Empire and Asian Migration: Sovereignty, Immigration Restriction and Protest in the British Settler Colonies, 1888–1907
Jeremy C. Martens
Empire and Asian Migration makes a vital contribution to current historical scholarship on the British Empire through an examination of under-researched imperial connections between colonial sovereignty, white settlers’ opposition to Asian migration and the emergence of the Gandhian anti-colonial movement.
This book is the first historical study explicitly to situate the serious imperial tensions arising from global Asian migration within the context of the limited sovereignty exercised by the self-governing colonies and dominions of the British Empire. In particular, it links geographically and temporally diverse trans-colonial popular protests around Asian immigration between 1888 and 1913 to a fundamental constitutional weakness common to all the settler colonies. This weakness stemmed from the fact that while these states had by the second half of the nineteenth century largely been granted sovereign status with respect to internal affairs, they remained subservient to the United Kingdom in the realm of external and imperial affairs until the mid-1920s.
The Colonial Office in London regularly vetoed racial laws that risked offending Asian powers or fomenting unrest in India; and it expected settler governments to submit to Britain’s imperial and diplomatic interests when framing immigration policies. Settler governments were thus particularly vulnerable to aggressive and violent agitation for stricter anti-Asian legislation organized by white activists because colonial parliaments never possessed the power to legislate decisively in this area. The competing interests of the settler colonies and the metropole ultimately resulted in a legislative compromise with the enactment of a series of indirect immigration restriction laws that did not explicitly mention race but were nevertheless squarely aimed at non-white migrants.
Empire and Asian Migration also argues that the evolution of Gandhian satyagraha after the Boer war should be analysed in tandem with concurrent populist white settler protests against Asian immigration to southern Africa.