Dr. Tim Harper, Singapore 1915 and the Birth of the Asian Underground

Harper, T. N. (Timothy Norman), 1965- 2013-03-05


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Interview Participants
TH
Tim Harper, lecturer (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, host (male)
Tim Harper, it's a really pleasure to have you here. It's a late beginning to the semester but we have a whole series of things coming up, including tomorrow Husain Haqani and next week Ahsan Butt but it's really great to have had the opportunity of Tim Harper being in the area so we wouldn't have lost that opportunity for anything. Tim Harper is, of course, as many of you know, one of the leading, if not the leading, South East Asian historian in the world. He's based in University of Cambridge in the history faculty. He's written several important books but the one that is a must for everyone, certainly in my courses, is a "The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya" which we all use, as well as, "Forgotten Armies."
He's also written "Forgotten Wars" both with "Forgotten Armies" and with "Forgotten Wars" with Chris Baily and he's now working on this fascinating new project from which we now have the privilege of hearing him since this is being recorded I would urge you to please turn off your cell phones because they interfere with the sound so please turn them off completely, silent is not good enough, completely, so that we can have a clear recording. OK. Thank you and welcome.
TH
Thank you very much Ayesha for your all too generous introduction. It's particularly wonderful to be back at Tufts.
TH
I think I technically qualify as a London speaker because my very first visit to America a long time ago was just to spend some time here as I as a visiting fellow in this very building. And I was very grateful to it. I was made extraordinarily welcome then and it's wonderful to come back. As Ayesha says that this is part of a larger project, mapping out the connecting paths of Asian radicalism in the first half of the 20th century, but it begins with an incident in 1915 in Singapore and then expands outwards a little bit.
TH
It begins on Monday the 15th of February in 1915, the Chinese New Year Holiday, when the Indian 5th light infantry mutinied at the Alexandra Barracks in Singapore. Now the regiment was the mainstay of the garrison and made entirely of Muslim troops. One party of rebels headed towards Singapore town central along the road, you see here, killing Britons they met along way. Others went to a nearby battery, manned by the locally recruited Sikhs of the Malay States Guides. They killed the British officer and tried to arm the Guides but many of them ran away into the nearby jungle. The largest and most resolute band of rebels headed west towards the Tanglin Camp where 307 German Indonesian prisoners of war were held and they offered them guns and liberty, but colonial hierarchies were upheld.
TH
It was said that a German officer does not fight without his uniform or in the ranks of mutineers. But some took the opportunity to escape.
TH
In fighting across the islands some 47 soldiers and civilians were attacked and killed - 5 Chinese and Malays - but most were British men targeted on the golf courses and in cars and carriages. The women and children fled onto steamers in the harbour. The British lost control of their island fortress for 2 days and the underline fragility of colonial rule was exposed.
TH
A week later 614 Indian troops were in custody, 52 more have been killed, but around 150 were still missing. They tended to blend into local society by posing as cattle keepers.
TH
Only in March did the golf clubs reopen. Now the besetting terror for the British was that the rebellion would spill into wider society. There's on the face of it, very little leadership or direction to the mutineers, but had they marched from the town the British acknowledged, nothing would have stopped a general massacre. The British only regained control by calling up a makeshift militia of sailors and soldiers of other nations. 150 French seamen, 150 more from 2 Japanese cruisers, a smaller detachment from a Russian ship, the private army of the Sultan of Jahore, and 190 Japanese civilians raised by the imperial counsel. Now the decision to place Russian sailors under British command and in British khaki was a humiliating twist to the old great game in Asia.
TH
And when a series of victory parades was held, Japanese pressmen noted briefly that for the first time the Rising Sun was flying over Singapore.
TH
So the episode was heavy with meaning for all observers. The New York Times portrayed the uprising as the greatest threat to British power in Asia since 1857. The Times of London recalled the hysteria of the earlier Indian mutiny, of the unspeakable things that might happen to European women. Yet only one woman was killed and the violence was curiously discriminating. "You English," the mutineers demanded of one European volunteer. "No Irish," came the reply and the man was spared.
TH
The British retribution was swift and brutal.
TH
After a summary general court martial, 202 men were convicted, 43 were executed. At one of the executions, 110 men were included in the fire party. There were local volunteers and British regulars. 5 men were each condemned rebel and the execution was held in public, against the walls of Outram Road Prison in front of a crowd of around 15,000. Now, a rather effective news blackout was imposed on the affair, particularly in India. And when an inquiry was held, it was intended to be public but its report was never published. It privately acknowledged what was rife in rumours at the time - that Indian seditionists and German agents were at work among the garrison, but the British found little hard evidence of conspiracy.
TH
The British ascribed the revolt to the indiscipline of the unit, to divisions amongst the Indian and British officers, but above all they denied the mutiny political meaning. For the British it was an unsettling reminder of the violence that ultimately guaranteed their rule. They preferred to see Singapore as an enclave of liberality, sheltered from the turbulence and misrule around it. Whereas politics trespassed, it did so only momentarily and by the machinations of outsiders.
TH
There were some echoes of the mutiny of years later, when on February 1942 another mutiny occurred as Indian legions, abandoned by the British at the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese, went over to form an Indian National Army.
TH
An independent Singapore, the mutiny seen largely through the prism of Singapore story, in which the price of national survival is constant vigilance against outsiders. Beyond this, it's not an episode of any great consequence.
TH
The Great War itself is rarely seen as a major event in South East Asian history. A recent global turn to histories of the 1914-1918 conflict have yet to make an impression on entrenched national traditions. Like the later Great Asian War, the 1914-18 War would at least be rescinded in Asian history. And February 1915 was arguably a moment when the full magnitude of the conflict was felt.
TH
To focus on this moment is to perhaps loosen time and put to use some of the fields of transnational vision, that is a shifting of ideas of chronology, of space, and of narrative focus.
TH
The Asian War of 1914 to 1918 was a struggle for the intertwined futures of the imperial regime that spanned the continent - Russians, the Ottomans, the Qing, and the great arch of the British Raj from Cairo to Kowloon. Fighting erupted at an early stage in October and November 1914 - the Siege of Tsingtao saw Japanese British and Indian troops fight alongside each other to siege the German concession in China.
TH
As in Europe, war was an opportunity to refashion the international order.
TH
The colonial borders of maritime Asia had been largely unchallenged since the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 but now they seemed open to revision. Japan took advantage of the western power's embroilment in Europe to project national trade and influence across Asia. Asian reformers beat a path to Tokyo. With the following wartime countdowns in British India and elsewhere, anticolonial dissidence sought sanctuary in Japan in increasing numbers. However, at the same time, on the 18th of January 1915, Japan's 21 Demands on China for rights of settlement and extraterritorial concessions opened a new era of imperial competition and of Chinese patriotic resistance. Japanese intervention in the Singapore mutiny marked the limits of Japanese official's support for Asian nationalisms when they collided with their own interests.
TH
So the Asian War drew in competent and non-competent nations, old landed empires and newer empires alike. Although they were officially neutral until August 1917, China sought to enforce its sovereign claims to the German concessions in China by other means. In 1915, China sent workers and soldiers to the Western front and the fierce internal debates around the war extended the public sphere to an unprecedented event. This is an image of a public demonstration in China at the armistice.
TH
The global economic war created ruptures across borders. Shortage of shipping broke down the decade old mechanisms for the supply of wheat and rice from the great rivers deltas of the mainland to the export orientated economies of maritime Asia.
TH
By the end of the war, there were bad harvests, shortages, food riots. The Age of Strikes began. And they were at their most intense in Java, where rebellion in the countryside took on a millenarian temper. For the first time, European elites everywhere confronted the possibility of a sudden disintegration the colonial order.
TH
So this was a crisis of imperial globalization. Total war, the unending demand for men and material, required that empires function effectively as a transnational system, rather than as a loose and bewildering conglomeration of formal and informal possessions and sundry jurisdictions. Colonial governments stuck on functions unprecedented in peace time, from interventions in international trade and food production and the organization of labour - seen here in Vietnamese labour in France.
TH
But also to the internment of aliens, to the censorship and the interception of mail to which 21 readers and translators were put to task in Singapore alone.
TH
But at the same moment, overstretch exposed the underlying vulnerabilities of the system. They fed the febrile rumours that surrounded the Singapore mutiny. It encouraged German diplomats, traders, and adventurers, to exploit the inter-ceases between the imperial order. International cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin, neutral enclaves such as Siam, the Philippines, and the Netherlands Indies, to open a far Eastern front. They did so by channelling gold and guns across borders to the Asian opponents of the empire.
TH
At the heart of the crisis of February 1915 was western paranoia at the networks and synchronisms their empires had created. Chief among these, of course, was the realisation that fin-de-siècle empire was a Euro-Islamic condominium. From Morocco to Moroccan in Papao, Muslim elites where the bed rock of indirect rule and Muslim soldiers form the backbone of many colonial armies. Imperial globalization across the Indian Ocean followed all the Islamic networks. Islamic globalization adapted to new systems of communication and transnational governance. Ottoman pan-Islamism invoked old notions of suzerainty in the eastern Indian Ocean. Malay rulers turned to Istanbul, as much as Tokyo, for legal authority and models of modernity.
TH
The spectre of these domains of power and influence set a powerful purchase on the emerging imperial security states in London, Paris, Delhi, Singapore, and Batavia before the war but after the Declaration of Jihad, the Sheikh of Islam in Istanbul on behalf of the Ottoman caliph. In November 1914, British writers echoed Lord Byron. They faced a revolt of Islam.
