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Connectivity across the Bay of Bengal in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Jayati Bhattacharya

The Bay of Bengal has had long history of commercial and cultural circulation across its maritime space, a lesser-studied region in the emerging discourse of Indian Ocean Studies, and extended much beyond, in both eastern and western directions. However, this maritime space has conventionally been regarded as separating contours of peoples, cultures, and economies, particularly in the realm of area studies which has been deeply embedded in academic scholarship as well as political discourses. On the contrary, the region presents us with fascinating stories of integration through family trees, kinship networks, family firms, financial exchanges, intra-community and inter-ethnic bonding, and other facets of circular movements around the Bay. The political and economic narrative of Asia transformed into one of Western colonial dominance in the 19th century, a process that had begun about almost two centuries earlier. The British emerged as the most powerful of the Western powers in this space having gained strong political footing in India, their most prized possession in the East. The long years were marked by consolidation of their political conquests and economic prowess not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in and around the Bay of Bengal region. The technological innovations and inventions further facilitated their economic aspirations. The 20th century brought about different kind of changes. The ideal of laissez-faire along with the geopolitical discourse on rising maritime powers unleashed a new direction of policies, collaboration, conflicts, and negotiations. An important feature of the century was the dynamic rise of the ideology of nationalism, which worked differently in Europe and Asia. While it led to the world wars in Europe, for Asian powers, it opened doors of opportunity to break the fetters of several years of colonial domination. In the framework of a narrative of subjugation and domination, a macro-view of the Bay brings forth several circuits of circulation in the maritime space. While some of these circuits had been visible and dominant, others existed on the margins, connecting to the larger circuits obliviously, or existing in independent and almost invisible circulatory loops that did not find any place in Western historiography. This article attempts to provide a broad overview of different circulatory movements under four subthemes—acquisition and development of port cities that facilitated the circulatory process, merchants, banians, and capitalists—as both visible and also invisible actors of circulation in the Bay. It also discusses communities that were displaced, integrated, or acculturated around the rim of the Bay, and intellectual exchanges that motivated, influenced, and incorporated participation of a large number of people all over Asia. There is a focus on the mobile Indian communities in particular, both voluntary and involuntary migrants who were the dominant participants in the colonial economic narrative on both sides of the Bay. The legacy of these long years of exchanges and interactions has often been undermined in the postcolonial nation state centric discourses and needs to be revisited with a fresh perspective in view of the increasing geopolitical significance of the Bay in the 21st century.


The Creation of Pakistan  

Ayesha Jalal

The All-India Muslim League first voiced the demand for a Muslim homeland based on India’s northwestern and northeastern provinces in March 1940. Seven years later at the moment of British decolonization in the subcontinent, Pakistan emerged on the map of the world, an anomaly in the international community of nations with its two wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. Over a million people died in the violence that accompanied partition while another 14½ million moved both ways across frontiers demarcated along ostensibly religious lines for the first time in India’s six millennia history. Commonly attributed to the age-old religious divide between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the causes of Pakistan’s creation are better traced to the federal problems created in India under British colonial rule. Despite sharing a common identity based on religious affiliation, Indian Muslims were divided along regional, linguistic, class, sectarian, and ideological lines. More Muslims live in India and Bangladesh than in Pakistan today, highlighting the clear disjunction between religiously informed identities and territorial sovereignty. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, tried resolving the problem by claiming in 1940 that Indian Muslims were not a minority but a nation, entitled to the principle of self-determination. He envisaged a “Pakistan” based on undivided Punjab and Bengal. Since this left Muslims in the Hindu-majority provinces out of the reckoning, Jinnah left it an open question whether “Pakistan” and Hindustan would form a confederation covering the whole of India or make treaty arrangements as two separate sovereign states. In the end Jinnah was unable to achieve his larger aims and had to settle for a Pakistan based on the Muslim-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal, something he had rejected out of hand in 1944 and then again in 1946.


The Dutch East India Company and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean and Indonesian Archipelago Worlds, 1602–1795  

Matthias van Rossum

Slavery and slave trade were widespread throughout the empire of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Asia. The VOC was not only a “merchant” company but also functioned as military power, government, and even agricultural producer. In these roles, the VOC was involved in the forced relocation (and forced mobilization) of people in direct and indirect ways. This entailed commodified slavery and especially slave trade, in which persons were considered property and sellable, but also a wider landscape of forced relocations (deportation, non-commodified transfers) and coerced labor regimes (corvée, debt, and caste slavery). Much more research into the histories of slavery, slave trade, and wider coercive labor and social regimes is needed to shed light on the dynamics and connections of local and global systems.


Living Standards in Southeast Asia  

Anne Booth

The article surveys the evidence on changing living standards across Southeast Asia, a region that in 2020 included a diverse range of countries from Myanmar to the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos. The region has been described as open and pluralistic, a crossroads of goods, people, and ideas that has never been shut off from the outside world. The years from the mid-15th to the mid-17th centuries have been described by one historian as an age of commerce, where trade and commerce flourished and people from a number of countries in Asia and Europe mingled in port cities. But gradually over the 18th and 19th centuries European powers began to assert their control over much of the region, and by the end of the 19th century the British controlled Burma and Malaya, the French Indochina and the Dutch the huge Indonesian archipelago. In the early 20th century the Americans displaced the Spanish in the Philippines. Population growth in Southeast Asia appears to have been slow between 1600 and 1800, but accelerated over the 19th and 20th centuries compared with other parts of Asia. In the early 19th century population was estimated to be around 10 to 12 percent of that in China, and in 2020 it was almost 48 percent. Evidence of living standards in the early 19th century is examined, as well as how the policies of various colonial powers active in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries both facilitated population growth and tackled the consequences . Colonial policies tried to increase both food-crop production for domestic consumption and also encouraged export-oriented agriculture, responding to growing global demand for tropical products. These policies often came into conflict as populations increased. By the early 20th century several colonial powers were worried about evidence that living standards were not improving and in some regions were declining. They adopted policies designed to address the problem. After the defeat of Japan, between 1946 and 1965, ten independent countries emerged across Southeast Asia. Governments in all these countries had ambitious plans for improving living standards for their populations, but the extent to which they succeeded in the last half of the 20th century varied considerably. The article examines the evidence, and suggests reasons why some countries have been more successful in improving living standards compared with others.


