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Governing Shōnan: The Japanese Administration of Wartime Singapore

Eaton, Clay

The Japanese military administration of Southeast Asia during the Second World War was meant to rebuild the prewar colonial system in the region under strong, centralized control. Different Japanese administrators disagreed over tactics, but their shared goal was to transform the inhabitants of the region into productive members of a new imperial formation, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Shōnan, the wartime name for Singapore, was meant to be the center of this Co-Prosperity Sphere in Southeast Asia. It was the strategic fulcrum of the region, one of its most important ports, and a center of culture and learning for the wartime Japanese. Home to thousands of Japanese administrators during the war and a linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse local population, Shōnan was a site of active debates over the future of the Sphere. Three assumptions undergirded these discussions: that of Japanese preeminence within the Sphere, the suitability of “rule by minzoku (race)” for Southeast Asians, and the importance of maintaining colonial social hierarchies even as Japanese administrators attempted to put the region on a total war footing. These goals were at odds with each other, and Japanese rule only upended social hierarchies and exacerbated racial tensions. The unintended legacy of the wartime empire lay, not only in the new opportunities that Japanese rule afforded to Southeast Asian revolutionaries, but in the end of the politics of accommodation with imperial power practiced by prewar Asian elites. The result of Japanese rule under the Co-Prosperity Sphere was the emergence of a new, confrontational form of politics that made it impossible to return to prewar colonial practice. Even in Singapore, the bastion of British power in Southeast Asia, Japanese rule undermined the Asian foundation that Western imperialism had been built on.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Gluck, Carol
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 21, 2018
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