In Kuala Lumpur, the case of an anarchist bomb we mentioned that was planted there on Friday morning, 23 January 1925  was not forgotten. The police maintained a small museum in which fragments of the bomb, and a (no doubt apocryphal) queue of hair torn off the head of a worker in the blast, were on display.1 The principal victim, Daniel Richards, returned some months later to a humdrum career that lasted another ten years. Across Asia, it seemed that the long crisis sparked by the first violent assaults on the empire in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war had been extinguished and order restored. British residents in Malaya resumed their tropical idyll, presiding over an economic and racial hierarchy in which, in their mind’s eye, each community knew its place, and politics was the work of disruptive outsiders. The government honed its formidable powers to arrest and banish ‘undesirables.’ Between 1928 and 1931, the annual number of banishments from British Malaya averaged 1,500 and continued to rise after that.2 Wilfred Blythe, the bobbed-haired woman’s other target, became one of the empire’s leading authorities on the Chinese underworld; he developed a Chinese pathology as being innately conspiratorial, governed by what he later termed a ‘secret society complex.’3 In this way, in the imperial imagination the distinction between the political and the criminal was dissolved, often into the shadowy figure of the terrorist or assassin. The repertoire and vocabulary of state violence developed in this period proved to be one of its most ubiquitous legacies. 

The myth of the absence of politics was shared across colonial Asia. In the Indies, the Dutch called the zaman normal, a return to ‘normal time’, or rather the pretence of it.4 Normal time revived the illusion that colonial governments could dictate political futures. Imperial regimes never provided an adequate answer to the question as to what precisely was on offer for colonial subjects who still sought to work within the system and its laws. The reality was, in most cases, far less than was offered earlier. The ideal of an imperial citizenship had been fatally undermined by racial exclusion and by the war. Reform plans for British India, mooted in a series of meetings between Gandhi and the viceroy, Lord Irwin, in 1931, gestured towards constitutional reform. But by the time they were finally implemented in 1935, they had become a tactic of ‘holding India to the empire’ by a Conservative government.5 Colonial policy often sought to revive royal legitimacy, as in the case of Vietnam through the young emperor, Bao Dai, who returned in 1932. Many British in Asia still believed the Malay sultans and Indian princes to be the people's natural leaders. The colonialism of the 1930s was shot through with nostalgia, for an exotic Indochine of the imagination, for the ‘real’ Malaya, for the ‘Tempo Doeloe’, the luminous ‘olden times’ of colonial Java.6 This was a way by which European expatriates faced their racial anxieties, distanced themselves from the violence of colonial rule and its consequences, and grieved for a world they had themselves destroyed.7

If a façade of order was restored, it was only because it was buttressed by the armoury of emergency or ‘exorbitant’ powers that colonial regimes had accumulated during the crisis years and now retained in perpetuity.8 They put a face to the enemy, and worked ever more in concert to maintain a cordon sanitaire against the ‘contagion’ of Bolshevism. In the months after the uprising in the Netherlands Indies, its head of intelligence, A. E. van der Lely, steadily embellished a narrative that it was ordered directly by Moscow, and that Tan Malaka was its messenger. To the British in India Tan Malaka was ‘the Roy of Javanese Communism’. They saw M. N. Roy himself, despite having what David Petrie termed a ‘singularly barren record the most capable and ‘dangerous enemy of capitalism, landlordism and imperialism’.9 The French remained obsessed by the search for the enigmatic Nguyen Ai Quoc. The various colonial intelligence services produced strikingly similar hierarchical organizational charts of international communism. In 1928, the Malayan Bureau of Political Intelligence identified thirteen tiers, rising from local ‘cells’ to the controlling body; those drawn by the French and Dutch led them from the villages of Tonkin or Java directly back to Moscow Centre. The world was redrawn in two camps fighting a constant, secret battle for influence – insinuating, subverting, suborning – a ‘cold’ or ‘perpetual war’ in all but name.10 By 1928, it seemed to be one that the imperial powers were winning. The spaces in between sanctuary places exploited by global revolutionaries were ever fewer and more constricted. 

