Northeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Genetics and the Imperial Order: Selective Breeding of Rubber in British Malaya and Rice in Japanese Taiwan

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

In “The Question Concerning Technology”, Martin Heidegger described the change in the human agency over the environment. Through rational means, humans could challenge nature to extract resources according to exact projections. The cases presented in British Malaya and Japanese-ruled Taiwan provide insights into how technoscientific advancement influenced the political and economic posture of two powers in Asia with different histories of colonialism.


In British Malaya large, mostly European-owned plantations’ access to selectively bred rubber planting materials from the mid-1920s gave them a productivity boost to buttress the perception that they alone were the ‘rubber industry’. Whereas Asian-owned smallholdings, beset by restrictions that isolated them from high-yield planting materials, could be derided by Malayan officials as being outside ‘the rubber industry’.


In contrast to the internal ideologies emerging in Malaya, scientific developments in Taiwan supported new imaginations about territorial expansion. Here, Japanese research on rice breeding by scientists such as Eikichi Iso made the sub-tropical island colony into land for Horai rice — succeeding around 1926 in crossing Japanese and Taiwanese lines to produce rice palatable to Japanese consumers. Colonial designs for rice could thus expand beyond to southern China, Indochina and Java, parallel to Japanese military conquest from the late 1930s onwards.


An exact approach to plant breeding in the colonies was made possible by the genetics revolution originating from the revival of Mendelian principles, championed by scientists such as William Bateson beginning circa 1900. As a result, those responsible for governance came to expect greater instrumental control over nature.

Leow Wei Yi

National University of Singapore, Malaysia

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3 - Genetics and the Imperial Order: Selective Breeding of Rubber in British Malaya and Rice in Japanese Taiwan



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