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Article

Thibaut d'Hubert

Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, Middle Bengali became a major idiom of literary expression in the kingdom of Arakan. It is within the domain of this coastal kingdom, which then comprised the region of Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, that Muslim subjects of the Buddhist kings started using the courtly vernacular that was previously cultivated by Hindu dignitaries of the Ḥusayn Shāhī sultans of Bengal. By the mid-17th century, which constituted a moment of economic prosperity and maximum territorial expansion, all genres of Middle Bengali poetry were represented in the corpus of texts written by authors living in the urban and rural areas of the kingdom. The many treatises on Muslim beliefs and meditative practices, the hagiographic literature, and the courtly romances testify to the formation of a local Islamic cultural ethos. After the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, local literacy was still cultivating standards set by authors of the Arakanese period such as Saiẏad Sultān and Ālāol. In Arakan itself, Bengali Muslim literature continued to be produced and transmitted until at least the first half of the twentieth century. A large number of manuscripts was collected in the first decades of the twentieth century and these are preserved in various institutions in Bangladesh. The Bengali literature of Arakan is characterized by its Indic religious idiom and Sanskritized poetics, but also by its complex intertextuality that reflects the region’s connections with north India and the Persianate trading networks of the Bay of Bengal. Up to the 2000s, the Bengali literature of Arakan has mostly been discussed within the framework of the national literary history of Bangladesh, but subsequently scholars have relocated this corpus within the cultural domain of the Bay of Bengal and the Islamicate literary traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

Article

In the popular imagination, the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is often conceptualized as one of violence; namely, Muslims destroying the Dharma. Of course, in more recent years this narrative has been problematized by the reality of Buddhist ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Yet, what needs to be recognized is that the meeting between Buddhists and Muslims has never simply been one of confrontation. Rather, the interaction of these two religions—which has been going on for more than one thousand years across the length and breadth of Asia (from Iran to China and Indonesia to Siberia)—has also involved much else, including artistic, cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges.

Article

The origins of the Philippine nation-state can be traced to the overlapping histories of three empires that swept onto its shores: the Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese. This history makes the Philippines a kind of imperial artifact. Like all nation-states, it is an ineluctable part of a global order governed by a set of shifting power relationships. Such shifts have included not just regime change but also social revolution. The modernity of the modern Philippines is precisely the effect of the contradictory dynamic of imperialism. The Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese colonial regimes, as well as their postcolonial heir, the Republic, have sought to establish power over social life, yet found themselves undermined and overcome by the new kinds of lives they had spawned. It is precisely this dialectical movement of empires that we find starkly illuminated in the history of the Philippines.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

By exclusively focusing on the agency of the Dutch, colonial historiography ignored the pivotal role of indigenous middle classes in sustaining the colonial regime. Conventional nationalist historiography, on the other hand, presumes a linear development from urbanization, the rise of the indigenous middle classes, education, and the spread of modernity toward nationalism and revolution as the logical outcome of this process. This article aims to disconnect modernity from nationalism by focusing on the role of cultural citizens in the late-colonial period in the Netherlands Indies, for whom modernity was in the very first place a desirable lifestyle. The extent to which their desires, capitalist strategies, and the interests of the colonial state coincided is illustrated by a variety of advertisements and school posters, which invited members of the indigenous urban middle classes to become cultural citizens of the colony. The image of the cultural citizen was framed within the confinement of the nuclear family, which had a conservative impact on gender relationships.

Article

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.

Article

Although frontier studies enjoy a long and robust history in China, a disproportionate amount of attention has focused on North China and its relations with Central and Northeast Asia, while only a handful of historians have paid much attention to the history of South and Southwest China. Those that do invariably offer a narrative that presents Southwest China (the current provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and the southwestern portion of Sichuan) as unequivocal parts of greater China since at least the end of the 3rd century bce. They accomplish this by selectively including only the events that reinforce inflated notions of Han superiority, while at the same time expunging from the historical records events and episodes that challenge the internal cohesion of this metanarrative and disparage the Han. Throughout China’s long history, they argue, Han from the Central Plain (zhongyuan) region of North China have continuously migrated south in search of land and opportunity, and over time Han cultural practices, centralized and hierarchical political institutions, a sophisticated written language, and a socially differentiated society that generates surplus revenue, have transformed nearly all of the “barbarian” non-Han into civilized Han. What the Chinese metanarrative fails to offer, however, is perspective, for it not only deprives the southwest of its own history, such as a thoughtful examination of the vibrant kingdoms that existed in the southwest, like the Cuan (338–747), Muege (c. 300–1283), Nanzhao (738–937), and Dali (937–1253) kingdoms, to name just a few, but also it refuses to offer a critical examination of how the Chinese empire colonized this territory.

