Table of Contents
COLONIALISM AND NATIONALISM IN SOUTHEAST
The major colonizers of Southeast Asia were
Europeans, Japanese and the U.S. All in all, there were seven colonial powers in
Southeast Asia: Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, the
United States, and Japan. From the 1500s to the mid-1940s, colonialism was
imposed over Southeast Asia.
For hundreds of years, Southeast Asian kingdoms
had been engaged in international commercial relations with traders from East
Asia (China), South Asia (India), and West Asia (the “Middle East”). Asian
sojourners also brought religion, customs, traditions, and court practices to
the region. Hence, their relationship was economic and cultural at the same
time. Moreover, local Southeast Asian rulers used and indigenized practices of
kingship institutions from South Asia (rajadharma) and West Asia
European travelers did not only have economic
relations with Southeast Asians but also imposed their political—and in some
cases, cultural—domination over Southeast Asian peoples and territories. Hence,
European colonialism covered a large chunk of Southeast Asian
Aside from European colonials, Japanese and U.S.
colonials controlled much of Southeast Asia. Japanese aggression took place
during the “Pacific War” of World War II. The Japanese occupied much of Asia,
including Southeast Asia. The U.S. colonized the Philippines in the
aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Southeast Asian response to colonialism was both
collaboration and nationalism in all its forms.
Indigenous peoples practicing animism have lived
in Southeast Asia (SEA) since historical times. Later, people from
China moved southward to reach SEA (Barton 26). As early as 300 BC,
the age of bronze and iron had passed from China into SEA (Fodor 64). The
Chinese under the Sung Dynasty by the 12th century had become
involved more and more in international trade, including with SEA (Fodor 67).
Hence, there were Chinese and Indian migrants who have reached and lived in SEA
for a long time now. The Chinese and Indian civilizations have
greatly impacted SEA societies. Many parts of SEA have been indianized
from 500BC to 1000 AD (Barton 47).
South and Southwest Asians used the
monsoon seasonal-reversal wind route from Arabia and India to travel to
Southeast Asia (Barton 46). SEA is home to several ancient civilizations,
including the Angkor and the Sri Vijaya kingdoms. At about 1300, there
were two major kingdoms: the Sukhotai in Mainland SEA and the Majapahit empire
in insular SEA. During the 12th to the 14th
centuries, there was an active spice trade in the region (Fodor 67-8).
Hence, Southeast Asia was exposed to different
civilizations, cultures and religions for thousands of years now:
animism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism,
Hinduism and Islam. Culture, trade, religion, and monarchy played
a role in the state formation of SEAsian countries.
Colonialism is alien or foreign political rule or
control imposed on a people. Colonialism can take many forms: it can be
political, legal, economic, cultural and social. A political, economic and
cultural policy and practice by which several foreign states explored,
conquered, settled, exploited, maintained and extended their control over large
areas of foreign lands and its people who ceased to control their own
territories, resources and national destiny.
The age of colonialism began
about 1500, following the European discoveries of a sea route around Africa's
southern coast (1488) and of America (1492).
European, American, and Asian
powers colonized SEA. The major European colonizers in SEA included
Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, and France. The American power
was the U.S.A. Europeans introduced Protestantism and Roman Catholicism to
SEA. During World War II, Japan was the only major Asian country that
There are three motives for colonialism:
political, economic, and cultural. Reasons for colonialism are manifold:
to expand territory, to seek mercantilist profit, to import cheap raw materials,
and to extract precious metals. The booming economies needed an assured
supply of raw materials, assured new markets and new places in which to
- Aggrandizement of Political
- Territorial Expansionism to Other
- Increased National Pride
- Increase Military Might
- Status as World Power
- Intra-European Competition and
- European “Age of Discovery” =
Southeast Asian “Age of Colonialism”. One phenomenon, two
- Economic Profits:
- Commercial Enterprise and
- Need to Strengthen the economy by
- Mercantilism: Precious Metals
- Accumulation of Capital
- Sea Route to the East
Because the spice trade could make them wealthy,
explorers were motivated to find a faster and cheaper sea route. The
European routes were blocked by powerful rivals such as the Italian
city-states of Venice and Genoa and later the Turkish merchants of
Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Their ships had control of the eastern
Mediterranean where trade with the Arabs abounded. After Vasco da Gama's
famous voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese had to battle
Muslim forces and rival traders to gain a piece of the spice trade. The rulers
of Portugal and Spain sought different routes to the Indies. While the
Portuguese concentrated their efforts to the south and
east, the Spanish sought alternative routes to the
- Search for Raw Materials, esp.
