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The Aesthetics of Decolonization in South Asia  

Sanjukta Sunderason

Often subsumed within narratives of political “transfer of power” from colonial empires to postcolonial nation-states, decolonization was a longue durée sociocultural process that traversed the long 20th century. Its trails were global and intertwined with parallel metapolitical processes like the Cold War, and it cast long shadows that revealed the afterlives of political decolonization beyond the events that marked the arrivals of independence. South Asia is a particularly fertile ground for studying such expanded temporalities, sociocultural structures, and shadows of decolonization. While the late 1940s saw the retreat of the British Empire from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka after 1972), as well as the climactic partition of India and creation of Pakistan, decolonization itself remained an unfolding process. It manifested in continuing struggles around cultural sovereignty and the liberation war of 1971 that birthed Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan, and continued in unresolved ethnic conflicts and regional struggles for autonomy and social democracy. The cultural field offers a unique lens for reading the more quotidian and less spectacular sites where such longue durée trails of decolonization were experienced, negotiated, and imagined via artistic forms. Aesthetics of decolonization can be read as the sensorial, imaginational, and ethical negotiations of postcolonial freedom, as well as the micropolitical and contradictory dynamics that lay therein. It can loosen the metaframe of the nation-state and the nation-form to reveal both locational and subnational differences, as well as the multiple ways in which the global itself was filtered, invoked, or negotiated from below. Aesthetics of decolonization, in other words, is the imagination of a new historiographical modality for thinking through how freedom was visualized in the postcolonies, how such visions produced new cultural modernities unique to such transitional polities, and how such modernities can be read in their transnational trails in the long 20th century.

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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.