More than three decades after the release of his seminal work An Age in Motion: Popular Radicalism in Java, 1912–1926, Takashi Shiraishi finally published the long-awaited sequel, The Phantom World of Digul. Initially conceived with the self-explanatory title An Age of Normalcy, the monograph draws a sharp contrast with its prequel by investigating the interplay of the colonial regime’s political policing and the concurrent nationalist movement in the final years of the Dutch East Indies. While scholars commonly see the late 1920s and 1930s as a period of “peace and order” under the relatively stable rule of the Dutch Beambtenstaat—an “apolitical, administrative polity par excellence,” Shiraishi demonstrates that the colonial authority achieved such “normalcy” by “reducing the problem of nationalism to the question of police” (p. 16). Boven Digul, a remote penal colony established to intern recalcitrant communists and radical nationalists, stood out as a jarring antithesis to such “normalcy.” The mass internment camp served as both a metaphor and ground for the colonial regime’s policing and surveillance practices, epitomizing Dutch repressive colonial strategies that aimed to confine Indonesians’ political life within an extremely narrow space.
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.
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...
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.
Britain’s loss of its Southeast Asian colonies during World War Two (WWII), especially the fall of Malaya and Singapore, is a relatively well-studied topic. While existing scholarship has covered the military failure in great detail, researchers have not paid equal attention to the disorganization of the colonial administration, which played a no less important role in the years leading up to the defeat. Based on his meticulous research in British archives, Ronald McCrum has filled the gap by scrutinizing the ‘irresponsible and incompetent’ behaviors of the civilian authorities. He argues that by pursuing different priorities, the colonial government failed to take necessary measures to counter the growing threat of the Japanese. Besides the fact that the British civilian administration was in disarray within itself, their poor relationship with the military also greatly hindered joint efforts to augment the defense against the imminent invasion, which ultimately led to astonishing casualties when the war broke out.
China’s engagement with Indonesia from 1955 to 1959 was neither ideologically oriented nor realpolitik, but somewhere in between. It happened not only because of the changing domestic political situations or completely subject to the shifting international environment, but was also closely associated with intrinsic social and historical issues that transcended geographical, ideological and ethnic boundaries within and across the two nation-states. To some extent, this effective engagement was not a result of Indonesia’s leaning towards the left, but a reason for it—not in the sense of direct political intervention, but through the pursuit of common identity and interest, which significantly shaped the making of Indonesia’s Guided Democracy.