Spices (Moluccas: Spice Islands”)
Spices such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger,
or cloves were like treasures to Europeans. All these products were produced
in India, Ceylon, and the Moluccas (known as the Spice Islands).
- 1800s: Industrial Revolution
- Search for New Raw Materials
- New Markets
Colonialism is linked with
the idea that the way of life of the colonizers are better than that of the
- “White Man’s Burden”
- Rudyard Kipling coined the
- Englishmen Cecil Rhodes, "I contend
that we Britons are the first race in the world, and the more of the world
we inhabit, the better it is for the human race. I believe it is my duty to
God, my Queen, and my country..."
- White Supremacy: whites are supreme
- The supposed or presumed
responsibility of white people to govern and impart their culture to
nonwhite people, often advanced as a justification for European
- Duty to spread the ways of the
superior beings to inferior beings with inferior ways of living
- Devaluation of indigenous
- “Civilizing Mission”: Bring
Civilization to the “uncivilized world”
- Conversion to
- Spain and Portugal spread Roman
Catholicism to their colonies by converting the indigenous peoples
- local religions are inferior
On June 7, 1494, the Spanish and the Portuguese
signed the Treaty of Tordesillas that divided the world in two spheres.
The imaginary line ran through the Atlantic: Spain gained lands to the west,
including all the Americas, except Brazil, which was granted to Portugal. The
eastern half including Africa and India was given to Portugal. In the absence of
accurate measurements of longitude, the issue of where the line should be drawn in Asia refused to go
Portugal (1511-1641/1975): The
Portuguese were the first Europeans to dominate trade in SEA and the
first to set up trading posts in military-occupied ports (Barton 50). They
defeated Moslem naval forces in 1509 and seized Malacca in 1511
(Barton 50), until the Dutch captured it in 1641. Southeast Asia felt
Portuguese impact the least. The Portuguese controlled only the small territory
of East Timor.
Spain (1565-1898): Ferdinand
Magellan reached the Philippines in 1521. Spanish expeditions from 1525
to 1536 claimed the Philippines. In 1565, Spain conquered Cebu. In
1571, Spain established the city of Manila and by 1600 it had gained
control of most of the archipelago (Barton 50). The Katipunan
(KKK)—Filipino revolutionaries—under Andrés Bonifacio fought against the
Spaniards and became the first Asian country to be independent in 1898,
except that the U.S. took the reigns of power thereafter.
Magellan: Magellan led the first
circumnavigation of the globe. He was born to a family of lower nobility and
educated in the Portuguese court. Just like Columbus who came before him,
Magellan believed the Spice Islands can be reached by sailing west, around or
through the New World. As Magellan did not get any support from the Portuguese
monarchy, he sought and got the assistance of the teenaged Spanish king,
Charles I (a.k.a. the Holy Roman emperor Charles V) on March 22, 1518. Magellan got five
ships. In September, 1519, he sailed with 270 men. His Italian
Pigafetta, kept a diary of
and recorded the voyage. They sailed on to the Philippines, arriving on
March 28, 1521. On April 7, 1521, he arrived in Cebu and befriended an island
king—Datu Humabon. On April 14, 1521, Datu Humabon and 800 of his people were
drawn in a mass baptism. Later, though, Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan in a
battle in Mactan on April 27, 1521.
