Photos and Videos tagged with #Siam
#Siam #Bangkok 119 FARTHER INDIA AND THE EAST
December 31, 1932
WE have done with the Far East for a while. We have seen something of India also during the
nineteenth century, and it is time that we moved westward to Europe and America and Africa.
But before we take this long journey, I should like you to have a glimpse of the south-east corner
of Asia and bring our knowledge of it up to date. It is long since we considered these countries. I
have referred to them in some previous letters rather vaguely and variously and perhaps not very
correctly, as Malaysia and Indonesia and the East Indies and Farther India. I doubt if any of these
names covers the whole area, but so long as we understand each other, what's in a name ?
Look at a map if you have one handy. To the south-east of Asia you will see a peninsula
consisting of Burma and Siam, and what is now called French Indo-China. And from between
Burma and Siam a thin tongue of land shoots out—the Malay Peninsula— fattening out towards
the end, with the city of Singapore at the tip. From Malay to Australia there lie many islands, big
ones and small, curiously shaped, giving the impression of the ruins of a giant bridge connecting
Asia and Australia. These islands are the East Indies,
and to the north of these lie the Philippines. A modern map will tell you that Burma and Malay
are under the British; Indo-China is French, and, in between, Siam is an independent country.
The East Indies—Sumatra and Java and a great part of Borneo and the Celebes and Moluccas,
the famous spice-islands which drew the mariners of Europe across many thousands miles of
perilous seas— are Dutch. The Philippine Islands are under American domination.
That is the present position of these countries of the eastern seas. But you will remember my
telling you of India's children who went and colonized these countries nearly 2000 years ago; of
the great empires that flourished there for long ages; of beautiful cities with wonderful buildings;
of trade and commerce and a mingling of Indian and Chinese culture and civilization.
In my last letter dealing with these countries (it is number 79) I told you of the fall of the
Portuguese Empire of the East and the rise of the British and Dutch East India Companies. In the
Philippines the Spaniards still ruled.
The British and the Dutch had combined to defeat and drive out the Portuguese. They succeeded,
but there was little love between the victors, and they quarrelled with each other frequently. On
one occasion, in 1623, the Dutch Governor of Amboyna in the Moluccas had the entire English
staff of the East India Company arrested and executed on a charge of conspiring against the
Dutch Government. This wholesale execution is known as the Massacre of Amboyna.
One fact I would have you remember; I have told you of it in earlier letters. At this period—that
is, during the seventeenth century and after—Europe was not an industrial country. It did not
manufacture goods on any large scale for export. The days of the big machine and the Industrial
Revolution were far distant still. Asia was more of a manufacturing and exporting country than
Europe. When the goods of Asia went to Europe, they were paid for partly by European goods
and partly out of the treasure that came from Spanish America. This trade between Asia and
Europe was a profitable one. The Portuguese had controlled it for a long time and had grown rich
by it; the British and Dutch East India Companies were formed to share in it. But the Portuguese
looked upon this trade as their peculiar preserve, and would not allow any one to share in it.
They had had no difficulty with the Spaniards in the Philippines, as the Spaniards were more
interested in religion than in trade. There was little of religion about the British and Dutch
adventurers who came on behalf of the two new trading companies. Soon there was conflict.
The Portuguese had been ruling for over a century and a quarter in the East. They were far from
popular with the people they ruled and there was discontent. The two trading companies of
England and Holland took advantage of this discontent and helped these people to get rid of the
Portuguese, but, immediately after, they themselves stepped into the place vacated by the
Portuguese. As rulers of India and the East Indies they took tribute from the people
in the shape of heavy taxes and in other ways, and this helped them greatly in carrying on the
foreign trade without any great burden on Europe. The great difficulty which Europe had
previously experienced in paying for the goods from eastern countries was thus lessened. Even
so, as we have seen, England tried to stop the inflow of Indian goods by prohibition and heavy
duties. Matters stood thus till the coming of the Industrial Revolution.
The conflict of the Dutch and the British in the East Indies did not last long, because the British
withdrew from it. They were beginning to get busy in India, and had their hands full. So these
East Indian islands were left entirely to the Dutch East India Company, with the exception of the
Philippines, which remained under the Spanish. As the Spanish cared very little for trade and
were not trying to conquer any further territory, the Dutch had no rivals now in this area.
