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Asian Labourers, the Thai Government and the Thai-Burma Railway

Subrahmanyan, A. and Sturma, M. (2020) Asian Labourers, the Thai Government and the Thai-Burma Railway. Journal of Contemporary History . Online First.

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While the suffering of Allied prisoners of war on the Thai-Burma railway during the Second World War is well documented, much less is known about the Asian labourers employed on the project. Focusing on Thai and Chinese workers in Thailand, this study argues that although Asian labourers often suffered in a way comparable to prisoners of war, they also exercised some agency in their dealings with the Japanese. Many workers were motivated to work on the railway by relatively high wages, and at times they employed physical resistance against their treatment. Those workers resident in Thailand often exercised the option of absconding from railway work sites. At times, as elsewhere in the war, race became a central issue and showed not merely social prejudice but political calculation as well. The Thai government acted to protect Thai workers from the excesses of Japanese employment, but this was often at the expense of Chinese labourers resident in Thailand, outsiders who bore the brunt of harsh treatment.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Arts, Business, Law and Social Sciences
Publisher: SAGE
Copyright: © 2020 by SAGE Publications
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