Article

Contemporary Vietnam is the product of many factors, but several moments in particular stand out. Nam tiến, meaning “Southern Advance,” refers to the migration of people from the Red River Delta, the traditional heartland of Vietnamese civilization, to what are now the central and southern parts of the country. As a result of this process, which unfolded over hundreds of years, two regional polities emerged: Đàng Ngoài (literally “Outer,” meaning northern) and Đàng Trong (literally “Inner,” meaning southern). During the Lê Dynasty (1428–1788), members of two clans began to wield executive power: the Trịnh family in Đàng Ngoài and the Nguyễn family in Đàng Trong. Throughout this period, new social, cultural, and economic patterns also appeared. In the late 18th century Tây Sơn rebels subdued the Trịnh and Nguyễn lords (chúa) and caused the Lê Dynasty to collapse. Instituting the pattern of north–south political unity, the Tây Sơn established the template for monarchs of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945) and for communist revolutionaries in the 20th century. During the French colonial occupation (1862–1954), colonists thoroughly refashioned the natural and built environments and created new economic realities. By dividing the country into three administrative units—the protectorate of Tonkin (northern Vietnam), the protectorate of Annam (central Vietnam), and the colony of Cochinchina (southern Vietnam)—the colonists further amplified regional identities. The French occupation also directly led to the First Indochina War and clearly contributed to the Second. After Northern Vietnamese (and their allies) defeated Southern Vietnamese (and their allies), a new united national polity emerged: the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with the Vietnamese Communist Party in command. At the conclusion of both Indochina Wars significant numbers of Vietnamese fled the country. To a striking degree, the ideological differences that divided Vietnamese in earlier decades are still evident in contemporary times.

Article

Colonial Indonesia’s sugar industry, developed under Dutch and Sino-Indonesian auspices over a period of almost three centuries, beginning c. 1650, evolved into one which exhibited a unique configuration in which an industrialized sugar complex became embedded within much larger “peasant” economy of the farming of rice and “second” crops. It was on this agrarian and largely self-financed basis that Indonesia’s colonial sugar industry, located exclusively in the island of Java, became one of the leading sectors of the international sugar economy of the late colonial era, eventually even rivaling Cuba—the nonpareil of such producers—as an exporter to world markets. During the interwar Depression of the 1930s and subsequent decade of war and revolution, it lost much (and eventually all) of its international standing—yet managed to survive into Indonesia’s postcolonial era, albeit in an attenuated form. There were four main phases to the industry’s colonial-era history. The first, foundational phase, which saw the establishment of modern industrialized manufacture extended from the 1830s through to the 1880s. The second phase, from the 1880s to 1930, was the period of sugar’s peak expansion. The third phase, beginning in 1931 and ending in 1942, was one of retrenchment and (partial) recovery prior to the spread of the Second World War into Southeast Asia. The fourth phase, 1945–1958, was one of postwar reconstruction.

Article

R. Michael Feener

Southeast Asia has been a historical crossroads of major world civilizations for nearly two millennia. Muslim traders were sojourning along the shores of the Indonesian archipelago from at least the 8th century, and by the turn of the 14th century local Muslim communities had taken root, and the region’s first sultanate was established in northern Sumatra. Since then, Muslim communities had been established across many other parts of Southeast Asia, where in the 21st century they comprise demographic majorities in the nation-states of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei and significant minority populations in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore. The Islamization of these societies, and their inclusion into an expanding constellation of Muslim societies in the medieval and early modern periods, was facilitated by intensifications of activity along the maritime trading routes linking Southeast Asia to ports on the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Swahili Coasts with those of India and China over the medieval and early modern periods. Over the course of this history, the expansion of Islam in the region was not dominantly directed from any single source but rather the result of diverse, interlaced strands of commercial and cultural circulations that connected the region to multiple points in an expanding Muslim world—adopting local traditions to produce diverse and dynamic vernacular forms of Islamic cultural expression.

