British military action against China in the Opium War of 1839-1842 had created new precedence for Western penetration of Eastern markets. For states that refused to open their doors to Western trade on Western terms, the military option now appeared absolutely justified As King William II of the Netherlands wrote to the Japanese emperor in 1844 in mendly advise to accommodate Western demands, "lest happy Japan be destroyed by war."

As we have seen in earlier examples of Diaspora and transnationalism gave rise to radicalization. It also included attempts to fuse western and eastern spiritual and esoteric traditions, as they were variously understood. Whereby this, in turn, encouraged Asian thinkers to return to the Hinduism and sources of their own spiritual knowledge.

In a Ph.D. dissertation that is nearing completion, Mriganka Mukhopadhyay explores how in this case, the new creed of Theosophy created a closer interlink between Occultism and Religious Nationalism in colonial society under the guidance of Annie Besant and her Indian associates.

Mukhopadhyay here cites the co-founder of the Theosophical society Helena Blavatsky, who painted a romantic picture of the Orient through Theosophy, whereby she wanted to set the tone of this Orientalism herself. As long as her disciples followed her own interpretation of Theosophy, she was comfortable, but if the disciples decided to come up with their own interpretations, she became intolerant of them; 

The conflict involved an Indian Theosophist trying to develop a discourse distinct from Blavatsky’s Theosophical ideology whereby according to Mukhopadhyay, the tensions between Blavatsky and her Indian followers, such as Chatterji, were different from the conflicts between Blavatsky and her Western colleagues, as factors of racism and colonialism influenced the former. In other words, Orientalism, both in its negative and positive forms, influenced the relationship between the Western and the Indian Theosophists. As a result, in Blavatsky’s treatment, there was a racial undertone in the latter case. Also, the dynamics of their relationship reflect his unequal position as a colonial subject. 

All of this also included a remembrance of India's archaic Hindu past by numerous societies and writers, in the burgeoning print media (newspapers, periodicals, and journals), by nationalist and religious leaders and by British colonial officers and administrators and Western religious societies, such as the Theosophists.

Where Swami Dayānand Sarasvatī well known as the founder of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement of the Vedic tradition with which the Theosophical Society was associated from May 22, 1878, until March 1882 (changing its name for a time to that of the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj) was primarily concerned with the spiritual renewal of Hindu Aryas, nationalist leaders cooped the Aryan theory in their search for a cohesive ideological tool to reify Hindu/Indian nationhood. Of the early nationalists, Bal Gangadhar Tilak (born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak), co-founder of the Indian Home Rule Leagues where he was supported by that time head of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant.  In line with Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, Tilak published two works, Orion or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas (1892) and The Arctic Home or Vedas (1903), which set out his argument.

Not to mention that between 1908 and 1911, also fifty-eight reading clubs were founded in Singapore and Malaya, and revolutionary leaders argued that traveling theatre shows which attracted laboring audiences had more impact than their speeches. One of those moved to action was Wen Shengcai, a former Qing soldier who then worked for many years in Malaya as a factory apprentice and a tin miner in Perak. After he clashed with an English manager and was inspired by a speech by Sun Yat-sen, he returned to Canton entirely on his own initiative, where he shot dead the Qing general Fu Qi in April 1911. In this, Wen was following the inspiration of Wang Jingwei himself, who became a patriotic hero after he returned to China incognito from Japan with an assassination squad and tried – and failed – to assassinate the Qing prince regent in Beijing in early 1910, with a bomb planted in a metal box on the roadside near his residence.1 These deeds launched from overseas generated a powerful mystique that encouraged others to follow their example.

This transnational Asia was without borders. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1867 had brought the west dramatically closer. In the guise of Seaman Ba, Nguyen Tat Thanh landed in July 1911 in Marseilles and experienced the rough cosmopolitanism of the old Mediterranean. Here he entered his first café, and for the first time was called ‘monsieur’ by a Frenchman. ‘The French in France are all good,’ he concluded. ‘But the French colonialists are very cruel and inhuman.’ He would touch land in ports further afield, in Madagascar, Congo, Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia, Portugal, Spain, picking up in each a postcard or matchbox as a souvenir, and soaking up impressions of colonial conditions, not least their essential similarities.2 In these years, it was still possible for a person to travel vast distances and leave little imprint on official ledgers or lists. 

Nguyen Tat Thanh arrived in Europe at the dying of the light of its belle époque, an era of unbounded confidence in the promise of a world connected and transformed. The wealth, goods, and styles of Asia had never been more accessible to the European public. It was a time of great ‘universal’ expositions – Paris in 1900, Brussels in 1910, the Festival of Empire in London in 1911 – which brought in colonial products, and even imperial subjects, as objects of curiosity. The London extravaganza of 1911 – together with the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, imperial-themed clubs, museums and monuments, and the Imperial College of Science and Technology – marked the crescendo of attempts to fashion London into a city that better reflected its world-encompassing status. It was certainly a lure to its new colonial subjects. This was still a world of circulating monarchs, and Indian and Malay princes gravitated to the courts of Europe and took the waters at their aristocratic playgrounds, in a reprise of the old Grand Tour. This was not always a genuflexion to imperial authority. The ostentatious itineraries of one of the wealthiest of these men, the maharajah of the Malay state of Johor, took in not only the Court of St James but also the Sublime Porte in Istanbul, the Hohenzollern and Habsburg courts, as well as the imperial palace in Tokyo, in a global performance of Malay sovereignty.3 This followed William A. P. Martin's translation of Henry Wheaton's Elements of International Law in 1864. Previously it was also translated as 薩威棱貼. Martin's translation became definitive and also traveled to Japan.