After the failure of the 1926–7 uprisings in Java and Sumatra, Tan Malaka made his way to Bangkok, where from its relative neutrality he tried to rally the underground around a new Partai Republik Indonesia (PARI). It distanced itself from both the Comintern and the defeated PKI: its watchwords were ‘self-help’ and ‘pan-Malayan’ solidarity. But the British and Dutch were rounding up his associates on both sides of the Straits of Malacca. In early August 1927, seeking a place of greater safety, Tan Malaka returned to the Philippines as ‘Hasan Gozali’. The British and Dutch governments lobbied the US authorities in Manila for his apprehension and extradition.11 On the evening of 12 August 1927, as Tan Malaka strolled on the Jones Bridge, after leaving the office of the newspaper El Debate, he was arrested and immediately placed under interrogation. But he was experienced in the shadow-boxing of such encounters; he realized that the Manila police had no evidence of his activities in Singapore and Siam and assumed he had been in the Philippines throughout the previous two years. He therefore pleaded that he was merely an indigent journalist – when his pockets were turned out he had only ten Singapore dollars and two pesos to his name – and claimed refugee status. He gave a reasonably accurate account of his life story, but denied any involvement with international communism or with politics in the Philippines.12 Meanwhile, leading public figures, including the president of Manila University, who had given him food and shelter, mobilized in his defence. The president of the Senate, Manuel L. Quezon, the man who had led the failed independence mission to Washington DC in 1919, insisted that ‘political refugees should find ample protection under the American Flag’.13 When the police, elated by their success in apprehending Tan Malaka, revealed that they were acting on information from the Dutch government, this backfired, provoking expressions of fury at the evidence of imperial collusion. Tan Malaka had committed no crime in the Philippines and was arrested without a warrant. To the nationalist press: 

Tan Malaka might be a Filipino patriot, of the generation of José Rizal, come to life. Today, his sufferings were the sufferings that our leaders of the movements of ’96 and ’98 endured in alien lands. We thus understand him, the processes of his thoughts, and the ideals that give him strength through all his misadventures.14 

Tan Malaka revealed that, in Rizal's manner, he was writing a novel to expose the sufferings of colonial rule. However, siding with the colonial government, the New York Times rejected the comparison: Rizal ‘never sailed under false colors, fought in the open and not a single soul can accuse him of deceit or duplicity’.15

All this only served to burnish Tan Malaka’s aura as the ghostly, all-powerful ‘red Javanese’.16 The arrest presented him with his first public platform since his time in the Netherlands. Asked at a customs bureau hearing if he was a Bolshevik, he replied: ‘Theoretically yes, but the aim must be subject to the limitations existing in each country.’17 Elaborating this ambiguity, he later announced: ‘I am not a Bolshevik. If love for one’s country shows tendency towards Bolshevism, then call me a Bolshevik.’18 Produced in court after an application for a writ of habeas corpus, Tan Malaka, ‘very serene’, ‘wearing a white suit, with a pair of tan shoes and pink socks’, achieved immediate celebrity. His diminutive figure was instantly recognizable in press photographs, sandwiched between police officers in court, or, after his release on bail, about town in the company of Filipino leaders. In flesh and blood he seemed a wholly benign figure. Political cartoons mocked official caricatures of him as a desperado. A conference was planned at which Tan Malaka promised to give a full account of himself. He was swiftly rearrested on a lesser charge of illegal entry, and, after a late-night meeting with Tan Malaka’s lawyer on 22 August, the American acting governor of the Philippines ordered his expulsion, thus avoiding the farce of a trial in open court. The next morning, Tan Malaka left Manila on a Filipino-owned ship, the Susana, to Xiamen's treaty port in Fujian province, China. Unlike his departure in exile from Java to the Netherlands in 1922, he was allowed to make a speech from the gangway: he denounced the ‘hidden forces’ working against him and declared that ‘the cause of 60,000,000 Javanese is the cause of 12,000,000 Filipinos’.19 Although he had avoided extradition to the Netherlands Indies, it was well known that the police of the small international concession at Xiamen were ready to intercept him. But the trap was sprung too soon and, at Xiamen, with the connivance of the ship’s captain, Tan Malaka evaded the police search, slipped over the side into a Chinese inspection boat and went into hiding, saved once again by the international solidarities of the waterfront.20

