Indigenous Southeast Asia

How did Southeast Asia’s location at the intersection of multiple global trade routes create a region rich in diversity, and how did this influence the events of World War II and its aftermath? The issues essential to understanding this are:

  • Continual global interaction, exchange, and adaptation in shaping Southeast Asia’s diversity.
  • Southeast Asia’s topography and how it connected and separated nations and people in the region.
  • The legacies of colonialism and nascent struggles for independence before the war in directing the course of events in various countries during and after the war.

Southeast Asia for centuries has been center stage for dynamic forces of globalization. It is no surprise then that at the dawn of World War II, Southeast Asia presented a complex and dense cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious tapestry.

A country-by-country exploration of Southeast Asia in World War II reveals the breadth of varying experiences. For instance, in British Malaya (Malaysia) and Singapore, the Japanese forces engaged in a systematic extermination of Chinese, known as “Sook Ching,” or purification through cleansing. Japanese policy towards the Malays on the other hand was generally favorable. In Indonesia, the elite often benefitted by collaborating with the Japanese regime, while those on lower social strata were conscripted for slave labor. Thailand initially made a formal alliance with Japan and welcomed its troops, but this gave way to resentment as commodities vanished and the economy strained under the war effort. In turn, the war experiences of each country influenced mindsets and events after Japan’s defeat and withdrawal, as countries forged their own paths to autonomy.

Resources below detail and describe the war experiences within the continuity of the history of Southeast Asia.

Fast Facts

Timelines

Maps

Learning Modules

Readings