Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series)

Research Article

Eurasians in British Asia during the Second World War

Joint Winner of the Sir George Staunton Prize


a1 University of Cambridge

One of the most important minorities in the British colonial empire in Asia consisted of those of mixed European and Asian parentage and/or ancestry, or Eurasians, as they were widely known. It is perhaps surprising that despite the voluminous literature written about British colonial communities in the East, relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to Eurasians and their histories. A closer examination of the members of this marginalised colonial category is nevertheless crucial as they stood at the problematic boundaries of racial politics and identity, and are therefore vital to our understanding of the tensions of empire. The few existing studies of Eurasians in British Asia have tended to focus on the experiences of Eurasians either before or after the Second World War, neglecting the period of Japanese occupation as a significant epoch in the evolution of these communities. In reality, if we intend to unravel the multi-layered history of Eurasians in this region, we must examine the critical position of these colonial communities during this tumultuous period. The nuances of their intriguing wartime relationships with both the British and the Japanese also merit serious attention. With these aims in mind, this article will investigate the compelling experiences of Eurasian communities in Japanese-occupied British Asia, with an especial focus on those who were incarcerated by the Japanese in civilian internment camps in Hong Kong and Singapore.