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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

home home millennium century 1999

DECEMBER 31, 1999 - JANUARY 7, 2000 VOL. 25 NO. 52

They Shaped Our Times
The past century has perhaps seen more profound changes than any before. Some people behind them:

EMILIO AGUINALDO He is to Filipinos what George Washington is to Americans. The son of a rich farmer, Emilio Aguinaldo led a revolutionary group against the Spanish and rose to prominence because of his military savvy. On June 12, 1898, he declared the Philippines independent after 377 years of Spanish rule. The republic didn't last long. When U.S. president William McKinley annexed the country in an act of "benevolent assimilation," Aguinaldo launched a guerrilla war. His capture in March 1901 effectively ended the republic.

SUN YAT-SEN Though regarded as the father of the Chinese republic, Sun Yat-sen never managed to build a robust nation. The one-time physician devoted his life to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in rebellion after failed rebellion. Yet after seizing power to form the republic in 1911, Sun quickly relinquished his presidency to win over strongman Yuan Shi-kai. But the republic under Sun's Kuomintang could not consolidate power, and warlords wracked the country. Just before he died in 1925, Sun urged his comrades to struggle on: "The revolution has not succeeded yet." Some say it still hasn't.

The Century
How Asia learned tough lessons in the 20th century - and can forge ahead in the 21st

Suharto, Mao Zedong and other newsmakers who shaped the last 100 years of Asian history

Airplanes, radio, rock music and other ideas and inventions that they said would never work

RABINDRANATH TAGORE For literary achievement, few people can match Rabindranath Tagore, the prolific Indian poet, painter, musician and mystic. He produced such a large body of work that biographers have lost count of his poems, plays, novels and short stories. Of his 2,000 songs, two are the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. In 1913 he became Asia's first Nobel laureate (for literature). He later returned a knighthood to protest British sympathy for a colonial general responsible for the killing of 379 Indians in 1919.

MOHANDAS GANDHI In an age of moral decay, Asiaweek's Asian of the Century was perhaps the only statesman who tried to elevate politics to a higher level of human relations. Mohandas Gandhi's greatest contribution was satyagraha, a peaceful form of protest. In 1930, he famously led a march to the sea to challenge a salt tax, which hit the poorest people. In the process, he united Indians in a novel mass movement, which won their independence in 1947. Gandhi's commitment to non-violence earned him the honorific mahatma (great soul). His campaign for Hindu-Muslim unity helped prevent much bloodshed during the Partition - but also led to his assassination by a Hindu fanatic.

PRIDI PHANOMYONG He was an unusual coup plotter. Pridi Phanomyong dreamed of a modern nation built on a democratic constitution. Which was how the law professor joined a group of disenchanted bureaucrats and army colonels to depose Thailand's absolute monarchy on June 24, 1932. And for drafting the legal framework for a constitutional monarchy, Pridi is lauded as the father of Thai democracy. Yet he had to flee when his radical economic proposals led to charges of his being a communist. He spent most of his life in exile and died in Paris, a long way from the country he helped modernize.

TOJO HIDEKI Few names are as closely linked to Japanese militarist expansion as Tojo Hideki's. A career soldier, he was chief of staff in Manchuria when Japan invaded China in 1937. The Nanjing massacre, in which an estimated 200,000 people died, was only the beginning of the nightmare for Asia. A skilful commander, Tojo rose quickly to become war minister. As prime minister, he directed his country's military efforts, including the devastating bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Shortly after, the rest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific fell to the Japanese war machine. Success was short-lived, however. Tojo was forced to resign following successful Allied counterattacks, particularly in Saipan in 1944. Within a year, Japan was facing imminent defeat. On Aug. 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.

NEHRU/JINNAH It is an irony of history that although the Indian subcontinent was partitioned along religious lines in 1947, the founding leaders of India and Pakistan were both secularists. Thus while Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was not a strict Muslim, managed to create a nation in the name of Islam, his message to Pakistanis was scrupulously secular. It is no small tribute to Jinnah that the majority of Pakistanis continue to oppose leaders who wish to turn the country into a theocracy. For their part, many Indians are grateful to Jawaharlal Nehru for firmly steering India along a secular path. Without him, religious extremists just might have achieved their goal of a Hindu nation.

MAO ZEDONG A homegrown communist, Mao Zedong turned Leninist doctrine upside down in his path to power. Instead of aping the October Revolution, he fought a guerrilla war from the countryside. Encircled by the militarily superior but corrupt Kuomintang, Mao led his rag-tag army on the Long March to Yanan, where he refined his strategy of winning over an oppressed peasantry. From that stronghold, the communists eventually fanned out and drove Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan. China was crippled from decades of corruption, civil strife and foreign power struggles when Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. In the reconstruction, hundreds of millions received education and health care they never had access to before. Yet the gains were almost all undone. Millions died in Mao's grandiloquent campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward, which set China back for decades.

KIM IL SUNG Separate north-south regimes were set up in 1948 following failed talks to reunite a Korea divided in World War II. Then, Kim Il Sung decided to force the issue. Failing to subvert the government in Seoul, the communist dictator launched a surprise invasion in 1950, triggering the Korean War. After being driven back across the 38th parallel, Kim froze his country in an isolationist model that blocked progress and which even the terrible famines of 1990s failed to break.

