Slavery in Asia

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An overview of Asian slavery which has existed in all regions of Asia throughout its history. Although slavery has been abolished in every [1] Asian country, some forms of it still exist today. [2]



Slavery was present in the post-Classical history of Afghanistan, continued during the Middle Ages, and persisted into the early 20th century. After the Islamic conquest of Persia, regions of both Persia and Afghanistan which had not converted to Islam were considered infidel regions, and as a result, they were considered legitimate targets of slave raids which were launched from regions whose populations had converted to Islam: for example Daylam in northwestern Iran and the mountainous region of Ḡūr in central Afghanistan were both exposed to slave raids which were launched from Muslim regions. [3]

It was considered legitimate to enslave war captives; during the Afghan occupation of Persia (1722-1730), for example, thousands of people were enslaved, and the Baluch made regular incursions into Southeastern Iran for the purpose of capturing people and turning them into slaves. [4] The slave traffic in Afghanistan was particularly active in the northwest, where 400 to 500 were sold annually in Qandahār, while in Šoḡnān it was said to be “the only article of commerce” at the end of the 19th century. [5] I Southern Iran, poor parents sold their children in to slavery and as late as around 1900, slave raids were conducted by chieftains in south Iran. [6] The market for these captives were often in Arabia and Afghanistan; “most of the slave girls employed as domestics in the houses of the gentry at Kandahar were brought from the outlying districts of Ghayn”. [7]

Most slaves were employed as agricultural laborers, domestic slaves and sexual slaves, while other slaves served in administrative positions. [8] Slaves in Afghanistan possessed some social mobility, especially those slaves who were owned by the government. Slavery was more common in towns and cities, because some Afghan tribal communities did not readily engage in the slave trade; according to some sources, the decentralized nature of Afghan tribes forced more urbanized areas to import slaves to fill labor shortages. Most slaves in Afghanistan were Hindus who had been captured during the Islamic conquests of India (and the later Durrani invasions of India) or they were slaves who had been imported from Persia and Central Asia. [8]

According to a report of an expedition to Afghanistan published in London in 1871:

"The country generally between Caubul (Kabul) and the Oxus appears to be in a very lawless state; slavery is as rife as ever, and extends through Hazara, Badakshan, Wakhan, Sirikul, Kunjūt (Hunza), &c. A slave, if a strong man likely to stand work well, is, in Upper Badakshan, considered to be of the same value as one of the large dogs of the country, or of a horse, being about the equivalent of Rs 80. A slave girl is valued at from four horses or more, according to her looks &c.; men are, however, almost always exchanged for dogs. When I was in Little Tibet (Ladakh), a returned slave who had been in the Kashmir army took refuge in my camp; he said he was well enough treated as to food &c., but he could never get over having been exchanged for a dog, and constantly harped on the subject, the man who sold him evidently thinking the dog the better animal of the two. In Lower Badakshan, and more distant places, the price of slaves is much enhanced, and payment is made in coin." [9]

In response to the Hazara uprising of 1892, the Afghan Emir Abdur Rahman Khan declared a "Jihad" against the Shiites. His large army defeated the rebellion at its center, in Oruzgan, by 1892 and the local population was being massacred. According to S. A. Mousavi, "thousands of Hazara men, women, and children were sold as slaves in the markets of Kabul and Qandahar, while numerous towers of human heads were made from the defeated rebels as a warning to others who might challenge the rule of the Amir".

The rulers of Afghanistan customarily had a harem of four official wives as well as a large number of inofficial wives for the sake of tribal marriage diplomacy, [10] but also had a large amount of enslaved women in the royal harem known as kaniz and surati, guarded by the ghulam bacha (eunuchs). [11]

By the time of the official abolition of slavery in 1923, there were about 700 enslaved people (mostly of the Hazara) in Kabul, called begar or impressed labor. [12] Slaves under the age of twelve was sold for a price of 50 rupees and slaves over twelve cost 30 rupees; most wealthy families had at least one or two slaves and if was common to exchange them as gifts. [13]

Until the 20th century, some Hazaras were still kept as slaves by the Pashtuns; although Amanullah Khan banned slavery in Afghanistan in the 1923 Constitution, [14] the practice carried on unofficially for many more years. [15] The Swede Aurora Nilsson, who lived in Kabul in 1926-1927, described the occurrence of slavery in Kabul in her memoirs, [16] as well as how a German woman, the widow of an Afridi man named Abdullah Khan, who had fled to the city with her children from her late husband's successor, was sold at public auction and obtained her freedom by being bought by the German embassy for 7,000 marks. [16]

