The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a Small, Distant War

$35.00 SGD

by Souchou Yao

The book, by a cultural anthropologist, tells the story of the Malayan Emergency through the cultural interpretations of modern conflict, and examines the counterinsurgency through the lens of the postwar British Empire. Souchou Yao’s penetrating and illuminating essays on the Malayan Emergency set standards of wide-ranging, evocative analysis. The book ranges across a vast canvas, from the protection of rubber and tin for a bankrupt post-war Britain, to the British military violence as a heritage of the Victorian Imperial Policing; from collective punishment to population resettlement of more than half a million Malayans. Throughout the book runs a passionate concern for the lives and struggles of ordinary men and women in colonial Malaya.

The Malayan Emergency is packed full of the myth of British liberalism and good sense. In truth, the counterinsurgency measures point to what Camus has described as 'Slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy …’ . Counter-insurgencies call for mobile security forces and humane, liberal measures – population relocation, civil reconstruction, good governance – in which Western governments specialize. These measures, affected as they did Malayan civilian life, are captured by the anthropologist’s art of ethnography and cultural analysis. Among the vignettes are ethnographic encounter with a woman ex-guerrilla, and the author’s remembrance of his insurgent-cousin killed in a police ambush.

The book examines the Emergency afresh, and in the process brings into focus issues not normally covered by the disciplines: nostalgia and failed revolution, socialist fantasy and ethnic relations, the moral costs of modern counter-insurgency.

"This is a finely crafted monograph offering a good array of informative and thought-provoking essays. The nine essays vary in density and in detail, but they are organised in a logical, coherent order to provide a refreshingly candid assessment on the Emergency. Undoubtedly this volume is a worthy addition to the body of scholarship on the Malayan Emergency and it would not only be interest to scholars but also intelligent non-academic readers who seek to advance their knowledge of this crucial period." - Wong Yee Tuan, Kajian Malaysia, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2017

Souchou Yao is a cultural anthropologist and writer, and former senior lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on the state and Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. His books include Confucian Capitalism (2001) and the bestselling Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess (2007).

Publication year: 2016
189 pp / 229mm x 152mm
26 illustrations
ISBN: 978-87-7694-191-8, Paperback
ISBN: 978-87-7694-190-1, Hardback

NIAS Press