Review– Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887-1912

Title: Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887-1912
Author: Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz 
New York: Columbia University Press, 2020

While most scholarship on turn-of-the-century Southeast Asian anti-colonial movements have focused on the millenarian and predominantly nationalist character of disparate political and revolutionary organizations (see Ileto, 1979 & 1998), the intellectual histories of revolutions (see Mojares, 2006 & Tai, 1992), or the privileged role of certain classes (see Cullinane, 2003), there is no denying that transnational affinities and sympathies have been evinced both by the political actors during the said period (see Tan Malaka, 1943/1951 & 1947/1970) and the contributions of scholars such as Benedict Anderson, Caroline Hau, and Takashi Shiraishi. Having said this, there is also no denying that a comparative study of several, if not all, Southeast Asian anti-colonial revolutions—with  Pan-Asianism as the main organizing principle—is  something that has been long overdue in the field.

In her exceptionally incisive book Asian Place, Filipino Nation, Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz charts scholarly territories that have been previously glossed over by past literature on the Philippine revolution—the pivotal role of other Asian “places” as the conjurer of a “specter of international activism and subversion” (93). CuUnjieng Aboitiz does this by framing various strains of ninenteenth and twentieth-century  Pan-Asianism  as vectors through which both Philippine and Vietnamese revolutionary thought and practices were spread and realized. By doing so, CuUnjieng Abotiz finds an analytical mesocale (albeit transnational in scope) and is able to avoid the overly nationalistic and essentialist bent on past scholarship in the field.

The book consists of five chapters, with the first chapter dealing with what CuUnjieng Aboitiz’s claims as the “transnational turn of the century” in Southeast Asia. She does this by identifying the oversight of existing scholarship on Southeast Asian anti-colonial thought which had always privileged the West as the locus of influence and relations. Advocating for a more measured and nuanced view, CuUnjieng Abotiz argues for a historiography of the revolution in both the Philippines and Vietnam that focuses on their interactions with other peripheral spaces in the continent, or what she terms as the “East-East” relations in Asia (3). To uncover these horizontal relations, she sets on to investigate the neglected cosmopolitan and transnational overtures of political figures from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, and China in the book’s succeeding chapters.

In Chapter 2, CuUnjieng Aboitiz focuses on the initial attempts of the Filipino and  Vietnamese intellectual class to reclaim their lost Asian heritage. To this end,  she discusses the various attempts of Rizal, Pedro Paterno, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, and other ilustrados to theorize the origins of the Filipino people and their links to the “Malay” world through scholarship and polemics. By drawing from works of European comparativism and orientalist methods, Rizal and his contemporaries were able to construct a “Filipino-ness” with clear links to the more encompassing Malay identity. This, as Aboitiz CuUnjieng will argue later on, sets the stage for the likes of Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Mariano Ponce, and other revolutionaries to conceive of a revolution under racialized and transnational lines.

Chapter 3, meanwhile, opens the discussion on the links of the fledgling Philippine revolution and nascent nationalist movement in Vietnam to a broader transnational network, specifically their eventual connections to Japanese and Chinese Pan-Asianist organizations and personalities. In this chapter, CuUnjieng Aboitiz provides a comprehensive account of the ilustrados’ developing racial politics and how it influenced the Katipunan’s revolutionary imagination, activities, and strategies. As proof of the latter claim, she specifically places special attention on the racial discourse and Asianist imaginings present in the writings of Bonifacio and Jacinto. In a similar vein, by emphasizing Pan-Asianism as a “network operating by means of meeting in and movement through major cities,” (74) CuUnjieng Aboitiz was able to argue for the changing bases of the Philippine revolution and Vietnamese anti-colonial movement as part of a larger transnational war against all colonizers from the West. As evidence, she highlights the alliances (and subsequent friendship) made by Filipino and Vietnamese nationalists with various nationalist figures from Japan and China.

Chapter 4, which is perhaps the book’s most insightful chapter, argues the significance of affective relations and transnational cooperation between peripheral and core Pan-Asianists by providing a deft account of Mariano Ponce’s sojourn in Hong Kong and Japan as an emissary of the Philippine revolution. The chapter also emphasizes the friendships Ponce kindled with personalities such as Sun Yat Sen and Miyazaki Toten and how they influenced each other’s perception of Asia as the center of a global anti-colonial resistance. This chapter is important because it provides readers with an intimate look at the kind of Pan-Asianism that existed during the early twentieth century—a discourse  ounded on a shared racial affinity and personal feelings, and not on prefabricated ideological consensus. Also important is the chapter’s discussion of the many ways through which Filipino and Vietnamese nationalists understood and deployed Pan-Asianist (and racialist) ideas in the process of realizing their own anti-colonial projects. These manuouvers prefigure the subsequent deployment of ideas perceived to be foreign as discursive intermediaries for anti-colonial and anti-imperialist thought  by the next generation of revolutionaries in the region.

The final chapter discusses the afterlives of the Philippine revolution and its influence on subsequent anti-colonial movements in Asia. The chapter particularly focuses on its  (the Philippine revolution) influence on the people who became leading figures in Southeast Asian anti-colonial revolutions and their respective visions for a Pan-Asian solidarity. The chapter also discusses the varying ideas of post-revolutionary Filipino Pan-Asianists such as Artemio Ricarte, Benigno Ramos,Wenceslao Vinzons, and Diosdado Macapagal and the many ways through which Pan-Asianism was recast and rearticulated from 1945 until the present.

While the book certainly delivers on its promise in providing readers with a lateral historiography of the Philippine revolution and its attendant legacies, one cannot help but notice that there is no mention of the influence of Pan-Asianist discourses on the translation, spread, and popularization of Marxism in the region. While this issue seems tangential, the discussion becomes incumbent because in the writings of Tan Malaka and Ho Chi Minh (both were mentioned in the book), racial discourse and intimations of a potential Pan-Asian union are included in the many sedimentations of their Marxist discourse. This of course does not diminish the book’s indispensable and timely contribution to the field. As a regionally grounded study on anti-colonial imaginings, Asian Place, Filipino Nation is CuUnjieng Aboitiz’s way of bringing us Southeast Asians a step closer to a place where union and solidarity are not only intimations but a viable path moving forward.

Reviewed by Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III
Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III is an assistant professor at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman.


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Cullinane, M. (2003). Ilustrado Politics: Filipino Elite Responses to American Rule. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Ileto, R. (1979). Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippine, 1940-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Ileto, R. (1998). Filipinos and their Revolution: Event, Discourse, and Historiography. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

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