In the west, some Asians were virtually unassailable by their wealth and standing. In 1867 Dadabhai Naoroji, a Parsi businessman and the first Asian to be elected to the House of Commons, was able to lecture London audiences on the ‘drain of wealth’ and Britain’s moral debt India. As Naoroji pointed out, the argument had a long pedigree in India, and it ran far ahead of liberal and radical critiques of empire within Britain itself – but it went unheard.4 

The Bengali sage Swami Vivekananda brought his message of reformed Hinduism and a sharp critique of western materialism and triumphalism to a world stage at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893 and lecture audiences across the United States and in Britain in 1895. Perhaps 2,000 people attended the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911. It was called originally to discuss ‘the awakening of Asia,’ but then was broadened at the African-American activist and writer W. E. B. Du Bois, to encompass issues of slavery and the condition of Africa. Du Bois’s book The Souls of Black Folk (1903) exposed the global ‘color line’ as the defining problem of the new century, and, in his evocation of the ‘darker world,’ he reached across it to seek solidarity with Asian thinkers.5 While the congress's organizers skirted imperial controversy, it brought together voices of colonialists, colonial reformers, and the colonized in a way that was unprecedented and not to is repeated for many years.6 

Then there were the defeated and the dispossessed. The west was now seen as the safest haven for its opponents. A central paradox of empire in a liberal age was that its most enlightened, most universal principles and practices could not be universally applied to colonial societies on the grounds of their essential ‘difference.’7 But in the imperial metropolis, it was not possible to restrict freedom of movement, expression or association in the ways that were now routine in a colony. The rules of evidence, the right to asylum, the higher thresholds for arrest and extradition were backed by judicial traditions, the universities' relative autonomy, the press, and public opinion, and the French Revolution and its values. All this could be exploited artfully.8 Many Asians came to imperial capitals searching for justice, as what official records called ‘disappointed litigants,’ appealing to a higher power against local oppressions. Others arrived as refugees or simply found themselves stranded: discharged sailors, abandoned servants, itinerant traders, or performers fallen on hard times. But increasingly, they came as exiles. 

José Rizal’s two long sojourns in Europe, in 1882–7 and 1890–92, took in not only colonial Spain but also extended stays in London, Paris, Heidelberg, Berlin, and Brussels. Of necessity, his fictional exposé of colonial life, Noli Me Tangere (‘Touch Me Not,’ 1887), was published in Berlin, and his dark Novela Mundial, El Filibusterismo, was published in Ghent. Already well-read and thoroughly versed in Europe’s ways, Rizal, his fellow Filipinos, and others came not with a defeated air but to seize the continent’s opportunities with brash confidence and make Europe their own.9Sun Yat-sen’s first exile period brought him via Japan, Hawaii, and the United States to London in 1896. In a curious incident, he wandered, or was enticed – it was never clear – into the de jure Qing territory of the Chinese legation at 40 Portland Place, from there to be bundled off to China on a capital charge. But he was released after a public campaign by English supporters, taken up by The Times. The incident, and Sun’s own published account of it, greatly elevated his revolutionary aura as ‘the man destined to save China.’10 After he was banished from Penang in November 1910, and persona non grata in British Malaya, Hong Kong, the Netherlands East Indies, French Indochina, Japan, and Siam, the only path opened was to London again, and from there to the United States.

In Paris in 1911, the exiled Phan Chu Trinh established himself on the margins of the republic of letters, near where rue Mouffetard, with its small publishers and bookshops, emptied into the working-class districts of the 13e arrondissement. With his modest official stipend, he took up lodgings in the townhouse at 6 villa des Gobelins. He worked on a 7,800-line verse translation into Vietnamese of Liang Qichao’s Chinese rendering of Strange Encounters with Beautiful Women. Trinh moved among a small community of Vietnamese and of other Asian nationals who worked as translators or instructors in institutions such as the École des Langues Orientales.11

