The 21st century is supposed to be the time that the nations of Asia will rise and become economic and global powerhouses. But in order to understand how we got to this point, we must look at some of the regional leaders and the role they have played in the region’s rise. Here are are five such leaders and books about their life you can pick up.
1. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew by Kuan Lee Yew
Lee Kuan Yew is probably one of the most important Asian leaders of the past two decades. He is perhaps the single biggest driver behind the success of Singapore, a country whose success few predicted. Thus it is criminal that he is not more prominently known among the common man. In his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew tells the story of his rise to power, as well as the rise of Singapore as an economic powerhouse. You’ll follow Lee as he opposes the British colonial government, strikes deals with unions and larger nations, and through all the struggles that come with being a city-state. This detailed account of his life, and how it parallels Singapore’s story, is an incredibly fascinating case study in determination and political cunning.
2. An Autobiography Jawaharlal Nehru by Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India after its liberation from British colonization. Nehru worked closely alongside Gandhi to make an independent India more than just a dream. But in spite of all of these accomplishments, he is not the famous leader of India you have likely heard of. Reading his autobiography, written while he was imprisoned from June 1934 to February 1935, is a fantastic start to learning about Nehru’s amazing life. Nehru’s writing covers more than just the hardships he experienced and the struggles of the Indian country. The issues Nehru speaks to are universal problems all human beings must deal with. If Nehru’s writing proves anything, it’s that he was truly a great leader.
3. The Lady and The Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham
Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the most prominent advocates for democracy. For years, Kyi has worked tirelessly to bring about any sort of democratic transition to Burma, a country ruled by a military junta. Although the most recent election result was finally accepted (for now) by the junta, this biography of Kyi chronicles why bringing democracy has been so difficult. Peter Popham chronicles Aung San Suu Kyi’s stance against the military, her house arrest, and the subsequent struggle to have her released. Popham captures Kyi’s stoicism and fortitude in the face of danger and despair. This biography has been considered by many to be the definitive piece on the life of Aung San Suu Kyi. For anyone interested in either the struggle for democracy in Burma, or the life of this extraordinary woman, this is a fantastic pick up.
4. Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel
When Chinese leaders come to mind, many think of Mao Zedong, Qin Shi Huangdai, or Xi Jinping. But Deng Xiaoping, the man who lead China out of the darkness that was the Cultural Revolution and toward modernity, is sometimes forgotten by the wayside. It was under his watch that China began to prosper economically and re-engage with the world. Deng was arguably the driving force of China’s economic and technological revolution. Most of what China has become today can be attributed to the work of Deng Xiaoping. Of course, things weren’t all rosy as the Tianamien Square incident (or massacre, if you prefer) occurred while Deng was still more or less in power. Regardless if you want to learn about China, you must learn about Deng Xiaoping.
5. Park Chung-Hee: From Poverty to Power by Chong-Sik Lee
Believe it or not, the modern South Korea we all know was not created overnight. It took years of work, a series of protests, and the will of one general to push forward modernization programs. If not for this general, Park Chung Hee, then it is likely that we would be looking at a very different South Korean state. Chong Sik-Lee provides us with the definitive biography of Park’s life, using Korean, Chinese, and Japanese sources to paint the most complete picture possible. Lee’s work provides readers with fantastic insight into what inspired Park to lead South Korea.
These are only a few biographies on some inspiring and fascinating leaders of Asia. For this list I focused on leaders you may not know about and tried to avoid some of the more famous people. There are hundreds more political and social Aisan leaders that can be researched and read up on. What other Asian leaders would you like to read and know more about?
YouTube Channel: Asia Society
Featured image via Aljareeza