This paper examines the 1915 Singapore Mutiny within the context of border-crossing patriotic and anarchist movements in the early twentieth century world. It traces some of the continuities and discontinuities with later revolutionary movements in Asia, especially in terms of networks and the sites of their interactions. Through this, it reflects on the meaning of the ‘transnational’ at this moment in Asian history.
An early version of this paper was written for a workshop on ‘Asia Inside Out: Period’ at the University of Hong Kong, December 2010. I am very grateful to the organizers, Helen Siu and Eric Tagliacozzo, for inviting me. I owe a particular debt to Sunil Amrith and all our co-participants at the ‘Sites of Asian Interaction’ project at the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge.
1 Thomas, Lowell, Lauterbach of the China Sea: the Escapes and Adventures of Seagoing Falstaff (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1930), p. 114.
2 Letter from unidentified correspondent, Singapore, 24 February 1915, CO 273/420, The National Archives, London (TNA).
3 For the narrative, I have drawn on Tarling, Nicholas's essential essay ‘“The Merest Pustule”: The Singapore Mutiny of 1915’, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 55 (1982), pp. 26–59; and Harper, R.W.E. and Miller, Harry, Singapore Mutiny (Singapore: Oxford in Asia Paperbacks, 1985), especially pp. 120, 133–36.
4 W.G. Maxwell, ‘Narrative’, [24 February 1915], CO 273/420, TNA.
5 Harper and Miller, Singapore Mutiny, pp. 172–90.
6 Letter from unidentified correspondent, Singapore, 4 March 1915, CO 273/420, TNA.
7 Governor, Straits Settlements, to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25 February 1915, CO 273/420, TNA.
8 Snow, Karen A., ‘Russia and the 1915 Indian Mutiny in Singapore’, South East Asia Research 5 (1997), pp. 295–315.
9 Tarling, ‘“The Merest Pustule”’, p. 26.
10 Doran, Christine, ‘Gender Matters in the Singapore Mutiny’, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 17 (1) (2002), pp. 76–93.
11 Captain Winsley, T.M., A History of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, 1854–1937, Being Also an Historical Outline of Volunteering in Malaya (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1938), p. 64.
12 ‘Court of Inquiry’, enclosed in Governor, Straits Settlements, to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 19 August 1915, CO 273/423, TNA.
13 Harper and Miller, Singapore Mutiny, pp. 195–204.
14 The best account of the post mortem is Tarling, ‘“The Merest Pustule”’.
15 Sareen, T.R., Secret Documents on the Singapore Mutiny 1915 (New Delhi: Mounto Publishing House, 1985), pp. 1–20.
16 Choon, Ban Kah, Absent History: The Untold Story of Special Branch Operations in Singapore 1915–1942 (Singapore: Horizon Books, 2001).
17 Important exceptions include Tarling, Nicholas, The Fall of Imperial Britain in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1993); Guoqi, Xu, China and the Great War: China's Pursuit of a New National Identity and Internationalization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and van Dijk, Kees, The Netherlands Indies and the Great War, 1914–1918 (Leiden: KITLV, 2007). For the global turn, see, for example, Strachan, Hew, The First World War, Volume One: To Arms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
18 Mrázek, Rudolf, Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. v.
19 Reynolds, Michael A., Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
20 Kuwajima, Sho, Indian Mutiny in Singapore, 1915 (Calcutta: Ratna Prakashan, 1991).
21 Guoqi, Xu, Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011).
22 Baker, C., ‘Economic Reorganization and the Slump in South and Southeast Asia’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (3) (1981), pp. 325–49.
23 Young to Bonar Law, 25 August 1916, GD/C/21, Singapore National Archives (SNA).
24 This is a major theme of Van Dijk, The Netherlands Indies and the Great War. For the ‘age of strikes’, see Ingleson, John, In Search of Justice: Workers and Unions in Colonial Java, 1908–1926 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1986); and Shiraishi, Takashi, An Age in Motion: Popular Radicalism in Java, 1912–1926 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990). For a summary of the general unrest, see Vickers, Adrian, A History of Modern Indonesia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 46.