Increasingly, students added to the numbers of Asians resident in Europe. After 1890 the Qing government had encouraged its ambassadors in Paris to take ‘embassy students’ with them. One of them, Li Shizeng, returned to Paris with Francophile friends to open a publishing house and a soya bean factory, along with an outlet in the Marais extolling the bean’s health virtues. He recruited workers from China, the first batch of sixty traveling via the newly opened Trans-Siberian Railway, for what was called ‘frugal work-study’: an idealized vision for creating model citizens, disciplined and aware. By 1913, some 242 Chinese students in Europe, most of them in France.12 Others made their way to Berlin and Heidelberg, or Lucerne. To Indian educators and students, German Indology and German science were vital counterweights to British scholarship in the same fields, compromised, as it was, by its role in supporting colonial rule in India.13 But while there were barely 100 students from India in Britain in 1880, by 1910, there were between 1,000 and 1,200. That year, a parliamentary report on ‘distressed’ colonial subjects voiced its concern at the growing number of ‘adventurers’ from British India: young men ‘with no very clearly defined aim,’ traveling under their own steam, or with rather an unsteady family support.14 For the unbound traveler and the exile, the West's journey could be arduous and humiliating. In September 1908, the young Indian journalist M. P. T. Acharya left Madras' home city with a single suitcase and only 300 rupees, under a heavy cloud of suspicion and watched by the police. The question was where, if anywhere, in a world of empires was a sanctuary to be found?  He could travel relatively easily to India's French possessions, the largest of which was Pondicherry's old port, some 100 miles to the south. There he attempted to re-establish his journal, India. But, as its proprietor, he was liable for any offense of the paper. Although this was a different jurisdiction, there was the constant threat of extradition or being carried away to British territory by force, ‘with the help of rowdies for whom Pondicherry was famous.’ It was also not much of a place to live. Returning briefly to Madras in October for the marriage his parents had arranged, Acharya traveled to Colombo by train and ferry the following month. His next step would be irrevocable, as, beyond this point, he could not pay his passage home. But he was unsure whether to head east or west. His preferred route was to the Netherlands East Indies, a journey he could make more cheaply in deck class, in the tropical warmth, in the clothes he possessed. It was impossible to travel west in deck class without winter clothes. Yet there was no passage to Java, and he could not afford to stay in Colombo, a British port, with the ever-present danger of being sent home. So, almost on impulse, around late November, he purchased a third-class ticket on a Japanese ship with 165 rupees of the money he had left and sailed to the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal to France.15 

The Japanese ship served only English food, a staple boiled beef, forbidden to a Brahmin like Acharya, and so he fasted for the 22-day passage, except for the gift of an apple from the steward. Entering the Mediterranean, the air felt freer, and sailing between Sicily and Italy, he communed with the ghost of Giuseppe Mazzini. Acharya disembarked in Marseilles, starving and very cold. He could see the republican trinity – Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – chiseled everywhere on public buildings. He was in a country famous as a haven for refugees, but he knew that if the authorities heard he was penniless, ‘all that vaunted freedom and hospitality would have vanished into air.’ Through the kindness of a stranger, he was given the fare to ‘the city of revolutions,’ Paris. But it was a humiliation for a man of good family and standing to be reduced to mendicancy in shabby clothes. ‘I was not accustomed to asking even for a recommendation in India from my own relatives. How dare I go down on my knees before a stranger?’ Acharya approached long-distance correspondents from his days as a newspaperman, chiefly French orientalist, and Indian translator. But the established Indian residents of Paris, settled in comfortable middle-class homes, with a household of staff, were unsympathetic, defensive over the sacrifices they had made, and weary of giving to a constant stream of exiles. Although it had never been Acharya’s intention to go to ‘the English “home,”’ unable to find anything to do in Paris, to London, he went. An acquaintance in Paris advanced him his fare, Acharya knew, just to be free of his ‘pestering’.16. 

In London, as in Paris, people created their own spaces in the city. The privileged lived in awkward proximity to servants and seamen: Lascars, Chinese, Malays, and Arabs had been a presence in London for centuries in areas such as Limehouse, often lodging with Asian housekeepers who had married local wives. In 1911 there were around 1,319 Chinese in Britain, mostly in London, Liverpool, and Cardiff. Most had followed the sea as stewards or cooks, like Nguyen Tat Thanh. They were literate, resourceful men – emphatically not ‘coolies’, but, as the Liverpool Weekly Courier recognized in 1906, ‘the true intellectuals and progressives of their country.’ However, the growing number of Chinese sailors jumping in Britain fuelled an ugly mood of racial panic.17 An international seamen’s strike in 1911 was in some ways a testament to the solidarities across borders, but also to growing hostility at the Asian seamen who, in Canton and elsewhere, were hired to break it. Paradoxically, this helped establish a global web of what the Cantonese called ‘Chinaports’ – such as the community of 300 stranded seamen in Hamburg and Bremerhaven, the Chinatowns in Rotterdam’s Katendrecht district or Amsterdam’s Binnen Bantammerstraat – all serviced by laundries, lodgings, and eating houses, and far-roving pedlars from Zhejiang province.18 

In the midst of this, the new wave of Asian students to London gravitated to enclaves such as ‘Asia minor’ in Bayswater or, more often, Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, where the British Museum, University College and the nearby Inns of Court – the destinations of most foreign students – were to be found. Many Indians spent their time, as was intended, preparing for high office in the Raj. English civil servants on home leave or in retirement were placed in loco parentis. On his arrival, Acharya watched scornfully how his countrymen cultivated India-bound Englishmen with a view to future influence, grateful to mix with men they could not be seen with at home. Some were so anxious not to be seen as subversives that they did not ‘care to be in any other company but their own landlord’s family.’19 These domestic situations could open the way for intimacies impossible in Calcutta, Singapore, or Hanoi. But others chafed at the chaperones and the racial snubs of landlords. Acharya’s journal in Madras had carried a ‘Letter from London’ by a student, V. V. S. Aiyar, so he made his way to its source: a well-appointed villa at 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, north London. 

