In 1623, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) beheaded twenty-one men on charges of conspiracy and treason in a public execution. Ten of the condemned were employees of the English East India Company (EIC) who had been trading in the Moluccas, better known as the Spice Islands, alongside their Dutch counterparts since the beginning of the century. The incident was hardly the most outrageous mass violence in the region’s tumultuous past. Nevertheless, the EIC dubbed the episode the “Amboyna Massacre,” which gained remarkable significance in various historical writings and unexpected longevity in the British culture in the following centuries. Alison Games’s monograph Inventing the English Massacre is the latest scholarly inquiry into the ambiguous conspiracy and the episode’s long afterlife, spanning British imperial history.
A panel discussion on "Empire and Regional Order", in which I discussed two related issues: 1. how to do research on the history of regional politics? 2. how to make sense of the unwritten by following what Ann Laura Stoler called “archival grains”.
China's resistance to Japanese aggression escalated into a full-scale war in 1937. The continuously deteriorating situation stimulated the rise of Chinese nationalism in the diaspora communities worldwide. The Japanese invasion of China, accompanied by the emergence of the National Salvation Movement (NSM) in Southeast Asia, provided the overseas Chinese with a rare opportunity to re-examine their ‘Chineseness’, as well as their relationships with the colonial states and the increasingly self-aware indigenous populations. This research problematises traditional approaches that tend to regard the NSM as primarily driven by Chinese patriotism. Juxtaposing Malaya and Java at the same historical moment, the article argues that the emergence of the NSM was more than just a natural result of the rising Chinese nationalism. Local politics and the shifting political orientations of overseas Chinese communities also profoundly shaped how the NSM played out in different colonial states.
Southeast Asian Studies (SEAS) in China has experienced significant changes in the past twenty years. China's rising political and economic power has stimulated growing demands for better understanding of the wider world, resulting in the rapid development of area studies in recent years. Although SEAS in China predated the relatively recent notion of ‘area studies’ by at least half a century, the boom in area studies has profoundly transformed the field, most notably by attracting a large number of scholars to conduct policy-relevant research. Not only does the ‘policy turn’ reflect shifts of research paradigms in the field of SEAS, but it is also consistent with some larger trends prevailing in China's higher education sector and rapidly changing society in general. This article shows that SEAS in China has grown even more imbalanced, as indicated by the rapid growth of language programmes, absolute domination of short-term policy research, and further marginalisation of humanistic subjects. To respond, Chinese universities have adopted new approaches to SEAS depending on their distinct disciplinary foundations, language coverage, faculty interests, and local governments’ policy preferences.
The Dutch East Indies government adopted the so-called Ethical Policy in the early 20th century, resulting in complex repercussions for Chinese minorities. Education was among the most contended battleground between Dutch authorities and the Chinese community and within the Chinese community itself. While the establishment of the Tiong Hoa Hwe Koan schools galvanized the rise of Chinese nationalistic sentiment, the colonial government also founded a Dutch-language school system specifically tailored for the Chinese to counterweight the potential ideological threat. By exploring the competitions and intricacies between the two systems, this paper seeks to problematize the existing literature that predominantly focuses on only one side of the story. The paper argues that the emergence of the two systems was neither a natural result of the Dutch Ethical Policy nor merely driven by the Indies Chinese’s desperate demand for education. Instead, it vividly reflects various tensions within the heterogeneous Chinese community and its entangled relationships with the transforming colonial state and the ancestral homeland.
This chapter assesses the 1926-1927 Uprising in Indonesia across several interconnected geographic and institutional scales: In the Comintern, where exiled leaders of the Partai Komunis Indonesia conferred with Comintern representatives about the situation at home; in the highest levels of the Politburo, where disagreements over revolutionary tactics in China exacerbated the power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky; and in Indonesia itself, where colonial repression inspired the abortive uprising. In so doing, this chapter shows how the Uprising demonstrated the limits of internationalism. As PKI leaders were unable to maintain effective contact with the movement in Indonesia, gaps in information undermined decision-making and led to conflict over the applicability of Russian models to the Indonesian context. Debates over Moscow’s China policy diverted attention from other territories and drew PKI members into the Stalin-Trotsky feud. Comintern support for the Uprising, therefore, did not materialize, further undermining the communist movement in Indonesia.
