The New Social History of the Malayan Emergency, 1948–60: Locating and Decentring the State in Malaya’s New Villages

Amrita Malhi

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Abstract

Tan Teng Phee’s Behind Barbed Wire is an excellent, meticulously researched book that should transform the way scholars understand both the social history, and the historiography, of the Malayan Emergency (1948-60). In this work, Tan sets out in full detail the British colonial state’s rationale for establishing an expansive network of more than five hundred detention camps – or New Villages – under the Emergency’s Briggs Plan. In addition to this important contribution, Tan also explains the gruelling reality of life inside the camps for the 570,000 or more mostly Chinese Malayans whose social, political, and economic roles – and private, internal lives – the state coercively reconstructed inside them. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s work on governmentality, and James C. Scott’s work on the hidden transcripts and weapons of the weak, Tan’s book also lays the groundwork for a new wave of work on the Emergency. Thanks to Tan, future scholars are now by far better equipped to examine sensitive questions such as how and why Malayans experienced the Emergency in a racially differentiated manner, and the role the Emergency played in constructing Malaya’s “consociational” politics, creating a specific path to Malayan decolonisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443–460
Number of pages18
JournalBandung: Journal of the Global South
Volume10
Issue number3
Early online date13 Oct 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Malaya
  • Emergency
  • New Villages
  • Camps
  • Briggs Plan
  • History
  • Decolonisation

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