25 R.J. Wilkinson to Andrew Bonar Law, 22 November 1915, GD/C/20, SNA.
26 Choudhury, Deep Kanta Lahiri, Telegraphic Imperialism: Crisis and Panic in the Indian Empire, c.1830–1920 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
27 Robinson, Francis, ‘The British Empire and the Muslim World’, in Louis, William Roger and Brown, Judith (eds), The Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), Vol. 4, pp. 398–420; Bennison, Amira K., ‘Muslim Universalism and Western Globalization’, in Hopkins, A.G. (ed.), Globalization in World History (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2002), pp. 73–94.
28 Andaya, Barbara Watson, ‘From Rūm to Tokyo: The Search for Anticolonial Allies by the Rulers of Riau, 1899–1914’, Indonesia 24 (1977), pp. 123–56; Laffan, Michael Francis, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma Below the Winds (London: Routledge, 2003); Hussin, Iza, ‘The Making of Islamic Law: Local Elites and Colonial Authority in British Malaya’, in Dubois, Thomas (ed.), Casting Faiths: Technology and the Creation of Religion in East and Southeast Asia (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 155–74.
29 Hevia, James L., The Imperial Security State: British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-building in Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Tagliacozzo, Eric, ‘Kettle on a Slow Boil: Batavia's Threat Perceptions in the Indies’ Outer Islands, 1870–1910’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 31 (1) (2000), pp. 70–100.
30 Abbott, G.P., ‘A Revolt of Islam?’, Quarterly Review 223 (1915), p. 69.
31 Landau, Jacob M., The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). There is a large literature on the Hadrami, but for this period, see especially Mobini-Kesheh, Natalie, The Hadrami Awakening: Community and Identity in the Netherlands East Indies, 1900–1942 (Ithaca, New York: SEAP Publications, 1999).
32 See especially the insightful essay by van Dijk, Kees, ‘Religion and the Undermining of British Rule in South and Southeast Asia During the Great War’, in Feener, R. Michael and Feener, Terenjit Sevea (eds), Islamic Connections: Muslim Societies in South and Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009), pp. 109–33.
33 Sareen, Secret Documents, p. 730.
34 Major-General Dudley Ridout, ‘Reference to Report signed by General Houghton on 11 May 1915, marked “X”’, CO 273/423, TNA.
35 Sareen, Secret Documents, pp. 616–17, and as discussed by Van Dijk, ‘Religion and the Undermining of British Rule’, pp. 125–26.
36 Malaya Tribune, 9 March 1915.
37 Ho, Engseng, ‘Empire Through Diasporic Eyes: A View from the Other Boat’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2) (2004), p. 212.
38 Allen, J. de V., ‘The Kelantan Rising of 1915: Some Thoughts on the Concept of Resistance in British Malayan History’, Journal of Southeast Asian History 9 (2) (1968), pp. 241–57. Kheng, Cheah Boon, To’ Janggut: Legends, Histories, and Perceptions of the 1915 Rebellion in Kelantan (Singapore: NUS Press, 2006); Ban, Absent History, pp. 47–53.
39 The classic account is Johnston, Hugh J. M., The Voyage of the ‘Komagata Maru’: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979).
40 Singh Waraich, Malwinderjit and Singh Sidhu, Gurdev (eds), Komagata Maru: A Challenge to Colonialism: Key Documents (Chandigarh: Unistar, 2005), p. 104.
41 Governor, Straits Settlements, to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 19 August 1915, CO 273/423, TNA.
42 Lieutenant Colonel G.H.B. Lees, ‘Short History of the Malay States Guides from 16 March 1914 to date’, GD/C/20, SNA.
43 Telegram from Governor, Straits Settlements, to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 24 July 1915, CO 273/423, TNA.
44 McCann, Gerard, ‘Sikhs and the City: Sikh History and Diasporic Practice in Singapore’, Modern Asian Studies 45 (6) (2011), pp. 1465–498.
45 Commandant Malay States Guides to DAAG Aden Brigade, 10 December 1916, in Young to Walter Long, 17 October 1918, GD/C/24, SNA.