As it was called, ‘India House’ was the vision of one of the leading Indian citizens of Edwardian London, Shyamji Krishna Varma. Born in Gujarat in 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny, he had come to England in 1879 as a protégé of the Oxford Sanskritist and evangelist Sir Monier Monier-Williams. He earned success at Balliol College, Oxford, qualified as a barrister of the Inner Temple, and was even accepted as an honorary member of the United Empire Club. Returning to India, he served as diwan, chief minister, of several princely states and grew wealthy through investments in cotton mills in Ajmer, in Rajasthan. He was every bit ‘the successful prize-boy of a subject nation.’ But, in 1897, disillusioned by his political career in the Indian princely states, and feeling personally betrayed by Englishmen after a series of affronts, he quit public service and left for London.

This was a year of hard choices in Indian politics. The Indian National Congress had, since its formation in 1885, adopted an avowed ‘moderate’ policy towards the Raj. Now there were calls from within Congress for full Swaraj, or ‘self-rule,’ backed by boycott's new strategy. These were led by the radical trinity ‘Lal-Bal-Pal’: Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab, the above-mentioned Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra, and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal. Their most dramatic manifestation came out of Bombay, where Tilak led the opposition to the new invasive government powers adopted there in the wake of the plague of 1896–7. After the political murder of a plague official and his military escort at Poona, as they returned from a parade to mark the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in June 1897, Tilak was arrested on a charge of incitement and imprisoned. Krishnavarma had played a small part in Congress politics but had grown increasingly critical of it. He had also sought Tilak’s aid in his own disputes with the British. He now felt a marked man. As he explained some ten years later: ‘It is a folly for a man to allow himself to be arrested by an unsympathetic government and thus deprived of action when, by anticipating matters, he can avoid such evils.’20 

‘Exile,’ Krishnavarma also wrote, ‘has its privileges.’ For some years after 1897, Krishnavarma quietly enjoyed them. He believed that the British might have robbed India, but at least their banks were solid, and he was an opportunistic investor on the London stock exchange. He was quick to read the runes from the Russo-Japanese War and made money from issuing new Japanese loans.21 He moved in the outer circles of academic life. Still, then, out of nowhere, at the funeral of the philosopher Herbert Spencer in 1904, he made the dramatic announcement of a gift of £1,000 to the University of Oxford for a lectureship in Spencer’s memory. He also launched a journal, The Indian Sociologist, in January 1905. Spencer was quoted on the banner-head of each issue: ‘Resistance to aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative. Non-resistance hurts both altruism and egoism.’ The paper took full advantage of the freedom of publication in London and was an increasingly radical voice for Swaraj. Its initial run of 1,000 copies swiftly circulated among Indians overseas, and, to the consternation of officials, copies made their way back to India hidden in the baggage of travelers.

Krishnavarma then bought the house at 65 Cromwell Avenue, which he opened to a small fanfare in July 1905 as an alternative base for Indian students in London. It was modeled on the adult education branch of Oxford University, Ruskin Hall. Krishnavarma established his own scholarships – loans, named after Indian heroes and martyrs, and made it a condition that holders should not join the Indian Civil Service. The speech at the opening of India House was given by H. M. Hyndman, an early follower and popularizer of the ideas of Karl Marx.22 Hyndman threw the language of colonial paternalism back at the imperial establishment: ‘It is the immoderate men, the fanatical men, who will work out the salvation of India by herself.’23 Soon, Krishnavarma heard of an ‘India House’ in Tokyo and New York. The villa in Highgate was a natural base for M. P. T. Acharya, who took up a freeboard there. Staffed by an Indian cook, a lascar, and ‘a Czechish refugee’, Acharya found it much like a bachelor hostel back home.24 

India House gathered into its orbit some of the most talented Indian intellectuals abroad. Bhai Parmanand, from Punjab, had been traveling in South Africa as a preacher for the Hindu reformist organization the Arya Samaj; on the recommendation of an Indian activist there, a lawyer named M. K. Gandhi, he came to London. For Parmanand, too, England was ‘a sacred land’ by its ‘pure and free atmosphere.’ Like many exiles of all nations, he found sanctuary in the reading room of the British Library. There he wrote a master’s thesis on ‘The Rise of British Power in India,’ the beginnings of India's larger history. His examiners did not take to it; in any case, he had come to the view that English education was introduced to ‘destroy our national consciousness.’25

