Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Empires, Imperialism and Southeast Asia

Book Title

Empires, Imperialism and Southeast Asia: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tarling. Clayton, Australia : Monash Asia Institute, 1997

Author

Barrington, Brook (ed.)

Synopsis

Essays contained within this book discuss particular characteristics of European power in Southeast Asia before the advent of World War I. By focusing on the actions and motivations of the European powers when they set up their colonial mechanizations in Southeast Asia, the writers hope to contribute to the study of the extent to which British methods of control varied depending on the severity and directness of challenge to British interests. Finally, connected to the period of imperial rule is its consequence. To conclude, the complex relationships between history, national identity and national interests take central stage in this discussion of European empires in Southeast Asia.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The first four chapters consider specific aspects of European power in Southeast Asia prior to the World War I. The very different and yet in some ways complementary chapters by Greg Bankoff and John Legge focus more generally on the nature of pre-twentieth century imperialism, and in so doing usefully enhance a number of points made in the first part of the book. The chapters by Ian Nish and Ching Fatt Yong explore different aspects of British imperial control in the inter-war years, with emphasis on Hong Kong and Malaya. Both reflect to the extent to which British methods of control varied depending on the severity and directness of challenge to British interests. Barrington and McIntyre move into the period following World War II, during which Britain in pursuing the policy of regionalism and via the development of the Commonwealth, attempted to maintain its influence in Southeast Asia during the period of decolonization and beyond. The book ends with two essays which consider the complex relationships between history, national identity and national interests.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

'Empire' is used in the book to express not only the concepts of sovereignty or possession but to encompass notions of influence and order. The concept of empire may be less (or perhaps more) than simply an expression of formal control. This is in accordance to Tarling's observation that where British interests could be advanced by means short of possession then this was often the option preferred by policymakers in London. Thus, there are several key arguments made by Tarling that becomes part of the central argument of the authors in this collection. A main point illustrated in the essays is that those writing the history of Southeast Asia cannot be blind to the imperial and international, as well as domestic forces which have shaped the region. In this way, the essays encompass a much broader definition of time, as well as an in-depth investigation into the patterns of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial rule, creating a wonderful medley of essays describing the various relationships between European and Asian powers across time.


Annotated by Michelle Djong