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Vietnam’s Central Highlands—or Tây Nguyên—area is usually described as remote, backward, and primitive, but this region has played a central role in the history of the surrounding states and the wider East and Southeast Asia region. Far from isolated, the Central Highlands engaged in trade in precious forest products with lowland states and beyond since at least the emergence of the Hinduized Cham states from the first centuries ce onward. Lowland and coastal states needed the support of local leaders and traders in order to boost their trade and tax revenues. In addition, as a buffer between various rivalrous polities now known as Vietnam, Champa, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, the area occupied a strategic position in the wider mainland Southeast Asia region. With the emergence of a unified, neo-Confucianist Vietnamese state the region lost its centrality until the late colonial era, when its strategic value turned it into a battleground among various Vietnamese parties, France, and the United States. It was here that the outcome of the Indochina wars was determined, but at a terrible price for the local population. After the adoption of economic reforms in reunified Vietnam the Central highlands regained its economic centrality, predicated on the global prominence of its valuable cash crops such as coffee, tea, rubber, pepper, and cashew. This coffee boom was based on the labor of lowlander in-migrants, who displaced and dispossessed the highlanders in the process, turning the national and international integration of the Central Highlands and its renewed centrality into a tragic experience for the Central Highlanders. By taking the centrality of the Central Highlands seriously, I arrive at an alternative historical periodization.

Article

Philip Seaton

The temporal span of the Japanese Empire is most commonly given as 1895–1945, from the acquisition of Taiwan following Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War to Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Within this interpretation, the Japanese Empire was largely a reaction to the advances of the Western colonial powers during the 19th century. This “orthodox” narrative of the empire rests on a key assumption: the current borders of the Japanese state demarcate the inherent territory of Japan. But when viewed from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, a second story of the Japanese Empire emerges. Before 1869 Hokkaido was known to Wajin (ethnic Japanese) as Ezo. While the Japanese considered Ezo to be within their sphere of influence and there was a Japanese zone (Wajinchi) in the southern tip of Ezo from the 16th century, Ezo was a foreign land inhabited by the Ainu people. Hokkaido was only fully incorporated into the Japanese state in 1869 following the Meiji Restoration (1868), after which Japanese settlers colonized the island beyond Wajinchi. The indigenous Ainu people were dispossessed of their land and forced to assimilate. Rather than Taiwan, therefore, the story of the Japanese Empire begins with the colonization of the peripheries of the modern state: Hokkaido, and also Okinawa. Seeing imperial history from the vantage point of Hokkaido sheds light on some of the assumptions and oversights of much writing on Japan’s 19th- and 20th-century history. It reveals how the legacies of empire affect Japanese people today in those spaces where the colonizers and colonized continue to coexist. And it gives insights into how official and popular narratives of empire and war have been formulated at local and national levels in the postwar era.

Article

The history of the Bengali community in Assam, along with many other communities such as the Marwari traders and the Nepalis, can be dated to the early decades of British rule in Assam when the East India Company found itself relying on Bengali amlahs (court officials) for its policing, legal and revenue administration of the newly acquired kingdom of Assam. The Bengali community grew partly due to the encouragement that the Company gave the Bengali language by using it in its courts, administration, and schools. While in 1873 Assamese replaced Bengali as the medium of instruction and language of the court, with some caveats and exceptions, the province of Assam, which was formed in 1874, brought together four historically distinct spaces in the region, including the two Bengali-speaking districts (Sylhet and Cachar) of the Barak-Surma Valley. The decades leading to Partition witnessed various factors, including employment opportunities and cultural and linguistic belonging, leading to contradictory pulls in Sylhet and Cachar on the question of whether it should be integrated with Bengal or Assam. Another important factor was the growth of linguistically based Assamese nationalism whose politics lay in the articulation of a unique Assamese literary and cultural identity along with the securing of employment opportunities. The latter would lead to a demand of an Assamese homeland free of competition from the Bengali middle class. A referendum in July 1947 based on limited franchise led to Sylhet being integrated to Pakistan while Cachar remained part of Assam and India. Other than the Bengali-speaking communities of Sylhet and Cachar, a history of the Bengali-speaking communities in Assam involves the story of peasant cultivators from East Bengal who continuously migrated into Assam in the early decades of the 20th century. While earlier pre-colonial patterns of migration were seasonal, the colonial state’s primary aim of acquiring high agrarian revenue led to specific policies and schemes that encouraged peasant migration into Assam from East Bengal. This further encouraged an intensification of commercial agriculture especially jute, changes in the transport network in the Brahmaputra valley, a developed credit network, and some local elements such as Marwari businessmen and Assamese moneylenders. However, with time this migration created conditions of insecurity for Assamese peasants who faced ejection from their lands as a result of the growing competition for cultivable land and higher rents. The colonial state’s attempt at regulating the migration—such as through the Line System in the 1920s—became a site of contestation among many emerging nationalist and political perspectives, whether of the Congress, the Muslim League or others. The tussle between the preservation of the rights and claims of indigenous peasants over grazing and forest reserves and those of Bengali Muslim immigrants over land defined the politics of the 1940s in Assam until Partition.

Article

Manchuria is an English geographical term that, in the past three centuries or so, has referred to the region that approximately overlaps the region of Northeast China (Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces) in the People’s Republic of China. A scholar’s choice of using or rejecting this term might be associated with their understandings of the historical changes in the territoriality of this region. From the 17th century to the mid-20th century, different powers contested over this region, including different tribes of the Jurchens, before the Manchus founded the Qing Dynasty; Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty; the Russians and Japanese; the Republic of China Government and Warlord regime; Japan and China; as well as the Communist Party of China and the Nationalist Party of China. All these contestations redefined the relationship between this region and China Proper, reshaping the social orders, communal identities, and statehood of the local peoples. Located at the nexus of the modern history of multiple ethnic groups and states, studies of modern Manchuria often require scholars to take transnational approaches, or at the least to adopt cross-border perspectives.