Some months later, Tan Malaka wrote to Manuel Quezon from the ‘Chinese Interior’. The letter was delivered by hand by a Chinese businessman of the Philippines, who had facilitated his escape and lodged him under the protection of a powerful local figure just north of Xiamen.21 In the letter, Tan Malaka reviewed the past and future struggle of the ‘Malayan peoples’, among which he placed those of the Philippines. Colonial rule had left them divided and defeated, but in the six years since his return from Europe he had observed how the Malay language had drawn the diverse communities of the archipelago together as ‘Malaysia as one body’. Although the revolts in Indonesia had ended in failure, people in Sumatra had acted in solidarity with those of Java, and Christians had shown sympathy with Muslims. Because of their geographical position and mineral resources, Indonesia and Malaya were destined to play a similar paramount role in Asia as had Britain in the industrializing west, but, unlike the British modus operandi, the goal of ‘pan-Malayanism’ would be attained without war or conquest. Even under current conditions there were steps towards the ‘federalist idea which can be put into practice’. Quezon, Tan Malaka respectfully acknowledged, had pursued independence by ‘pure diplomatic means’, but what if his people were ‘forced to the “next” available weapon’? ‘You are now reaching a crossroad Mr Quezon: on the right hand a peaceful and level way, with a colourless end, however on the left hand a mountain upward, which lead[s] to victory, prosperity and glory of the Malayan peoples.’22 It took nearly a year for the letter to reach Quezon and for him to reply. “I sympathise cordially with your national aspirations, since your cause and mine are the same,’ he wrote, ‘… I am sorry to say, however, that I can do absolutely nothing for you.’23 There was no certainty that Tan Malaka received the letter. His messengers were scattered across maritime Asia, hounded ever more closely by the police. A handful of disciples made their way secretly to Xiamen to be tutored by him. But their ability to influence events in Indonesia was limited.24 

As the revolutionary flotsam and jetsam from Canton, Shantou, Java and Sumatra dispersed, they slowly began to resurface in colonial territories that had largely stood aloof from events of 1926 and 1927. In Hong Kong there was an influx of some 200 political refugees from the collapse of the Canton commune, dodging police inspections at entry points and raids on hideouts. An underground railroad, organized hastily in a mood of rancour and recrimination, fed and clothe them and helped them escape onwards or find employment. For a time Hong Kong was the headquarters of the Communist Party in Guangdong, although, due to constant police harassment, offset only by bribery, this contributed little to building the movement within the colony itself.25 However, in Singapore and Malaya fugitives were able to inject experienced leadership into the local movement. They worked to repeat the united-front strategy that had failed in China through a Nanyang, or South Seas, General Labour Union – organized across different trades – and a Youth League.26 They put about aggressive propaganda advocating ‘Red terror’ to combat the Kuomintang and the British police's' White terror'. In February 1928, leading members of the new Kuomintang government, including its chief diplomatist, C. C. Wu, together with Sun Ke and Hu Hanmin, passed through Singapore on their way to Europe. As they were feted at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce on Hill Street a gunman opened fire at C. C. Wu, hitting the noted Straits Chinese reformer Lim Boon Keng. The man responsible was a veteran of the Canton commune who had broken out of jail there and taken flight to Singapore.27 The police drew a direct connection between him and the group behind Wong Sang’s bomb in Kuala Lumpur three years earlier. There were also still a large number of Indonesian communists floating around the British-controlled side of the Straits of Malacca, lying low as teachers and traders, or housed in seamen’s lodges. The Singapore Special Branch was alarmed when these strands began to connect as Malay-speaking Chinese started to mingle with internationalist-minded Malays. From Shanghai, inspired by the radical line brought back from Moscow by Li Lisan in 1930, the Chinese party began to see that the strength of the Nanyang movement lay in building bridges with other national struggles, in the expectation of leading them.28

