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Britain as an Imperial Power in South-East Asia in the Nineteenth Century

  • J. S. Bastin

Abstract

THE word ‘imperialism’ has had a somewhat chequered history,1 but to many, including Asian and African nationalists, it remains indelibly associated with the concept of ‘economic’ imperialism popularised by the writings of J.A. Hobson and V. I. Lenin.2 Both men focused particular attention on the period from about 1870 to 1900 when there was an enormous increase in Western territorial holdings in Africa and Asia:3 Lenin, for example, noted that in Africa the area under European control rose from less than 11 per cent in 1876 to more than 90 per cent in 1900, and Hobson emphasised the point that one-third of the territory of the British empire in 1900 and one-quarter of its population had been acquired since 1870.4 The acquisition by Great Britain during these years of 4 3/4 million square miles of territory and 88 million people was regarded as a phenomenon of especial significance,5 and the fact that during approximately the same period British capital investment overseas increased more than ten-fold1 provided both writers with the key for explaining imperialism, Hobson interpreting the process as a consequence of ‘under-consumption’, as the pressure of declining domestic rates of interest requiring profitable fields of investment abroad,2 and Lenin as the necessity of monopoly finance capital to export to limited markets protected by the political apparatus of the metropolitan state.3

Keywords

Nineteenth Century British Government Malay Peninsula Economic Imperialism Imperial Power 
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Further Reading

1. Imperialism

  1. The literature on British imperialism is too vast to attempt a bibliographical assessment of it here. An excellent guide to the subject is (provided by R. W. Winks (ed.), British Imperialism: Gold, God, Glory New York-London, 1963) 120–2. A number of the more significant recent contributions have been cited in the references above.Google Scholar

2. South-East Asia

  1. Cowan, C.D.: Nineteenth-Century Malaya (1961) discusses in an extremely lucid fashion British policy towards the Malay states during the nineteenth century and examines the events connected with British political involvement in Perak, Selangor and Sungei Ujong in 1874–5.Google Scholar
  2. Gullick, J. M.: Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya (1958) describes and analyses the political institutions of the western Malay states immediately before British political intervention in the peninsula in 1874.Google Scholar
  3. Hall, D. G. E.: A History of South-East Asia (1966). The standard work on the subject.Google Scholar
  4. Irwin, G.: ‘Nineteenth-Century Borneo: a Study in Diplomatic Rivalry’, VKI, xv (1955). A sound and scholarly work on British policy towards western Borneo in the nineteenth century, and on Anglo-Dutch relations during the period.Google Scholar
  5. Maung Htin Aung: The Stricken Peacock: Anglo-Burmese Relations, 1752–1948 (The Hague, 1965) presents an interesting and highly readable account of Britain’s relations with Burma from a Burmese point of view.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Singhal, D. P.: The Annexation of Upper Burma (Singapore, 1960). A stimulating little book which argues that British annexation was largely the result of the pressures brought to bear on the British government by traders and chambers of commerce.Google Scholar
  7. Tarling, N.: ‘British Policy in the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago, 1824–4871’, Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society, XXX (3) (1957). A well documented account of the subject.Google Scholar
  8. Tarling, N.: Piracy and Politics in the Malay World: a Study of British Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century South-East Asia (Melbourne, 1963). An interesting and important book which describes the part played by the ‘suppression of piracy’ in nineteenth-century British policy towards Malaysia.Google Scholar
  9. Tregonning, K. G.: Under Chartered Company Rule (North Borneo 1881–1946) (Singapore, 1959). A readable but unsatisfactorily documented account of the operations of the British North Borneo Company. A new edition of this book, incorporating material on post-war developments in North Borneo, has been published under the title, A History of Sabah, 1881–1963 (Singapore, 1964).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. S. Bastin
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Oriental and African StudiesLondonUK

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