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THE NETHERLANDS, the United States, and Great Britain are today the rulers of that widespread section of the human race known as the Malays. The Dutch exercise sovereignty over the great and sparsely settled island of Sumatra, crowded Java and Madura, and most of the myriad isles which dot the Pacific west to New Guinea and north and west to the Philippines. They share with Britain the possession of Borneo, which is fifteen times as large as Holland itself. The 48,000,000 inhabitants of their island empire, Insulinde they call it, are subjects of Queen Whilhelmina. The Philippine Archipelago, stretching a thousand miles northward from Borneo and embracing a land area as great as that of England, is a dependency of the United States. Its 11,500,000 inhabitants are "nationals", although not citizens, of this country. Great Britain directly or indirectly rules the southern portion of the Malay Peninsula, now generally denominated British Malaya. Most of the 3,350,000 people there under her sway owe allegiance not to George V but to Malay sultans whose thrones and lineage are, in some instances, more ancient than those of any reigning sovereign in Europe.
Not all the inhabitants of the Malay peninsula and of the islands which fringe southeast Asia are Malays. They are predominantly so, however, and this tropical sea-encompassed world of pepper, pearls, spices, coffee, copra, sugar, and now of rubber, is characteristically the Malay world. The story of its government by three Occidental nations offers many parallels and contrasts of significance to all countries which possess colonial dependencies or which are affected by the increasing contact of the East and the West. British rule in Malaya is of especial interest to Americans, whose attention has recently been directed thither rather sharply by Britain's dominance over the world's supply of crude rubber through her control of the Malay Peninsula, and by the investigation of conditions in the Philippines made by Col. Carmi Thompson as the personal representative of President Coolidge.
That part of the Malay peninsula which is under British rule or influence has an area of 52,500 square miles. It is thus about equal in size to peninsular Florida, which it somewhat resembles in configuration. A through railway from Singapore to Bangkok connects it with Siam, to the north, while most of the great ocean highways of the Orient focus at Singapore, its southern tip.
The traveler who is familiar with the Philippines is sharply impressed by two features of British rule in the Malay peninsula. He realizes at once that the manual labor behind the marvelous development which is going on there is not furnished by native Malays. Everywhere he sees the strange, tall, ebony-black, narrow faced Tamil, or Kling, as he is locally called. Clad only in dirty loin cloth and billowy turban, this Dravidian from southeast India is cleaning the streets, clearing the jungle, building the roads and railways, driving the creaking bullock carts, planting and caring for the rubber estates. An outcaste in his native India, the Tamil is not an attractive person to Europeans, or even to Malays. Yet on the whole he is considered a good worker, as coolie labor goes; and between 1911 and 1921, the great period of rubber development, his numbers in British Malaya increased from 267,000 to 472,000.
Even more numerous and important than the picturesque Tamils are the Chinese. For more than five hundred years they have been coming to the peninsula, and from the middle of the nineteenth century they have been pouring in, drawn first by tin and more recently by rubber. Most of them come from the southern maritime provinces of Canton and Fukien and the island of Hainan. Until recently practically all of them returned to China as soon as they had acquired a competence. Within the past twenty years, however, famine and disturbed conditions in South China have greatly increased the number of female immigrants, and in 1921 there were enumerated 258,523 locally born Chinese as against 916,254 born in China or elsewhere.
Dr. R. O. Winstedt, of the Malayan Civil Service, one of the foremost authorities on the affairs of the Malay States, makes the following estimate of the Chinese elements in their population: "The Chinese are pre-eminently the business people of the peninsula. The coolie is cheerful, industrious, frugal and law-abiding; the shopkeeper honest and enterprising; the miner and planter shrewd, loath to let money rust, hospitable, generous, public-spirited. Chinese own most of the tin mines, many rubber estates both large and small, coastal steamers, and house property in every town and village. Without the energy and brains of the Chinese population British Malaya would not have become what it is today." Between 1911 and 1921 the Chinese population of the peninsula increased from 916,000 to 1,173,000.
The indispensable part that the Chinese and the Tamils, together with the British, have played in the development of British Malaya should furnish food for thought to the people of the Philippines and to Americans who are interested in the future of the philippine Archipelago. The transformation of the peninsula from one of the most backward to one of the most advanced portions of the Orient has proceeded along economic as well as political and social lines, and today it rests on a solid economic foundation. This foundation, however, has been laid for the most part by British enterprise and capital, Chinese enterprise and labor, and Tamil labor. Of enterprise, capital, or labor the native Malays have furnished relatively a very small proportion. No one acquainted with the facts for a moment supposes that the Malay alone, or even the British and the Malay together, could have turned the trick. Immigrant laborers almost equal in number to the native population were necessary.
