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Relocating the interlocutor: Taw Sein Ko (1864–1930) and the itinerancy of knowledge in British Burma

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Taw Sein Ko, born in Moulmein in 1864 to a merchant from Fujian and a Shan princess, rose to a high position in the British colonial administration in Burma. A talented linguist and a prolific writer, his views on Burmese society, archaeology, ethnology, Buddhism, law and history circulated in English-language journals, books and pamphlets in Burma, China and Britain. This paper, seeking to draw out the role of non-Europeans as both cultural intermediaries and knowledge brokers in colonial South East Asia, sees Taw Sein Ko as a translator, negotiator and interlocutor between and across cultures – Burmese, Chinese and Western. His writings reveal a man who modelled himself in the Confucian tradition of the enlightened civil servant, while rejecting all that had corrupted that tradition in Qing China; in his economic outlook he embraced the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill; while in his love for, and appreciation of, Burmese literary and material culture, together with his promotion of Buddhist education, he showed himself to be an early proponent of 'Asian values'.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2004

More about this publication?
  • South East Asia Research publishes articles based on original research or fieldwork on all aspects of South East Asia within the disciplines of archaeology, art history, economics, geography, history, language and literature, law, music, political science, social anthropology and religious studies. This peer-reviewed journal is published four times per year by IP Publishing in cooperation with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). SOAS is the leading centre in this field in Europe and one of the most prestigious centres of South East Asian Studies in the world.

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