Soon the Comintern sent out new emissaries. In November 1927, Ly Thuy, reassuming his identity as Nguyen Ai Quoc, was in Paris, perhaps not fully aware of the degree to which the Sûreté were following his movements. Anti-communist hysteria had taken hold in France itself, and Quoc shied away from old comrades. He passed through Brussels and Berlin, destitute and directionless. Then, in late April 1928, Quoc was given Comintern funds to return to Asia, and the following month travelled though Switzerland to take ship from Italy. He returned to the oldest settlements of the Vietnamese village abroad in Siam. From here there were well-trodden pathways through Bangkok to Hong Kong. Although the object of his mission was vague, Quoc brandished his Comintern status and began to gather together those who had graduated from his Revolutionary Youth League training in Canton, now scattered across Vietnam, Siam and China. Quoc’s approach was, as it had ever been, cautious. His presence and his credentials did not go unchallenged. Many Vietnamese activists who had been witness to the Canton commune and Hailufeng soviets argued for a more aggressive policy. Quoc was seen as high-handed, and his past work dismissed for its ‘patriotic parochialism’.29 Critics pointed to the harder line that was coming down from Moscow and Li Lisan in Shanghai, and they set up a new organization within Vietnam. Quoc managed to bring the various factions together in Hong Kong in a meeting between 3 and 7 February 1930. There he finally established a Vietnamese Communist Party and drew up a basic programme.30 But it was pre-empted by a groundswell of strikes and demonstrations. 

The disturbances began in Cochinchina in late January 1930 and were followed by a garrison mutiny at Yen Bai in Tonkin in February, led by a nationalist group, which was savagely repressed. After widespread May Day protests, the revolt became increasingly concentrated in Nguyen Ai Quoc’s home province of Nghe An and neighbouring Ha Tinh, a region known as Nghe Tinh. In the eyes of many observers, it was a traditional peasant protest: the global economic slump was beginning to bite, taxes had continued to rise, and the poor sought the restoration of lands and entitlements. But it was also a decisive break with the past, fired by the increased mobility of the young and the arrival of highly literate communist cadres who were emboldened to set up village-level party cells. By September, they began to seize government offices, attack the hated alcohol monopoly's warehouses, and establish village soviets. The French authorities deployed Foreign Legionnaires and airpower: in one airborne attack on demonstrators at a railway station near the provincial capital of Vinh, 174 people were killed and many more injured.31 The French also employed older punitive measures, such as torching villages, as well as ever-denser regimes of population registration and control of movement. In a brief lull, in the face of the controversy the repression had provoked in France, the soviets launched a second wave of more murderous attacks on officials. But they had neither arms nor military training, and in the face of immanent famine the resistance began to crumble. On one estimate that excludes those who died of starvation or in camps, 1,200 Vietnamese perished at the hands of the colonial government; the rebels themselves were responsible for around 200 deaths, only one of whom was a Frenchman.32 These sudden, incendiary events were eulogized by the party as a ‘revolutionary high tide’. Parallels were drawn with Marx’s verdict on the Paris Commune of 1871: it was bound to fail, yet a necessary prelude to something larger.33 But in many ways, not least in its anarchist ethos, it was the last, broken wave of the disturbances of 1925–27 across Asia.34

Nguyen Ai Quoc stood at a remove from this upheaval. He regretted that the movement was dominated by doctrinaire intellectuals who had failed to build a broader anti-imperial front. The Comintern summoned him from Hong Kong to Shanghai, where its Far Eastern Bureau was reasserting its authority and rebuilding its clandestine organization.35 He was censured for his scepticism. The Bureau renamed the Vietnamese Communist Party the Indochinese Communist Party, to reflect the entirety of the French territories and distance it from Quoc’s emphasis on national struggle. Quoc himself was despatched on a brief mission down the Malay Peninsula to attend one of the series of meetings of the Nanyang communist leaders, out of which was founded the Malayan Communist Party in April 1930. Quoc brought the message that the Chinese leaders of the party needed to work more closely with the Malays and Indonesians and overcome the ethnic fragmentation that Tan Malaka had identified in 1925.36 But the lines of communication were fragile. As early as the following spring, the Malayan party wrote plaintively to their Vietnamese comrades: ‘we [have] practically ceased our relationship for a year already … How sad it is.’37