The Dutch East India Company, like its namesake the British Company in India, settled down to
make as much money as possible. For a 150 years this trading company ruled these islands. They
did not pay the slightest attention to the welfare of the people. They oppressed them and extorted
as much tribute out of them as was possible. When it was easy to make money by taking tribute,
trade became a secondary consideration and languished. The Company was thoroughly
inefficient, and the Dutchmen who went out to serve it belonged to the same type of
unscrupulous adventurers as the factors or agents of the British Company in India. Moneymaking,
by fair means or foul, was their chief concern. In India the resources of the country were
far greater, and even a great deal of mismanagement could be covered up; in India also a number
of able British governors made the administration efficient at the top, even though it crushed the
people at the bottom, But you will remember that the great Revolt of 1857 put an end to the
British East India Company.
The Dutch East India Company went from bad to worse, and ultimately in 1798 the Netherlands
Government took direct charge of the Eastern Islands. Soon after, owing to the Napoleonic Wars
in Europe and Holland becoming a part of Napoleon's Empire, the English Government took
possession of these islands. For five years they were treated as a province of British India, and
during this period considerable reforms were introduced. With the fall of Napoleon, the East
Indies were returned to Holland. During the five years that Java was connected with the British
Indian Government, an able Englishman, Thomas Stamford Raffles, acted as Lieutenant-
Governor of Java. Raffles reported that the history of the Dutch colonial administration " is one
of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery, massacre, and meanness ". Among other
practices, the Dutch officials used to have a regular system of kidnapping people in the Celebes
in order to secure slaves for use in Java. This kidnapping was accompanied by devastation and
The direct rule of the Netherlands Government was no better
than that of the Company. In some ways it was even more oppressive for the people. You will
remember perhaps what I told you of the Indigo Plantation system in Bengal, which caused so
much misery to the cultivators. Something similar to this system, only much worse, was
introduced in Java and elsewhere. In the days of the Company the people were made to supply
goods. Now, under the " culture system " as it was called, they were forced to work for a certain
period every year, which was supposed to be about a third or a quarter of the cultivator's time. In
practice, often enough, almost all the cultivator's time was taken up. The Dutch Government
worked through contractors, who were given advances of money, free of any interest, by the
government. These contractors then exploited the land with the help of forced labour. The
produce of the land was supposed to be shared, in certain fixed proportions, between the
government, the contractor and the cultivator. Probably the poor cultivator's share was the
smallest of all; I do not know exactly what it was. The government also laid it down that certain
products that were required in Europe must be grown over part of the land. Among these were
tea, coffee, sugar, indigo, etc. As in the case of the indigo plantations in Bengal, these had to be
grown even though the profit was less than it otherwise might be.
The Dutch Government made enormous profits; the contractors flourished; the cultivators
starved and lived in misery. In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a terrible famine,
and vast numbers of people died. Only then was it thought necessary to do something for the
unhappy cultivator. Slowly his conditions were bettered, but even as late as 1916 there was still
In the latter half of the nineteenth century a number of educational and other reforms were
introduced by the Dutch. A new middle class has grown up and a nationalist movement has
demanded freedom. As in India, some very halting advance has been made, and feeble
assemblies, with little real power, have been established. About five years ago there was a
revolution in the Dutch East Indies; it was crushed with great cruelty. But no amount of cruelty
or oppression can kill the spirit of freedom. which has arisen in Java and the other islands.
The Dutch East Indies are now known as Netherlands India. Every fortnight an air service goes
all the way from Holland, across Europe and Asia, to the city of Batavia in Java.
I have finished my outline story of the East Indian islands, and now I want to cross over to the
mainland of Asia. Of Burma there is little more to be said. Often the country was divided
between North and South, and the two struggled with each other. Sometimes a powerful king
united the two and even ventured to conquer neighbouring Siam. And then, in the nineteenth
century, came the conflicts with the British. The Burmese King, over-confident of his strength,
invaded and annexed Assam. The first Burmese War with the British in India followed in 1824,
and Assam went to the British. The British now discovered that the Burmese Government
and army were weak, and the desire to annex the whole country came to them. Silly pretexts
were found for a second and a third war, and by 1885 the whole kingdom was annexed and made
part of the British Indian Empire. Since then Burma's fate has been linked with India's.
South of Burma, the British had also spread in the Malay Peninsula. They took possession of the
island of Singapore early in the nineteenth century, and owing to its happy situation it soon
became a rising commercial city and a port of call for all ships going to the Far East. The old
port of Malacca, farther up in the peninsula, declined. From Singapore the British began to
spread north. There were many small States in the Malay Peninsula, most of them vassal to
Siam. By the end of the century all these States were British protectorates, and they were joined
together in a kind of federation named the " Federated Malay States ". Siam had to give up all the
rights she possessed in some of these States to England.