46 Ramnath, Maia, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
47 ‘Memorandum’ enclosed in W.A.D. Beckett to General Secretary Buitenzorg, 29 June 1915, Kol. Openbaar Vb 20-8-1915/35, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag (ANA).
48 Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, p. 51.
49 Ban, Absent History, p. 29.
50 There is a large literature on this: key accounts include Fraser, T.G., ‘Germany and Indian Revolution, 1914–18’, Journal of Contemporary History 12 (2) (1977), pp. 255–72; Dignan, Don, The Indian Revolutionary Problem in British Diplomacy, 1914–1919 (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1983); Bose, A.C., Indian Revolutionaries Abroad, 1905–1927: Select Documents (New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 2002), and, more recently, Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, and Van Dijk, The Netherlands Indies and the Great War, pp. 317–52.
51 Goscha, Christopher E., Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 1885–1954 (London: Curzon, 1998), pp. 43–44.
52 Consul, Saigon, to Secretary of State, 21 April 1915, COD/C/60, SNA.
53 Frost, Mark Ravinder, ‘Asia's Maritime Networks and the Colonial Public Sphere, 1840–1920’, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 6 (2004), pp. 63–94.
54 Lucas, Sir Charles (ed.), The Empire at War (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), Vol. 5, pp. 398–401.
55 Discussed in Harper, T.N., ‘Globalism and the Pursuit of Authenticity: The Making of a Diasporic Public Sphere in Singapore’, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 12 (2) (1997), pp. 261–92.
56 Kuwajima, Indian Mutiny, p. 144.
57 Secret Appendix to War Diary of the General Staff, Straits Settlements Command, for September 1919: ‘Suspected Persons’, FO 371/3816, TNA.
58 Kuwajima, Indian Mutiny, pp. 90–103, 117–18.
59 For example, Anderson, Benedict, Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (London: Verso, 2005); Hau, Caroline S. and Tejapira, Kasian (eds), Traveling Nation-makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2011).
60 By Will, Allen S., World-crisis in China (Baltimore: J. Murphy Co., 1900), and see Bickers, Robert and Tiedemann, R. G. (eds), The Boxers, China, and the World (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).
61 Kurzman, Charles, Democracy Denied, 1905–1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008), especially p. 3.
62 Stovall, Tyler, ‘The Color Line Behind the Lines: Racial Violence in France During the Great War’, The American Historical Review 103 (3) (1998), pp. 737–69; Xu, Strangers on the Western Front; Levine, Marilyn A., The Found Generation : Chinese Communists in Europe During the Twenties (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993).
63 Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism’, Journal of World History 12 (2001), pp. 99–130; Adas, Michael, ‘Contested Hegemony: The Great War and the Afro-Asian Assault on the Civilizing Mission Ideology’, Journal of World History 15 (2004), pp. 31–63.
64 Malaka, Tan, From Jail to Jail. Translated, edited and introduced by Jarvis, Helen. 3 volumes (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1991), Vol. I, p. 26.
65 As discussed in Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, p. 4.
66 Mark Emmanuel, ‘Trading with the Enemy: Economic Warfare against Germany in the Straits Settlements, 1914–1921’, BA (Hons) Academic Exercise, National University of Singapore, 1996, p. 15.
67 Harper, Tim, ‘The British “Malayans”’, in Bickers, Robert (ed.), Settlers and Expatriates: Britons over the Seas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 233–68.
68 Ghee, Lim Teck, Peasants and Their Agricultural Economy in Colonial Malaya, 1874–1941 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press 1977); Wah, Yeo Kim, The Politics of Decentralization: Colonial Controversy in Malaya, 1920–1929 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1982).
69 Torpey, John, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); McKeown, Adam, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).
70 Tagliacozzo, Eric, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915 (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005).
71 Breman, Jan and Daniel, E. Valentine, ‘Conclusion: The Making of a Coolie’, Journal of Peasant Studies 19 (3–4) (1992), pp. 268–95.