TH
This possibility was both imagined and real. Turkish and German propaganda attempted to cogent being across Asia and Africa Islamic ferment. Loyal Muslims from the Ismaili Aga Khan to Sunni Malay sultans were mobilized by the British in an unprecedented global counter-propaganda. Now direct evidence for wholesale Muslim rejection of European rule in late 1914 was scattered and inconclusive but it looms large in accounts of the 1915 Mutiny.
TH
The intercepted letters home from Indian troops in Singapore testify to a millenarian mood. "And the war is increasing day by day," wrote one soldier. "There is no decrease. Germany has become Mohammaden. His name has being given as Haji Mohammad William Kaiser German and his daughter has been married to the oldest prince of the Sultan of Turkey. Soldiers in Singapore on the eve of the Mutiny were convinced that the announcement of their redeployment to Hong Kong was a feint to send them against the Ottomans. The garrison commander reported, after the event, an undue amount of praying and that the interned Germans that were entangled in prostrated themselves at sundown and pretended to recite the Quran.
TH
A charismatic Indian preacher in the camp Java mosques, a man called Noor Alam Shah, venerated as a Sufi teacher by some of the soldiers and by Punjabis, Bengalis, and Malays alike, promised the arrival of a German warship and prayed for the victory of Islam and the return of Islamic power. He sheltered mutineers and chided them for not bringing him arms for a general rising. He would, he said, arrange to kill the governor. He dressed soldiers as Malays and exhorted the Malay police not to arrest the mutineers. A local Gujarati merchant, Kasim Ali Mansoor, made a more tenuous connection to rebel's and wrote to the Ottoman counsel in Rangoon for a Turkish ship. He was executed with the mutineers.
TH
Now after the Mutiny, the British drew comfort from a mass meeting of some 3000 local Muslims, perhaps the first mass meeting of its kind. It was led by the island's wealthy Hadhrami Arab community and they pledged loyalty to the King Emperor. But for the Hadhrami, this had always been a relationship of mutual benefit attraction and diversion. Appeals to the Ottoman sultan and his ally Haji William or to the British Empire as a largely Islamic power, revealed sentiments that were far more subtle than localized appeal. They were rooted in old geographies over large distances which were revived by the Great War and the reopening of the possibilities that it represented. In April 1915, there was a tax revolt in Kelantan on the east coast of Malaya in the relatively isolated district of Pasiya Patay.
TH
Although it was led by local men defending their prestige against the interlopers, they showed a keen awareness of outside events. A repeated theme of their testimonies was that the British Empire was coming to an end, a view shared by the local sultan himself although he was pledged to the war effort and that European troops had fled Singapore and that it was possible to drive out the white man. Local communities did not always need the prompting of outsiders to frame their actions in broader terms.
TH
The Singapore Mutiny revealed an epiphany of war weariness and anger that rippled across disparate communities in colonial and international settlements across Asia and beyond. It was set in motion by the voyage by an ageing Japanese cargo steamer, the Komagata Maru, between April and September 1914.
TH
The ship was chartered to take Indian migrants to Canada, many of them from the South China Sea board and the Philippines, but amidst fears of a so called Hindu invasion, it was denied entry to Vancouver. The ship's refugee course across Asia, just as South Asian's are being asked to rally to the imperial cause, and the violence that met its return to Calcutta, came to symbolise the inequalities upon which claims to imperial loyalties in peace, now in war, rested.
TH
Now from the beginning to end, the fortunes of the Komagata Maru were very closely interwoven with Singapore. The inspiration was the man on the left in the white with his son.
TH
A man called Girmit Singh, a Sikh businessman who had made modest wealth as a labour and a transport contractor in the Western states of Malaya, from where the Malay State Guides had erupted. He had been active in Sikh community affairs in the Malay states and later in Singapore. On its return from the Canada, the Komagata Maru had passed through Singapore but no one was allowed to land unless the governor admitted and it left a very bad effect. Prior to the 15th of February Uprising in Singapore, the Mutiny had already permeated Malaya society.
TH
In late 1914, locally recruited men of the Malay State Guides refused to serve in East Africa. These men were overwhelmingly Sikhs but they had strong local ties in the Malay States.
TH
Their families numbered about 8000 adult males, many of them possessing arms and ammunitions, many of them if not in the guides were watchmen. These relatives held meetings in 1915 at which it was resolved to model their conduct on the Singapore rebels. If they had persisted in this, the commanding officer warned, there would have been a blaze throughout the Federated Malay States, the effects of this might have reached the Punjab.
TH
The Singapore uprising was therefore part of a chain of rebellions in 1915, both actual and stillborn from Lahore to Dhaka to Rangoon and points east. The Mutiny, or Ghadar Movement, was perhaps the most world encompassing of its period.
TH
Ghadar was something with which many South Asians chose to identify, rather than a disciplined revolutionary vanguard. There was an evocative new interpretation by Myer Ramnath was argued by many Ghadars but they were brought together by a heroic reading of Indians past struggle against empire and goals for its liberation and future. They shared a revolutionary eclecticism that was formed by the global terrain in which Ghadar operated and a willingness to embrace violence and its consequences. Singapore was a crucial node for with which Ghadar ideas and followers found out across the furthest horizons of the Indian Ocean.
TH
The Ghadar newspapers were smuggled in through the Sikh Gurdwara in Singapore or hidden in the unsupervised Dutch mails distributed through the Netherland's East Indies by Sikh and other Indian merchants in modern Sumatra. As radicalized Ghadarats began to make their way back to India from North American China via Japan and South East Asia to raise rebellion in early 1915, around 8000 of them - in one account - passed through Singapore and Penang. The logic of the steamer routes dictated it. Singapore in the western archipelago was also a locus of one of the most dramatic attempts by Germany to mobilize these networks. The dispatch of two ships, the Maverick and the Annie Larson, from the United States via Mexico to deliver arms to India via Java.
TH
But this was not just a Raj, an Islamic, or Hindu, or Sikh affair. The Vietnamese radicals in Siam were encouraged to wage war in the frontier of French Indo-China. The reports in April 1915 of a Chinese attempting to tempt the exiled Burmese Prince Mingun Min in Saigon into rebellion in Burma and Bengal with the promise of a throne.
TH
And it was never clear who was using who. Indian revolutionaries from the Bengal anarchist underground approached German counsels in China and elsewhere on their own initiative. They emulated and adapted the strategies of others. The cause was of advanced out of longer term arguments between people participating in wider networks but also by sense of commonality and proximity to others far distant and very unlike themselves.
TH
There were then several Singapore mutineers, all of them reaching far beyond its shores, and perhaps a revisiting of 1915 allows us to recast Singapore and its history inside-out, to align Singapore to global currents and to geographies besides empires and nation. It captures a moment when Singapore was one of the most global cities on Earth and one of the most modern. Its outward looking trading communities built maritime connections and wealth on a scale that was to be seen in few other cities of the age. The fortunes of its Chinese, Arab, Armenian, Jewish, and other minorities paralleled and in many ways eclipsed those of the Europeans who themselves were heterogeneous communities of Dutch, Swiss, and until 1914, Germans and many others.
TH
For Asian elites the imperial globalization of the later 19th century encouraged an ecumenical and internationalist outlook and became an arena for the propagation of transnational social and religious reform: theosophy, Confucian revival, Islamic modernism, Buddhist internationalism, and global discourses on race, civilization, and liberalism. And this, not territorial nationalism, was perhaps the most characteristic form of elite politics before the First World War. The outbreak of war was met by outward displays of empire loyalty by subjects but there was a reckoning. Malaysian sultans were showered with high honours. Asian merchants demanded new considerations. In Singapore, the straights Chinese reformer Lim Bun Keng wrote a book called, "The Great War from a Confucian Point of View."
TH
It was a statement of empire loyalty, for empires are a prelude to a cosmopolitan world federation but it was equally powerful demand for Britain to apply the stances of civilization, for which he was fighting, for the treatment of colonial people's. But this was one of the last occasions in Singapore on which demands were framed in these terms.
TH
The Japanese historian Sho Ku Ojima has come farther in arguing that 1915 and the Singapore Mutiny was a turning point in the modern history of Asia. Now this is a striking claim but it's clear that across the spectrum of society, the crisis fosters a fresh assessment of the benefits, affinities, and the aversions of the imperial relationship. Although the Chinese communities stood aloof from the Singapore mutiny, the role of the Japanese in the ragtag imperial militia that had crushed it, focused Chinese attention on the international context of their struggle against Japan and highlighted the vulnerable position of the British.
TH
This set the agenda for the largest political campaign of the Chinese overseas to that date, a protest of the 21 Demands of a few weeks earlier. It was the first mass movement in Singapore, spearheaded by Singapore's ritual men, drawing in travelling anarchists, and adopting the new methods of protest already used by others elsewhere. A mass boycott of Japanese goods was announced in 1919 by leaflets titled "Announcement of the Death Sentence and Reasons for Throwing the Bomb." Ku Ojima suggests that the role of the Japanese in the suppression of the February Mutiny and the martial law to which both mutineers and the boycott movement where then subject, brought together very different strands of activity and a kind of incipient anticolonial front.