In April 1931, a new man arrived in Singapore from Moscow. Travelling on a stolen French passport in the name of ‘Serge Lefranc’, he checked into the best place in town, Raffles Hotel, and, throwing around the 22,000 gold dollars he was carrying, set up a flat in New Mansions, Oxley Rise, and an office at Winchester House on Collyer Quay as a seller of sawmill tools and wines. ‘Lefranc’ had travelled from Vladivostok, calling first in Shanghai and then Hong Kong, where he stayed at the Savoy Hotel. His real name, the police soon discovered, was Joseph Ducroux. His revolutionary pedigree stemmed from the fact that he was bilingual in French and English, having worked for Thomas Cook in Paris and Marseilles, where he had come to the attention of both the French and British authorities for his support for the Rif rebels in Morocco and for his obstructed attempts to visit India. He then went to Moscow and was employed by the Comintern in two minor missions to China. He had worked with M. N. Roy, and his assignment to Singapore, he later claimed, was part of a plan to chart a new passage to India for the Comintern.38

In Hong Kong, his first task was to meet with Nguyen Ai Quoc: ‘a man of about forty years old at the time’, as Ducroux described him, ‘slender, very alert, almost beardless, with a serious and concentrated face’. Ducroux was struck by his intensity and his immaculate French, and saw in him the timeless paragon of a monkish ascetic absorbed solely in the struggle for freedom.39 The French police surmised that the two men had known each other in 1922–23 in France, when Ducroux was active in the Young Communists. Ducroux then made an oddly brief visit to Saigon and Hanoi, his first experience of a French colony, and arrived in Singapore, via Manila, in late April 1931. His mission lasted less than six weeks. The Singapore Special Branch had been tipped off by the French and watched Ducroux from the moment of his arrival. They staked out his office by renting the room opposite, suborned his servants and intercepted all his letters, including those to Quoc in Hong Kong. They were written in invisible ink of rice water, easily revealed by a tincture of iodine, employing a thin pseudonym that did not fool anyone.40 Ducroux was arrested on 1 June 1931 and his trial, the first of a European for communist subversion, was a local sensation. He was sentenced to eighteen months in jail; he began an appeal, but it was withdrawn and he was banished to Saigon, where the French authorities promptly rearrested him. Ducroux denied giving information to the police in Singapore, beyond disclosing his true identity; he was anxious to avoid unpleasant repercussions for the owner of his stolen passport, Serge Lefranc, a poultry dealer in Seine-et-Oise.41 

The Special Branch did not need Ducroux’s confession. After his arrest they rounded up and placed on trial some sixteen suspected communists, a number of whom had visited him and others who shared their lodgings.42 These included a close lieutenant of Tan Malaka. In Saigon, the Sûreté were able to arrest in one fell swoop almost the entire central leadership of the Indochinese Communist Party, which had relocated to the city in response to the Nghe Tinh soviets. Most explosively of all, on 15 June 1931, Ducroux’s telegrams to Shanghai led the Municipal Police to arrest their recipient, ‘Hilaire Noulens’, and his wife, and raid eight PO Boxes, seven other addresses, ten apartments and two offices. This exposed bank accounts and a cache of over 1,300 documents which provided hitherto elusive evidence of the legendary ‘Moscow gold’. Expenditure amounted to £9,500 a week, moving across Asia, as well as a monthly subvention to the Chinese Communist Party of 25,000 gold dollars. Hilaire Noulens first claimed for himself and his wife Belgian citizenship, then Swiss, under Ruegg’s name. Their true identity – Yakov Rudnik, a Georgian, and his Russian wife, Tatyana Moiseenko – was not publicly revealed at the time. They were sentenced to death by a Chinese court on 17 August 1932, but, in the face of a hunger strike by the Noulens from jail cells in Nanjing and an international campaign led by the League Against Imperialism, enlisting figures such as Albert Einstein, H. G. Wells and Madame Sun Yat-sen, this was later commuted to life imprisonment.43 This personal drama masked the extent to which there were other betrayals at work, and that the real force of the backlash, including ninety-five more raids and 276 arrests, fell on the Noulens’s local associates in Shanghai. Among those arrested was one of China’s earliest communists, Cai Hesen, who was betrayed in Hong Kong and swiftly extradited to Canton, where he was nailed to the wall of his cell and beaten and bayonetted to death. This provoked no international outcry. The ‘Noulens Affair’ was, for the British, a vindication of their anti-Bolshevik paranoia and of their adoption of the dark arts of secret policing.44