Article

After the military conquest of the Kazakh Steppe in 1920, Russian and Kazakh Bolsheviks implemented policies of hard decolonization (1921–1922): tens of thousands of Slavic settlers were expropriated and land was distributed to nomads. During the period of 1923–1927, soft decolonization prevailed: Kazakhstan was created as an ethnonational administrative region and agricultural immigration was prohibited. Kazakhs were given priority in access to land and water and they were included in the state and party administrations. No sedentarization plans were drafted. With the Soviet economic policy turn of 1928, Kazakhstan became the object of plans for expansion of grain cultivation (to this end, peasant colonization from Russia was made legal again) and of industrialization. Moscow lunched an offensive in order both to subjugate and to incorporate Kazakh society: Kazakh pastoral elites and former Tsarist administrators were expropriated and deported; and young Kazakh men were drafted into the Red Army for the first time. In 1929, plans for the total sedentarization of Kazakh nomadic pastoralists were suddenly proclaimed, then rapidly became of secondary concern as they were merged with the total collectivization drive. Policies toward nomadic pastoralists were dependent and auxiliary to grain production policies from 1928 to early 1930. Then, from late 1930 to 1932, Kazakh livestock was requisitioned in order to feed Moscow, Leningrad, and the army, as the Soviet peasants had slaughtered their animals during collectivization. Procurements turned an ongoing starvation crisis into a calamitous famine that killed one-third of the Kazakhs. When no livestock were left, procurements were discontinued in Kazakhstan. Private ownership of animals and pastoral nomadic ways were explicitly allowed again. Kazakh mobile pastoralism had been transformed: pastoral routes were shortened; pastoralists were a smaller share of the population; and their work was organized within state and collective farms. The famine turned the Kazakhs into a minority in Kazakhstan and forced them into Soviet state institutions.

Article

Alfred J. Rieber

Throughout Russian history, domestic and foreign observers have sought to define the similarities and differences between Russia and Asia, combining symbolic and physical geographies, often as a corollary of Russia’s relationship to Europe. Both concepts and boundary lines changed as the Russian state expanded from the 15th century forward, from a small territorial base on the Upper Volga south and east, to incorporate territories inhabited by Asian peoples. Conquest was accompanied by uneven patterns of colonization and erratic attempts at conversion to Orthodoxy and russification. These processes varied in encounters with different populations and landscapes along four major frontiers, Pre-Volga and Siberia, the Pontic Steppe, Transcaucasus, and Trans Caspia. By 1914, the Russian Empire was a multi-national state that had not solved the fundamental problems of its self-perception as a civilization or the stability of its rule.

Article

The period between the 9th and the 13th centuries in China, a largely temperate climate span that followed an interval of punishing droughts, was a time of pivotal economic and environmental transformation. The Song dynasty, chronologically divided into the Northern Song (960–1127) and the Southern Song (1127–1276) periods, dominated the era, but numerous other regimes and societies prospered in eastern Asia as well. Over the course of these centuries, China’s recorded population rose from sixty to one hundred million people, and perhaps 20 percent of them lived in cities. Technological innovation transformed numerous landscapes and areas of human activity, and market relations came to play a significant role in the exchange of land, labor, and goods. When deforestation caused a crisis in timber availability, some Song metalworkers shifted from charcoal to coal to power forges for iron and steel. The amount of land under agricultural cultivation expanded dramatically. In the Yangtze delta, the economic core of south China, farmers drained wetlands and constructed terraces and polders to support paddies on which they grew new strains of fast-ripening rice. Elsewhere, they turned grasslands and forests into fields, with consequences for herders and foragers, nonhuman animals, and soil stability. To the north, on the Yellow River watershed, deforestation and grasslands degradation caused major erosion that initiated an era of inundation and avulsion that transformed floodplain landscapes and modes of subsistence downstream. New maritime technologies ensured that the environmental consequences of the Song economic revolution extended beyond the borders of the realm and into distant Pacific and Indian Ocean worlds as well. Nevertheless, many Song landscapes lay outside human exploitation, and many Song practices allowed for sustainable relationships between people and the ecosystems that they inhabited.

Article

Madagascar’s colonization by France took place in the wake of rising nationalism. If itscolonization correspondedwithFrench strategic interests such as the establishment of an area of influence in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, then,except for the small colony of Réunion, France’s purely economic interest in Madagascar’s colonization remainsquestionable. Sparsely inhabited in spite of its large area, with no strategic resources such as gold or other important raw materials, Madagascar endured colonization efforts that focused on the constitution of a state capable of politically unifying the whole islandthrough the recycling of what remained from a sovereign precolonial state before French conquest. The conquest itself and the process of colonization were initially met with violent resistance, mainly from the countryside, which was crushed on the eve of World War I.Later,resistance gave way to more modern political expressions, all treated as illegal by colonial legislation until the eve of World War II. The first political proposal called for equal rights and integration of Madagascar and its people into a French republic. Gradually, influenced by the memory of the former Malagasy regime but also under the influence of nationalism,which blew over the whole world during the interwar period, the anticolonialism movement became nationalist despite the existence of its relatively influential socialist component. The post–World War II liberal atmosphere andfrustrations and deprivations endured during the war were among the causes of the March 1947 uprising. Its brutal crushing and subsequent repression excluded part of the political elite and the majority of the traumatized rural population from the decolonization process, which began by the mid-1950s. Decolonization was conducted without any actual hiatusfrom the previous colonial system in both institutions and political personnel.