TH
In both the old and the new empires of the fin-de-siècle, greater mobility and official repression had cast networks of nation makers and would-be revolutionaries overseas across Asia to Europe and the Americas. Writing in 1913, Lenin saw the 1905 Russian revolution as awakening Asia, but the centre of gravity of protest had already moved east, where any number of events had a widening resonance. The Philippine's Revolution of 1898 was an augury to young nationalists across Asia. The Boxer Rebellion was portrayed at the time as a world crisis. The defeat of Russia at Port Arthur was a bigger event in Asian history than it was in European history. The politics of extremism in Bengal was played out in London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, and in 1915, Singapore and Batavia. And these events had synchronicity. The Russian Revolution in 1905 was the first revolution carried live by international telegraph.
TH
Anarchist violence in Europe, dramatic revolutions in Russia in 1905, Iran in 1906 and 1908, the Ottoman Empire in 1908, Portugal, Mexico, and China in 1910, 1911, and 1912, were all linked by the rise of a new kind of intellectual. They were lodged in global networks and translations and transpositions of ideas. And these conflicts marked the real beginning of the global First World War. What Ghadar showed in Chinese radicalism in opposition to Japan confirmed, was that this politics extended into the world of migrant labour. The general mobilization after July 1914 had extended these movements and further mobilized them, even at the heart of the imperial metropolis. There were nearly 50,000 new arrivals of Indo-Chinese and of 36,000 Chinese in France in 1914 alone and they encouraged the radicalism of students and exiles.
TH
In 1914, when the lights went out all over Europe, a great number of Asian intellectuals in Europe, in showing the industrialized carnage, a challenge to the monopoly of civilized standards that Europe had claimed since the Enlightenment and they voiced counter claims for a pan-Asian future and they grew increasingly on a global repertoire of revolution. For anti-colonialists, the global weds of empire had created new possibilities for their challenge. Imperial policemen and the rebels of 1915 shared an obsession with making connections. Much of the recent historical writings shares this imperative. It wasn't clear at the time how far these connections bridged different communities and contexts. What is clear is that at this juncture, the combined resources of the empires were pitted against this contingency. The crisis of 1915 was met with the accelerated consolidation of external boundaries and the imposition of closer instructions of authority.
TH
It is the moment when Singapore confronted the logic of its own cosmopolitism and begins to police its borders as never before.
TH
The politics of exclusion, the deployment of labourers and soldiers, the displacements of refugees, the flight of exiles exposed the contingent and vulnerable status for those who travelled across the imperial world and the colonial powers took up new tools to uproot people across borders. In Malaya, for example, after the 1914, the British resourced increasingly on banishment. People of long residence could suddenly be expelled to a home of which they had little ties. This was an elaborate visceral exercise in power. The life histories of banishes recorded, their faces, photographs, and their scarred bodies diagrammatized to guard against their return.
TH
British ministers in 1915 denied that they use banishment to expel trade unionists from Malaya, but in 1915, 31 members of a Hokkien secret society were arrested, tried, and deported for political causes. And between 1911 and 1931, over 20,000 people were banished from Malaya with no right of appeal. 1915 and this crisis also globalized the legal concept of conspiracy. In the United States the so called "Hindu Conspiracy of 1915" - the Ghadar Movement - led a wave of wartime legislations, including the Espionage Age of 1917 and the Sedition Act. And it facilitated the banishment of political undesirements. Conspiracy, in the words of the Harvard jurist Francis B. Sayer, saved the judges from often embarrassing necessity of having to spell out the crime.
TH
The imperial powers also began to work in concert to close down these possibilities and by 1915, one might begin to argue that the crisis had quelled somewhat. The British announced the defeat of the Ghadar Rebellion in India. Now it would be naive to assume that this world of movement was stilled at the caprice of the colonial powers. The new spatiality to power did not severe the transnational linkages of the first Asia of imperial globalization but it made worldly living a harder task against the grain of empire and it opened up a new great game in Asia. Now we might end here, at a sort of lost moment of transnational possibilities and the foreclosure. And this is a theme that shapes a lot of the recent wave of writing on Asian transnationalism. We focused on Singapore and its global connections, but a similar story might be told of other cities and the itineraries of the period.
TH
Much of this writing on the eastern Mediterranean, as much as the Indian Ocean and beyond, also shares a chronological arch from, say, the 1880s to sometime during or after the First World War of the late imperial belle epoch. In the histories of radicalism too there's a sense that in 1914 or 1915 an open year of experimental possibilities had come to climax, if not an end. It's striking how many of the narratives of the period are narratives of loss, of grieving of Diasporas for lost influence, nostalgia even for an imagined cosmopolitan past or for the recession of alternate futures.
TH
Now the idea of cosmopolitanism here rarely appears without qualification - its elite, literary, or it's actually lived or visceral.
TH
There were Asian cosmopolitans, travellers who embraced the different universalisms espoused by Rabindranath Tagore and others, and the first inclusive wave for pan-Asian thinking. At points these sentiments travel deeper within societies beyond the elite, to be embraced as an ideology and even by some as an identity. These cosmopolitanisms were rarely informed by the traditions of thinking about rise and hospitality that the term invokes in the western canon but nevertheless they share-they suggest a world consciousness at work at multiple levels, not least in the banal worldliness of everyday life. The worldliness of people often did not travel very far at all.
TH
So the recurring question is what happened to this in the era of colonial borders, of ethnic and ideological exclusivity, and the rise of the nation-state.
TH
Well one answer may be that in the wake of immigration control, surveillance, and banishments, the initiative passed on to non-elite hands and so dropped somewhat, though never fully out of view. One of the most iconic travelling intellectuals of the first quarter of the 20th century was a Vietnamese scholar-reformer turned revolutionary, Phan Boi Chau. In 1917, he described this world of movement as creating the village abroad. From the early 20th century, harassed by the French, Boi Chau and his followers located their freedom movement overseas in China, Japan, and across South East Asia. Networks of Vietnamese sailors, cooks, servants, and not least, prostitutes, who often acted as couriers. Their settlements were forward bases for revolutionaries. They were linked by kin networks, secured by intermarriage to locals, and over time given emotional force by the shrines of revolutionary martyrs.
TH
Much of the writing on these movements, the first wave of world history, has been written through diasporas or as national history inside-out. But many of these lives were also lived beyond the nation and diaspora and this leads us not only to consider how diaspora functioned within but the functions they performed for others - how they conversed with each other and the ideas that emerged from this. Now these kinds of networks could have caused a dear doggedly to ethnicity and nationality. This is how they've been studied, especially in South East Asia, in terms of a plural or segmented society. But what lay besides or beyond ethnicity? How did these villages abroad connect to each other and what did this mean? When I begin to answer this I think you need to lose some time and space a little further. Pathways through the village abroad could connect places other than home, often bypassing home altogether.
TH
Singapore seen inside-out in 1915 shows how far action across borders demanded contact and trust with others. In one sense, Ghadar was a movement in the diaspora end at home but it was not solely this and only when the passengers of Komagata Maru refused entry to Canada did it become an issue of return. Ghadar and other villagers abroad lodged in diverse communities for which the prospect of return was often increasingly remote. Sun Yat-Sen's regime in exile in Japan gave support to Indian conspirators there. In 1915, the fragile haven of Asian exiles in Japan depended on the patronage of Individual Japanese as well. In the wake of the Komagata Maru affair, Japanese ships with their more opaque manifests and their Asian cruise became the shipping of choice for long distance exiles.
TH
In the German conspiracies, Indians worked through Chinese gun runners in Shanghai and Chinese batting merchants in the Netherland's East Indies. And what is striking is how radical networks needed others to connect to each other. It's through an audience with Sun Yat-Sen in Japan, for example, that Abani Mukherjee, an emissary from the Bengal underground to the Ghadar, made contact with his countrymen in exile: Rash Bihari Bose. And such intermediaries were often key catalysts. One of the most hunted men in the global conspiracy of 1915 was Ernest Douwes Dekker, a man who began his career fighting imperialism by declaiming that his common Dutch descent through his father obliged him to fight with the Bores in South Africa. He was converted to the Indian revolutionary cause in Geneva by Ghadar's leader Har Dayal and as this agent was pursued by the British across South Asia and the China Sea board until he is arrested in Hong Kong and taken to Singapore from where he was dispatched to be a witness at the trials of the Hindu conspiracy in San Francisco.
TH
He ended his life under a Sundanese name, a hero of the Indonesian national revolution, for which he later identified through his half Javanese mother.
TH
In this period there were many co-evil itineraries that took many different twists and turns and talk of following networks and connections can lead us in one direction as much as another. Why is particular scene worth tracing? And there's a danger that historians tend to gravitate to connections and conversations between people whose lives connect to a larger story. Now Abani Mukherjee's covert wanderings in this period can be triangulated in multiple imperial archives, in the lives of those he met and who hunted him, in the two confessions he made to colonial policemen on his arrest in Shanghai, in the notebook they captured, and in the tale he later told of himself to others.
TH
His biographies often speak for close chapter around his subsequent escaped from British prison in Singapore, his flight to the East Indies, and his two year stay in Java. The Germans who met him in Java did not trust him at the time and his future political opponents believe the entire story of his escape was a fabrication. This not untypical controversy becomes important only because of the man he became. It was through Java and Indonesian communists that find the Netherlands and Moscow, Abani Mukherjee entered the history of world communism.
TH
But equally important is the sheer diversity of lives that crossed and intersected, embedded in the worlds they passed through, touching many others smaller in smaller ways.
