EMPIRE'S END by John Keay


A History of the Far East from High Colonialism to Hong Kong


 An absorbing, anecdotal overview of the West's protracted imperial involvement in the Pacific Basin, which will end when Great Britain quits Hong Kong at midyear 1997. Keay (The Honorable Company, 1994) focuses on the colonial enterprises of France, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US in Greater East Asia, a vast if fragmented oceanic domain encompassing mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and other outposts of empire. Providing background enough to clarify how the industrial powers came by their offshore territories, he tracks the frequently chaotic, often bloody history of erstwhile possessions from the 1930s through independence. From recalling the postOpium Wars emergence of Hong Kong as a counting house for the storied traders operating out of China's so-called treaty ports, the author segues gracefully into an interpretive account of how the UK's 1930 departure from an all-but-forgotten enclave called Weihaiwei facilitated its subsequent disengagements. Keay goes on to document how withdrawal proved less simple for the French (whose entrenched presence in Indochina had more to do with prestige than mercantilism), the Dutch (the first Europeans to settle in the region), and the nominally anti-imperialist Americans (effectively disoriented by their acquisition of the Philippines in the wake of a brief conflict with Spain). Covered as well are the convulsive effects of WW II and the postwar period's upheavals, exacerbated by fears that Marxist liberation fronts would fill any vacuums created by the untidy process of decolonization. An estimable and literate briefing on a once-captive area that promises to play an important role in the Global Village's socioeconomic future. (16 pages b&w photos, maps, not seen)

Pub Date: May 9th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-81592-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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