HO CHI MINH Ho Chi Minh's struggle to free Vietnam began appropriately enough in France. But it wasn't until the peripatetic Ho (he wandered from England, to Russia and even Africa) was in China that he formed the Indochinese Communist Party. He returned home in 1941 to organize the Viet Minh, and later survived 18 months in a Kuomintang jail to lead the guerrillas against the Japanese and the French. Ho's great victory was the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The French defeat led to the Geneva Accords under which Vietnam was to be divided at the 17th parallel until national elections were held two years later. The U.S.-backed South later balked, leading to the Vietnam War.

LEE KUAN YEW Maintaining racial balance against mainly Chinese Singapore was a factor in the decision. But in the end, worries that Lee Kuan Yew was undermining Malay support through his People's Action Party led Malaysia's ruling party, UMNO, to expel Singapore from the federation in 1965. Lee's ambition and abrasive style probably didn't help either. The "divorce" caused him to shed a few tears. But there was no time for regret. Singapore had to move on. The brilliant but authoritarian Lee pushed his people forward and in so doing created a modern, efficient nation that became the envy of others -with a heft far beyond its size.

SUHARTO The flamboyant Sukarno's flirtation with potential leftist allies in the 1960s probably proved his undoing. In the Cold War climate, a young general named Suharto used the pretext of a communist plot to unseat Indonesia's founding president in 1967 - and set himself up as virtual king for the next 32 years. Resource-rich Indonesia prospered under Suharto's leadership. Those who gained most, however, were the military, his family and his cronies. It took the economic crisis of 1997 and the consequent social upheaval to finally end his corrupt and dictatorial rule.

FERDINAND MARCOS In his 20 years as Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos built more infrastructure than all his predecessors, helped the country achieve rice self-sufficiency, carried out land reform and launched village-level democracy. Much was negated, though, when he imposed martial law on Sept. 21, 1972 before the mandated end of his second term. The purported aim was to build a fairer society. Instead, Marcos substituted domination by oligarchies with plunder by his family and cronies. Opposition leader Benigno Aquino's 1983 assassination marked the beginning of the end. Aquino's widow led a civil-disobedience campaign that forced a snap poll in 1986. When widespread fraud robbed her of victory, it triggered the civilian-military revolt that ousted Marcos in 1986. Corazon Aquino succeeded as president. Her six-year term was marked by many coup attempts and economic failure, but she remains a symbol of People Power.

POL POT Saloth Sar was drawn to radical politics as a student. And the underground work continued when he became a teacher in Phnom Penh. Before long, he was made secretary general of the Workers' Party of Kampuchea, better known as the Khmer Rouge. Few knew his status until the revolutionaries seized power in 1975. By then, he went by the name of Pol Pot. Then came Year Zero. The Khmer Rouge regime unleashed on the hapless nation a radical political experiment that killed a quarter of the population, some 1.7 million Cambodians. Pol Pot's ouster in early 1979 by Vietnamese and renegade Khmer forces came far too late.

GEORGE TAN In the early 1980s, a Sarawak businessman washed up in Hong Kong. Despite being twice bankrupted, he went on a shopping spree that dazzled the region. His name: George Tan. Using a listed company called Carrian, he bought property worth hundreds of millions to sell it only weeks later for huge profits. He dabbled in everything, even talked of having his own airline. Tan seemed to have a magical way with profits. Only they were earned from sales to his companies or his friends. Tan relied on borrowed money - a lot of it - mostly from the Hong Kong office of Malaysia's Bank Bumiputra. In 1982, it all came tumbling down. Tan, who was left with over $1 billion in debt and assets worth very little, went to jail. Bank Bumiputra wrote off some $770 million in loans.

DENG XIAOPING An ideologically rigid Beijing could have made a meal of Hong Kong's return to the motherland - and blamed it all on the colonizers. In the end, patriarch Deng Xiaoping's pragmatism saved the 1984 Joint Declaration that set out the future of the last British colony in Asia. The communist leader who initiated China's much-needed economic reform also saw the need for Hong Kong's special place within the Chinese fold. Deng's solution: One Country, Two Systems, under which the SAR, unlike other autonomous regions, had 50 years' grace during which it could maintain its own lifestyle and institutions.

MORITA AKIO Known as a developer of consumer electronics, Morita Akio directed the acquisition of CBS Records (now renamed Sony Music) for $2 billion in 1987. By the time Sony's co-founder bought Columbia Pictures for $5 billion in 1989, the Americans were spooked. Pundits drew dire scenarios of a Japanese takeover of their most cherished assets (New York's Rockefeller Center was picked up by Mitsubishi Estate also in 1989). The Sony and Mitsubishi forays proved disastrous, at least at first. In 1994, Sony wrote off $3.4 billion in losses attributed to Columbia. But the studio has since turned around and, with Sony's music division, now forms a key part of the global company's multimedia strategy.

MICHEL CAMDESSUS When the Crisis struck in 1997, Michel Camdessus had already made his mark on the International Monetary Fund. Managing director since 1987, he had given the IMF a higher profile and activist role in tackling financial emergencies. But when he was snapped in a schoolmasterly pose, watching Indonesia's Suharto sign a rescue deal in 1998, the image struck a raw nerve. In Crisis-hit countries, the resentful public lashed out at what was seen as IMF arrogance. Camdessus, who steps down next February, insists that the fund's solutions were the right ones. Though Asia is on the rebound, the IMF's role is under close scrutiny. Few reckon Camdessus's successors will ever enjoy the influence that he wielded.

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