TH
In 1915 the British in Singapore were watching a dizzying cast of characters - there was a Conjuric from Colombo, Abdul Mansur Liyad who had worked in India and England dressed like a European. Another suspect worked as an engineer of Baraski circus. The figure who most impressed people at the time was a man called Abdul Salam alias Rafiq. He was, it appears, a Kashmiri, son of a noted "Maulvi" of Nurpur. He was himself a Pesh-Imam, a prayer leader educated in Urdu and Arabic and a Hafiz. He was also a correspondent of Lahore newspaper and a member of the noted "Anjuman Hamayat Islam society" which promoted an Islamic education, not least for women. In 1903, he went to Burma as an agent of a contractor. There he established a fund for the Muslims of Rangoon and lobbied the government to reconstruct the tomb of the last Mughal Emperor.
TH
He published a newspaper but lived on the breadline, working as a mail contractor for the Rangoon post office. He was in prison for six months by debt by his landlord. It was around this time that he taught himself English and developed a taste for stylish English dress. He was accused of appropriating money to the Aligarh University by the Muslims of Rangoon. In July 1912, he disappeared, abandoning his wife and son, leaving a note saying he intended to take his own life and his body would not be found. The German agents in Java believed he has been in the service of the British Secret Service. He had arrived, it was said, via Japan and had taken to printing anti-British pamphlets and sending them to Singapore and the Malay states from Batavia. In January 1915, he had predicted the February Rising in Singapore.
TH
He came to further notice, sending telegrams from Batavia to Harry & Sons in Calcutta through a Roman Catholic convert who worked as a salesman in the shop of a well established Sindhi firm. Harry & Son was known as a front for the Bengali revolutionary network headed by Jatin Mukherjee. Now this seemed to place Abdul Salam at a crucial juncture in Ghadar transoceanic communications. He worked for the mysterious Martin who the British were hunting across the Asian seaboard, the man who had later entered the history of communist internationalism as M.N. Roy. Called by the British for Abdul Salam's arrest and deportation into British territory, became a legal course slab, given that he committed no crime against the Dutch. So to resolve the problem, the Dutch sent him into internal exile in West Timor in the town of Kupang. There he was suspected of pro-Japanese sympathies, supplying information on their intelligence activities to the Dutch.
TH
The Dutch thought him to be an important figure, worldly, versed in many networks, a man with a significant and failed past. Abdul Salam's itinerary we know only on North India, Rangoon, Singapore, Tokyo, Batavia, Medan - well this was emphatically transnational. His intersections with nationalism, Islamism, anarchism and pan-Asianism, however, led nowhere in particular or at least as far as the records show they came to rest in remote Kupang. Now these kinds of worldly lives were not always about connections, although it was the connections that the colonial police, and much at the time the travellers themselves, were looking for. They were often glancing encounters into meted conversations, partial translations.
TH
The co-presence of the spectator, the passing stranger on the key side, the unrecognized face at the back of the room, the police informant at the edges of the crowd. Worldly people might share a neighbourhood but never meet, still less become a collective. Although Bani Mukherjee and MN Roy were both in 1915 in China, Java, Tokyo, Singapore, their paths constantly crossed but they do not meet each other until much later in Moscow. This was world not perhaps connected in its entirety but highly connected in its paths. Abdul Salam in Java could, at the very moment of birth of the Indies, age in motion but the same ideological streams that marked his own life were interwoven with a similar global resonance. But there's little sense that he knew of it or was in contact with this Indonesian movement,
TH
so rather than solely looking for connections as the pursuit of the transnational seems to constantly emplace, it's equally important to recreate the neighbourhood itself, the kind of ideas that arose from it and the forecast of the home grown intellectuals who moved through it. The particular visions of this period have been described in specific national or doctrinal context but less in the round as co-evil with the lives of others. One way to do this is to look more closely at the ways in which the sites people shared and sometimes met shaped the experience and ideas.
TH
Beginning is the urban continuum of Asia, beyond banks, bonds, and mansions of the great cities lay anti cities and the waterfronts in the Chinatowns, the lodging houses, the night schools,
TH
but also in the semi urban sprawl away from the older enclaves in which recent arrivals from the country side abroad tended to lodge themselves. Their exiles, radicals on the run, gangsters, intellectuals all found refuge. There were world of constant pseudonym, of subterfuge, and fleeting encounters of opportunity and danger. There were places where people constantly reinventing themselves and could lose some of their ethnic, religious, and class definition. Where say a Vietnamese could become a Chinese, a Dutchman a Sundanese, a literati a plebeian and vice versa, and a Pasheman could passes a Dandi. For single women there were places to provide anonymity and wage work. These places push communities closer together, sometimes in conflicts, sometimes in indifference, but in a crucial sense particularly within the informal occurrences in the port cities, it forced people to live beyond ethnicity.
TH
These were places where people with very different origins met for the first time and had to negotiate space, develop reciprocal services, learn from each other, forge new solidarities. Now the limited spaces between the city and the sea were perhaps the most worldly neighbourhoods. The story of the maverick affair of American adventures and Qadarites posing as Persians seaman was a voyage across the maritime underworld of the Pacific and the Eastern Archipelagos. The maritime dimension was crucial to this story. It was the maritime people in the maritime world who were some of the first to become trade unionized, the floaters, the immense armies of unskilled and semi-skilled labourers of the Asian city had a very much a transnational existence.
TH
It's not too fanciful to speak of a global water front of intricate communities and long distance communications that extended from Rotterdam, say, where Indonesian sailors were active in the international movement, to Java to the red transport unions of the ports of Rangoon and Batavia and across to the eastern Pacific where the contribution of Chinese and Japanese labour took the trade unions in the United States was vitally important.
TH
As the anti-imperialists begin to move across the interstices of empire, they became specialists of this underworld and shared skills. Worldliness was a share of tools that people could take from city to city as they moved through this urban continuum.
TH
Anarchists were well established in these places and Bolsheviks, as they began to declare themselves, knew that Hong Kong was more open than Singapore, more than any western port city. "A warning," said Ghadar, "never try to run against the government of the place you to reside." Republican cantonments, semi-colonial Bangkok and Shanghai, were hubs for Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutionaries and a bulging trade in bomb making equipment.
TH
What is striking above all is the eclecticism of this world, its independence and its anti-nationalism. The rebels of 1915 drew on multiple connections and influences from Mexican revolutionism to Japanese pan-Asiansm and Irish republicanism.
TH
So too did their fellow coy voyagers, sharing the gravism of the period, borrowings without definites, and this is perhaps why anarchism is a doctrine of self-help, of self-government, a vision of international and of a world less patriarchal, remained a force in Asia well into the age of doctrinal Bolshevism. Anarchist networks from Japan, China, and from Europe intersected in this same nodal point: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kampong, Hong Kong, Shanghai.
TH
What's very striking was how different ideological networks became interwoven and how they shaped their own environments. At the heart of this process was a new urban popular culture: theatre and cinema, modern dress and styles, as much as the press and political pamphlets set the idioms of politics.
TH
There was a widespread interest in this environment, in translation and in global inter-languages such as Esperanto and Basic English. Striking how the world of protest, how close that laid to the entertainment professionals such as the South Asians circus men of 1915. Now to talk of those encounters is often to minimize the tribulation and violence that often enfolded them. These imperial cities were places of huge disparities of wealth and opportunity, places of exploitations, of exclusion, of sudden violence and they thrust political exiles perilously close to the parallel and overlapping networks of police, spies and informants. The underground was very interwoven with the history of this and the sort of cinematic ideas of the underworld, of the Roman police here was quite important to both sides. People lived with distress and imminent betrayal.
TH
The worldliness of the water front was often one of competition between different communities it brought down. But at the level of social practice, worldliness persisted because it was necessary. And it endured into the post-War era when a new generation of radicals animated these urban worlds and attempted to weave them together, with all the mistranslations, misadventures, false alliances and scissions this brought. Before all this, the worldly plebeian resourceful milieu of a city could be a transnational awakening. Many of the thinkers of the Asian underground were drawn to the semi-colonial periphery of the city and saw there a vision of free Asia. There was an enduring sense that, in the words of Phan Boi Chau, there were fellows suffering the same sickness and this perhaps more than anything else creates a bridge between very different histories and struggles, a sense of time between empire and nation, of the spaces besides empire and nation, and of an Asian underground that had the potential to turn empires inside-out. I'll leave it there.
Thank you very much for this rich and extraordinary narrative. I just wonder whether you could explain a few things more, particularly this period, I mean, how - I mean I understand the specificity of it at one level - but what you haven't really told us is the content of what was being debated, I mean, were there disagreements, how did they diverge, to what extent did the specificity of a local matter in what they were talking about, I mean when you talk about ideological - I mean it's not a single radicalism, there are many, many kinds of radicalism, so how did territory and location actually define those, or are these ideas really sort of being shared and debated? I just wonder how the acumen actually worked, you described it but...
TH
Yes exactly. I think two points: this is a part of a larger process, a larger project. I am really trying to suggest that this very sort of diverse ideological world persisted much further into the 1910s, the 1920s and even into the 1930s. There are many histories of radicalism in this period that are suggested being assessed. They are with the history of the Comintern and its activities, the disciplining the Comintern, of some of this radical activity. So I am quite interested in taking, in creating a kind of - rather than beginning from the outcomes of some of this, to create a very perspective narrative where we sort of move forward with this world, with all of this sort of, the ambiguities that people would have experienced at the time of the sort of ideological sort of experimentation that people would have witnessed at the time and not to, you know, to draw sort of very distant sort of traditions from it.
