wells - The old and the new I Kathirithamby—Wells 2.1...

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Unformatted text preview: The old and the new I. Kathirithamby—Wells 2.1 Introduction: Asia-Pacific integration The integration of the old and new worlds during the last half-millennium marks a spectacular leap in human history. Nowhere has this process been more complete than in the Asia-Pacific. The current Asia—Pacific era had its antecedents in the expansion of Atlantic commerce and European domi- nation during the post-Columbian era, some four centuries ago. Post-Second World War decolonization brought profound economic changes which helped shift the gravity of industry and commerce from the North Atlantic seaboard, anchored in London, Amsterdam and New York to the western Pacific Rim, centred on Tokyo and Hong Kong. Given the industrial growth of East Asia and Singapore during the last three decades and the natural and human resources of South-East Asia, it is envisaged that the Asia-Pacific will lead global commerce into the twenty-first century. South-East Asia’s natural resources, cheap labour and markets for manufactures which fuelled capitalist formations during the colonial era, have been integral to the ‘East Asian Miracle’. Within the framework of these developments, South-East Asia has experienced astonishing growth. Demographic setbacks, under regimes of repression such as in Democratic Kampuchea and East Timor, have been an exception rather than the rule. Natural population increases, arising from hugely reduced mortality through improved health and medical services, have received an added boost through government policy, in some instances. Malaysia, for example, has set high population targets in the interests of boosting labour services for industry and for engineering politically desirable ethnic ratios. The exigencies of food, energy, land and urban accommodation for the fast expanding populations pose formidable problems in the region. They increase latent ethnic and religious tensions. They put additional strains on an environment, already affected by extractive industries, like timber logging, mining and marine fishing, and the construction of mega hydro-electric dams to support the exponential growth of local industries. These problems are compounded by the crisis of modernization which threatens cultural and institutional traditions which are an essential heritage of the region. 16 CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC This chapter will trace some of the processes of change brought by the region’s interaction with the West over almost half a millennium, exploring the extent to which past traditions and experiences have impacted on the present. 2.2 The pre-modern era c. 1500—1800 The galleon trade In contrast to the Atlantic explorations in search of new land and places for migration, the voyages of the Pacific were motivated by the quest for trade aimed at the acquisition of gold and spices. Following the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492., Ferdinand Magellan pressed further west to discover the Pacific route to the Philippines and the Spice Islands. When the Spanish occupied the Philippines in 1570, the capital, Manila, became the terminus for the west—east galleon trade centred on the Mexican port of Acapulco. From the European perspective of the world economy, for which the Americas became the periphery, Asia remained an external arena beyond the Pacific. In reality, however, the vast amounts of Mexican silver injected into the Asia-Pacific region by the galleon trade, in excess of an average of seventeen tons per annum, initiated a commercial revolution which gained momentum over the next half millennium (Barrett, 1990, p.248). The increased circulation of currency and the European demand for goods triggered rapid monetization and a commercial boom, with extended market networks and expanded production. Agricultural revolution The galleon trade came to an end during the early nineteenth century, but its role in the transference of cultivars from the New World to the western Pacific Rim had a revolutionary impact on agriculture and augured a dynamic era of socio-economic change. In South-East Asia, in addition to cassava and maize introduced by the Portuguese, sweet potato which found its way by the Pacific route, added to the mix of crops planted in forest clearings by shifting cultivators who ideally accommodated non-intensive cash cropping to subsistence cultivation and collection of forest produce. Gradually, as cash-cropping for luxuries gave way in the Indonesia Archipelago to state-managed monocultivation of pepper, the finer spices and tobacco (the last introduced from the New World), crops of maize, cassava and sweet potato helped sustain populations earning insufficient returns from cultivating commercial crops to purchase imported rice. It also helped tide over drought, famine and periods of social and political instability. Maize, cassava and sweet potatoes which were suited to poor agricultural