Corey Koh is a rising second-year majoring in History. He plans to write a paper about the Mongol invasion of Java.

Tell me about your SURG topic.

Koh: I’m researching the Mongol invasion of Java, which is a very niche historical event. I’m looking at this through the lens of Chinese and Mongol imperialism and seeing how both of these forces combined and interacted to lead to this invasion. It’s understudied in the world of history and especially in the study of the Mongol Empire. That’s not to say it wasn’t consequential. It impacted Southeast Asia a lot and changed the landscape of Southeast Asian politics at that time. This is something I’m personally really interested in because that’s where I’m from. I took a class with Professor Jonathan Brack from the History department on the Mongol Empire last quarter. That’s when the genesis for this idea started. It was something he said in class about Mongol expansionism and how that interacted with Chinese ideas about how they were predestined to rule the entire world. It got me thinking about how those ideas manifested in other historical events. I did a bit more digging and I found this.

How does language play into this?

Koh: I speak Chinese so that gives me an advantage already. I can access a lot more sources than other people would be able to. The tricky thing is finding them because a lot of these Chinese archival sources are not accessible, especially online. I don’t plan to at this stage go to an archive and do research. Sources in other languages – mostly Jawi because that was the language that was spoken in Southeast Asia at the time – some of them are translated. The issue with these translations is that most of these sources have one translation. You can’t compare the accuracy of the translation against other translations. I do acknowledge that these will be some limitations that I’m dealing with in this project.

What is interesting to you about this project?

Koh: To me, what’s really interesting is that this was the first – as far as I know – instance of a Chinese invasion in Southeast Asia and Chinese expansionism. In today’s political climate, you see Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea so it’s continuous. You have to see it as what’s happening now is because of what happened then. There is a link there. I’m not quite sure how exactly it connects yet, but there is something. What makes this really interesting – this is the crux of my research – is whether the invasion was motivated by Mongol forces in the court that wanted to expand because of Mongol ideology or Chinese forces that wanted to expand because of Chinese ideology. There are some very subtle differences between these sets of ideology. The fundamental similarity is that both believe that they were destined to rule every corner of the Earth. So which was it that led to it? Arguably, if it was a Mongol-led invasion, then the link from them to the modern Chinese activities is less strong. But if it was a Chinese-led invasion, then you can see that ideological link become a little more apparent.

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