D – Transregional connections and entangled regions

Tackling coerced labour regimes in Asia: Towards a comparative model

Event Details

  • Date

    Thursday, 25 June - 13:00 – 15:00

    Thursday, 25 June - 15:30 – 17:30

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    D – Transregional connections and entangled regions
Convenor
  • Kate Ekama (Stellenbosch University)
  • Matthias van Rossum (International Institute of Social History)
Chair
  • Matthias van Rossum (International Institute of Social History)
Commentator
  • Matthias van Rossum (International Institute of Social History)
Panelists
  • Samuel Bass (Indiana University Bloomington)
  • Sanjog Rupakheti (College of the Holy Cross)
  • Lisa Hellman (University of Bonn)
  • Amal Shahid (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)
  • Mònica Ginés-Blasi (Open University of Catalonia)
  • Alessandro Stanziani (École des hautes études en sciences sociales)
  • Kate Ekama (Stellenbosch University)

Papers

  • Samuel Bass
    Offerings for the Holy Everlasting: Manumission through Monastic Estates in Qing Mongolia

    Offerings for the Holy Everlasting: Manumission through Monastic Estates in Qing Mongolia

    Slavery in Qing Mongolia (1691-1911) followed patterns familiar in other parts of early modern Asia: enslavement resulted from captivity during war, being sold or traded to someone (excluding dowry and bride wealth exchanges), as punishment or as a proxy for someone facing punishment, and most commonly, being born into slavery. Release from enslavement occurred through adoption, community integration as a taxpayer, or being offered to a Buddhist estate as a parishioner. Placing systems of slavery and unfree labor in Qing Mongolia into a global early modern comparative framework, this paper shows Mongolian enslavement generally conformed to the “open” type of slavery, but that generational slavery, or the stigma of slavery, persisted through the use of genealogical records. Based on testamentary records from the treasury of the central Buddhist estate of Outer Mongolia, this paper uses examples of people-as-offerings to describe some general features of slavery in eighteenth century Mongolia and the process of exiting slavery. Previous scholarship maintains that slavery in Mongolia was not based commodity exchange but was rather part of a family system rooted in ecologically determined labor forms (nomadic pastoralism), yet the evidence from testamentary and other archival sources suggests that this was not the case; enslaved people were bought and sold, and exit from slavery as an offering was also a commodity exchange. Exit from slavery through ecclesiastical estates was distinctive to Mongolian Buddhism (as far as I know), and so this research not only contributes to the study of comparative slavery regimes in Asia, but also the relationship between religious institutions and slavery.
  • Sanjog Rupakheti
    Familial State: Politics of Slavery in Nepal

    Familial State: Politics of Slavery in Nepal

    At a time when slavery threatened to dissolve and break apart the United States, it became a pivotal tool in organizing and consolidating a familial state in the Himalayan foothills. This presentation, using previously unseen archival records, interrogates how and why the rigidification of slavery came at a particular moment. Before 1846, regardless of caste affiliations, slaves were considered intimate members of a household and central to the power structures of the clan. After 1846, the Rana state codified new notions of purity, caste status, and marriage rules that made lower caste groups increasingly liable to enslavement. All these ambitions were subsequently given the legal and administrative footings in a 1400 page long synthesis known as the Ain of 1854. By making slave labor available for the various projects of state making through direct interventions in the realms of social and sexual lives of the diverse population, the edifice of a ‘Hindu’ state was constructed in Nepal. The centrality of law in the making of slave regime in Nepal throws up two key issues for scholars of South Asia which can be studied comparatively. First, we can understand the meanings and conditions of slavery only if we speak about the particulars of the owning households and their politics in any given time and place. Second, far from having begun with a traditional Hindu state, a family grew into both its ‘Hinduness’ and its ‘state’ power as a result of a legal codification and privatization of slave labor.
  • Lisa Hellman
    Central Asia: contending empires and overlapping systems of coercion