Overseas Chinese Commerce, Decolonization, and the Cold War in Southeast Asia  

Jason Lim

The term “overseas Chinese” refers to people who left the Qing Empire (and later on, the Republic of China or ROC) for a better life in Southeast Asia. Some of them arrived in Southeast Asia as merchants. They were either involved in retail or wholesale trade, or importing and exporting goods between the Qing Empire/ROC and Southeast Asia. With the decolonization of Southeast Asia from the end of World War II in 1945, overseas Chinese commerce was targeted by nationalists because the merchants were seen to have been working together with the colonial authorities and to have enriched themselves at the expense of locals. New nationalist regimes in Southeast Asia introduced anti-Chinese legislation in order to reduce the overseas Chinese presence in economic activities. Chinese merchants were banned from certain trades and trade monopolies were broken down. Several Southeast Asian states also attempted to assimilate the overseas Chinese by forcing them to adopt local-sounding names. However, the overseas Chinese continued to be dominant in the economies of Malaya (later Malaysia) and Singapore. Malaysia introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP), which has an anti-Chinese agenda, in 1970. The decolonization process also occurred during the Cold War, and Chinese merchants sought to continue trade with China at a time when governments in Southeast Asia were suspicious of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Attempts by merchants from Malaya and Singapore to trade with the PRC in 1956 were considered to have failed, as the PRC had other political concerns. By the time Singapore had gained independence in 1965, the door to investment and trade with the PRC was shut, and the Chinese in Southeast Asia turned their backs on China by taking on citizenship in their countries of residence.


Southeast Asia’s Colonial Port Cities in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Donna Brunero

Southeast Asia’s colonial ports often supplanted early trading emporiums within Asia, and by the 19th century a number of ports played important roles in European imperial networks, making them significant hubs not only regionally but also in global networks. Such ports included the British-administered Straits Settlement of Singapore, Penang, Malacca (now more commonly referred to as Melaka); the Dutch-administered Batavia, Semarang, and Makassar (in the Java Sea); the French-administered Saigon; and the Spanish (later American) administered Manila (in the South China Sea). Importantly, some of these ports had earlier histories as trading emporiums, but reached a highpoint of connectivity with global networks in the 19th and 20th centuries. These colonial port cities were not only hubs for trade and travelers but served as gateways or imperial bridgeheads connecting maritime centers to the peoples and economies of the port hinterlands, drawing them into a global (imperial) economy. The economic, political, and technological frameworks in colonial ports served to reinforce European control. Colonial port cities also played a role in knowledge circulations and the introduction of technologies, which changed transport and modes of production and urban planning. The colonial port cities of Southeast Asia were also important in terms of the strategic defense of European interests in the region. Regarded as entry points for technology and colonial capitalism, and often modeled with elements of European aesthetics and design, port cities could also be sites of urban development and planning. The development of residential enclaves, ethnic quarters, and commercial districts served to shape the morphology of the colonial ports of Asia. Colonial port city communities were oftentimes regarded as important sites of cultural exchange and hybridity. These port cities were often built on existing indigenous trading centers or fishing villages. Cosmopolitan in nature, and open to the movement of trading diasporas, port cities served as entry points for not only commercial communities, but in the 19th century saw the increased movement of European colonial administrators, scientists, writers, and travelers between ports. Another important influx was labor (convict, indentured, and free) throughout Southeast Asia’s ports. By the early 20th century, colonial ports were sites of new intellectual and social currents, including anticolonial sentiment, in part driven by the circulation of news and press and also, by diasporic community influences and interests. Following World War II, many colonial ports were revived as national ports. By exploring the colonial port cities of Southeast Asia along a number of themes it is possible to understand why scholars have often described the colonial port city as a “connecting force” (or bridgehead) linking ports and port communities (and economies) to the European imperial project and the global economy. An examination of the colonial port city of Southeast Asia offers scholars the potential to bridge numerous historical fields including, but not restricted to, imperial history, Southeast Asian history, maritime history, urban and sociocultural histories, and economic and labor histories.


The Temporalities of Southeast Asian Historiography  

Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan

Temporalities are ways to organize time. Historiography, which can be defined as the manner in which people approach, understand, narrate, and give meaning to the past, is intimately connected to temporality. Temporal devices like calendars and genealogies produce specific patterns of time that structure historical knowledge. The traditional historiography of Southeast Asia exhibits a great diversity of temporalities. In contrast to modern historical temporality, in which the unitary timeline is overwhelmingly dominant, Southeast Asian temporalities can just as easily be organized in terms of lineages, cycles, or prophecies. These methods for organizing time can be traced to the region’s Austronesian and Austroasiatic heritage, as well as to the influence of other parts of the world, such as India, the Middle East, and China. Ultimately, these global systems were adapted to local situations and concerns. Southeast Asian historiography can be analyzed in terms of the different temporalities that it uses. Such an approach can make better sense of why Southeast Asians chose to write history in the form of annalistic chronicles, dynastic genealogies, saintly biographies, messianic prophecies, and many other genres. Importantly, understanding the temporalities of Southeast Asian historiography allows one to appraise it on its own terms rather than to prejudge it through the norms of modern professional history.