Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974

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By Stefan Huebner


The history of regional sporting events in 20th century Asia yields insights into Western and Asian perspectives on what defines modern Asia, and can be read as a staging of power relations in Asia and between Asia and the West. The Far Eastern Championship Games began in 1913, and were succeeded after the Pacific War by the Asian Games. Missionary groups and colonial administrations viewed sporting success not only as a triumph of physical strength and endurance but also of moral education and social reform. Sporting competitions were to shape a "new Asian man" and later a "new Asian woman" by promoting internationalism, egalitarianism and economic progress, all serving to direct a “rising” Asia toward modernity. Over time, exactly what constituted a “rising” Asia underwent remarkable changes, ranging from the YMCA’s promotion of muscular Christianity, democratization, and the social gospel in the US-colonized Philippines to Iranian visions of recreating the Great Persian Empire.


       Based on a vast range of archival materials and spanning sixty years and three continents,Pan-Asian Sport and the Emergence of Modern Asia shows how pan-Asian sporting events helped shape anti-colonial sentiments, Asian nationalisms, and pan-Asian aspirations in places as diverse as Japan and Iran, and across the span of countries lying between them.


"The strengths of this work are the reader-friendly organization and similar chapter structure, making it an excellent reference book. The chronological organization by country allows the reader to take in the book as a whole or investigate a particular Asian games event, country, or period. It is also extensively researched and noted-based, with an impressive array of archival material, interviews, and sources from 13 countries."
A. Curtis, Lake Erie College for Choice

"A very rich, readable, and revealing account of connections between different actors, institutions, and government agencies... [and] the first major contribution to the history of sport across Asia."
John Sidel, Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics, London School of Economics

"The book represents a valuable and original contribution not only to the Asian history, but also to the history of international relations in the twentieth century as well as to the emerging field of the transnational history of sports.”
Harald Fischer-Tiné, Professor of Modern Global History, ETH Zurich

“Focusing on regional Asian sports events, Stefan Huebner’s work makes a great contribution to the study of the entanglements between national and transnational as well as political and intellectual history in that region." 
Dominic Sachsenmaier, Professor of Modern Chinese and Global History, University of Goettingen, Germany

“Huebner’s imaginative, interesting, and important book shows how the concept of Asia was shaped by international sports. This is the first book on the history, in the true sense of the word, of Asian sports.”
Takashima Ko, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University 

"An important missing piece in Asia's history, this book demonstrates how sport played a pivotal role in shaping modern Asia. Scholars of Olympism and mega events will also find answers to a long unsolved riddle in sporting history."
Boria Majumdar, co-author of Olympics: The India Story

"Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia is a fascinating account of international sports events in 20th-century Asia. Truly transnational in its methodological approach, this pathbreaking study will be indispensable for everybody interested in the history of regionalism in Asia as well as the history of sports." 
Sven Saaler, Associate Professor for Japanese History, Sophia University, Tokyo

"Huebner uses sports as a lens through which 'Asia' is interrogated. This work is ambitious in scope, and painstaking in its execution, offering a systematic approach to examining Asian Games, backed up with an impressive multi-archival research around the world." 
Naoko Shimazu, Professor of History, Yale-NUS, Singapore 

"Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia presents an important intersection of Asian studies and the history of sport, a wel- come subject given the paucity of work on the evolution of embodied physical activity in Asia." 
Russell Field, University of Manitoba


Stefan was interviewed as part of the Wilson Center's Sport in Cold War podcast series, where he spoke about the role sports played in Asia during the Cold War (Episode 25: The Pan-Asian Games). You can listen to this podcast here.  

Read Stefan's eDossier about China and Iran's return to the Olympic movement in 1973-74 for the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project. 

Stefan Huebner is a historian of colonialism, modernization, and development policy. He is a research fellow at NUS’s Asia Research Institute. He was awarded scholarships and fellowships at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington, DC), the German Historical Institute Washington, and the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo. 


Publication Year: 2016
416 pages, 235mm x 156mm
ISBN: 978-981-4722-03-2 Paperback

NUS Press