With reference to the development of natural resources the situation in the Philippines is in many respects similar to that in the Malay peninsula. In proportion to the undeveloped natural resources of the archipelago native labor is scarcely more abundant than in the former country; Filipino capital is entirely inadequate to the development of the Islands; and the Filipinos have never played a dominant, or even the leading part in directing the economic life of their country. For the past quarter-century, chiefly out of deference to the wishes of the Filipinos themselves, Asiatic labor has been excluded from the Islands, while the land laws and the uncertain political future have prevented American or other foreign capital from entering. Many Filipino leaders, however, are now beginning to realize that the present policy will never provide a national purse long enough to pay for the civilization and to support the independence which they covet. They are beginning to face the facts that the most pressing problems of their country are economic, not political, and that while they have escaped certain dangers by the exclusion of foreign capital and labor, they have missed certain benefits well illustrated in British Malaya.
A question which at once arises in connection with the presence of the Chinese and the Tamils in Malaya is how it has affected the lot of the native himself. The broadest general answer may be given by stating that between 1911 and 1921 the Malay population increased by 15 percent, in which growth immigration played small part. Materially and socially there can be no doubt that the condition of the Malay has been immeasurably improved during the past generation, and that to a large extent this improvement has been due to the general increase in the prosperity of his country. The typical Malay agriculturist is a rice planter or the owner of a small holding upon which he grows fruit, cocoanuts, and rubber. He may also be an artisan or a fisherman. In any event his market is more extended, more certain, more advantageous in every way than it was twenty years ago. But it cannot be said that the Malays relish the influx of other Asiatics, especially of the Chinese. The Chinese can, and do, out-smart, out-work, and underlive every other Oriental people from Siberia to India, not excepting the Japanese. These may be admirable qualities, but they do not make for popularity in Malaya any more than they do in California. In point of fact, the Chinese are not popular with the natives of any Malay country, and in certain parts of British Malaya, as in the Philippines, native feeling against them is not infrequently expressed by looting, the burning of goods and houses, and other manifestations of dislike.
The second striking impression which an American from the Philippines receives in British Malaya is that, so far as the apparatus of modern life is concerned, the British are building more elaborately and more permanently than are the Americans, especially in those parts of the country which are distant from the metropolis. As the seventh port in the world, one expects Singapore to be a modern city. But when the visitor travels some twelve hours over an excellently equipped railroad to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Selangor and of the Federated States, he is somewhat surprised to find a municipality just as clean, modern, and well equipped. Beautiful parks and boulevards, sixty miles of perfect city streets, handsome stone buildings, a first class hotel, important banks, well stocked shops, a truly wonderful museum, three large hospitals, several churches, and a gem of a mosque, golf courses, grounds for various sports, clubs, and many schools make this inland town one of the most attractive capitals in the Orient. It is hard to believe that fifty years ago it was a Chinese mining town, with two streets and houses built of adobe and thatched with palm leaves.
Other provincial towns exhibit the same characteristics. In sharp contrast with American practice in the Philippines, the British civil experts who administer the technical and some of the political services of the government are provided with permanently constructed, well placed and perfectly maintained residences which are allotted in accordance with rank just as are the quarters of an army post. The same conditions obtain in the Dutch Indies. These contrasting practices reflect the differing policies of the ruling powers in the Philippines, and in the Malay peninsula and Insulinde. Britain and Holland are in their colonies to stay, and plan accordingly. America has promised to leave, if the Filipinos wish her to, as soon as the natives can maintain an independent republican government; and she plans accordingly.
British rule in Malaya goes back to 1786 when Francis Light obtained a grant of the island of Penang from a native sultan in return for a promise of protection from his rapacious neighbors. In 1800 a small coastal cession on the adjoining mainland, now Province Wellesley, was purchased for $4,000. After a generation of military, commercial, and diplomatic rivalry with the Dutch, Great Britain secured permanent title to Malacca in 1824. Meanwhile, however, in 1819 an adventurous and far-sighted young Englishman, Stamford Raffles, had hoisted the Union Jack over the Island of Singapore and founded there a trading settlement which soon surpassed in importance the ancient Dutch factory on the Straits. These colonies, together with certain islands and a small coastal strip connected with them administratively, comprise the Straits Settlements.