Parmanand encountered a like mind in a fellow student from the Punjab, Har Dayal, studying modern history and Sanskrit at St John’s College, Oxford. Har Dayal had already been talked about in his school days at St Stephen’s in Delhi as one of his generation's nimblest minds and was a protégé of Lala Lajpat Rai. Early in his time at Oxford, he made the most of the opportunity to meet thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw and Shaw’s friend, the exiled Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. But his mood was darkened by the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab in May 1907 and his banishment to Mandalay. This was a naked exercise of executive power that divided even the high imperial establishment and parted the ways for many of the empire’s Indian subjects. Later that year, Congress split into ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ lines. Simultaneously, with calculated impudence and characteristic impulsiveness, Har Dayal resigned his government scholarship and Oxford place. The man responsible for Indian students, Sir William Curzon Wyllie, was quick to point out that he was almost at the end of his three years of funding in any case. Officials were even more perplexed when he wore a dhoti and kurta about London and preached sexual renunciation and a rather strident form of Hinduism. Har Dayal was a married man and had brought his wife, Sundar Rani, to England, to the great annoyance. Now she was expecting, and her family sent her a second-class ticket to return home for a wedding. Har Dayal cashed it in for two third-class tickets, and they traveled together. Their families cushioned the choices they made. Sundar Rani was the granddaughter of the Prime Minister of Patiala and, as her cousin put it, ‘they were all well-off people, and they took care of him.’26 By the following year, both Har Dayal and Bhai Parmanand were back in the Punjab, disillusioned men in the epicenter of Raj’s crackdown on ‘extremism.’ Where Har Dayal went, ‘young students flocked to hear him’.27. 

One of the first India House scholars, chosen from over 100 applicants and on ilak himself's recommendation, was Vinayak Savarkar, who had been active in western Indian politics with his two brothers. He carried with him from India in 1906 a biography of Mazzini. While ostensibly studying law at Gray’s Inn, he spent much of his time translating it into his native Marathi. Savarkar saw in Mazzini, the model for a new revolutionary personality. He fashioned himself in Mazzini’s likeness and devoted himself to instilling it in others. He shared Acharya’s contempt for fellow students who became ‘paying guests’ of the English and thought so ‘highly of the opportunity to sit, drink, and dine with white families’ and pay over the odds for it. He cultivated what he termed the more ‘middle-class’ students – those who were less confident and less anglicized – although he also looked to enlist a rich or princely sponsor. All this was possible in London: ‘If someone organizes a tea party,’ he noted, ‘people of all Indian provinces, grades and prestige can participate.’28 

Meetings began to be held in relative secrecy in India House. But Savarkar was known to the police before he left India. Scotland Yard started to watch his inner circle, a secret organization that, again inspired by Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy,’ called Abhinav Bharat, or ‘Young India.’ One of his closest associates was Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, a law student at the Middle Temple, from a notable Bengali literary family, better known simply as ‘Chatto.’ He had failed to win an India House scholarship – ‘a disappointed man,’ scoffed Krishnavarma – and from 1903 lived with a young Englishwoman. They opened a confectioner’s shop in Shepherd’s Bush in 1908, and when it failed, they lived in Notting Hill as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Chatterton’ until they quarreled and parted.29 

For the British, it was highly impertinent of Indians to abuse in such a way the liberties of what the Viceroy of India termed ‘the headquarters of the Empire.’ It was even more distressing that they might find allies and sympathizers there. The Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902 and earlier British interventions in Egypt and elsewhere had deepened the liberal and radical critique of imperialism and the economic cartels and militarism behind it. The word itself now took on a new edge: ‘house-breaking reduced to a science,’ as the Fabian socialist C. H. Norman defined it in 1906.30 India House enlisted a range of British sympathizers, from Spencerites and curiosity seekers to the likes of H. M. Hyndman and Guy Aldred, an anarchist and agnostic who took on the printing of The Indian Sociologist. Patriots of all colonized lands drew on the words and deeds of Sinn Fein. But these people could not be relied upon. The Irish were also servants of empire, with generations of soldiers, police officers, and administrators going out to India. As an example of anti-British struggle, the stunted progress of home rule in Ireland in the 1900s was caused dismay. It was a slogan that Indian nationalists hesitated to use.31 

Krishnavarma’s own alliances were tactical rather than a passionate meeting of minds. He lived austerely, with no interest in the bohemian pleasures of London – unlike many of his students – adhering to a strict Brahmin-like vegetarian diet that avoided onions and chilies, and dressing, as a Parisian newspaper mistook it, in ‘the severe garb of an English clergyman.’ Despite all Krishnavarma’s munificence, some of the young men of India House thought him miserly and too quick to remind them of their obligation to him.32 The likes of Savarkar were less interested than Krishnavarma in a British audience. For them, faced by everyday racism and condescension and constantly confronted by their own relative disempowerment, it was a moot question as to how far such ‘entanglement’ with the ruling class of empire was advancing their cause.33 Where was the common ground? 

This was an era of congresses and manifestos – in art, literature, and politics – of discovering the ‘international’ and the pursuit of the ‘cosmopolitan.’ All too easily, internationalism proved to be no more than a ‘fantasy,’ the ‘hypocritical private-egotistical cosmopolitanism of free trade,’ as the young Friedrich Engels had discovered at the ‘Festival of Nations’ in London in 1845.34 But in a world where others had wealth, privilege and position, it at least offered the possibility for a well-positioned few to create some space for themselves to speak for their community on the term of rare equality and to argue with dignity in the midst of indignities.35 Across colonial Asia, not least in the port cities, outward-looking mobile elites embraced liberal cosmopolitanism as an ideal, a lifestyle, and even an identity. They belonged to a small Asian middle class and a colonial public sphere that flourished through newspapers, clubs, and municipal institutions such as sanitary bodies or school boards. Many remained attracted to the idea, at least, of imperial citizenship; they asked only for it to be upheld fairly.36 Their lives were very different from those for whom worldliness was not a choice but was thrust upon them as a necessity for survival. 