72 ‘List of persons deported under orders of banishment during the month of December 1914’, CO 273/420, TNA; HC Deb 25 February 1914 vol. 58 cc1749–50.
73 Yong, C.F. and McKenna, R.B., Kuomintang Movement in British Malaya, 1912–1949 (Singapore: NUS Press, 1990), p. 67; Alun Jones, ‘Internal Security in British Malaya, 1895–1942’, PhD thesis, Yale University, 1970, p. 129.
74 Jensen, Joan M., ‘The “Hindu Conspiracy”: A Reassessment’, Pacific Historical Review 48 (1) (1979), pp. 65–83.
75 Sayre, Francis B., ‘Criminal Conspiracy’, Harvard Law Review 35 (4) (1922), p. 406.
76 MacMunn, G.F., The Underworld of India (London: Jarrolds, 1933), p. 13.
77 Popplewell, Richard, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire, 1904–1924 (London: Routledge, 1995).
78 Foster, Anne L., Projections of Power: The United States and Europe in Colonial Southeast Asia, 1919–1941 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 15–22.
79 Poeze, Harry, ‘Political intelligence in the Netherlands Indies’, in Cribb, Robert (ed.), The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies 1880–1942 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1994), pp. 229–45; Van Dijk, The Netherlands East Indies and the Great War, pp. 322–29.
80 Goscha, Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks, pp. 40–43; Porch, Douglas, The French Secret Services: From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War (London: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 293–94.
81 Munholland, J. Kim, ‘The French Response to the Vietnamese Nationalist Movement, 1905–14’, The Journal of Modern History 47 (4) (1975), p. 674.
82 Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, p. 2.
83 Letter from Agents, BISN Singapore, to Controller of Labour, FMS, 4 October 1915, Singapore, BIS/7/20, National Maritime Museum. I am grateful to Sunil Amrith for this reference.
84 McKeown, Adam, ‘Global Migration, 1846–1940’, Journal of World History 15 (2) (2004), pp. 176–77.
85 See the splendid study by Khuri-Makdisi, Ilham, The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).
86 Hanley, Will, ‘Grieving Cosmopolitanism in Middle East Studies’, History Compass 6 (5) (2008), pp. 1346–367.
87 See Bose, Sugata, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006), Manjapra, Bose and Kris, Cosmopolitan Thought Zones: South Asia and the Global Circulation of Ideas(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
88 See especially Lewis, Su Lin, ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Modern Girl: A Cross-Cultural Discourse in 1930s Penang’, Modern Asian Studies 43 (6) (2008), pp. 1–35.
89 Goscha, Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks, pp. 34–40. This is a pioneering study, to which I am greatly indebted.
90 Ho, ‘Empire through Diasporic Eyes’; Goscha, Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks, p. 5.
91 Harper, T.N., ‘Empire, Diaspora and the Languages of Globalism, 1850–1914’, in Hopkins, A.G. (ed.), Globalization in World History (London: Pimlico, 2001), pp. 141–66.
92 Amrith, Sunil S., ‘Tamil Diasporas across the Bay of Bengal’, American Historical Review, 114 (2009), pp. 547–72.
93 Chattopadhyaya, Gautam, Abani Mukherji, a Dauntless Revolutionary and Pioneering Communist (New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1976), p. 150.
94 van der Veur, Paul W., The Lion and the Gadfly: Dutch Colonialism and the Spirit of E.F.E. Douwes Dekker (Leiden: KITLV, 2007).
95 Chattopadhyaya, Abani Mukherji, p. 150.
96 Bose, Indian Revolutionaries, p. 157; Ahmad, Muzaffar, Myself and the Communist Party of India, 1920–1929 (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1970), pp. 199–254.
97 Sita Ram, Inspector of Police, ‘Report’, 30 July 1915, Vb 26-11-1915 C14, ANA.
98 Bose, Indian Revolutionaries, p. 158.
99 ‘Maverick: Supplement VI of February 1, 1916’, CO 273/447, TNA.