conditions and rudimentary cultivation, would appear to have also improved the life-style and boosted the population of less advanced THE OLD AND THE NEW 17 tribal communities. Among the Hmong, Kachin and Wu of mainland South-East Asia, for example, it allowed movement to higher elevations. By strengthening the subsistence base of upland communities, New World starch staples permitted the cultivation of cash crops, ranging from poppy at high latitudes, aromatic benzoin (Styrax spp.) and cinnamon at the intermediate levels, and pepper and New World tobacco on the lower slopes. Widely consumed throughout the southern Pacific Rim tobacco, like salt, expanded internal markets of exchange, multiplying the points of contact between coast and interior communities. In China, enterprising Hokkiens trading with the Philippines introduced New World crops like sweet potato, maize and groundnuts which transformed subsistence agriculture in the commercial hub of South China. These crops were soon cultivated in areas unsuited edaphically and altitudinally for paddies and helped supplement rice in local diets. As elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, new crops such as sweet potato and maize freed up a proportion of land and labour from rice cultivation, for cash crops. In China, cultivators rapidly pushed into the hills, cropping tea for export and sweet potatoes for subsistence. The age of commerce The expansion of production both for consumption and export lent new vigour to traditional networks of trade within the Asia-Pacific, expanding the trade in luxuries. Indian cloth and opium found ready sales in South- East Asian bazaars which, in turn, sold a variety of sea and jungle products to cater to Chinese gastronomic and pharmaceutical needs. European capital and ships infused new vigour into Chinese business and indigenous production networks. The full spectrum of international commercial transaction, incorporating old and new aspects of production and business was represented, for example, in the maritime centre of eighteenth century' Jolo (Sulu). Sea cucumbers or béche-de-mer (tenpang) and birds’ nests collected by Sulu slaves for their masters were sold by Chinese middlemen to European ’country trade’ servicing the Canton trade. A parallel trade in deer skins and eaglewood from Thailand and silks from China secured Japanese silver for European merchants to supplement American silver imports for their trade in Asia. New and expanded markets also helped sustain and improve traditional technologies in Indian cloth, Japanese silk and Chinese ceramic production and boat—building. Dutch and English East Indiamen carrying Chinese tea found a convenient and profitable ballast in blue and white ceramics produced in Fujian and Guangdong. Some well perfected technologies reached neighbouring regions through migrant communities and trade networks to become indigenized to the production of elegant Vietnamese and Thai ceramics, as well as South-East Asian junks fashioned out of teak in the shipyards of north Java and Bangkok. ._ .s. mm... .- 18 CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE ASIA—PACIFIC The ethics of commerce Besides lending new vigour to old commercial centres, European partici- pation in the Pacific trade provided the impetus for political integration and state formation in the trading world of South—East Asia. Commercial power became a potent source of wealth. As international trade expanded, the respectability of commerce became everywhere evident. In South-East Asia, the rulers of maritime areas commonly functioned as merchants while port administrators combined official functions with trade. In the Theravada Buddhist Thailand profits from trade were invested, in part, in earning merit points (sakdina) through temple endowments and acts of charity and facilitated the social integration of wealthy Chinese merchants. In island South—East Asia the ubiquitous Muslim trader who acted also as a messenger of the Prophet, was accorded a high place in local society while the learned among them often graced the courts of indigenous rulers. In China where merchants had stood low in the old social order, society's perceptions of merchants and their trading activities rapidly changed. The commercial elite made efforts to reconcile profit seeking with righteousness and service to society. They channelled some of the new wealth to philanthropy and community service in compliance with the 'Confucian moral imperative of paternalistic social responsibility'. In China during the Qing dynasty (1644—1911), foreign trade previously constrained by official tributary trade, was endorsed through the appointment in Guangzhou (Canton) of the hang merchants as the official brokers. After 1842 there was further accommodation to foreign trade and the hang were fast replaced by compradors or Chinese contractual employees of foreign trading firms. Men of status and education, they combined the roles of cultural brokers and business agents, some of whom rose to be entrepreneurs in