Article

Port cities have long played a critical role in the circulation of peoples, commodities, and ideas within and across the maritime spaces of Southeast Asia. Although an indelible component of the islands and archipelagos of this region since at least the 15th century, the rise of global empires in the 19th century rejuvenated these communities by the sea, giving rise to thriving metropolises from Rangoon to Singapore, Bangkok to Penang. Historians recognize that these ascendant cities served as “imperial bridgeheads,” connecting the products and peoples of the Southeast Asian hinterlands to world markets. Yet, the idea of “cosmopolitanism” arguably pervades how historians understand these port cities; bustling docks, diverse populations, and lively scenes of popular culture take precedence over the imperial coercion unfolding within and beyond their shores. Port cities and urbanization, in fact, were intimately intertwined with the violence of conquest and Islamic insurgency enveloping various corners of the Southeast Asian countryside. When armed conflicts such as the bitter Dutch-Aceh War in the Netherlands East Indies (present-day Indonesia) and the Moro Wars in the southern Philippines engulfed venerable Muslim sultanates, the maritime metropolises of the Straits Settlements emerged as critical nodes—sites for the dissemination of weapons and smugglers, spies and diplomats, contentious ideas and theologies. These circulations were facilitated not just by Muslim networks or colonial agents but by the very cosmopolitan nature of port cities. Chinese and German, Arab and Turkish, Muslim and Christian, all became drawn into the whirling vortex of “Islamic insurgencies.” By highlighting the integral position of port cities in the conduct of various armed conflicts, it becomes possible to gain new perspectives and suggest reconfigured research paradigms for understanding the connected histories of colonial conquest.

Article

Paul Buell and Francesca Fiaschetti

The Mongols, creators of the largest continuous land empire in history, who initiated an unprecedented era of international exchange, are mostly known for their land conquests and contacts, but, they also actively participated in maritime and land trade. The key event in this development was a Mongol commercialization ongoing with the Mongol conquest of key coastal areas in China and Iran that brought them face to face with the trading world of the South Seas and Indian Ocean. There was a military aspect of this, starting in Japan, Southeast Asia, and Java, and there was the diplomatic and informal initiatives of Qubilai-qan to expand Mongol influence over the seas as far as the Red Sea and Africa, in ways not achievable with military means alone. A thesis is that the Mongols in China ended by creating, with the help of the Mongols in Iran, a first maritime age, paralleling those established by the Portuguese and others that came later.

Article

Modern Cambodian history begins with the creation of the French Protectorate in 1863. Until the 15th century, Cambodia was a regional great power, but by the late 18th it faced extinction as a sovereign state. Although the Protectorate ensured the country’s territorial integrity, French ideas of governance and philosophy collided with Cambodia’s ancient traditions. By 1897, the French had prevailed: Cambodia had escaped its predatory neighbors, Siam and Vietnam, but had lost its internal and external sovereignty. After independence in 1953, Cambodia sat on the fault lines of the Cold War. Precariously neutral until 1970, it fell into a new dark age of civil war, foreign invasions, saturation bombing, and mass murder. Liberated from the horrors of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea (DK) by the Vietnamese in late 1978, the regime the invaders installed suffered a period of international ostracism that lasted until the end of the Cold War in 1991–1992. Cambodia is at peace today, but hopes that it would develop as a free, democratic, and more equal society have proved illusory. Cambodia is one of Asia’s poorest states; a kleptocracy ruled by the durable autocrat Hun Sen via a façade of democratic institutions. The economy, according to Sebastian Strangio, “is controlled by … [a] new quasi-palace elite: a sprawling network of CPP politicians, military brass, and business families arranged in vertical khsae, or ‘strings,’ of patronage emanating from Hun Sen and his close associates.”

Article

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

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article. The diverse religions of the peoples of Southeast Asia include indigenous traditions of supernaturally oriented beliefs and practices plus four of the largest world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. The main changes that have taken place in religion in 20th-century Southeast Asia include several developments. The first notable change was increased conversion to one or another of the world religions, especially Christianity. The second was national efforts to eliminate or reduce religion in some countries and to shape or control it in others. In addition, popular religion in some instances became more politicized and linked to conflict, especially between Christian and Muslim communities. There were efforts at reform, to modernize religious traditions, or often to bring them into line with orthodoxy. These religious changes occurred in two phases. The first, involving conversion, had begun in some areas long before, but was furthered and intensified in the 20th century as colonial governments extended control beyond urban areas, to coastal enclaves, lowland agricultural regions, and over interior and mountainous areas, making these more accessible to mission efforts. The second phase of change began in the middle decades of the 20th century as the colonized countries (including all the present-day Southeast Asian nations except Thailand) gained independence and then often attempted to shape religion in various ways. These efforts varied, but the main line of differentiation was between what happened in the socialist regimes, on the one hand, and in the non-socialist ones, on the other. The socialist countries were more inclined than the non-socialist ones to diminish, deemphasize, or control religion, and to block or inhibit missionization. The results can be seen today, where unconverted communities are common or even prevalent in the highland or tribal areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in contrast to such areas in Thailand and—though less can be said about it—Myanmar. Finally, as a result of these changes, over the course of the 20th century and throughout Southeast Asia generally, there has been a reduction in religious diversity, above all as a result of the conversion of people from many different indigenous religious traditions to one or another of the fewer world religions. This is not to say, however, that adherents of Buddhism Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism are necessarily very similar to others of the same world religion.