Kris Alexanderson’s Subversive Sea is the newest addition to the growing scholarship on the twentieth-century Dutch empire. Adopting a fresh approach, this groundbreaking work examines the transoceanic aspects of Indonesian anticolonialism by examining the shipping networks stretching beyond the geographic boundaries of the metropole and colony. Based on her solid archival work, careful reading of existing literature, and well-structured analysis, Alexanderson demonstrates how the “oceans’ permeable boundaries created a simultaneous liberating and threatening maritime spatiality” and that “the maritime world is not a liminal space but an active political arena” (p. 27). Specifically, she points out Dutch shipping companies “connected disparate bodies of water into intertwined transoceanic networks” and played a “unique role in navigating interwar power struggles between imperial hegemony and anticolonialism” (p. 25). By “repositioning colonial Indonesia to a sub-imperial center,” Subversive Sea reveals that the interconnected maritime networks were not only critical in defining colonial structure within the colonial state but also reflected “fundamental differences between terrestrial and oceanic characteristics particular to the interwar Dutch empire” (p. 2).
The past few years have seen a growing number of scholarly works on British operations in Southeast Asia and their relationships with local resistance in World War II. Particularly intriguing is the mysterious last-minute deal struck between the British in Malaya and the Chinese-dominated Malayan Communist Party, or MCP, before the Japanese takeover...
People often see the origins of communist movements in Southeast Asia and the region’s overseas Chinese community as closely intertwined. This perception is evident in the cases of densely Chinesepopulated areas such as Malaya and Siam (Thailand), as well as places like Vietnam and Cambodia, where China’s influence has been historically strong in both political and cultural domains. Admittedly, it is very convenient to connect many Chinese-involved communist activities in Southeast Asia to the emergence of the communist party in China, but the simplistic argument – that Southeast Asia imports communism from China – is severely problematic. While overseas Chinese...
Scholars commonly regard the Comintern as having played a critical role in the emergence of the communist movement in late-colonial Malaya. When discussing the Comintern’s early influence, existing scholarships often use the arrest of Joseph Ducroux — alias Serge Lefranc, a French agent of the Comintern — in Singapore in June 1931 to illustrate the Comintern-China-Malaya connection. Additionally, historians have attached special meanings to the Ducroux Case, primarily because of the more significant repercussions it caused internationally. Laurent Metzger has conducted detailed research on Ducroux’s arrest in and eventual exile from Singapore between 1931 and 1932. While such an account is useful in demonstrating the incident’s international significance, little is known as to what immediate impression it created in the cosmopolitan port city. Moreover, it is also unclear how Singapore’s general public perceived communism when communist organizations had yet firmly established themselves in the British colony. This article seeks to make sense of such issues by investigating how the Singapore press reported on the Ducroux Case.
Geoffrey Robinson’s The Killing Season is one of the most-awaited books by the Southeast Asian studies community in 2018. The 456-page monograph explores in great detail the anti-communist massacres of Indonesia in 1965-66 and the long-term repercussions in the following decades. As one of the worst human atrocities in the 20th century, the mass killing led to the death of some half a million real and alleged communist members and sympathizers. After more than 50 years, however, reflections on this tragic event are far from sufficient. Although academic work in recent years spurred growing discussions within small circles, the mass violence has not received adequate attention from the international audience. Worse still, a troubling silence permeates Indonesia even today, as many of those who committed the atrocities have stayed in power. While victims struggled to find viable ways to pursue justice, numerous murderers managed to get away with impunity.