their own right at the treaty ports. In Japan, under the Tokugawa, the samurai who were unable to sustain themselves as a warrior class, turned to trade, upgrading the status of the merchant in the process. The Japanese thinker, Ishida Baigan, who preached enlightenment at the turn of the seventeenth century and was himself a merchant by profession, considered the samurai as bringing to the chonin (the townsmen or business community) the virtues of the warrior (bushido), namely, honesty, diligence and economy. At the same time, economic rationalism, enshrined in the concept of shimatsu, contributed to the development of a high level of accounting and business skills, including double-entry bookkeeping and a complex credit system for the rice trade. A rice exchange was in operation in Osaka in 1730, well before the founding of the London stock exchange. Throughout East Asia, lineage and the family provided the basic structure for business with the positive features of facilitating capital raising, maximizing trust and loyalty and providing long-term planning over the generations. These institutional features of East Asian business were replicated within the network of Chinese diasporas in South—East Asia, integral to the functioning of the local economies. In Japan, modern economic development has been attributed to the family enterprise, the THE OLD AND THE NEW 19 zaibatsu, despite US attempts after the Pacific War to reduce their influence. In Taiwan, an estimated 97 per cent of business firms today are family based. 2.3 The colonial era, 6. 1800—1945 Socio-economic transformation East Asia’s receptiveness to trade facilitated the inroads of European capitalism and colonialism. In China, by the 18305 tea exports reached a record 100 million pounds as against some 5,300 pounds of the more valuable opium imports (Fairbank, 1989, pp.273, 286). Imperial China proved unable to draw its merchants and lower officials away from the illicit trade in opium imported by Europeans. Imperial commerce at the key positions of Manila, Batavia (the present Jakarta), Hong Kong and Singapore became the refuge for Asian entrepreneurs and China’s surplus population seeking new opportunities. New plantation crops in the form of South American tobacco and rubber and Arabian coffee provided the foundations for the colonial economy in the region, superseding the traditional trade in luxury produce (see Table 2.1). Indigenous rulers, where they continued to exist, exchanged effective power for titular status. Ruling elites were absorbed into colonial bureaucracies, trading social influence and material perks for fixed salaries, within defined, stable and legally constituted, rather than competing hierarchies. Functioning as indispens- able agents of colonial governments, they formed a vital link between new colonial administrations superimposed on old village structures such as the barangay in the Philippines, the desa in Java and the kampung in the maritime Malay world. The peasantry, though assured of greater political stability under Western regimes, was less able to wield ‘the weapons of the weak' in the form of social protest, rebellion and flight. Traditional elite-turned colonial-officials, whose status under the old regimes was underpinned by personal influence and public accountability, were compromised by colonial patronage. They helped convert traditional tribute payments, the collection of which had been subject to political and economic fluctu- ations, to a system of regulated taxation. In early nineteenth-century Java, about 70 per cent of peasant labour was involved in the Dutch cultivation system in which tax was computed in export crops, largely sugar and coffee. In Vietnam, in addition to the traditional land rent, the colonial regime added new tax burdens on basic items of consumption such as rice, wine and salt, aggravating peasant discontent. Increased populations brought a huge pressure on land, particularly in the Red River (Song-koi) Delta. The impressive export figures for rice realized under the colonial economic regime in no way suggested sufficiency at home, or a remission in peasant tax burdens. 20 CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC Table 2.1 South-East Asian primary production, 1937—40 (metric tons) British Burma French Nether- Philippines Thailand Total % of Malaya hide-China lands world and East production Bomeo Indies Abaca 1.2 — — — 183.0 — 184.2 95.6 Cassava — — — 7,759.0 — — 7,759.0 80.0 Cinchona — — — 10.4 — — 10.4 80.0 Coffee/ — — 1.5 62.4 3.0 — 66.9 7.0 Copra Coconut 116.0 — 10.0 506.0 54.0 — 686.0 73.0 products Kapok — — — 20.0 — — 20.0 70.01 Maize — — 565.0 2,03 7.0 427.0 7.0 3,036.0 80.0 Palm oil 46.0 1 — 238.0 — — 238.0 47.6 Pepper — — — 20.0 — — 20.0 70.01 Petroleum 1,000.0 1,000.0 — 7,400.0 — — 9,400.0 4.5 Rice 324.0 4,940.0 3,945.0 4,007.0 2,179.0 1,771.0 17,165.0 98.01 Rubber 501.0 8.0 61.0 432.0 — 38.0 1,040.0 85.2 Sugar — 39.0 43.0 547.0 1,076.0 19.09 1,724.0 21.01 Tea — — 0.7 67.0 — — 67.7 17.01 Teak2 — 475.0 — 400.0 — 189.0 1,064.0 95.0 Tin 77.0 2.0 1.6 40.0 — 13.4 134.0 65.0 1 Percentage of world exports. 