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Southeast Nationalism

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Ð'ЃgNationalism in Southeast Asia before the Second World War never had a chance to succeed in the first place.Ð'Ѓh How accurate is this statement?

The nationalists in Southeast Asia before the Second World War had achieved little in terms of gaining political concessions and constitutional reforms from the colonial powers so as to secure autonomy. While it is true that the nationalists faced many obstacles from the start (for instance the repressive measures taken by colonial powers to minimise opposition to their rule and existing conditions of the colonies) in their quest to achieve independence; however it is an exaggeration to say that nationalist movements were thus doomed to fail. There were some conditions which could potentially lead to the growth of nationalism and even aided it to success, i.e. improved transport and communications, spread of vernacular press; and events happening in other parts of the world such as World War One also impacted the growth of nationalism. It must also be noted that nationalists in certain parts of Southeast Asia had also achieved some measure of success. Thus the negligible achievements of the nationalists before the Second World War shows that the nationalists, too had a part to play in their own downfall, their weaknesses further undermining their cause.

The oppressive measures undertaken by the colonial powers to minimise opposition did, indeed, hindered the growth and development of nationalist movements. The French in Vietnam clamped down heavily on any anti-colonial movements. The reformist manifestations that followed the deposition of emperor Thanh-thai in 1907 was met with repression. The Free School of Hanoi was closed down in 1908 and after Pham Chu TrinhÐ'Ѓfs alleged involvement in tax riots that year; he was first sentenced to death, then imprisoned on Pulau Condore, then exiled. The efficiency of the French secret police also meant nationalist movements were easily stopped and thus made it difficult to build nationwide associations and movements. Even the Americans, supposedly the most liberal of all colonial powers, did not hesitate to stifle any opposition which they deemed a threat. This was seen when the repressive measures of the Sakdal Party, who had won some success in the 1934 elections, led to an uprising in 1935 and was swiftly crushed. Therefore, by using repressive methods to nip any nationalist movements in the bud even before it could form, the colonial powers ensured that the spread of nationalism (if any at all) would be minimal and slow, thus easy to contain. This was, without a doubt, one of the factors which were against the development of nationalism right from the beginning.

Besides using repression, the colonial powers also had the ability to lessen opposition to their rule. They achieve these in a variety of ways. The certain colonial rulers (French and Dutch) tried to limit the exposure the natives had to Western education. By 1920, elementary schooling in Vietnam was only available to one boy in twelve and to only one girl in a hundred. Secondary school facilities were narrowly limited. Only a few of the secondary school students were permitted to take French, which was prerequisite for entering the University of Hanoi. There were even limitations placed on the University. Initially starting out with a liberal curriculum, its administration became frightened of student unrest and had shifted by 1923 to concentrate on practical industrial subjects. The teaching stuff at all European-type schools was predominantly French, taking no chances with possibly disloyal schoolmasters and teachers. The exposure to Western education is significant to the development of nationalism as it was from this group that the leaders of anti-colonial and nationalist movements of the early twentieth century were to emerge. The provision of Western education also brought knowledge of revolutions and events in the Western experience . Western education had not only led to the emergence of the nationalist leadership, it had also provided a source of inspiration to the nationalists. In addition, it can be argued that a greater exposure to Western education would help the development of nationalism. As the nation Ð'Ѓgis a broader and more embracing concept which requires a breach with the accepted and traditional order of thingsÐ'Ѓh , most nationalists or followers of nationalism would most likely require a close contact with the new Ð'ЃemodernÐ'Ѓf life and ways of thought and action. Accordingly, as stated by Rupert Emerson, Ð'Ѓgit is the urban and somewhat industrialised areas [i.e., the towns] which were normally the centres of nationalist aspirations, as it is the urban workers, torn from their traditional roots, not the settled peasantry, who are the first followers of the nationalist leaders.Ð'Ѓh Therefore, it is very clearly seen that the degree of exposure to Western education is indeed an important issue in determining the development of nationalism in the colonies and lack of it not only impeded the emergence of qualified challenges to colonial rule; but also contributed to passivity of the people towards political development. Taking steps to minimise the degree of exposure of Western education to the locals thus effectively prevents one of the conditions necessary for the growth of nationalism and could be considered as one of the obstacles which impeded the development of nationalism from the very start.

Apart from placing limitations on exposure of Western education, the colonial powers also had other indirect means to lessen opposition. Dependent elites whose fortunes rested on the colonial system inevitably hindered the development of broad based nationalist movements. In Vietnam, the landowning elites used their capital and connections to acquire extensive tracts of land and a class of absentee landlords emerged in the south whose fortunes rested on the colonial system. There were also attempts made to include the indigenous and natives in the civil administration, most clearly illustrated in the Philippines where Filipinos were given a substantial role in the administration. The Filipino elite also owned land which gave them a base of power and wealth outside the government and a stake in sustaining the countryÐ'Ѓfs export economy. In directly-ruled colonies where Western-style administrative units soon grew and thus required indigenous personnel to staff them, Western-styled training and modern schools and colleges soon Ð'Ѓgsprung upÐ'Ѓcunder private, native aegisÐ'Ѓh, attracting a sizeable amount of locals. To them, positions in the colonial governmentÐ'Ѓfs services and in the liberal professions Ð'Ѓgpromised status and prestige readily acceptable in terms of traditional aristocratic valuesÐ'Ѓh

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