    Central Asia: contending empires and overlapping systems of coercion

    The history of slavery has long suffered from the dual Eurocentric bias of labour being based on a narrow northern European wage labour model and slavery primarily bringing to mind the images of Atlantic chattel slavery dispersed by the abolitionist movement. Re-centring that story to Asia, and approaching the history of slavery as a comparative history based on endemic categories, offers not only a broader understanding of coercion but also the key role it played – both within societies and in inter-regional entanglements. Few areas can demonstrate this as well as early modern Central Asia. Over the course of the 17th and 18th century, Russia, the Ming and eventually the Qing empire, Tibet, and a number of the nomadic and seminomadic polities had claims on the Central Asian borderlands. All of these polities and groups had their own notions of what it was to be enslaved and free, and very different strategic use of coercion, including large-scale forced migration and coerced labour ranging from the steppe to the imperial courts. This is particularly clear in the case of the Dzungar empire, that made parallel use of Central Asian notions of high officials being ‘slaves’ to the Khan and foreign coerced labour within for example metallurgy that were not place within that same regime. As study of the conflicts and is forced migrations in the Central Asian borderlands does not only illuminate the many parallel regimes of labour coercion that existed in Asia, but also how these regimes clashed, overlapped –and potentially affected each other.
  • Amal Shahid
    Re‘constructing’ Labour Relations: Coercion and Agency in Famine Relief-based Public Works Construction in Colonial India c.1860-1920

    Re‘constructing’ Labour Relations: Coercion and Agency in Famine Relief-based Public Works Construction in Colonial India c.1860-1920

    This paper will examine coercion and agency of labour employed on public works as part of famine relief efforts by the colonial state. In the latter half of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century, the Indian subcontinent was wrought with frequent famines. Besides charitable relief, relief to the affected population was provided by the state through employment on public works such as roads, canals and railways. Discussing working conditions, wages, recruitment and colonial relief policies, the paper explores how the degrees of coercion varied in famine times. In the context of Indian history has been assumed all labour had been unfree until colonial intervention. Indian historiography has disputed this, but assumes agrarian labour relations were replicated in the industrial context: that is, the labour recruiter becomes the key figure in coercive labour relations, whether on plantations or in industries. This paper aims to compare and contrast coercion in labour employment in non-famine working conditions with famine times when the position of the intermediary became more negotiable. Coexistence of workers, both free and unfree, was a consequence of the complexities of imperialism, famines and economic changes. The paper hence elucidates the grey area between freedom and coercion by also looking at instances of labour agency, thereby questioning the distinction between the two concepts that has remained undisputed in Indian history. Therefore, the paper holds implications for current discussions on freedom and coercion in formal and informal economies in the global south.
  • Mònica Ginés-Blasi
    The ‘Coolie Trade’ via South East Asia: Exporting Chinese Indentured Labourers to Cuba through the Spanish Philippines

    The ‘Coolie Trade’ via South East Asia: Exporting Chinese Indentured Labourers to Cuba through the Spanish Philippines

    This paper studies the alternatives which the Spaniards explored for eluding international condemnation, regulations and restrictions imposed upon the coolie trade when the trafficking of emigrants to Cuba became stagnant in the South China coast. I will focus on the use of Philippine routes to disguise the transport of indentured labourers as free emigration. This is a subject which has remained unexplored despite its potential to analyse Chinese emigration to Cuba and to the Philippines in comparative perspective and, thus, take part in current debates regarding the range of conditions in which people enter bondage. The Spanish government authorized the emigration of Chinese emigrants to Cuba from Manila in 1868, a moment which coincides with a strong decline in the shipment of Chinese indentured labourers to Havana. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Chinese who went to Manila, unlike their Cuban counterparts, were recruited by Chinese and departed without contracts. The embarkation to the Philippines was done at a small scale and using cargo ships. This was because exporting labourers to the Philippines at a bigger scale with ships prepared exclusively for their transport by foreign capitalists resulted in revolts and international condemnation, as had happened with the shipment of coolies straight to Latin America.
  • Alessandro Stanziani
    Slavery, war captives and serfs in early modern Russia

    Slavery, war captives and serfs in early modern Russia

    Serfdom in Russia can be hardly understood apart from the evolution of forms of bondage in Muscovy and Central Asia between the fourteenth and the early eighteenth century. The existence of slavery in Russia is little known outside the circle of pre-Petrine Russia specialists, despite slavery’s importance not only for Russian but also for global history, e.g., the link between slavery and serfdom; the relationship, on the lengthy Russian history of bondage (most prominently slavery and serfdom) to the gulag; last but not least, bondage as testimony to the Mongol influence on Russia or, viceversa, as a response to European world expansion. Answers to these questions are unavailing without careful analysis of slavery in pre-modern Russia. Such investigation must focus on war captives, domestic slaves and bonded people in their historical definitions and overlapping.
  • Kate Ekama
    Boundaries of bondage: enslavement and ‘enslaveability’ in Dutch Ceylon