For almost a century after the founding of Georgetown the British limited their relations with their Malay neighbors to occasional treaties entered into primarily in order to advance their commercial interests and to guarantee the peace and security of the Straits Settlements. With the influx of Chinese tin miners after the middle of the 19th Century, however, the native chiefs became less and less able to maintain order. Finally, in 1874, to save the native states from chaos and ruin and their own commerce from serious injury, the British inaugurated a policy which eventually made them the masters of the entire peninsula. They compelled the Perak chiefs to sign a treaty accepting a British Resident whose advice should be, "asked and acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay religion and custom." The treaty provided that the collection and control of revenues and the general administration should be regulated on the advice of the Resident and the Assistant-Resident.
Between the acceptance of Residents by Perak and Selangor and the year 1895, the nine petty sultanates which now comprise Negri Sembilan were first confederated and then united under a Malay ruler with a British Resident at his elbow. Sir Hugh Clifford induced Pahang to enter into a similar status in 1887. In each case the relations between Great Britain and the native state were fixed by treaty, the agreement being secured and enforced by a combination of diplomacy and force.
The four states which have been mentioned were organized as a federation in 1895 and are known as the Federated Malay States. The government now consists of the High Commissioner (who is also the Governor of the Straits Settlements); the Chief Secretary to Government, who is the head of the administration at Kuala Lumpur; and a Federal Council consisting of these two officials, the rulers of the four states, the four British Residents, the Legal Adviser, the Financial Adviser, and six unofficial members nominated by the High Commissioner with the approval of the King. In 1909 Siam relinquished her last claim to sovereignty over any part of the peninsula which had come under British control, and all of the States passed under British protection.
Upon the legal foundations which have been described the British have built up a wonderfully efficient and smooth-running administrative machine. The Chief Secretary at Kuala Lumpur is assisted by the heads of the federal departments, each staffed in its upper ranges by British civil servants. They are adequately paid, enjoy a permanent status and good living conditions, and upon retirement receive fairly generous pensions. The executive authority in each state is vested in a Resident, who is assisted by a secretariat somewhat like that of the central government, and by district officers and magistrates. Many Malays have become assistant district officers and a few have risen higher.
The East and the West have come into contact with less of conflict and more of mutual satisfaction in British Malaya than in any other area east of Constantinople. In justification of having added 15,000 square miles of Malayan territory to the British Empire, "at a preposterously early age," Sir Hugh Clifford, one of the men who laid the foundations of the present system, wrote: "I have watched at close quarters, and in intolerable impotency to aid or save, the lives which all these people lived before the white man came to defend their weakness against the oppression and the wrong wrought to them by tyrants of their own race; and I have seen them gradually emerge from the dark shadow in which their days were passed, into the daylight of a personal freedom such as white men prize above most mundane things."
As to self-government, this veteran administrator who was "passionately determined" to end the oppression under which these people lived, declared: "The Malays, be it remembered, never possessed 'self-government.' The rule of their rajas and chiefs was one of the most absolute and cynical autocracies that the mind of man has conceived; and the people living under it were mercilessly exploited, and possessed no rights, either of person or property."
No better justification has ever been offered for "imperialism", in the best sense of that word of many meanings. Today in British Malaya "Democracy" means nothing to the masses because it is not indigenous and has never been introduced by foreigners. Popular sovereignty, universal suffrage, representative government, independence, -- these conceptions have not even appeared above the political horizon of this land. Instead of having to deal with anything so complex the British have been able to utilize the ancient institutions of the native people, which have always rested on the simple principle of autocratic authority.
That such a system probably could not be reproduced in any other country in the Orient is but another illustration of a fact of which many Westerners seem unaware: that instead of the "problem of the East" there are as many problems as there are peoples in that no longer distant world. In 1899 most of the Malays in the Philippines had been Christians for three centuries, had lost whatever memory of native rulers or native political institutions they may have ever had, and were accustomed to a centralized government of the Occidental type and to the ways of Western civilization. Also they had fought a desperate rebellion against Spanish tyranny, had laid the foundations of a national spirit, and had produced national leaders. Thus, though many common factors remain, the problems of British and American Malaya are essentially different today. But although each nation is perforce steering its own course, a study of the two colonies convinces the observer of nothing more fully than that each may learn much from the other.