with us. 20 photos.