TH
At this earlier period it's still very, very incoherent and remains so and this is a part of a larger book project that extends into the later 1940s. So the stages of this are very important. The milieu is absolutely vital to this, and I think it's this idea that people need other people to connect to each other and through that there are all sorts of constant translations going on and sometimes it is happening through experimentation in global inter-languages. A lot of people share an interest in Esperanto. It becomes a common means for anarchist groups across different ethnic communities to speak to each other and it's also becomes a way of hiding what is said from the police. The great Indonesian radical Tan Malaka, when he first lands up in Canton, he's got to do propaganda for South East Asia.
TH
He tries English but he doesn't really have English so he starts trying this Basic English, a kind of global inter-language that came out of Cambridge and Wittgenstein's circle in the 1920s - so this business of sort of translation, of constant translation. I suppose I would have said a little bit more about popular culture because it's very, very striking that, how far things like travelling magic lantern shows, later travelling cinema people are used to spread new ideas, sort of stand-up, you know, comedians would move between different languages streams and at the end of a sort of cinema shows or theatre shows would stand up and begin to speak and broadcast a sort of anarchist message that, you know, there are so many stories about this and of course, a lot of these travelling -
TH
one group of an anarchist network which stretches from China through Japan to Paris but through Kuala-Lumpur which is a very small and significant town at this time, is very much based on the publishing journals, but it's also based on reaching out to other places through touring film shows and touring magic lantern shows which were playing to all sorts of, you know, different communities and trying to transcend different sort of language worlds. So, you know, the acumen which forces people to think of ways just to communicate, just to get by and just to survive in daily life, it forces revolutionary movements that they need the services of others if they are to move from place to place. This proximity, the constant sort of translations at every level, then begin to provide opportunities -
TH
both for the mediums for sort of expressing these ideas and also begin to shape the message in crucial ways, you know, this is why I think anarchism is so important, and in ways which is totally absent in South East Asian historiography. It's there in the Chinese historiography but anarchism really reaches across different - it's, you know, internationalism, it's very much born out of this sort of self-help mentality in these cities. I mean, Canton in this period, I mean, there were about - the schools were different anarchist, the journals are very, there are schools of sort of translations coming in from - you know, the works of Emma Goldman are translated into Japanese and it's through the impact of Japanese anarchists that they reach, you know, Canton and then the Malay world cacophony is generally sort of circulating much earlier,
TH
but in a city such as Canton or a Chinese city, it's the home to lots of, besides Chinese, the centre of all the Vietnamese sort of networks all move from the city, and they all borrow from each other, they celebrate the same heroes and heroines of the struggle. And perhaps a final thing that - those - a lot of this is about, sort of about, mythology about celebrating sort of martyrs. It was very striking how people pick up on other people's martyrs to a very interesting degree and I have just really sort of picked up on that in the research and like to think of it more about that, but people adopt the cause of - when a Vietnamese anarchist assassin kills himself trying to murder the governor of French Indochina in Canton, it's the Chinese of the city that subscribe and set up a memorial for him at vast expense and not the Vietnamese community. Yeah Kris...
KM
Tim your vey fascinating talk got me particularly intrigued around the theme of connection and conversation which I wanted to ask you about because it's a topic that I've been rethinking - thinking more about and rethinking, particularly recently - you know, I really liked your language of worldliness and your reference to the city, to the urban-scape and one thing that, you know, many theorists of the city point out - Merleau-Ponty or Raymond Williams - both would say that the city is a space in which there is simultaneously communication and solitude. This is a paradox of being alone-together, the city is about being alone-together and the silent crowd and so forth. So I wanted to push you more on, you know, when you said it's not really about always conversation or connection, there is much disconnection or there is much misrecognition, as there is connection.
KM
If we can think more about how to describe what is going on, that that condition, this very strange condition that we observe of people somehow both feeling connected to people who are - with they may never have met or they haven't met personally but are aware of their presence, that face in the back of the room as you said, well that's meaningful but it's also - it's not a deep connection in the way that we think of a deep conversation. Now the point of my question is I didn't hear much about sexuality in your talks in the current state but, you know, I was thinking of Shanghai Express and, you know, Shanghai Lily and how that whole film is about both the revolution in China but also about the theme of erotics and how, in fact, you are thinking about...
TH
It's one of the sexiest films ever made.
KM
That's right and thinking about the train as an erotic space helps understand questions of dawning and doffing identity, of connections that's not connections, and so forth, so how do you address that theme and do you think that might help us think more, perhaps even more, in terms of what makes this time and these spaces unique? Is this underground an erotic space?
TH
It is in the way the way you're talking. I mean the very early theme of some of these networks have been quite well stated by Chris Goshnan. In the Vietnamese case he makes the point that these Vietnamese networks were deeply embedded in cities overseas, you know, these villages overseas get embedded in cities in China and through many Vietnamese, you know, sort of, you know, forming liasons with locals with - both men and women.
TH
One invisible part of this story are these women currents, that some were - we don't often know who they were or what they did, but often temporary, this was built on sort of temporary sort of attachments and alliances and sometimes this was just done for the cause. So a woman would travel with a man as his mistress, his lover, or as wife, though maybe she was not connected sexually to him in any way at all just for the covers the part of the cause, though that's quite well documented in the Vietnamese case when Ho Chi Minh is arrested by British in Hong Kong, by 1930 has a female sort of niece travelling with him who drops out of the newspaper report under colonial records in the story but has been picked up elsewhere. She was veteran revolutionary. She was not romantically attached to Ho Chi Minh but she's a very important part of this story.
TH
But the more sort of erotic level you're talking about, I think that's very much there and it comes back also to this, you know, this sort of allure of the underground, the part of, you know, it's mistake of these fleeting encounters or a lot of that is sexual when you really dive into - really delve, sorry - into some of the cases and look at arrests and particular trials. There's a case I am very interested in of the first women suicide bomber I can find in this period who tries to blow up a British official in Singapore but it's, even from the colonial record you get the sense that, in the photographs, she is a very modern women. They call her in the newspapers the 'bobbed-hair woman.'
TH
The whole thing is built, the case, in which the track is built around the British find, you know, sort of pictures of bobbed-haired women and a very strong transnational network of sort of alliances, misalliances, erotic sort of possibilities and so on. She seems to be a champion of free love and so on, and so again, picking up on some of this Emma Goldman type stuff, so it's there and it is a way of sort of enriching the story. The obvious way - this so often is - as me and my colleague Megan Warne always says, "Oh it's all very interesting but it's really about these bloats going around having interesting cross-cultural encounters." And, you know, there is a whole, you know, other aspect to that that I'm trying to sort of explore in some of the more details, sort of episodes. I was talking about a mutiny of soldiers today, but you know, with other sorts of episodes of the underground, you would, those things would emerge and me thinking that more: sure.
TH
Well yes, a lot of this has to do.
Hi, I am Mou Banerjee and I am a GT student at the Harvard History department. I was just wondering, following on from Professor Manjapra's question, Ang Lee does a really good job of showing this transnational connections and the firm Lust, Caution.
TH
Yeah, he does and, of course, that's based on the slightly later the fiction of Ilene Chang - you know, sort of Ilene Chang who was a, you know, sort of, very important sort of modern girl, and a writer about this experience, and also on Wong Kar-wai, sort of, films trying to, sort of, really re-evoke that in quite an interesting way.
TH
But, you know, to go back to Shanghai Express which is very much part of the actual story itself because the star of it who - you know, the sizzling scene is when Anna May Wong, sort of, enters the carriage with Marlene Dietrich. Anna May Wong was one of the first - the most sort of - I'd say the best known sort of Chinese woman, but from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Soong sisters of her time. She was the, you know, quintessential sort of modern girl. There were all sorts of rumours about her, sort of, sexuality, I understand, which plays a part in this story when she goes back to China and sort of gets embroiled in the Republican politics of the period, so yeah I mean.
TH
What was very interesting - the hardest bit of project for me is how far the literary and increasingly the cinematic representations of this informed both the policing of it and the self-presentation of these people as well. And that happens all the time. Ho Chi Minh seems to have quite a vanity for this, I mean, this is a cool and sort of sexy world, people play up to this in creating sort of international worldly mystique to them. This is actually an image of the sort of the safe house - this is the revolutionary landscape of Asia - from the fiction of the Sumatran radical Tan Malaka who is one of the, you know, he spends 20 years out of Indonesia, the Netherland's East Indies, the underground on the run and, you know, other parts of South East Asia in China, in Europe, and the Soviet Union, and whatever, but he becomes a figure of popular fiction.
TH
This is actually from an Indonesian Roman - Malay Roman Policier, in which he becomes, in a series of novels, the pajarero, the Scarlet Pimpernel. And these novels - one of which has been republished recently - are actually very striking, very well informed about the Comintern, its politics, the names are barely changed, Tan Malaka, you know, tries to blow up the colonial exposition in Paris. He leads jihad against the British in Palestine, You know, he appears to sort of right wrongs and injustices all over the place. And when Tan Malaka comes back to Indonesian politics, he has to live with this mystique. There is a wonderful moment in his memoirs when he first, after 20 years, goes back to Sumatra and is standing at a book store and all, you know, looking at these sort of books and someone comes up to him.