Some liberal and radical causes traveled further than others. Temperance leagues, women’s movements, campaigns against ‘white slavery’ and for animal rights all swiftly found an audience and advocates in Asia, and sometimes beyond the elite. Internationalism spawned universal inter-languages, like Esperanto, which offered speakers the possibility to escape the cage of their linguistic past and reverse Babel's curse.37 Esperanto was embraced by Japanese reformers and Chinese students in Japan and Paris around 1907 – not least as a strategy to allow them to communicate outside the official languages of empires. In 1908 there was a Shanghai Esperanto Society and, by 1912, a national body in China.38 

This same mood gave rise to multiple attempts to fuse western and eastern spiritual and esoteric traditions, as they were variously understood. This, in turn, encouraged Asian thinkers to return to the sources of their own spiritual knowledge. As Bal Gangadhar Tilak himself acknowledged, ‘we began to recognize the importance of our home's contents only after the foreigners showed us.’39 The above-mentioned Theosophy – which drew in various measures on pan-racial mysticism, Anglo-Celtic radicalism, and Hindu-Buddhist revivalism – was crucial to the Indian National Congress's founding spirit in 1885 and was personified in one of its founders, Annie Besant. Theosophy found adherents among the European-educated from Ceylon to the Straits and Dutch Java. It carried its own vision of empire: enthusiasts saw the movement for ‘imperial federation’ in the 1890s as a step towards a millennial world commonwealth. For others, it was a way of ignoring the empire altogether.40 And yet openness, recognition, and sympathy could not shed the insidiousness of imperial attitudes and cultural appropriation.41 

Some Asians were drawn into the web of intimate friendships that shaped the modernist circles and salons of fin de siècle England and their utopian idealism. Sometimes, intimacy led to long partnerships. Through this, and with particular intensity in these belle époque years, colonial subjects began subtly to shape metropolitan cultural life. India was a central presence in the very creation of ‘Bloomsbury’; many of its writers and artists had Raj family connections, friendships with Indians, and a shared aesthetic of the exotic, as seen in the formation of the Indian Society, which drew in many Bloomsbury luminaries after 1910. For some, these encounters fostered a deeper critical awareness of empire.42 But, for Europeans, all this was easier to contemplate at home, and on a one-to-one basis, rather than under the rigid social conventions of colonial Calcutta, Singapore, or Hanoi. 

The European tradition's high cosmopolitanism could be brutal to small nations' rights and ‘inferior’ civilizations. The first ‘Internationals’ of western socialism gave the colonial question only a passing consideration. Karl Marx’s own writings on imperialism, such as his reports on the Indian Mutiny for the New York Daily Tribune, were diffuse and of the moment and were not widely read afterward. His analysis of the ‘Asiatic mode of production’ built upon images of despotism, stagnancy, and decline that were commonplace within western orientalist thought.

However, his later work showed more sympathy for the ‘communal’ patterns of the social organization he had encountered in India's writings of the sometime Bengal civil servant and academic jurist Henry Maine and others.43 For Marx’s followers, the ills of imperialism provoked a deeper debate about how far the inevitable development of capital could be seen as a step towards its self-destruction. If so, was not the subjugation of what socialists, along with other western commentators, called ‘the backward peoples’ a necessary step – however morally abhorrent – towards this end? 

The Second International was born in 1889 at the very moment of accelerated imperial expansion and competition. It was ‘international’ only in a European sense, and its defining debates centered on how socialist parties should respond to the widening franchise in western Europe. Socialist critics of the empire were more concerned by the jingoistic militarism it encouraged at home, and it's capacity to distract the working class from the pursuit of class struggle. While some saw imperialism as anathema to anyone committed to freedom, others saw it as calling a higher civilization, which the socialist movement was bound to support. The English Fabian socialists – of which a surprising number of sympathizers were to be found in imperial civil services – saw themselves, as H. G. Wells put it, as ‘Samurai’: elite warriors for social improvement part of communities who could not manage this for themselves.44 Seen in this way, one response to colonialist exploitation was more and better imperialism. The default position for the Second International was a conditional acquiescence in the imperial status quo. 

At a Stuttgart meeting in August 1907, Madame Bhikaiji Cama – an exile from an influential Parsi family who had acted as Naoroji’s secretary and was a prominent Paris-based suffragist and activist in her own right – unfurled for the first time the tricolor of India, which she, Krishnavarma and Savarkar had designed. But this symbolic act flew in the face of historical materialism’s insistence on the irrelevance of what was rather contemptuously termed the ‘national question.’45 It seems she did not meet Lenin, who was present, and the International’s most influential theoretician, Karl Kautsky, remembered only ‘an Indian lady waving a flag.’ According to some accounts, when she raised the question of freedom for India, the British delegation, including Ramsay MacDonald, challenged her accreditation and walked out.46 


1. Yen Ching Hwang, The Overseas Chinese, and the 1911 Revolution, with Special Reference to Singapore and Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Oxford University Press, 1976, pp. 115–24, 283; Edward S. Krebs, Shifu: Soul of Chinese Anarchism, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, pp. 65–6, 75; Yin Cao, ‘Bombs in Beijing and Delhi: The Global Spread of Bomb-Making Technology and the Revolutionary Terrorism in Modern China and India’, Journal of World History, 30/4 (2019), pp. 559–89.

