Violence and Emancipation in Colonial Ideology

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Are there ethics justifying anti-colonial violence?

How and why did the violence and visions of nationalist movements become incorporated by colonial and neo-colonial rule?

Using the insurrection by the Malayan Communist Party (1948–1960) as an example, this book argues that resorting to violence sped up the decolonisation of British Malaya by forcing its colonial administration to invent Malay nationalism and pursue ameliorative social policy among the Chinese diaspora community in a manner clearly derived from the Party’s platform. Yet this was not the same as giving the country economic emancipation from the expectations of neo-colonial rule.

Violence and Emancipation in Colonial Ideology entertains no warm colonial memories of the cold war years. Confirming Price’s reputation as a plain speaking critic of Empire apologia, this book asks how colonial ideology was considered to be beneath Europe yet desperately needed by it. He faces down nostalgic communities defending an outdated view that “might was right” in South East Asia and that communism failed to contribute to the world that came to be. Using an Althusserian assumption, the book begs the question: if a late colonial state was subjective, then how did it claim a sufficiently objective mantle to rule and how did ideological techniques enable this?

“… A major contribution to the literature.”

– Prof Kerry Brown,
Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London
“… [an] unparalleled command of both scholarly literature and primary sources…”

– Prof Björn Ahl,
Professor and Chair of Chinese Legal Culture at the University of Cologne
Pub. Date
Dec 19, 2019
332 pages
152 x 229 mm
What does an evaluation of the colonial past of China and Malaysia add to our understanding of how ideology works? If such places made contributions, why is no-one talking about them? Is colonial ideology a dim recitation of what seemed to work at home, but insisted on with a more lethal passion abroad? Why convince locals when you can shoot them freely? Violence and Emancipation answers such questions. It compares the ideological strategies of British colonial administrations in Singapore, the Federated Malay States (Malayan Union and Federation of Malaya), and Hong Kong (1945–1960) as they encountered anti-colonial nationalism after the Second World War. Drawing on Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and others, I theorise that ideology’s central role was to objectivise the subjective political claims of a colonial state.

The themes covered in this book will be familiar to those who read earlier forays of mine into colonial history, such as Anatomy of a Riot and Reading Colonies. Colonial states were compelled to disconnect anti-colonial violence from any legitimating constitutional prescription while adopting nationalist public housing, property loss compensation, and rent control initiatives as the comfort foods of decolonisation. Yet the great weaning off jangled the nerve endings like the opioidal pangs of old. Exponents of nationalism — violent or parliamentary in outlook — bravely brought on the rupture but have received zero credit for this.

A colonial state’s pleas for its objectivity enabled it to shape an equally subjective local successor. A naïve plucked from a safety zone, and holding ne’er a hint of insolence, was dressed as an apostle, and emerged as a suitable boy. Why not choose one? This type ensured there would be a symbolic political decolonisation that kept alive the economic relativity between the First and the Third Worlds well into the future for the paltry cost of maintaining a few manicured lives. Property compensation or commercial licensing were objectifying forms of partial emancipation offered to colonial subjects. Exponents of nationalist violence were the villains. New houses in model villages were exalted. Who would not put their own material need ahead of an enigma of bad poetry or a flag-caped bogeyman travelling at dangerous velocity?

Readers familiar with the old boys’ historiography club will know its gag orders. Its lives of Kuomintang (KMT) lament and colonial consolation simmer away in London and the Western states of the United States. These souls live in a network that casually pops up in The Economist and The Atlantic magazine as a government in waiting. They give an unmistakable sense to their would-be adversaries of having entered the wrong password for the third time.

Is it “Nanking” with a capital “n” or an exclamation mark afterwards? No ideologist will be lured into a stoush that could be lost.

Chapter 1       Violence and Emancipation
Chapter 2       Ideology
Chapter 3       Compensation
Chapter 4       Laissez-faire
Chapter 5       Silencing and Renouncing the Heroic
Chapter 6       Concluding Remarks

Rohan B. E. Price is a Lecturer at the School of Law and Justice, Southern Cross University, Australia where he teaches the law of trusts to support his history writing. He leads a brash generation of historians demanding a clear line of view on Asia’s present politics. His PhD research dealt with how decolonisation and Chinese nationalism were contemplated in colonial property law. He has written celebrated titles on law and policy issues in modern China and Hong Kong. His works of history have been called “one of a kind”, an “essential reminder”, and “redrawing the map”. He has been a visiting professor in several universities in Mainland China. His works originate in the archives of London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Weihai. He maintains a holiday-maker’s interest in where his next book will be banned. His next book, titled On Occupation, locates the ontology developed by Heidegger in a range of late colonial contexts.