Before the age of New Imperialism, most of Southeast Asia was divided up into small kingdoms who ruled over the native peoples. They traded with China, India, and the Middle East for hundreds of years.
Then, in the late 19th century, the Europeans rushed to divide up Southeast Asia because of New Imperialism. This eventually led to the near complete colonization of Southeast Asia by the 1900s. However, imperialism in Southeast Asia had very negative consequences on the native peoples there.Why would the Europeans want to colonize Southeast Asia? There were three primary reasons: political motives, economic motives, and cultural motives. First, during the age of New Imperialism, Europeans wanted to gain colonies to show off their military power to other countries.
If they gained enough colonies, they might also be recognized as a world power due to the large amounts of land they controlled. Second, the regions of Southeast Asia “all had fertile soil, constant warmth, and heavy rains” (Bulliet et al., 785). This tropical climate meant that Southeast Asia was an ideal place to grow many crops the Europeans wanted on plantations. New colonies also meant new markets for the Europeans to sell their manufactured products. Colonies were also a way to get the raw materials to make these products. Southeast Asia was also geographically close to other countries, such as China and India. This was an advantage because it would be easier for the Europeans to conduct trade.
Finally, the Europeans colonized Southeast Asia because they believed that they were superior, and they should be teaching the native people the “civil” ways of life, including the practice of Christianity. (Ty)The first country I wanted to research was the Dutch Republic, which is present-day Netherlands. In 1602, the Dutch created the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to gain control over trade in Asia. The VOC was not interested in creating colonies and just wanted to maximize profits from trade monopolies. It created alliances with the local leaders to get control over the resources of East Indies. However, by 1799, the VOC became corrupt and went into bankruptcy. The Dutch government decided to withdraw their charter and took over in its place. From 1825-1930s, they brought Indonesia under their control.
(Pentecost; Wilson)What I found interesting about Indonesia was the social hierarchy that formed there and the gender roles in Indonesia, specifically on the island of Java. When the VOC was in Indonesia, the men were encouraged to marry the local women to form alliances and business relationships. Eventually, a population of Indo-Europeans emerged on the archipelago. Like usual, the Dutch were on the top of the hierarchy, but wealthy Indo-Europeans had social statuses that were basically the same as the Dutch citizens. On the other hand, mixed families of lower wealth were discriminated against. Moreover, “all women were second-class citizens, though in colonial novels white women were portrayed as moral saviours, whilst Indo women were depicted as being morally degenerate” (Pentecost). Although women were seen as inferior to men, they performed the same amount of work.
Thomas Stamford Raffles, Governor General during the British interregnum in the East Indies, pointed out that “the labour of the women on Java is estimated almost as highly as that of the men” (van Nederveen Meerkerk). Women worked almost twice as much as men did. They were traditionally involved in rice production and when governor-general Johannes van den Bosch introduced the Cultivation System in the 1830s, in which part of the land was turned over to the government to be used to grow cash crops, the women’s work increased even more since most of the men went to work for the government. The purpose of the system was totransform ‘lazy’ paupers into industrious workers, and to this end a certain degree ofcoercion was tolerated. Indonesian men especially were seen as idle, as opposed to theirwives, whom the Dutch as well as the English portrayed as particularly industrious andentrepreneurial. (van Nederveen Meerkerk) Compared to Europe, it seems like the gender roles for men and women in Java were switched.
The women did most of the work instead of just staying at home and taking care of the children while the men worked less and were seen as lazy. The second country I wanted to look at was Great Britain. British ruled Burma from 1824-1948. They gradually gained control of Burma through three wars, called the Anglo-Burmese Wars. The first war began due to the Konbaung Dynasty conquering territories to its west.
A conflict arose with the British East India Company because they felt threatened and invaded Burma in 1824. The war lasted until 1826 ending in British victory and the Treaty of Yandabo gave the British many territories. The second war lasted only a year from 1852-1853. It began due to conflict over the previous treaty. The British quickly blocked off the Gulf of Martaban and took over Rangoon (Lower Burma) in April of 1853, ending the war without a treaty. The third and final war occurred in 1885.
The British Empire was losing power due to troubles in Ireland and India, and when a rumor surfaced that there was a secret arms deal between France and Mandalay, a port in Burma, the British used another trade conflict as an excuse to demand Burma to surrender control of its foreign affairs to India. There was only one proper battle before the king surrendered on November 26, 1885, ending the Konbaung Dynasty. The kingdom of Burma became British Burma, a province of India, on January 1, 1886. (Dowing) The British used direct rule to control Burma. After exiling the king to India, they implemented a new government and education system to try and merge the Burmese with the British. They also burned down villages to force unloyal Burmese to lower Burma and replaced them with strangers they thought they could trust. The British made Lower Burma the world’s largest rice exporters and exploited the countries resources. They also brought in many Indians laborers who would work for less money, displacing the Burmese farmers.
