Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2014
This essay examines the role of Chinese revenue farmers in defining the borders of the various colonial territories and the states of Southeast Asia during the nineteenth century. The role of these individuals has largely been neglected in the current writing on the formation of state boundaries. Nicholas Tarling, in his Southeast Asia: A Modern History, notes, ‘Between the late eighteenth and the early twentieth almost all southeast Asia was divided into colonies or protectorates held by the Western powers, and new boundaries were drawn with the object of avoiding conflict among them’. His view is typical of most who have studied the period.
While his comment acknowledges the role of the Western powers in surveying the boundaries, drafting treaties and map making, it really says nothing about how those divisions were actually policed and made real on the ground. This aspect of ‘border making’ was left to the independent Chinese monopolists who worked on behalf of the colonial regimes. This essay examines their role during the middle years of the nineteenth century and attempts to give an account of their significance in the organization of colonial governance and in giving substance to the formalistic pronouncements of remote diplomats and statesmen.
BORDERS AND POPULATIONS
Southeast Asia presents a unique case historically because despite the fact that the major states have long-standing historical traditions, until the nineteenth century, most lacked clearly defined borders.