The Origins Of Southeast Asian Nations: A Question Of Timing

David Henley

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism

Published in print March 2013 | ISBN: 9780199209194
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

The Origins Of Southeast Asian Nations: A Question Of Timing


This chapter explores the historical origins of today's Southeast Asian nations. Some of the region's precolonial societies—including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma on the mainland, but also Java in maritime Southeast Asia—had characteristics which predisposed them to serve as vehicles for modern nationalist movements: ethnic distinctiveness and homogeneity, and a tradition of political unity and independence. Whether or not this potential was realized, however, depended on whether the process of colonization reinforced or eroded existing political identities. A crucial factor here was the time lag between the demise of the indigenous state and the spread, via Western education, of a modern ideal of popular sovereignty. Where this lag was short, as in Vietnam (conquered in 1885), or nonexistent, as in uncolonized Thailand, nationalist movements crystallized around old polities and ethnicities rather than around new colonial states and communication communities (such as French Indochina). Where it was long, as in the case of Java, anticolonial nationalism created a new national community (Indonesia) coterminous with the new colonial state (the Netherlands Indies).

Keywords: Nationalism; history; political geography; ethnicity; colonialism; Southeast Asia; Indochina; Indonesia

Article.  11926 words. 

Subjects: History ; Asian History

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