All of these quickly destroyed the Burmese economy, leading to high crime and poverty rates from unemployment. (Hays, Burma) The British also control the island of Singapore. British explorer and merchant Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles wanted a major port between China and India and scouted various placed in Southeast Asia. In 1819, he explored modern-day Singapore and determined that it was the perfect place for a port: the island was about halfway between India and China and was in a location where most ships from India, China, and Europe passed. Raffles received permission to establish a trading post on the island and its free-trade policy attracted many immigrants from Southeast Asia, China, India, and Europe. Singapore quickly grew in population and prosperity and along with Penang and Malacca (two other trading ports) became the Straits Settlements of the British East India Company. (Hays, Singapore) The British used the Straits Settlements as a foothold for British expansion into the Malay Peninsula. They formally made Malaysia a colony in 1867 and gained control over northern Malaya through an agreement with Siam in 1909, merging it with all the territories to form Malaya.
Malaysia had two important exports: tin and rubber. Tin was mined from ore deposits near the surface and floods limited the depth they could go. New deposits discovered from the 1840s attracted Chinese immigrants, who brought with them new technology to mine at increased depths and by 1900, Malaysia exported over half the world’s supply of tin. Rubber was also an important export of Malaysia. Rubber is obtained from the sap of rubber trees. With the increasing demand for rubber from the automobile industry in the early twentieth century, supplies from the Amazon Rainforest in South America soon ran out. The British government tried transporting specimens of the tree to colonies in the east. The trees flourished and prices for rubber skyrocketed, peaking in 1910.
Rubber plantations on the Malaysian peninsula reached 1.34 million acres and exported about 55% of the world’s rubber. Rubber quickly overcame tin as Malaysia’s main export.
(Hays, Malaysia) Next, is the country of France. France was already deeply involved in Vietnamese affairs when King Louis XVI helped Nguyen Anh unify Vietnam and established the Nguyen Dynasty. However, when his successors persecuted Christian missionaries, the French used it as an excuse to invade in 1858, quickly capturing Saigon in 1859. In 1862, the emperor signed a treaty giving the French three provinces in Cochin China after defeat at the Battle of Ky Hoa, making it a French colony. In 1864, the French set up ports in Vietnam, producing opium to sell to China. In 1884, France formed a protectorate over Tonkin, Annam, Laos and most of Cambodia, creating French Indochina. The main export of Indochina was rice and under French rule, four times as much land was used to produce rice.
However, rice consumption in Indochina decreased because of large amounts of exports, leading to anger, and later resistance against the French. (Hays, Vietnam) Finally, is the country of Siam, or modern-day Thailand. Siam was the only Southeast Asian country to remain independent during the Age of New Imperialism. Siam was located between British Burma and French Indochina and Britain and France were trying to stop each other from gaining control of Siam.
Using this knowledge, King Mongkut of Siam signed several treaties with Western countries (Britain, France, and the United States) and implemented economic reforms to prevent the country from falling into the hands of outside powers. He implemented free-trade, freedom of religion and Siam’s first currency. King Mongkut believed that that the only way for Siam to be treated as equals by the Western countries was to reform their legal system. However, his death in 1868 from malaria paused his reforms.
Real reformation began under the rule of King Chulalongkorn, son of King Mongkut. Chulalongkorn gradually abolished slavery, and introduced western technology and ideas, such as school systems, electricity, canals, telegraph lines, and railways. Most importantly, instead of fighting against the British and France, he gave away territories to keep Siam independent. For example, in 1907, Siam territory was ceded to France and in 1909, three states were ceded to Great Britain (“Siam”). Although Siam lost almost ? of its territory, they remained independent, becoming a “buffer state” between the British and French colonies. (Hays, Mongkut and Chulalongkorn) New Imperialism in Southeast Asia greatly changed the lives of the people living there. In Indonesia, a strict social hierarchy was formed, with the Dutch at the very top and the Indonesian peasants at the very bottom.
A lot of racism also occurred between the Dutch and the Indonesian. The peasants were forced to work on government-owned land and grow food for exports, increasing their workload since they now have to grow food for other countries in addition to growing food for themselves. In Burma, the British forcefully took control of the government and moved everyone who opposed them to Lower Burma. The British also encouraged people from India and China to immigrate to their colonies on Burma and Malaysia, effectively displacing the native ethnic groups on their own country. This caused tensions that are still around today.
Economic changes also occurred. Indochina and Burma became leading rice exporters (which also caused anger because the farmers themselves were actually received less rice for themselves each harvest) while Malaysia and Indonesia exported rubber. Siam was the only country to remain independent. Crucial reforms by King Mongkut and his son, King Chulalongkorn, quickly industrialized Siam, taking away a reason for colonial rule. They also avoided fighting and peacefully gave away parts of their territory. The British and the French did not feel the need to colonize Siam, maybe because much of Upper Siam could not be used for farmland, and mostly left the country as a separator for their colonies. Western countries continued to rule much of Southeast Asia until the mid-1900s, when ideas of independence arose, and the colonies finally had enough of the negative impacts of being conquered by others.
Although called New Imperialism, it did not change from Old Imperialism in the fact that the colonies were negatively affected. To this day, many countries in Southeast Asia are developing countries, with the exception of Thailand, who escaped from the holds of imperialism.