TH
"They say the Scarlet Pimpernel's come back and is working for the Japanese and made him a colonel, you know, so he plays up on this pajarero mystique and once and sort of future king of Indonesian sort of revolutionism to introduce himself secretly to Sukarno and within a few weeks, Sukarno was secretly - I think the story is pretty well documented - and made a secret political testament that if he - you know, the first, if the leaders of the Republic were captured or killed by the Dutch - Tan Malaka would be given the revolutionary mantel and become the leader of the Republic. So this mystique becomes absolutely sort of important, the way the - but its sometimes - that's an obvious story - but it's there all the time and also the way the police themselves sort of share with this -
TH
the sort of actors and the same fiction, it becomes kind of performative, you know, in a way and that's the bit I've been having difficulty with, about how those sort of self-imagings of the colonial policemen and the secret agent alongside the underground figures themselves sort of get interwoven and feeds off each other. That's a very elusive part of the story for me. An elusive part of the story. Allusive.
T
Hi, my name is Tina and I am from the History Department of Harvard. So I wanted to ask you, I was thinking about these networks you are talking about, and I am trying to understand what binds them together because I was reminded of, in fact, the networks of Islamists today, because it seems a very similar sort of global transnational movement which is bound together by certain ideas of anti-imperialism but there is this binding thing of religion which seems absent from the story you are telling. So you said they're anti imperialist but they're not -
TH
I think I got mine in my pocket...
T
It might be your phone. So the question is really a question if it's not about religion, it's anti-imperial but it's not about nationalism, so it's very different from the Arab revolt happening at exactly the same time in 1915, where all these Arabs are sort of joining with people like T. Lawrence and saying we're going to rise up against the Ottomans but this seems a very different sort of thing and I am just curious what you would think are sort of binding all these fascinating people together.
TH
I think sort of a very universalistic sort of sense of Pan-Asian futures.
TH
A lot on this gets written about, you know, you'll know Cemil Aydin's book, it's about sort of intellectual encounters and Japanese sort of Pan-Asianism as a sort of intellectual and is quite clearly defined for this period as these Japanese Pan-Asian sort of figures who are providing patronage and protection for Indian revolutionaries in Tokyo and so on. It becomes less sort of inclusive and a rather different thing by the 1920s and 30s. But it's been documented, I think, quite well but I think this becomes quite a powerful sort of imaginary just for people in the same way that many, sort of, you know, sort of Islamists are not particularly connected directly to any network but they are imaginatively sort of connected to this broader movement.
TH
People become internationalist, become very worldly, without going anywhere at all, without even meeting any of these people or perhaps, you know - the imaginary is very powerful at this period, I think. And then some of these thinkers then begin to try and sort of flesh this out in different ways and of course they do so in very, very different ways but this is not a moment when the idea of the nation or the ethnic-defined nations in South East Asia is very, very strong at all and the modus operandi of political leaders is to sort of synthesize different currents. I mean in writing about this, I have been very influenced by a book by Taquir Qureshi about the Indonesian Age in Motion - it's called the Age in Motion - it's how people are, know you, trying to sort of reconcile Islam, Communism, nationalism, internationalism in very, sort of, creative ways
TH
without really, you know, worrying in particular about the, you know, about the, I suppose, about thinking about ideology as something you have to sort of subscribe to in a holistic sense and of course that's the Comintern trying to break all this up, you know, at least on the left side of this broad movement, but I don't think they ever really succeed in doing so and some of the brightest and most interesting of the people involved in the Comintern like Tan Malaka, you know, they create their own sort of ideological, you know, sort of their own sort of ideological world, really, as they grow. In this sense, Ho Chi Minh is a figure in tracing the story and his sort of adherence to, you know, the Comintern line, his strong adherence to the - to his survival. There are many people who didn't survive, sort of Moscow in the year of the purges.
TH
His survival of that makes him rather sort of exceptional, these people whose commitment to Marxist-Leninism merely is a kind of method and is a lot more looser and experiment with all sorts of - they are perhaps more normative to this world I think. They're more common I think.
Hi, I am Ayesha Jalal, just a quick follow up. I wonder whether things would be more explicable in terms of the project if you were to provide us with the periodization of where you're going ahead because you said that was very important, the periodization, and while we've begun with Februarys 1915 with the revolt and with the mutiny Singaporean, it would be useful to know why this period makes it possible and then what are the other periods that you are going to be addressing in your project? It's just a curiosity. It's not in the context of the paper but I am just curious whether it might make a lot more sense to us.
TH
No, there's a kind, in the book I'm fashioning, there's a pre-history of this which looks at the late 19th century and the networks that are cast overseas. It traces a sort of first interconnections of this radicalism way before the First World War and a pattern of activities that begin in this period that really climaxes in the period from about 1925 to 1928 in a first connected series of uprisings which begin actually in South East Asia in Java in 1926 and climax perhaps in Canton with the commune and the closing of Canton as this sort of open, revolutionary city as the commune movement collapses there, taking down the first, sort of, Comintern sort of mission in China, and taking out a lot of the communists in Canton and the cities, but taking out a lot of other whole sort of panoply of other types of politics as well.
TH
And then really right in the 20s and the 30s sort of a period where this activity is sort of becoming more ideologically polarized. Ideological definition certainly begins to matter. It's the period where ethnic nationalism as an alternative is beginning to gain ground when a lot of this broad leftist is either deep underground or incarcerated or obliterated and then I think really the major post-war period was a strange kind of, in this story, is a strange sort of seizure to the narrative actually but really this kind of critical activity re-emerges particularly with the return of the exiles in 1945, so there's a new period of sort of open ideological contestation and politics and lot of the environments that we're interested in which then begins to collapse in 1949 with the fall of Shanghai and with the death of Tan Malaka.
SB
Tim that was a - this is Sugata Bose - beautifully crafted lecture and I can see that you are on to writing a bestseller which will be on the shelves of detective stories quite as much as academic history.
TH
I'll take that as a compliment.
SB
Yes, I mean it as a compliment, but let me ask with a sort of a rather straight forward empirical question. And at the Singapore Mutiny has in the past been seen as, one, in a string of attempted mutinies, you know, all the way from, you know, Afghanistan through Punjab and UP and Bengal to South East Asia, and you know some were stillborn.
SB
There were confusions about when exactly in mid-February 1915 the mutiny is ought to take place and so forth and I just wondered whether from the new materials that you've seen, you know, that's a story that's confirmed, that the Singapore Mutiny was meant to be at the eastern end of a string of mutinies.
TH
Yeah, and I think this is why some of these, you know, the preacher at Kampong, Java mosque I mentioned, this Abdul Salaam figure and in Java and his network begins to predict it and that's why these people are quite important but they seem to be, you know, agents if you like, or at least witting of this wider plan but it's not particularly connected up. There were very much divisions within the garrisons over how to proceed and what to do once one has mutinied.
TH
It's not a particularly sort of well disciplined, well connected movement but it goes back to the idea of these networks. There are certain peoples at certain moments who seem to be at the hub of certain connections but then they can - as in the study of this Abdul Salaam Rafiq - and then the centre of connections it sort of really moves elsewhere, and these people sort of disappear altogether from the story and sometimes they get forgotten altogether and this gives you a sort of misleading impression of who's actually important at any one time. And I suppose, going back to the idea of networks themselves, it wasn't so much that they literally - as you were citing been following - I've been looking some of this early anthropology of social networks in east African cities. There was a whole, in which get the ideas that networks don't have to be connected all the time or even very often, but just highly connected at certain points to function.
TH
You get this better idea of the strengths and weak ties. You know, it's quite - in the 60s and the 70s - this was a very early sort of stage of social networks there and it's quite loosely sort of ethnographic, descriptive and I found that quite sort of helpful to thinking about it and I think this is, you know, 1915 - February 1915 - is a moment when you get very specific connections that people are trying - sometimes trying - to make and don't really. I mean Rash Behari Bose is never really brought into this but they are all trying to reach out to him but not very successfully at this point and you've got the, you know, the underground from India tying to, you know, trying to reach out and find support in South East Asia, trying the seaboard and the United States and these people, often by their own volition, sort of making their way back to India across some of the same routes and sometimes they connect,
TH
sometimes they just sort of travel past each other, you know, the strangers on, you know, a different side of the railway platform. Sometimes they recognize each other or suspect that they're in the same city as others or they don't. It is quite loose. But I think that, you know, there was a mix of some of the key leaders of Ghadar, in the states and back in India in the sense that this is what they were trying to do and I've not found much to challenge that idea but, you know, the two things that fascinate me are all the connections that don't happen and lead somewhere else and the second thing is how much Ghadar just draws in other people, it's not just you know a South Asian story and you know the involvement of these Chinese business networks, Chinese criminal and smuggling networks on the China coast and it's very important to the story and leaves you again into a very different sort of looking world.
SB
My next question is in fact about religion. Even what Srimoti just said that religion doesn't appear to bind these kinds of universalist movements. Clearly Islamic millenarianism was one important theme, informing not just the Singapore mutiny but also the sort of unrest sort of surrounding it and there are clearly certain overlaps between sort of a quest for an Islamic universalism and then in Kuwait sort of Asian universalism. Now in Singapore I mean are the main protagonists facing a challenge of trying to negotiate the problem of religious difference or don't they see it as necessarily something that they have to deal within a very deliberate manner because, I mean, clearly, you know, if you think about Komagata Maru, the overwhelming majority of those who travelled on that ship, there were about what about 380 or something like that, but the overwhelming majority happened to be Sikhs, a handful of Hindus and Muslims, and then they came back...
TH
There was the largest handful of Muslims...