Cano took over the remaining
three ships and 115 survivors. The two remaining ships sailed from the
Philippines on May 1 and made it to the Moluccas (Spice Islands) in November,
loaded with valuable spices. Hoping that at least one ship would return to
Spain, the Trinidad went east across the Pacific, while the
Victoria continued west. On September 6, 1522, the Victoria
and 18 crewmembers—including Pigafetta—arrived in Spain. It was the first vessel
to circumnavigate the globe.
Spain and Portugal
used the Cross and the Sword. The U.S. beat and replaced Spain.
The Netherlands (1605-1799 &
1825-1940s): The Dutch arrived in Indonesia in 1596.
Dutch colonialism was carried out initially by the Dutch East India
Company (V.O.C.) from 1605 to 1799. It’s main preoccupation was
profits in trade through monopolies, not political rule.
When it collapsed in 1799, the government of
Netherlands took over VOC’s assets in 1825 and put Indonesia under its
administrative authority, the process of which was completed in the 1930s
(Wilson). The Dutch had taken control of most of the commercial islands
in the East Indies and occupied Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, and Java (Barton
50). They built a port at Batavia and kicked out the Portuguese from the
Indies, except for East Timor (Barton 50).
The Dutch could not keep the Netherlands
East Indies after WWII as they hoped to because the Indonesians fought a war of
national liberation to set up a republic in 1945. The U.N. recognized
Indonesian independence in 1949.
The Dutch acquired their empire to protect
their trade. And they were after commodities. But not as raw materials: these
were spices, for resale. The Dutch were 250 years in Indonesia.
Britain (1824-1957): Britain
acquired parts of its empire through, or to aid, its traders. Using their
navies, the British penetrated SEA from the west side, while the
French from the east (Barton 50). The British used force to annex Burma
between 1826 and 1888 (Barton 50) in three Anglo-Burmese Wars. The
British maintained Burma as a province of British India, unlike other colonies
which kept their ethnic identities. Top British and middle Indian administrators
ruled Burma. In 1935, Britain consented to separate Burma from India and
this was put into force in 1937 (Wilson). In 1948, Burma negotiated with
Britain for its independence.
The British (Raffles) set up
Singapore in 1819 and the Netherlands ceded Malacca to Britain in 1824
(Barton 50). Britain governed Penang (acquired in 1786),
Singapore, and Malacca as the Straits Settlements from which Britain
expanded into the Malay Peninsula from 1874 to 1914 (Wilson). The Malay States
negotiated for and gained independence as the independent Federation of Malaya
in 1957. Penang, Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore became part of
Malaysia in 1963, but Singapore was told to withdraw in 1965
(Wilson). Brunei decided to stay out of the new country and is now an
France (1859-1954): The
French, under Louis XIV, exchanged embassies with Siam from 1600 to
1700. European influence on SEA amplified. The French went to Vietnam in
1858 and seized Saigon in 1859 (Wilson). By 1867, the
French annexed Cochin China (the south) and Cambodia. The French
used Cochin China as the base from which they moved westward and
northward. By 1893, they set up protectorates over Annam, Laos, and
Tonkin, all of which became the “French Indochina” (Barton 50). By 1907,
the French completed their conquest of Indochina (Wilson).
At the end of WWII, the French fought a war
trying to maintain its control over its SEAsian territories. French
Indo-China ended with the French humiliation at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. At
the Geneva Conference of 1954, Vietnam gained its
Myth about Thailand: There is a
long-standing myth that Thailand was never colonized. Factually
speaking, though, Siam was being squeezed from the west by the British and from
the east by the French (Barton 58). Siam had to give up large chunks of
land in exchange for keeping its territorial integrity. Only the middle core of
Siam was unoccupied (Barton 58).
U.S.A. (1898-1946): After the global
triumph of the U.S. over Spain in 1898, the U.S. moved in to colonize the
Philippines. Admiral Dewey defeated Spain in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898.
Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence on June 12, 1898 and the Philippine
Republic on January 23, 1899 but the U.S. did not recognize it. Hence, the
Philippine-American War started in 1899 and went on for about 10 years.