Article

The name Rohingya denotes an ethnoreligious identity of Muslims in North Rakhine State, Myanmar (formerly Burma). The term became part of public discourse in the late 1950s and spread widely following reports on human rights violations against Muslims in North Rakhine State during the 1990s, and again after 2012. Claims for regional Muslim autonomy emerged during World War II and led to the rise of a Rohingya ethnonationalist movement that drew on the local Muslim imaginaire, as well as regional history and archaeology. To explore the historical roots of distinctive identity claims and highlight Buddhist-Muslim tensions, one must reach back to the role of Muslims in the precolonial Buddhist kingdom of Arakan and their demographic growth during the colonial period. Civic exclusion and state harassment under Burma’s authoritarian regimes (1962–2011) put a premature end to political hopes of ethnic recognition, and yet hastened a process of shared identity formation, both in the country and among the diaspora. Since the 1970s, refugees and migrants turned to Bangladesh, the Middle East, and Southeast Asian countries, forming a transnational body of Rohingya communities that reinvented their lives in various political and cultural contexts. A succession of Rohingya nationalist organizations—some of whom were armed—had negligible impact but kept the political struggle alive along the border with Bangladesh. Although Rohingya nationalists failed to gain recognition among ethnic and religious groups in Burma, they have attracted increasing international acknowledgment. For postdictatorial Myanmar (after 2011), the unresolved Rohingya issue became a huge international liability in 2017, when hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh following military operations widely interpreted as ethnic cleansing. In December 2017, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights acknowledged that elements of genocide may be occurring.

Article

Pierre-Yves Manguin

Southeast Asian polities were destined to play an active role in the world economy because of their location at the crossroads of East Asian maritime routes and their richness in commodities that were in demand in the whole of Eurasia. For a long time, historians restricted their role to examination of regional peddling trade carried out in small ships. Research on ships and trade networks in the past few decades, however, has returned considerable agency to local societies, particularly to Austronesian speakers of insular Southeast Asia, from proto-historic to early modern times. As far in the past as two thousand years ago, following locally developed shipbuilding technologies and navigational practices, they built large and sophisticated ships that plied South China Sea and Indian Ocean routes, as documented by 1st-millennium Chinese and later Portuguese sources and now confirmed by nautical archaeology. Textual sources also confirm that local shipmasters played a prominent part in locally and internationally run trade networks, which firmly places their operations into the mainstream of Asian global maritime history.

Article

The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas, from the Middle East and East Africa to Southeast Asia, have been witness to the nautical ventures of most, if not all, major sea powers of world history. Progress in nautical archaeology in the past few decades has brought about a much better understanding of shipbuilding traditions of the Indian Ocean, until then limited to textual and ethnographic sources. Only a few shipwreck sites and terrestrial sites with ship remains have been studied so far along the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or the Indian Ocean proper. Many more were found in recent excavations in the Southeast Asian seas, which were built along Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions. Two main technical traditions can now be clearly identified for pre-modern times: the Arabo-Indian sewn-plank ships of the western Indian Ocean, which survived into our times, and the Southeast Asian vessels that evolved from a distinctive sewn-plank technology to fully doweled assemblages, as could still be observed in Indonesian vessels of the late 20th century. The still limited number of shipwrecks brought to light in the Indian Ocean as well as the considerable imbalance in archaeological research between the Indian Ocean proper and the Southeast Asian seas have hindered the advancement of the discipline. Considerable difficulties and interpretation problems have moreover been generated by biased commercial excavations and subsequent incomplete excavation records, not to speak of the ethical problems raised in the process. Such deficiencies still prevent solid conclusions being drawn on the development of regional shipbuilding traditions, and on the historical role of the ships and people who sailed along the essential Indian Ocean maritime networks.

Article

Ships form a critical component of the study of Southeast Asia’s interaction both within itself as well as with the major centers of Asia and the West. Shipwreck data, accrued from archaeologically excavated shipwreck sites, provide information on the evolving maritime traditions that traversed Southeast Asian waters over the last two millennia, including shipbuilding and navigational technologies and knowledge, usage of construction materials and techniques, types of commodities carried by the shipping networks, shipping passages developed through Southeast Asia, and the key ports of call that vessels would arrive at as part of the network of economic and social exchanges that came to characterize maritime interactions.