    Boundaries of bondage: enslavement and ‘enslaveability’ in Dutch Ceylon

    When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) conquered Colombo from the Portuguese, they inherited, among other legacies, slave-ownership in the city. Of course this was not foreign to the company, which not only condoned slave-ownership among the populations of its towns and factories, but was itself involved in the trade and transport of human cargo around the Indian Ocean and a corporate slave-holder in its own right. This form of commodified, legal slavery existed alongside other forms of coerced labour, including debt slavery and caste-based obligations. As ruler and judge, the VOC in coastal Ceylon regulated enslavement and defined ‘enslaveability’ via its ordinances. These regulations were promulgated at a local level to augment the Statutes of Batavia which applied across the VOC’s empire. The ordinances, called Plakkaten, touched on all aspects of slavery on the island from importation and transportation of the enslaved, to concubinage and sumptuary laws. The focus of this paper will be those regulations which dealt with enslaveability, that is, company regulations on who could and could not be enslaved and how. Not only will this illuminate entrances into ‘European’ or commodified slavery in the specific context of Ceylon, but it will also highlight the intersection points of forms of bonded labour, where exit from one coercive regime could conceivably mean entrance into another. This paper is based on a close analysis of legal sources, namely the plakkaten. As reactive regulations they give insight both into what was happening on the island, and the company’s attempts to ‘remedy’ undesirable situations via the publicised rules and imposed punishments for transgressors. In the context of multiple forms of coerced labour existing on the island, the company’s rule book can be read in terms of the intersections and entanglements between labour regimes, availability and mobility of labour.

Abstract

The challenge of understanding simultaneously the commonalities and differences of regimes of coerced labour has recurred time and again in the study of slavery, serfdom, and other forms of labour coercion. Whereas one approach to this challenge has been to bring the many variants of coerced labour into a single broad category of ‘bondage’, other approaches tend to juxtapose forms of slavery and forms of serfdom. The difficulties in creating a clear differentiating and at the same time unifying analytical model have led some scholars to conclude that “no single definition has succeeded in comprehending the historical varieties of slavery or in clearly distinguishing the institution from other types of involuntary servitude” (Davis 1988, 32). This panel seeks to contribute to this enduring challenge by inviting contributions to an inductive global-historical comparative agenda that aims to detect characteristics, differences and commonalities through in-depth analysis (or thick descriptions) of different coercive labour regimes. It departs from the notion that we should aim to understand the different variants within the context of ‘the whole praxis of coerced labor’, not in order to bring them together in one broad category of bondage, but in order to ‘identify clearly the differences and similarities between various forms of exploitation and repression’ (Van der Linden 2016, 294, 322). The contrasts, at the same time, were also not clear-cut, as forms of slavery on the one hand extended to variations of caste- and land-based slavery, which showed similarities to corvée and serfdom regimes, while serfdom regimes on the other hand could at times allow for hiring and selling subjects in ways comparable to slavery. Recent studies for the Indian Ocean and Indonesian Archipelago worlds, as well as for Central and East Asia, indicate that forms of commodified slavery were widespread, and were fuelled by networks of slave trade that stretched across these regions. Research also indicates that commodified forms of slavery existed side by side and interacted with different forms of non-commodified bondage, most importantly corvée, caste- and debt-based slavery. This makes it important to not only understand why slavery occurred, but to understand in a more comparative and contextualized way why specific forms or regimes of labour coercion occurred, and, in a wider sense, why specific regimes developed less or disappeared in specific contexts, and/or why such regimes occurred in specific combinations. Building on meetings in Amsterdam (2016), Kalmar (2017) and Lyon (2019), the panel is part of a network that aims to further the study of coerced labour and relocation in Asia by developing a framework to enhance the study of comparisons and connections. A first set of common elements for inquiry has been formulated building upon and combining models focussed on the three ‘moments’  of coercion in entry, work and exit (Van der Linden); the classical model of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ systems of slavery (Watson; Reid; Ward); the proposed distinction between coercive regimes based on the method of binding through mobilizing or localizing mechanisms (Van Rossum); and the notion of slaveries as defined by partial or complete availability or Verfugbarkeit of people’s bodies (Miller; Mann). To facilitate discussion and systematize comparisons, panellists are encouraged to develop thick-descriptions of different coerced labour regimes, while addressing a set of common questions regarding to 1) the origins and entrances of bonded or enslaved people; 2) the method of binding; 3) the function or aim of the coerced labour regime; 4) the regulation and praxis of alienability; 5) as well as of assimilability of the enslaved or bonded people; 6) and the possible legal or illegal exits. Papers (ca. 5.000w; deadline 1 June 2020) are pre-circulated amongst participants.