'Shameful forms of oppression': Anglo-American activism and the slow decline of Chinese indentured labour in British North Borneo, 1920s-1940s
This article analyses the controversy that surrounded the employment of Chinese-indentured labourers on the rubber estates of British North Borneo during the 1920s and 1930s. Using North Borneo as a case study, the article seeks to challenge the assertion made by historians that Chinese indenture had been abolished by the 1920s. I argue that Chinese-indentured workers made up a significant component of the workforce until the 1940s. My study of British North Borneo is part of a project that seeks to historicise the abolition of Chinese indenture across the Asia-Pacific region. While there is a wealth of rich work on the emergence of Chinese-indentured labour in the nineteenth century, analysis of the processes by which it was abolished have been neglected. The case of North Borneo brings to light the role of British and American activists in the anti-indenture movement and the resistance work of the Chinese labourers themselves. The article contests the assumption that the end of indenture was straightforward, highlighting the fractured and fragmentary process of abolition. It suggests the need to reconsider existing timelines associated with indenture globally which indicate that this form of labour recruitment was all but over by the early twentieth century.