SB
Muslims, yeah, and they weren't allowed to stop in Singapore, they go back to Baj Baj where several of them are killed and so forth, now but, it wasn't seen necessarily as a sort of a Sikh sort of movement, I mean it sort of had reverberations well beyond the contours of that particular religious community, so I just wondered that in this early phase, the second decade of the 20th century, how is the problem of religious difference viewed by those who are trying to build these anti-colonial solidarities, not just across the boundaries of these religions but also in some instances, I mean, to what extent are they seeking inspiration from, let's say, Sun Yat-Sen's movement in the Malay Peninsula which is led to the republican sort of revolution.
SB
Do they see these differences as something that they have to be negotiated or...
TH
I think the propagandists do and that's quite well documented. It's harder to document it actually in the events in Singapore on the ground but the evidence we have of what, you know, the preacher was saying, he was trying to, you know, reach out to sort of other communities in the city in the name of a more general sort of justice, I think, is quite important. The model of sort of Sun Yat-sen is very, very important. He's the first sort of call for many of these travelling radicals to get an audience with him too, and I suppose where it is best documented in South East Asia is in the case of Indonesia where in the sense some of the radicalism of the Sarekat Islamists is about defending the Islamic community against economic encroachment by non-Muslims
TH
but very quickly some of its ideologues try and look beyond that and look at a way of making connection between Islam and some of the early Marxist movements. One of the key figures is a man called Haji Misbach, so called red Haji, is a very interesting character, you've probably read about him. But he equates sort of jihad with class struggle. He makes a - he's got a very sense of the historicity of the amount of collapse of these empires right across the world in the sense of historical sort of opportunity that creates. His language is very sort of inclusive. He builds - he begins to build contacts with the more secularly minded people who later become the party communists in Indonesian cities and so people was trying to do that with broad, you know, broad inclusive sort of language, neutral sort of symbols which might just be the, you know, the martyrdom of the Indian mutiny of 1857. It's important, you know better than I do, to Ghadar. These are the common themes.
SB
And Sarekat Islam is, of course, a very powerful movement in Indonesia by this time 1912, it's the largest... Finally Tim is your sort of work trying to place some of these peripatetic sort of anti-colonial revolutionaries on the 'global water front', as you put it, leading you to sort of reinterpret the ideologies of some of these key figures and perhaps you could answer with reference to Phan Boi Chau because if you look at Vietnamese history you know Phan Boi Chau is simply depicted as kind of a revolutionary monarchist of the first decade of the 20th century who needs to be distinguished from Phan Chau Trinh who is much more of a republican, sort of with his Parisian experience and so forth but looking at Phan Boi Chau sort of across this entire sort of Eastern Indian zone, I mean, does he emerge as a sort of a different kind of political thinker?
TH
Yeah, I mean you can see it in the, in about - the key transition is in 1926 - where the, I've alluded to the incident already, a young Vietnamese radical with connections to Korean and Japanese and Chinese anarchists tries to assassinate the governor general of Indochina in Canton, the main island, and immediately Phan Boi Chau is in a different part of China at this time, sort of goes to the scene, and writes, you know, a biography of, you know, the killer, of the assassin from Hong Thai. And it's a sort of very interesting transitional piece of work, he really picks up on this transnationalist recourse, the assassin from Hong Thai, you know, a man without a country and begins to meditate very interestingly about what that experience of sort of exile means.
TH
He also in a more traditional sort of way refers back to the older sort of traditions of resistance and martyrology but there is a very clear sense in that biography that the world has changed and with the embrace of these new sort of direct measures and it's - his understanding of that really sort of sharpens but at that point, he - we don't really see how that plays out, very shortly after that he gets arrested in Shanghai by the French police. He is literally sort of pulled from the Chinese city into the French concessions so they can sort of arrest him and he has a long period, you know, out of the political limelight. But there is a sense, where you can see how far he is sort of moving but there is also sort of resignation I think and other people have said this,
TH
that he is not going to be the one to sort of lead this new generation and partly, you know, it is, I think, an underpinning and this is really, this is very, very generational. It's about a sort of group of people who are born at the earliest sort of 1885, 1890, it's a very specific generation which I am trying to study and that's perhaps, that's quite important.
Doc, you had mentioned the idea of, I am Shayan Razani I am a PHD student at Tufts, you had mentioned the idea of home in relation with the Ghadar movement, that it was not always about going back home, that they were interested in working in North America and going over there, but to me what is interesting about the Ghadar movement is that their work in North America was sort of mediated by the idea of home and the problems and concerns of home, and so do you see that similar mediation of home with the right now in exile happening in Singapore?
TH
Is that how their cosmopolitan is shaped and mediated by their concern for home while away from it?
TH
At the same time in Singapore, yeah, in that period, yeah I think so. Yeah, there's a tremendous awareness, a constant sort of - you know, letter writing in newspapers are just beginning to be established - I mean, there's a tremendous awareness of what's to India despite British, you know, sort of censorship of the mails, there's an attempt to sort of hush up what's happening, that, I mean that's what's quite striking is about how - and not just amongst the South Asians overseas, all communities are tremendously aware of what's going on and not just at home but in other parts of Asia - peoples are constantly sort of imagining that.
TH
It brings back to Sun Yat-sen, he's such a sort of imaginative sort of presence in all of these groups, you know, and there's quite a detailed, you know - sometimes not very detailed - there's a certain awareness of where China is about the encroachments on China's sovereignty. And of course, South Asians overseas are experiencing first-hand what's going on in China. They're moving through all of these international - the people involved Ghadar, many of the people who went on the Komagata Maru, I mean people are working their way from British colonies, you know - the British took censuses, you know, sort of watchmen in the Chinese police, you know, in the Chinese port cities they constantly crossing sort of borders, jurisdictions, and you know, they've got quite a very good understanding, quite an acute understanding of what that means and the people -
TH
one of the very early sort of essays on sort of documentation on the Ghadar movement sort of makes the point which is a very, very good one that they have got a sense of themselves both as sort of workers sort of sharing these working, you know, in environments but also of the wider sort of imperial system of networks and exclusions that holds the world together, you know, so that sort of, you know, if, you know, as Marx, you know, said, you know, world history comes into being when, you know, capitalism can't just rely on its sort of nationalist framework anymore to meets its needs. These people are experiencing that in a really sort of visceral way and I think that's quite a powerful thing.
KM
Kris Manjarpa from the History Department, Tim I appreciate the and I think you are right that we should be careful when we assume connection too easily,
KM
on the other hand you know we had a conference this past weekend and I was struck by the disconnection that was assumed between say urban space and agrarian space, between those who live in urban port cities and are apparently mobile and those who apparently live in agrarian environments and are apparently immobile, so you know some of the discussions is going when in fact there is something connecting village and urban space, port cities and agrarian environments, and one thinks for example of a Gandhi figure who is a traveller who then makes his politics about you know populism but populism oriented towards agrarian society. One thinks of MN Roy and certainly the way that as again a traveller his political investment, at least in the early years of the 20s, is in mobilizing peasants.
KM
One thinks of things like Kazi Nazrul Islam, I mean one can think of how many figures in which one has to connect somehow the agrarian and the urban, so where is the story of - what's happening with the agrarian society?
TH
No, I think that's really important and in fact I wanted to say something about that but skipped over it. But I think, you know, with this writing on this kind of Indian Ocean history and I've emphasized the port city and we're drawn to the port cities and it's almost like, you know, rural country people don't get to be cosmopolitan or transnational or whatever and it's like we've forgotten a whole sort of really rich generation work of rural-urban connections and so on, we have to remind ourselves of that and at every point in this story, I mean, all the best sort of histories -
TH
Bryna Goodman who was at that workshop, I mean, her work is about the salience of these rural connections in the cities and the way sort of neighbourhoods are fashioned in fast growing sort of Shanghai. And there's constant circulation between the countryside - cyclical - you know between you know between the city and the countryside and its people, the people in neither urban nor rural, the people all the time in many ways. You know, take the example of the Komagata Maru or the people in the wake of the Komagata Maru then start making their own way back to India, these people are not working in the towns of Canada, they are often working in very isolated sort of saw mills or things like that and they're often a long way away from the established sort of forms of labour organization in the towns
TH
and I think that's really important to this story, to some of the ideas that sort of get a purchase among these groups and, of course, you know some of the most sort of radical and cosmopolitan sort of centres of Indonesian politics - sure that the port cities like Semarang and Batavia - but it's also one of the great centres of Tan Malaka himself comes from the highlands of Sumatra, that's really sort of, you know, that's really sort of agrarian area. But these places - the highlands of western Sumatra - are incredibly cosmopolitan. You've got all of these sort of networks of Islamic education, you've got all these traditions of migrations where young men go out and sort of circulate in the wider world and bring knowledge and wealth and new things back to their villages and a lot of these things become very important to his thought so yeah I squeezed a bit of the story here but it's absolutely vital. Yeah.
Tim, I have a comment on the discussion that has taken place and that has to do with the sort of religious dimensions supposedly of the current networks and the presumed absence of this. I think one thing of course is questionable whether you want to call Al Qaeda's network religious at all, I mean certainly they make use of religion but they are very political and the other thing of course that we've learnt from the Al Qaeda networks is exactly the disconnections, that they don't have to be connected, in fact that's what gives them mobility and that's what makes them succeed because they are cells, they are not necessarily connected, so I think that would be something interesting in terms of your point here. But my question is actually very specific.
TH
My question relates to your reference in passing because you didn't elaborate on it to the Ottoman jihad fatwa, which to my knowledge is one of the rare declarations of jihad by a state in recent 20th century and I wonder what kind of a response you see that getting, I mean that was October 1914. You have this February 15th Uprising and many more were supposed to come. Is there a connection at all, I mean, and what is the reception in South East Asia because...