2. Tran Dan Tien, Glimpses of the Life of Ho Chi Minh, 1958, pp. 8

3. Khoo Salma Nasution, Sun Yat Sen in Penang, Penang, Areca Books, 2008. 

4. J. V. Naik, ‘Forerunners of Dadabhai Naoroji’s Drain Theory,’ Economic and Political Weekly, 36/46–7 (2001), pp. 4428–32; Vikram Visana, ‘Vernacular Capitalism, Capitalism, and Anti-Imperialism in the Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji,’ Historical Journal, 59/3 (2016), pp. 775–97. 

5. Bill V. Mullen and Cathryn Watson (eds), W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 

6. Susan D. Pennybacker, ‘The Universal Races Congress, London Political Culture, and Imperial Dissent, 1900–1939’, Radical History Review, 92 (2005), pp. 103–17; Christian Geulen, ‘The Common Grounds of Conflict: Racial Visions of World Order, 1880–1940’, in Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier (eds), Conceptions of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s–1930s, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 69–96. 

7. Elizabeth Kolsky, ‘Codification and the Rule of Colonial Difference: Criminal Procedure in British India,’ Law and History Review, 23/3 (2005), pp. 631–83. 

8. Nicholas Owen, ‘The Soft Heart of the British Empire: Indian Radicals in Edwardian London,’ Past and Present, 220 (2013), pp. 143–84. 

9. For an inspiring exploration of these novels' world, see Anderson, Under Three Flags, esp. ch. 3. For ‘claiming’ Europe see the equally rich essay by Resil B. Mojares, ‘The Itineraries of Mariano Ponce,’ in Caroline S. Hau and Kasian Tejapira (eds), Traveling Nation-Makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia, Singapore, NUS Press, 2011, pp. 32–63, at pp. 37–8. 

10. Marie-Claire Bergère, Sun Yat-sen, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2000, pp. 61–8; J. Y. Wong, The Origins of a Heroic Image: Sun Yatsen in London, 1896–1897, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986, quotation at p. 296. 

11. Sinh (ed.), Phan Châu Trinh and His Political Writings, Ithaca, NY, Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2009, pp. 27–33. 

12. , ‘Cultural Connections in a New Global Space: Li Shizeng and the Chinese Francophile Project in the Early Twentieth Century,’ in Lin Pei-yin and Weipin Tsai (eds), Print, Profit, and Perception: Ideas, Information and Knowledge in Chinese Societies, 1895–1949, Leiden, Brill, 2014, pp. 17–39; Chae-Jin Lee, Zhou Enlai: The Early Years, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1994, p. 77. 

13. Kris Manjapra, Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 46–55. 

14. Report of the Committee on Distressed Colonial and Indian Subjects, Cd. 5133, London, HMSO, 1910, esp. pp. 16–17. 

15. M. P. T. Acharya and B. D. Yadav, M. P. T. Acharya: Reminiscences of an Indian Revolutionary, New Delhi, Anmol Publications, 1991, pp. 67–81, quotation at p. 67; C. S. Subramanyam, M. P. T. Acharya: His Life and Times: Revolutionary Trends in the Early Anti-Imperialist Movements in South India and Abroad, Madras, Institute of South Indian Studies, 1995, pp. 95–9. 

16. Acharya and Yadav, M. P. T. Acharya, quotations at pp. 72, 75, 80. 

17. Sascha Auerbach, Race, Law, and ‘The Chinese Puzzle’ in Imperial Britain, London, Springer, 2009, esp. ch. 2; G. Benton and E. Gomez, The Chinese in Britain, 1800–Present: Economy, Transnationalism, Identity, London, Springer, 2007, pp. 84–5. 

18. Vanessa Künnemann, Ruth Mayer, Chinatowns in a Transnational World Myths and Realities of an Urban Phenomenon, 2011, pp. 45–61. 

19. Acharya and Yadav, M. P. T. Acharya, quotation at p. 84. 

20. Harald Fischer-Tiné, Shyamji Krishnavarma: Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-Imperialism, New Delhi, Routledge, 2014, pp. 26–37; Indulal Yajnik, Shyamaji Krishnavarma: Life and Times of an Indian Revolutionary (1934), Bombay, Lakshmi Publications, 1950, pp. 97–8. 

21. Ibid., pp. 274–5. 

22. For India House in this and preceding paragraphs see Fischer-Tiné, Shyamji Krishnavarma; Alex Tickell, ‘Scholarship Terrorists: The India House Hostel and the “Student Problem” in Edwardian London’, in Rehana Ahmed and Sumita Mukherjee (eds), South Asian Resistances in Britain, 1858–1947, London, Continuum, 2012, pp. 3–18. 

23. As cited in A. C. Bose, Indian Revolutionaries Abroad, 1905–1922: In the Background of International Developments, Patna, Bharati Bhawan, 1971, p. 16. 