1. Straits Times, 14 February 1928. In the late-morning bustle, a young Chinese woman named Wong Sau Ying made her way towards the government bungalows at the lower end of the High Street. She was alone, dressed in a white jacket, black skirt, white shoes, and white stockings. She was carrying a small briefcase which she placed in front of Daniel Richards and his junior, Wilfred Blythe, who were seated at a table. ‘There is someone threatening me,’ she said in Cantonese dialect, the patois of the town, or so it seemed to Blythe’s ears. Richards asked what it was all about and she offered him the briefcase, saying that a friend had told her to give it to him. As she placed it on the table, Richards saw two ridges on the case, as if a tin had been squeezed into it. As she appeared to fumble with the catch, Richards noticed that there did not seem to be one on the case. She then withdrew her hands and stepped back slightly. She turned and spoke again, but almost immediately there was a loud explosion.

2. Alun Jones, ‘Internal Security in British Malaya, 1895–1942’, PhD thesis, Yale University, p. 129.

3. W. J. Blythe, The Impact of Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Historical Study, London, Oxford University Press, 1969.

4. Takashi Shiraishi, ‘A New Regime of Order: The Origin of Modern Surveillance Policies in Indonesia’, in James T. Siegel and Audrey Kahin (eds), Southeast Asia Over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O’G. Anderson, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press/SEAP Publications, 2003, pp. 47–74, at p. 47; Abidin Kusno, The Appearances of Memory: Mnemonic Practices of Architecture and Urban Form in Indonesia, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 182–200.

5. Carl Bridge, Holding India to the Empire: The British Conservative Party and the 1935 Constitution, New York, Envoy, 1986. 

6. For French colonial cultures see Kathryn Robson and Jennifer Yee, France and ‘Indochina’: Cultural Representations, Lanham, MD, Lexington Books, 2005; Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1996.

7. On this see Renato Rosaldo’s brilliant essay, ‘Imperialist Nostalgia’, Representations, 26 (1989), pp. 107–22.

8. A. W. Brian Simpson, ‘Round up the Usual Suspects: The Legacy of British Colonialism and the European Convention on Human Rights’, Loyola Law Review, 41/4 (1996), pp. 629–711; and for legacies see John Reynolds, Empire, Emergency and International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017; and on the idea of terrorism see the forthcoming work by Joseph McQuade. 

9. Home Department, Government of India, India and Communism, Revised up to the 1 January 1935, Simla, Government of India Press, pp. 106, 168.

10. A point well made by Heather Streets-Salter, ‘The Noulens Affair in East and Southeast Asia: International Communism in the Interwar Period’, Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 21/4 (2014), pp. 394–414.

11. Anne L. Foster, Projections of Power: The United States and Europe in Colonial Southeast Asia, 1919–1941, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 35–7; for more details of the arrest see Manila Bulletin, 15 August 1927.

12. Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, trans. and ed. Helen Jarvis, Athens, Ohio University Center for International Studies, 3 vols, 1991, vol. I, pp. 139–45.

13. Manila Bulletin, 16 August 1927.

14. The Tribune, 16 August 1927, quoted in Harry A. Poeze, Tan Malaka: Strijder Voor Indonesië’s Vrijheid: Levensloop van 1897 Tot 1945,’s-Gravenhage, Nijhoff, 1976, p. 372. 

15. New York Times, 16 August 1927, quoted in Poeze, Tan Malaka, p. 383.

16. Takashi Shiraishi, ‘Policing the Phantom Underground’, Indonesia, 63 (1997), pp. 1–46, esp. pp. 3–9.

17. Manila Bulletin, 16 August 1927. 18. Quoted in Poeze, Tan Malaka, p. 371. 19. Ibid., pp. 372–87.

20. Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, vol. I, pp. 149–59.

21. Philippines National Library, MLQ papers, series II, box 30, reel 11, Tan Malaka to Manuel L. Quezon, 1 May 1928.

22. Ibid., Tan Malaka to Manuel L. Quezon, 25 April 1928.

23. Ibid., Quezon to Tan Malaka, 1 April 1929.

24. Shiraishi, ‘Policing the Phantom Underground’.

25. Chan Lau Kit-ching, From Nothing to Nothing: The Chinese Communist Movement and Hong Kong, 1921–1936, London, Hurst, 1999, pp. 95–125. 