About 400,000 to 600,000 Filipinos were killed and 10,000 Americans died. On
Feb. 6, 1899, the U.S. Senate voted to annex the Philippines. On July 4, 1901,
U.S. President McKinley set up civil government and appointment the Philippine
Commission which was headed by William Howard Taft.
Mark Twain was the most famous literary adversary
of the Philippine-American War and he served as a vice president of the
Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 until his death. The Philippines became a
commonwealth in 1935 and independent in 1946 after World War II.
The western colonial powers had economic, social,
political, and cultural impact on the peoples and states of SEA. They brought
about rapid changes in SEA.
- MASS ECONOMIC BITTERNESS
- SOCIO-CULTURAL CLEAVAGE
- ECONOMIC GROWTH
- STRUGGLE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
- ANTI-COLONIAL NATIONAL LIBERATION
- JAPANESE AGGRESSION
Decolonization, and Independence
Colonial experience had an impact on the rise of
anti-colonial as well as anti-fascist (anti-Japanese aggression) nationalist
fervor that spawned independence movements. Southeast Asian elites responded to
western colonialism in a continuum anywhere from adaptation, collaboration, to
resistance. The traditional elite failed in their struggle. Many Filipino
intellectuals identified themselves with colonial Spain and the U.S.
Cultural and indigenous religious movements
surfaced and emphasized a national identity based upon traditional religious and
cultural values. For instance, the Young Man’s Buddhist Association in
Burma set up in 1906 aimed to bring down western influence. In Indonesia,
the Sarekat Islam which was a nationalist political party (1912) aimed to
bring Moslem Indonesians under its reformist agenda.
Western-style political movements were
created; they drew inspiration from western ideologies and models. Western
education sons of the traditional aristocracy or the bureaucratic elite at the
national level and school teachers, government officials and clerks at the local
local level led nationalist movements. In Burma, University of Rangoon students
formed the Dobayma Asiyone (“We Burman”) society in 1935. Dobayman
Asiyone members called themselves Thakins (“Master”).
Furthermore, Aung San, U Nu and Ne Win would rise to become key figures in
In the Philippines, some leaders who were
exposed to western ideals waged a revolutionary war against Spain. Others
later cooperated with the U.S.
In Malaya, educated Malays joined the civil
service and worked closely with the British rulers
Dutch-educated Indonesians formed the
Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) in 1927. It later became a clandestine
movement and the leaders went into political exile.
In Indochina, only in Vietnam was the
nationalist movement present.
Communist leaders and parties rose in many
parts of SEA. They were active in Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Moreover, new economic, administrative and
political elites emerged within which ideals of modernization and tradition
competed. New national identities were created; they drew upon traditional
cultural symbols and western systems. Charismatic national leaders such as Ho
Chi Minh and Sukarno embody national resurgence.
World War II in the
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Clark Air Base on
December 7, 1941. Japanese aggression took place in many parts of Asia and
the Pacific, including Southeast Asian countries.
Japan occupied Indochina through a treaty with the
pro-German Vichy government in France (Wilson).
In the Philippines, the last U.S. forces
surrendered to the Japanese in May 1942. The Japanese set up an “independent”
puppet “Philippine Republic”. On October 20, 1944, US forces returned to the
Philippines. On July 4, 1946, the U.S. granted independence to the
On March 29, 1942, Filipinos organized the
Hukbalahap (People’s Anti-Japanese Army). In Southeast Asia, only the Filipinos
fought the fiercest battle against the Japanese aggressors. At its height,
there were 260,000 anti-Japanese guerrillas.
The U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first
atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Approximately 130,000 were killed, wounded, or
missing, while 90% of the city was flattened. On August 9, 1945, the U.S.
dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. About 75,000 people were
killed or injured, while more than 1/3 of the city was destroyed. On
August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces in Tokyo, Japan.
Modern Southeast Asian countries emerge from their
rich history, diverse cultures as well as their social transformation from their
anti-western colonial struggle as well as their anti-Japanese resistance during
World War II.
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