Imperial Transgressions, Sexual Violence, and Diasporic Boycotts Connecting Interwar China and Colonial Indonesia

Dr Kris Alexanderson1

1University of the Pacific, Stockton, United States

In 1930, a Chinese woman named Xiao Xin’an (萧信庵), traveling from Manila to Makassar on Dutch commercial liner SS Tjibadak, was sexually assaulted by two European officers. News of the so-called Xiao Case quickly spread across colonial Indonesia, the Straits Settlements, and China, as outrage over the assault coalesced with broader anti-Western sentiment highly skeptical of European economic and political interests in China. This increasing criticism soon catalyzed a months-long boycott against Dutch shipping companies doing business in Amoy (today’s Xiamen). The boycott, collectively organized by political activists in Shanghai and members of the Chinese Seamen’s Union, spoke to larger transnational political currents connecting China and colonial Indonesia, including the discriminatory treatment of Chinese residents in the Dutch colony, inequitable Sino-Dutch treaties, and questionable operations of Dutch shipping companies and other European businesses in China. Activists used the Xiao Case as an opportunity to address larger political struggles affecting Chinese diasporic communities linking East and Southeast Asia. Unlike China’s other interwar boycotts aimed at European business interests, anticolonial discourse around the Xiao Case conflated sexual and imperial transgressions and often employed a gendered rhetoric to address Dutch and, more broadly, European imperial invasions and violations in China.


Kris Alexanderson is Associate Professor of History at University of the Pacific (California, USA). She received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University and was a Fulbright IIE scholar in the Netherlands. Her first book, Subversive Seas: Anticolonial Networks across the Twentieth-Century Dutch Empire, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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