2 Cubic metres. Source: Tate (1979, p.25) Less visible but substantial revenues were extracted by colonial governments with a large wage-earning labour force, such as in Peninsular Malaya and Indonesia, from gambling and opium farms. These institutions which had been previously the monopoly of rulers, were reorganized and licensed to Chinese bidders. In Peninsular Malaya, where just 20 years following British intervention in 1874 some 55 per cent of the world’s tin was produced, the mines became a lucrative source of tax on leisure and consumption. Tin mining operators, keen on recovering some of the capital invested in wages, were the main licensees for the collection of tax on opium and gambling, linked to prostitution. It is calculated that during the early phase of British administration these revenue farms, as well as those for alcohol and pawnbroking, provided a third of the finances for building roads and railways to service the tin and rubber industries. In Thailand, Buddhism bridged the cultural divide between the Thais and Chinese, allowing for gradual integration. In contrast, Chinese economic dominance in Peninsular Malaya introduced an economic cleavage which exacerbated the religious gulf between them and the autochthonous Muslim population. The Malay peasantry was, in fact, encouraged by the British to produce rice for the needs of an expanding Chinese labour force engaged in the export industries, but did not hesitate THE OLD AND THE NEW 2] to pursue other economic options. Malay indigenes were little inclined to work in European-owned rubber plantations, manned largely by Indian indentured labour. Nevertheless, carrying forward an earlier tradition of raising pepper for export alongside slash-and-burn cultivation, they successfully cultivated South American rubber as a cash crop alongside growing subsistence rice. Peasants adopted a similar mix of activity in east and south Sumatra, improving their incomes substantially over immigrant Javanese engaged solely in good production. Rubber trees were tapped endemically in tune with cycles of maturing and price fluctuations. Profits they earned, particularly in the post-First World War boom, helped improve living standards through investment in food, clothing, bicycles and sewing machines. Despite the widespread cultivation of rubber by the Malays there was no government effort to encourage investment in the related processing industry which was monopolized by Chinese. Instead, the Malay rubber smallholder was regarded as a competitor to the European plantation investor and, in the face of the price slump, the Stevenson Restriction Scheme was introduced in 1922 to help curb smallholder rubber enterprise. Merchant capitalism Despite the widening gaps of ethnicity and the social ills bred by colonialism and capitalism which in specific instances resulted in social collapse, the economy of the region expanded by leaps and bounds from the early twentieth century to the onset of the Great Depression in the 19305. With the previously unsettled delta areas of the Mekong, Menam and Irrawaddy drained, settled and planted, South-East Asia produced about 70 per cent or more of the world's rice exports, while Malaya and Indonesia jointly produced about 75 per cent of the world’s rubber consumption (Steinberg et all, 1987, p.230). Throughout the region the new cash economy lubricated internal market networks; but the simultaneous loosening of patrimonial bonds brought other social ills. Liberated from slavery and clientage, many found themselves cast out to the bondage of Chinese tax farmers in the Spanish Philippines and Dutch Indonesia. Surplus populations, resulting from a combination of factors such as the introduction of smallpox inoculation and the termination of wars under colonial rule, increased pressure on scarce agricultural land in Java. Hundreds were forced into indentured labour under dismal conditions in the European tobacco plantations of east Sumatra. In central Burma, land hunger forced migrant populations to the plains of the Irrawaddy following the British annexation of the country in 1852. Here, in addition to the rigours of land reclamation, the ravages of malaria and disease to plough animals and crops, smallholder peasants fell victims to Chattier money lenders. Land and produce pledged as security for agricultural credit advances threw them into spiralling poverty and, as often as not, left them dispossessed and eking out a subsistence as tenant farmers. The burden of colonial taxation had its parallel in independent Thailand in the form of feudal corvée of forced labour obligations. 22 CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC The Chinese, in contrast to the indigenous peasantry, put their unfettered labour and freedom of movement to wage earning within the dynamic environment of nineteenth century urban growth. Free of the wider social obligations of the indigenous pea...
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