*Massacre in Malaya*

by on March 10, 2014 at 2:38 am in Books, Economics, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

The author is Christopher Hale and the subtitle is the rather misleading Exposing Britain’s My Lai.

The first fifth of this book is in fact the best short early economic history of Malaysia and Singapore I know, even though the focus of the book as a whole is on one colonial event, namely the 1948 Batang Kali massacre during the post-war Malayan Emergency.  The next section is a superb treatment of the Japanese occupation and the political issues leading up to that occupation.  This book reflects a common principle, namely that often, to learn a topic, you should read a book on an adjacent but related topic, rather than pursue your preferred topic directly.  The book on the adjacent topic often will take less background knowledge for granted and explain the context more clearly for what you actually wish to learn, while getting you interested in other topics along the way.

Just about every page of this book has useful and interesting information, here is one new word I learned:

The history of the ‘Malay World’ in the centuries before the momentous fall of Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511 is predominantly a convoluted narrative of maritime statelets, technically thalassocracies.

This one will make my best non-fiction of the year list.

1 Steve Sailer March 10, 2014 at 3:37 am

“The book on the adjacent topic often will take less background knowledge for granted and explain the context more clearly for what you actually wish to learn, while getting you interested in other topics along the way.”

Good point.

2 david March 10, 2014 at 6:01 am

In this particular case, there is the problem that the present ideological focus of Malaysia and Singapore does not involve reviving old narratives on the economy or old political grievances. When Malaysians are asked to think of the prospect of the Chinese being massacred, 13th May comes far, far before Batang Kali. The past is a foreign land, but even more so in Malaysia.

3 simon schuster March 10, 2014 at 11:20 am

“… you should read a book on an adjacent but related topic…”


…I’m keenly interested in a variety of topics, but find it difficult to read more than 50,000-60,000 books per year on my primary topics. Time is scarce for books on related adjacent topics.

Google estimates there are 134 Million current books available to American readers. Any rational book “recommendations” should therefore recognize that big-picture of book-supply versus personal-consumption capability & demand.

Also, books tend to be a cumbersome, inefficient method of communication. Most are bloated with extraneous information; the book format motivates authors towards expansive communication, rather than the concise and precise. Bloggers & essayists do better overall IMO.

4 Steve Sailer March 10, 2014 at 3:39 am


Is there a comparable word for river-based rather than sea-based states, like the Viking (Varangian) role in the Kievan Rus?

5 Pierre March 10, 2014 at 3:52 am

Technically it would be called a potamocracy, even though the word is not historical.

6 Steve Sailer March 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm


7 Chip March 10, 2014 at 4:40 am

The incident involved the deaths of 24 villagers. Up to 500 were killed at My Lai along with gang rapes and mutilations.

The Malayan killings also occurred just three years after a global war that killed tens of millions, including tens of thousands of civilians killed by the British in a single night of bombing over Germany.

None of which resulted in a series if investigations over many decades as the Malaya incident did.

When an author makes a wildly disproportionate comparison with no awareness of historical context in order to sell a book, I tend to keep walking.

8 prior_approval March 10, 2014 at 6:06 am

So, the study of Greek city states is not really something that GMU economists care much about?

And really, who reads Herodotus anymore these days anyways.

9 Thor March 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Well, someone is buying Herodotus’ Histories, so you are somewhat off base.

The big Landmark edition came out not too long ago (5 years). Hackett are doing an edition. Tom Holland’s translation is due out this spring. This is not to mention the scholarly editions, as these three are meant to appeal to a broad audience.

10 dearieme March 10, 2014 at 6:57 am

It’s striking that the two paras on “background” at that WKPD link don’t mention the most striking feature of the background, namely that the insurgents/terrorists/heroes of the proletariat (what would we call them nowadays?) were Communists, and overwhelmingly Chinese. The Malays on the whole didn’t much care for them. Whether the village concerned was a Chinese or Malay settlement I don’t know, but either way it would be better if WKPD had reported that too, so that one could compare the incident with the “background”.

11 anon March 10, 2014 at 10:59 am

The 20th century event that left the biggest impression on my Malaysian in-laws was the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in WWII.

12 dearieme March 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

My wife met a Malaysian who said how highly her old mother had thought of the British era. “Why?” “Because my mother could remember the Japanese.”

13 Roy March 11, 2014 at 4:41 am

I wonder how much of this is because British rule in Malaya, outside of Singapore and Penang, was indirect rule. The vast majority of Malays were governed by Malay sultans under British suzerainty.

14 nike air max 95 March 13, 2014 at 3:17 am

The Dalai clique takes for granted that with the backing of the only superpower in the world, there is hope for so-called “Tibet independence.” In fact, the U.S. has not met all of the Dalai Lama’s demands.

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