TH
I think I need to do more - I can easily answer that question - but there is because I think what the newer people who are far more skilled in the documents that is how strong the Ottoman connection is. There is a scholar called Isa Husain who is working say on the state of Johor which is the Malay state,
TH
on modernizing Malay monarchy, which has looked to Meji Japan for influences and just - this is where the rebels head, quite interestingly, try to make their way across the two kilometre corridors from Singapore to the state of Johor, that's where they try and go. Now Johor is place of really strong Ottoman connections which has been holly obscured. There's a narrative that Johor is a modernizing Malay state along British lines that it, you know, has a sort of constitution sort of imposed on it you know by the British, I think in about 1895 and so on, but you see a retelling of that story is all about how Ottoman sort of jurist prudence is coming in and how the whole sort of regal is being imported in various sort of interesting ways. So I think the answer is, I would say emphatically yes, the connections are very there, there is an incredible awareness.
TH
There is interesting work on the impact of the 1908 sort of Revolution and also in surprising ways because in Indonesia the young Sukarno when he's later in house-arrest by the Dutch remote sort of internal exile, his most sustained bit of political writing, a series of articles which, you know, are quite substantive, in which he lists all the books he's read - all histories - there's a history of the late Ottoman empire and the transition to the Republic and that's almost, you know, never sort of remarked but it's incredible data. We know exactly what he's read and he is read quite a lot. He's fascinated by the, you know, the sort of the history of the last days of the caliph but of the first war traced in great detail and it actually becomes a model for revolutionary strategy for him I think and also all of these connections, they're invoked a lot and people say you know that South East Asia you know connections are invoked a lot, but there is so much more detailed research to do on this.
TH
So my succinct answer would be that there's actually a really interesting story to tell of the reception, I think, in these troops unease about having to go and fight the Ottoman Empire you see that, though it is not in the sense of letters you know, obviously not going to be debated to any long extent but I think the other sort of research are happening sort of around this would lead me to think that there is sort of an interesting story there and I should also say, I suppose, you know, I've been working on Malaysia for a very, very long time and the time I've spent there, you know, throughout this sort of post-2001 period, obviously, this is you know ones constantly thinking about all or demanded to think or asked about Islamic networks
TH
and my kind of perception is exactly as yours and is probably influenced me a little bit that people don't need to sort of meet someone in an airport terminal to feel an imaginative connection with this but yet there are very real connections which came on fully documented for example in this passé area of Colentan where by the 1911 Rebellion is, there is also a lot of connections and interest in the Ottoman Empire and some of it mediated by Hadrami Arabs but not always by Hadrami Arabs. But also there are many, sort of, preachers from West Asia who make their way there from even from Kabul and who sort of set up madrasas in this area and then the Batavia area which is a rich sort of networks of madrasas and religious based village schools that is very much plugged in to these networks to South and to West Asia.
TH
It's never been sort of fully documented but in some of the histories of the schools you begin to see that so in that, you know, after 1979 there was some recruitment, you know, to Afghanistan from this region. There are, you know, real sorts of links but they are not the sort of links that - they're older and very, very complex - and not the kind of simple kind of Al Qaeda type of networks that people crassly sort of talk about.
The general perception of the 1914 fatwa is that it was a failure. One doesn't know to what extent that is a factor of British coercion in the subcontinent, of course, we know about Obeidullah Sindhi and the lot even Azad, but South East Asia may well provide evidence to the contrary.
TH
Well in the sense, you know, the further you are from away and this point has been made, the further you are away from the sort of the Islamic heartlands and, you know, the more you - and there are these ideas of the residual suzerainty at least of the Ottoman Empire which have been pretty constant, you know, all throughout the Achaea Insurrection and the resistance to the Dutch really only comes to an end I think by 1913. I mean, this constant sort of appeals to the Ottomans, there's a lot of evidence of, you know, of the continuing people going to the Ottoman Empire for sort of fatwa and so on, so this is that sort of connection, that sort of imaginative connection is quite strong on you know this edge of the world, the Islamic world if you like.
Thank you Tim very much for this excellent lecture and very good question and answer. We have some more questions.
I am Rachel and I am a press fellow at Harvard University, I was mostly going to ask and follow up on the final point about the urban and rural divide. I mean, the story that you are telling is sort of a wonderfully urban story, where the city is the place where all these connections can happen if they can choose but I always love thinking about Adam McEwen's idea, of his model of how diasporas work, that there are these sort of grooves that radiate out from nodes like cities and they don't necessarily have to have physical grooves but they are sort of procedure grooves like you just a particular village say,
TH
in outside Hong Kong might have a bizarrely strong connection to Jamaica just because for generations people have been sort of following the same procedures of getting out of that particular village and then going to, you know, they know that they get on this boat and they go to Canada and then from there you get the visa and then you go to Jamaica. The sort of procedure grooves and I think that the network story that you are telling is wonderful for this because it's not necessary like a physical, like I meet a person on the boat and that's my connection, but there are these sort of imagined pathways throughout the world that these kinds of voyages and imaginaries continue.
TH
I think that's always been a pattern of sort of South East Asian migration and for you to see it today - a colleague from the Philippines was telling me that there's some quite remote area in Lusang, that there's a sort of Little Italy where every sort of house is sort of from top to bottom sort of Italian kind of bathroom fittings. It's just that people would come back, this is what they bring back so there were all these micro-patterns and they are very important, and the other side of story I think which I've not mentioned is with the urban and the big port cities but to me sometimes the quite small towns, the small town environment, as you know from Malay, is really important. Some of these small industrial towns where you've got sort of Tamil plantation labour, Chinese liming neighbours, not a very strong sort of colonial presence,
TH
a whole sort of cast of sort of other minority communities with their own sort of networks, but they all know each other in these rather small towns which are very urban, which are very modern, they're actually quite well connected with good roads, etc. So this small town world, I think particularly by the 20s and the 30s becomes really important this story and again I think that - Kris what you're saying - that the port city becomes a shorthand and well, you know, what does it mean really. You have to be really sort of cautious about that, I think.
Thank you
Hi, my name is Iqbal. I am not a historian I just like stories. This was fascinating. Thank you very much.
TH
You mentioned a little bit about how this event is remembered in Singapore and I was just wondering, for example, just for comparing the Indian Mutiny or what of independence in 1857, which is a very important event in the history of the subcontinent, very well documented and remembered, celebrated, how is this in the national consciousness Singapore and Malaysia?
TH
Yeah, it's a good question and very, very little at all. It's quite important to the British in the sense because it's, you know, this quite prominent sort of memorialisation of the British fallen in this, it's only sort of martial memory that the British in Singapore have before the fall almost the same day in February 1942.
TH
For the national memory in Singapore, I mean, it has no part in all of these sort of international connections, the Indian South Asian communities are marginalized from the national narrative. It has very little residence. It fits very largely in one book by a Singapore scholar - quite an interesting scholar - it's called "Absent Histories" and it begins with the Singapore Mutiny and it's got really good, you know, data in it. It tells the story in a very interesting way and it makes a big thing for this is a real story sort of calamity that sort of ushers in this new sort of age sort of politics and so forth, but the absent history it turns out is actually a semi-official history of the Singapore special branch, so the absent history is the heroic sort of rise of intelligent professionals to keep Singapore safe and that's really how its remembered. It's remembered by the military, by the need for sort of civil defence.
TH
It comes up on those kinds of websites and determines the military academies in the sort of national story, of Singapore story which is a pretty strong national narrative to this day, now beginning to be unravelled. It's not been much talked so that's why for me it's kind of convenient sort of starting point to sort of break open the box a little bit, you know. But it's a good question because I quite take your point that the memories of 1857 are so important to the story in 1915, it's sort of the great sort of connecting scenes but quite interesting when the INA, you know, is the International Army started in Singapore, I can't find any connections back to this early movement and it's not really vocalized because, of course, the men of 1942 don't see themselves as mutineers.
TH
They're not mutineers, they're freedom fighters so they don't harken back to this, and even though the man who was the first civilian leader of this national army who you probably know is this figure Rash Behari Bose, who's, you know, in Japan - everyone was trying to connect to him in Japan in February 1915 but even the rebels from 1942 don't make any connection back to this event. 1857, of course, is absolutely vital to this story but not to 1915 in the Singapore Mutiny, not much to gather at all.
So the British clearly saw this as, you know, they were shaken by this perceived threat and they develop the responses. How did the other colonial powers see...
TH
The fact that all of these Indian networks are moving to the Netherland's East Indies which is sort of neutral to - it's a faction that they are setting up for an intelligence bureau which actually becomes vast, these huge networks of native informants, I mean, there are local reasons for it but it happens the French region wide security apparatus is called the Sureté Generale and that's founded in 1915, explicitly its brief is to watch the sea lanes, and the borders, and these overseas communities. So there's a - I mean, it becomes concerted as well because these people, the case of Abdul Salim, the Dutch and British sharing information, there's a beginning of a sort of international sort of policing order,
TH
which the Thais are a part of, even at this point the Japanese kind of encourage to be a part, in sort of policing all of this. The Japanese sort of dropout of it by the middle of the 1920s but it's not too fanciful to see a sort of grid of international policing which makes it kind of interesting for the story because you can triangulate the story of these people from very different, you know, sort of colonial archives. There's, you know, the telling of this story - there's lot in the Dutch, there's an awful lot in the Dutch archives about this. So, yeah.
Thank you very much.
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