26. For a ‘third wave’ of Chinese activism see C. F. Yong, The Origins of Malayan Communism, Singapore, South Seas Society, 1997, p. 121. See also an important new study which appeared as this book was going to press: Anna Belogurova, The Nanyang Revolution: The Comintern and Chinese Networks in Southeast Asia, 1890–1957, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019, esp. pp. 32–47.

27. Yong, The Origins of Malayan Communism, pp. 113–14. 

28. Described in-depth in Belogurova, The Nanyang Revolution, pp. 48–80.

29. Tuong Vu emphasizes the bureaucratic nature of the tensions in Vietnam’s Communist Revolution: The Power and Limits of Ideology, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 65–67, Ha Hoy Tap quotation at p. 72.

30. Sophie Quinn-Judge, ‘Ideological Influences on the Revolutionary High Tide: The Comintern, Class War and Peasants’, South East Asia Research, 19/4 (2011), pp. 685–710.

31. There is a large literature on this in English. In addition to other cited articles, see William J. Duiker, ‘The Red Soviets of Nghe-Tinh: An Early Communist Rebellion in Vietnam’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 4/2 (1973), pp. 186–98; James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, New Haven, CT, and London, Yale University Press, 1976; Pierre Brocheux, ‘Moral Economy or Political Economy? The Peasants Are Always Rational’, Journal of Asian Studies, 42/4 (1983), pp. 791–803; Martin Bernal, ‘The Nghe-Tinh Soviet Movement 1930–1931’, Past and Present, 92 (1981), pp. 148–68. 

32. Bernal, ‘The Nghe-Tinh Soviet Movement 1930–1931’, figures at pp. 160–61.

33. Discussed by Bruce M. Lockhart, ‘The Nghệ Tĩnh Movement in Communist Party Historiography’, South East Asia Research, 19/4 (2011), pp. 711–35.

34. Roy Hofheinz Jr, The Broken Wave: The Chinese Communist Peasant Movement, 1922–1928, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1977.

35. Patricia Stranahan, Underground: The Shanghai Communist Party and the Politics of Survival, 1927–1937, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

36. Yong, The Origins of Malayan Communism, p. 130. There is considerable debate on the circumstances of the party’s funding; for an assessment of the evidence see Fujio Hara, ‘The Malayan Communist Party as Recorded in the Comintern Files’, Singapore, ISEAS Working Paper no. 1, 2016, pp. 48–59.

37. France, Archives nationales d'outre-mer (henceforth ANOM),Indo HCI/SPCE 369, Enclosure 1, G. Gorton to Nadaud, 2 June 1931.

38. Laurent Metzger, ‘Joseph Ducroux, a French Agent of the Comintern in Singapore (1931–1932)’, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 69/1 (1996), pp. 1–20.

39. I draw here on an excerpt of Ducroux’s unpublished memoir, headed ‘Singapour’ and dated 16 September 1970. This is from the personal collection of Sophie Quinn-Judge and I am most grateful to her for providing me with a copy.

40. ANOM, Indo HCI/SPCE 365, ‘Lettre écrite à encre sympathique (eau de riz) et révélée avec de la teinture d’iode étendue d’eau, envoyée de Singapour par Ducroux dit Lefanc, à T.V. Wong, alias Nuuyen-Ai-Quoc, à Kowloon no. 186 Tam-Kau Road, rédigée en français’. For the surveillance see ‘Alleged Communistic Activities’, Singapore Free Press, 20 June 1931.

41. Metzger, ‘Joseph Ducroux’; Straits Times, 18 July 1931. 42. ‘European Red Sent to Prison’, Malaya Tribune, 23 June 1931. 

43. Frederick S. Litten, ‘The Noulens Affair’, The China Quarterly, 138 (1994), pp. 492–512; Streets-Salter, ‘The Noulens Affair in East and Southeast Asia’, pp. 394–414; ‘Death Sentence on Noulenses’, StraitsTimes, 20 August 1932.

44. For this see esp. Streets-Salter, ‘The Noulens Affair in East and Southeast Asia’. For the death of Cai Hesen see Liyan Liu, Red Genesis: The Hunan First Normal School and the Creation of Chinese Communism, 1903–1921, New York, SUNY Press, 2012, p. 208.


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