100 Van Dijk, The Netherlands Indies and the Great War, pp. 330–31.
101 H.J. Vermeer, ‘Eenige opmerkingen omtrent den Japanschen inlichtingsdient in Oost-Azië (verkregen door gesprekken met den Britisch-Indischen banneling A. Selam, te Koepang)’, 22 November 1915, Vb 30–3–1916 D5, ANA.
102 For this kind of itinerary, see the important study by Manjapra, Kris, M.N. Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (New Delhi: Routledge India, 2010).
103 Epstein, A.L., ‘The Network and Urban Social Organization, in Mitchell, J. Clyde (ed.), Social Networks in Urban Situations: Analyses of Personal Relationships in Central African Towns (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1969), pp. 77–116; Granovetter, Mark S., ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, American Journal of Sociology 78 (6) (1973), pp. 1360–380.
104 Shiraishi, An Age in Motion, p. 193.
105 My understanding of this emerges from a collaborative project with Sunil Amrith; see Amrith, S. and Harper, T., ‘Sites of Asian Interaction: An Introduction’, Modern Asian Studies 46 (2) (2012), pp. 249–57.
106 ‘He was intimately acquainted with what might be called the limicole world, that of minor or middling officials, who lived with one foot upon the shore and the other on the sea. . .’, Patrick O'Brien, The Letter of Marque (London: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 47.
107 Nelson, Bruce, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), p. 10.
108 Ashleigh, Charles, ‘The Floater’, International Socialist Review 15 (July 1914), pp. 34–38.
109 Fowler, Josephine, Japanese and Chinese Immigrant Activists: Organizing in American and International Communist Movements, 1919–1933 (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007).
110 Ghadar, 29 August 1915, translated in ‘Memorandum’, Acting British Consul Manila, 14 October 1915, FO 115/1908, TNA.
111 Kiernan, Victor, ‘Modern Capitalism and its Shepherds’, New Left Review 183 (1990), p. 87. A very early sketch of this argument was given at a tribute meeting to the work of Victor Kiernan in Cambridge in October 2010.
112 Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, especially pp. 67–68, 95–122.
113 Shu-mei, Shih, The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 15.
114 Dirlik, Arif, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley: California University Press, 1991); Yong, C.F., The Origins of Malayan Communism (Singapore: South Seas Society, 1997); Ramnath, Maia, Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India's Liberation Struggle (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2012).
115 Puri, Harish K., ‘Revolutionary Organization: A Study of the Ghadar Movement’, Social Scientist 9 (2/3) (1990), p. 54.
116 Arnold, David and DeWald, Erich, ‘Everyday Technology in South and Southeast Asia: An Introduction’, Modern Asian Studies 46 (1) (2012), p. 1–17.
117 Abstracts of Secret Intelligence, Straits Settlements, for July 1920, FO 371/5356, TNA.
118 Giebel, Christoph, Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism Ton Duc Thang and the Politics of History and Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004); Miller, Michael B., Shanghai on the Métro: Spies, Intrigue and the French Between the Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
119 Hirson, Baruch and Vivian, Lorraine, Strike Across the Empire: The Seamen's Strike of 1925 in Britain, South Africa and Australasia (London: Clio, 1992).
120 Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).
121 Kahn, Joel S., Other Malays: Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in the Modern Malay World (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2006), pp. 158–76.
122 Motoo, Firuta, ‘Vietnamese Political Movements in Thailand: Legacy of the Dong-Du Movement’, in Sinh, Vinh (ed.), Phan Boi Chau and the Dong-Du movement (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 150.
123 I am evoking here, of course, Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism (London: SAGE Publications, 1995).
124 Kusno, Abidin, ‘From City to City: Tan Malaka, ‘Shanghai and the Politics of Geographical Imagining’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 24 (3) (2003), p. 337.
125 Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, Vol. II, pp. 102–12.
* An early version of this paper was written for a workshop on ‘Asia Inside Out: Period’ at the University of Hong Kong, December 2010. I am very grateful to the organizers, Helen Siu and Eric Tagliacozzo, for inviting me. I owe a particular debt to Sunil Amrith and all our co-participants at the ‘Sites of Asian Interaction’ project at the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge.
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