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.
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.
Boxer Rebellion, 1899-1901
This was an uprising against European & American foreigners in China, particularly missionaries. In Anglo-American sources, the uprising was portrayed as a "Christian martyrdom." The naming of Pacific's mascot, Boxer, is also connected to this event.
Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, 1868-1911: the most popular English-language magazine written by and for missionaries in China. The articles from 1899-1901 covered the uprising as it was happening.
Royal Asiatic Society Journals - this was the foremost British scholarly publication on Asian history, literature and culture. Its articles tended to focus on India but also covered China and other areas of Asia. They show how British academics were attempting to understand, collect and classify Asian cultures.
Canton (now Guangzhou)
Canton was originally the only port where the Chinese Empire allowed trade with Europeans. The British (and several other European countries) had trading concessions in Canton from the 1600s through early 1800s. After the First Opium War ended in 1842, Canton became one of five port cities where the British held concessions.
The Chinese Empire Illustrated, book published 1859 containing: "a succinct account of the history of China; a narrative of British connexion with that nation, the Opium war of 1840, and full details of the causes and events of the present war."
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)
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.