Chinese elites, hill stations and contested racial discrimination in interwar colonial Malaya and the Philippines

Publication Name

Journal of Historical Geography


This article analyses the experiences of Chinese elites who sought access to the hill stations of Malaya and the Philippines. Using a comparative and trans-imperial method, it highlights the particular ways in which colonial categories of race and class influenced the development of hill stations. The comparative approach also allows for consideration of how social exclusion on colonial hill stations changed over time and in contrasting ways in the Philippines and Malaya. Baguio was promoted by the Americans as a Filipino place where all nationalities were welcome, provided they had the means to make the trip. Manila's Chinese merchant class and wealthy Chinese visitors from overseas regularly made the trek up the Central Cordillera Mountains. In contrast, the Malayan hill stations of Fraser's Hill and the Cameron Highlands were developed for use by British colonists. This was controversial, with Chinese elites condemning the amount of the public money spent on developing these hill stations and insisting upon their right to climate respite. By the mid-1930s, the idea of racially exclusive hill station was beginning to be broken down in Malaya. In contrast in Baguio, overt forms of racial discrimination targeting the Chinese community were emerging in the context of heighted Filipino nationalism and claims of Chinese economic competition.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Number

OA-HI 2022

Funding Sponsor

National University of Singapore



Link to publisher version (DOI)