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History of the British Empire (1815-1914)

This guide provides links to primary and secondary sources related to the History of the British Empire.

British Empire in East & Southeast Asia

This page provides links to historical primary sources on the British Empire in East and Southeast Asia. As in other pages of this guide, you should note that most of the sources here were created by and for the British themselves, and so must be read with a critical eye. If you can read East Asian languages, there are many more primary sources that you may be able to consult. 

  • China
    Chinese products such as tea, porcelain and silks had become an integral part of British culture by the 1700s. To obtain them, the British developed a trade in opium and forced the Chinese to give them concessions in port cities. Hong Kong was the only Chinese city that became a direct colony of Britain, remaining in its possession until 1997. 
  • Southeast Asia
    The largest British colony in Southeast Asia was in Burma, which bordered the easternmost states of British India. Although British interest in the region went back hundreds of years, they generally did not administer colonies in this area directly. Instead, they worked through local trade concessions and private companies to control politics and business. 
    Note: This section is under construction; in the meantime, search HathiTrust for related publications and Hansard for Parliamentary Debates & Speeches.
    • Borneo island: Brunei, Labuan, Sarawak & North Borneo (now parts of Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia)
    • Burma
    • Malaya (now Singapore & Malay Peninsula)
    • Moluccas (also known as the Spice Islands; now the Maluku Islands of Indonesia)
      An island chain coveted by European powers for centuries; the original source of nutmeg and cloves.
    • Siam (now Thailand)