24. Acharya and Yadav, M. P. T. Acharya, p. 82; Subramanyam, M. P. T. Acharya, pp. 102–4. 

25. Bhai Parmanand, The Story of My Life, Lahore, The Central Hindu Yuvak Sabha, 1934, pp. 31–5. 

26. Emily C. Brown, Har Dayal: Hindu Revolutionary and Rationalist, Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1975, pp. 36–44, quotation from Gobind Behari Lal at p. 44. 

27. As quoted in Amiya K. Samanta (ed.), Terrorism in Bengal: A Collection of Documents on Terrorist Activities from 1905 to 1939, vol. V: Terrorists outside Bengal Deriving Inspiration from and Having Links with Bengal Terrorists, Calcutta, Government of West Bengal, 1995, p. vi. 

28. Vinayak Chaturvedi, ‘A Revolutionary’s Biography: The Case of V D Savarkar’, Postcolonial Studies, 16/2 (2013), pp. 124–39, gives a fascinating dissection of Savarkar’s third-person biography, Life of Barrister Savarkar by Chitra Gupta, Madras, B. G. Paul & Company Publishers, 1926. I have used quotations from a translation of Savarkar’s later Marathi memoir, Inside the Enemy Camp, translation of Shatruchya Shibiraat (1965), pp. 46–7. Text from (last accessed 20 May 2020). 

29. Nirode K. Barooah, Chatto: The Life and Times of an Anti-Imperialist in Europe, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 11; ‘Criminal Intelligence Office: Circular No. 2, Political of 1913: Bombay Police Commissioner’s Office File No. 3120/H.’, in Government of Bombay, Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India: Collected from Bombay Government Records, vol. II: 1885–1920, Bombay, Government Printing, Publications and Stationery, 1958, pp. 515–16. 

30. Gregory Claeys, Imperial Sceptics: British Critics of Empire, 1850–1920, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 218. 

31. Michael Silvestri, ‘“The Sinn Fein of India”: Irish Nationalism and the Policy of Revolutionary Terrorism in Bengal’, Journal of British Studies, 39/4 (2000), pp. 454–86, at p. 465. 

32. Harald Fischer-Tine, Shyamji Krishnavarma Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-Imperialism, 2014, pp. 87–93. 

33. This theme is explored in Kris Manjapra, Age of Entanglement German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire, 2014, esp. pp. 16–21. 

34. Friedrich Engels, ‘The Festival of Nations in London’ (1845), in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, vol. VI: 1845–48, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1976, pp. 3–14, at p. 3. 

35. T. N. Harper, ‘Globalism and the Pursuit of Authenticity: The Making of a Diasporic Public Sphere in Singapore’, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 12/2 (1997), pp. 261–92, at p. 275. 

36. See Frost, ‘Asia’s Maritime Networks’; Su Lin Lewis, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016; Sukanya Banerjee, Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010; Lynn Hollen Lees, ‘Being British in Malaya, 1890–1940’, Journal of British Studies, 48/1 (2009), pp. 76–101. 

37. E. James Lieberman, ‘Esperanto and Transnational Identity: The Case of Dr Zamenhof’, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 20 (1979), pp. 89–107; Natasha Staller, ‘Babel: Hermetic Languages, Universal Languages, and Anti-Languages in Fin de Siècle Parisian Culture’, Art Bulletin, 76/2 (1994), pp. 331–54, at p. 354. 

38. Gregor Benton, Chinese Migrants and Internationalism: Forgotten Histories, 1917–1945, London, Routledge, 2007, pp. 92–102; Gerald Chan, ‘China and the Esperanto Movement’, Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, 15 (1986), pp. 1–18, at pp. 3–4. 

39. John Bramble, Modernism and the Occult, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 24. 

40. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Western Esoteric Traditions, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 211–28; C. A. Bayly, ‘Ireland, India and the Empire, 1780–1914’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 10 (2000), pp. 377–97, at p. 394; Frost, ‘Asia’s Maritime Networks’, p. 92.

41. Gauri Viswanathan, ‘The Ordinary Business of Occultism’, Critical Inquiry, 27/1 (2000), pp. 1–20. 

42. Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2005; Elleke Boehmer, Indian Arrivals, 1870–1915: Networks of British Empire, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, esp. pp. 412–22. Priyamvada Gopal argues that, for many British liberals and radicals, such encounters, and events in India and elsewhere were ‘a kind of pedagogical watershed’ that transformed their views of empire; see Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent, London, Verso, 2019, p. 205. 

43. Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Radicalism and the Extra-European World: The Case of Marx’, in Duncan Bell (ed.), Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 186–214. 

44. Julie Pham, ‘J. S. Furnivall and Fabianism: Reinterpreting the “Plural Society” in Burma’, Modern Asian Studies, 39/2 (2005), pp. 321–48. 

45. Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution, vol. II: The Golden Age, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 1–30; Claeys, Imperial Sceptics, pp. 137–40. 

46. Quoted in Panchanan Saha, The Russian Revolution and the Indian Patriots, Calcutta, Manisha Granthalaya, 1987, pp. 48–9. 


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