From the Ruins of Empire Book Summary - From the Ruins of Empire Book explained in key points
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From the Ruins of Empire summary

Pankaj Mishra

The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

3.8 (29 ratings)
16 mins
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    From the Ruins of Empire
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    Trade interests drove a Western wedge into Asian countries, followed by political dominance.

    The “subordination” of Asian countries to Western powers began in 1798, when Napoleon led a 40,000-strong French army into Egypt, ostensibly to protect French trade interests.  

    Shortly afterward, issues of trade also drove a Western wedge into China and India, as European powers dominated the Chinese mainland following two wars sparked by the opium trade.

    What exactly were the concerns of Western powers? In the nineteenth century, economic relations between China and Western countries were imbalanced. China exported more than it imported; so to combat this shortfall, traders from the West (in particular the British) introduced an addictive narcotic – opium – to China.

    As more and more Chinese became addicted to opium, Western traders raised their prices and made a killing, while correcting the trade imbalance at the same time. Slowly, the influx of money reversed, and European powers came to dominate the Chinese economy.

    Yet the Chinese knew the situation was untenable, and what followed was the country’s attempts to end the lucrative yet damaging opium trade. Two Opium Wars followed, from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860.

    China essentially lost its fight. As a result, Western powers benefited from a further loosening of trade restrictions and more favorable treaties.

    Around the same time, the suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 led to increased Western control of India.

    Since the seventeenth century, the British East India Trading Company had dominated trade and exercised increasing influence over many Indian regions.

    The mutiny was an attempt to curtail this dominance, and even though the mutineers outnumbered British troops, they too lost their fight. The British prevailed as their soldiers were better trained and better armed than local mutineers.

    This ended native Muslim rule in India, to be replaced by de facto British rule, as the Western power then redesigned the country’s political, economic, and social environments.

    Importantly, British representatives sliced the country into separate governing regions, which helped solidify British control over vast areas, and necessitated more British soldiers on the ground.

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    What is From the Ruins of Empire about?

    In From the Ruins of Empire, author Pankaj Mishra examines the past 200 years from the perspective of Eastern cultures and how they responded to Western dominance. The book charts in detail the colonial histories of Persia, India, China and Japan in the nineteenth century to the rise of nation-states in the twentieth century. Select stories of cultural figures help to humanize the often violent clashes of cultures, showing the powerful influence of individuals in the course of history.

    Best quote from From the Ruins of Empire

    European subordination of Asia was not merely economic, political and military. It was also intellectual, moral and spiritual.

    —Pankaj Mishra
    example alt text

    Who should read From the Ruins of Empire?

    • Anyone interested in the relations between Eastern and Western countries
    • Anyone interested in the history of global economic development
    • Anyone interested in the influence of artists and thinkers in history

    About the Author

    Pankaj Mishra is an author and journalist, and has written for The Guardian, The New York Times, London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books. His books include Butter Chicken in Ludiana, An End to Suffering, Temptations of the West and The Romantics.

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