Siam was thus being surrounded by European Powers. To the west and south, in Burma and
Malay, England was supreme; to the east France was aggressive and was absorbing Annam.
Annam acknowledged China's suzerainty, but that was of little help when China herself was in
difficulties. You will remember my telling you in a recent letter on China about fight ing between
France and China over the French invasion of Annam. France was checked a little, but only for a
while. In the second half of the nineteenth century France built up a great colony, called French
Indo-China, including Annam and Cambodia. Cambodia, where in the old days the Empire of
Angkor the Magnificent had flourished, was a subject-State of Siam. France established its sway
over it by threat of war with Siam. It is worth noticing that all the early intrigues of the French in
these countries were carried on through French missionaries. One of these missionaries was
sentenced to death for some reason or other, and it was to secure reparation for this that the first
French expedition was sent in 1857. This expedition seized the port of Saigon in the south, and
from there French control spread north.
I am afraid there is a great deal of repetition in these sordid tales of imperialist advance in the
countries of Asia. The methods were more or less the same everywhere, and almost everywhere
they succeeded. I have dealt with country after country, and finished the story, for the time being
at least, by putting it under some European Power. Only one country in south-east Asia escaped
this fate, and this was Siam.
Siam was lucky to escape, wedged in as she was between England in Burma and France in Indo-
China. Perhaps it was because of the presence of these European rivals to the right and left of her
that she escaped. She owed her good fortune also to the fact that she was having a spell of fairly
good government and there were no internal troubles, as there had been in many other countries.
But good government was, of course, no guarantee against foreign
invasion. As it happened, England had her hands full in India and Burma, and France in Indo-
China. By the time both of them had reached the frontiers of Siam, late in the nineteenth century,
the day for annexations was already passing. The spirit of resistance was rising in the East, and
nationalist movements were beginning in the colonies and dependencies. There was danger of
war between Siam and France over Cambodia, but Siam gave in and avoided friction with the
French. To the west a strong mountain barrier protected Siam from the British in Burma.
I have told you that twice at least in the past the Burmese kings have invaded Siam, and even
annexed it. The last invasion was in 1767, when the Siamese capital named Ayuthia or Ayudhia
(note how Indian names occur) was destroyed. Soon, however, the Burmese were driven out by a
popular rising and a new dynasty began with King Rama I in 1782. Even to-day, just a 150 years
later, this dynasty still reigns in Siam, and all the kings seem to be called " Rama ". Under this
new dynasty Siam had good but rather paternal government and, very wisely, an effort was made
to cultivate good relations with foreign Powers. The ports were opened for foreign trade,
commercial treaties were made with certain foreign Powers, and some reforms were introduced
in the administration. The new capital was Bangkok. All this was not enough to keep the
imperialist wolves away. England spread in Malay and took Siamese territory there; France got
Cambodia and other Siamese territory to the east. France and England nearly came to blows over
Siam in 1896. But then, in the recognized imperialist fashion, they agreed to guarantee the
integrity of the remaining portions of Siamese territory and, at the same time, divided this up into
three " spheres of influence ". The eastern part was the French sphere, the western was the
British, and in between there was a neutral area where both could have their pickings.. Having
thus solemnly guaranteed the integrity of Siam, a few years later France took some more territory
to the east, and England of course then had to take some compensation in the south.
Still, in spite of all this, a part of Siam has escaped European domination, and that is the only
country ,to do so in this part of Asia. The tide of European aggression has been checked now,
and there is little chance of Europe getting more territory in Asia. The time is soon coming when
the European Powers in Asia will have to pack up and go home.
Siam was till recently and autocratic monarchy and, in spite of some reforms, there was a good
deal of feudalism. A few months ago there was a revolution there—a peaceful one—and the
upper middle classes, it seems, came to the front. Some kind of parliament has been established
there. The king, of the dynasty of Rama I, wisely agreed to the change, and so the dynasty has
remained. Siam has thus now a constitutional monarchy.
One other country of south-east Asia remains for us to consider— the Philippine Islands. I
wanted to write about them also in this letter, but it is late and I am tired, and the letter is long
This is the last letter I shall write to you this year—1932—for the old year has run its course and
is at its last gasp. In another three hours it will be no more and will become a memory of the
- 53 days ago via site