Understanding My Roots Through A Short History of South-East Asia

A Short History of South East Asia, Peter Church

It’s high time I do something about my (lack of) knowledge of the region in which I grew up. I gathered there could be no better way to do so than to read a concise summary of South-East Asia. This is the reason why books like that of ‘A Short History of South-East Asia‘ could become bestsellers: because of sporadic people like me who suddenly woke up to a time when everything that could have happened has already happened – without any realisation that they happened at all.

This piece was originally written to equip potential business-makers keen on venturing further into South-East Asia with vital knowledge of its contemporary history. In so doing, it subtly uncovered revealing trends, both within and among the various sovereign states. Adding to this was an insightful assessment of the impacts that past conflicts and events have had on these states, highlighting the common colonial influences on most, if not all, of the region, as well as the differences in terms of how and how much each of them has progressed with the modern world.

Each chapter contained within itself critiques that provoke the thinking mind. The whole of South-East Asia, less Thailand, was unable to escape from the hands of the colonial powers, and it was during this period of time when many new boundaries were drawn up. It has definitely given me a completely new perspective on why current territorial conflicts between governments pursue. Much as the 20th century has seen the whole world swear off another large-scale war, there has never been and will never be unmitigated peace in the world. This is one cruel yet most reliable truth in the world that mankind should learn to accept and deal with. There is no way we could wipe off the schisms that remain so deep-rooted in history, no matter how civilised society becomes.

The other gospel truth is that no society can be ‘perfect’ – to claim such a title of one’s own society is almost naive and delusive. Every society must be organised in a certain way, according to a certain system, which is in turn dictated by a few leaders whose ideals do not necessarily coincide with that of the people’s. Hypothetically, any leader who tries to assuage the multifarious desires of his people would probably end up adrift and incapacitated; one who rules like a tyrant could eventually meet the inevitable fate of abdication through mutinous means of revolt working up from the bottom of the power hierarchy, as is reminiscent of the recent uprising in Egypt. As for political ideologies, most of us have gone through a period of time long enough to witness the failures of socialism, not least communism; neither has democracy proven itself a luminous panacea against the evils of radical leftists.

Putting aside the upheavals and unrest that trace the turbulent yesteryear of South-East Asia, there still remains a silver lining which marks the hopes for our future in the region. If I could be permitted to express my patriotic views here, it is that I am proud of the achievements Singapore has made in her 46 years of independence, given the dire situation she was in back in 1965. ‘Illiberal liberalism’ is how many would term the way our nation is ruled in the present days – probably with a proclivity for the former of the paradoxical term. Notwithstanding the fact that strikes and public speeches are vehemently prohibited by law, the lack of full-frontal collision of any of the masses with our leaders points to the fact that most of us are comfortable with what we have, though  the ‘more is always better’ heartlander mentality still precedes. At the very least, I am glad I do not have to worry about basic subsistence in the Lion City. This is perhaps more than I should ask for in a world of unabating turmoil.

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