Central Asia and the Caucasus

Slavery is integral to the social, economic, and political history of Central Asia. Polities of different sizes and structures such as nomadic confederations, [17] agrarian city-states, [18] and empires [19] all engaged in and at various times promoted the enslavement and trade of people and the exploitation of their labor. [20] While societies across Central Asia independently developed their localized practice of slavery, they also integrated their slave-selling network to the development of the Silk Road, which linked dispersed markets throughout Eurasia. [21] Alongside silk, spices, and other commodities of the Silk Road, merchants traded and transported people across Central Asia. As an area with diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious demographic, the people who were enslaved and traded in Central Asia came from a variety of background and spoke many different languages. In eastern Eurasia, slave selling contracts demonstrate that slave-sells were conducted in Chinese, Uyghur, Tibetan, Sogdian, Prakrit, Khotanese, and Tocharian. [22] Political conquests, economic competition, and religious conversion all mattered in determining who had control over the slave trade, which demographic slave-traders targeted, and whose demand slave-traders catered to.

Mechanisms for Enslavement

Warfare, slave-raids, legal punishments, self-sales or sales-by-relatives, inheritance of slave-status from birth were the common ways individuals become a slave in Central Asia. Linguistic analysis of the vocabulary used for slavery in early Central Asian societies suggest strong connection between military actions and slavery. [23] Third century Sasanian inscriptions attest to the usage of the word wardag as meaning both “slave” and “captive.” [24] Similarly, the 8th century Turkic Orkhon inscriptions indicate prisoners of war are often designated the status of slavery. Inscriptions found in the First Turkish Qaghanate also imply that terms denoting slavery or other forms of subordinate status, such as qul (male slave) and küng (female salve, handmaiden), are frequently applied to population of defeated political entities. [25]

Raids among nomadic tribes and against sedentary society for the purpose of looting people were also a prevalent practice conducted by polities across Eurasia. After many Central Asian states converted to Islam, they frequently conducted slave-raids into non-Muslim territories. Areas where polytheism were practiced were frequently targets of these slave-raids. For example, Daylam, the northwestern regions of Iran, Gur in central Afghanistan, the Turkic steppe, and India had long being targeted by Muslim polities for slave-raids. [26] The Samanids in Khorasan and Transoxania, and their successor, the Ghaznavids, and later the Saljuqs in Iran. [27]

Violent encounters are not the only mechanism through which an individual is enslaved. Iranian and Chinese sources attest to the practice of self-enslavement, or self-selling. In the Pahlavi law book Mādayān ī hazār dādestān, the word word tan, lit. “body,” designates a person who loans oneself or one’s relative for a specific period of time to a debtor or creditor as security for a debt. [28] In China, legal code historically prohibited individuals from selling children or other relatives into slavery. However, sale contracts indicate that poverty, famine, and other unfortunate circumstances often compelled individuals to sell or loan themselves, their children, and other relatives. [29] This is not to say that slave-sales were prohibited in China, however. Tang legal codes regulated the sale of people who were already designated slave-status by requiring individuals to provide certificates that demonstrate the individuals were lawfully enslaved. [30] In one recorded case, a man sold his daughter and son in order to raise funds to pay for his father’s funeral. [31]

Function of slavery in Central Asian Societies

The slave-trade was also an essential aspect to the economy of Central Asian societies. Due to the high demand for slaves in neighboring sedentary empires, Central Asian Turkic nomads supplied the majority of slaves to the Islamic caliphate to the west and the Chinese dynasties to the east. In the Abbasid empire, the creation of the Mamluk institution, or military-slave, created the preference and demand for young, Turkic male-slaves due to their supposedly superior military strength. [32] In Tang China, female slaves from the “western regions” were desired as musicians, dancers, and prostitutes. [33] As a result of these demands, the economy of Central Asian states flourished as they dominated the slave trade. The Khazar Qaghanate, [34] the Samanids, and later the Ghaznavids, were some of the main suppliers of Turkic military slaves, Circassian slaves, and Russian slaves to Baghdad. [35]

Modern Slavery

Slavery gradually disappeared from the Caucuses owing to reduced demand for Circassian slaves from the Ottoman Empire and Egypt, Russian imperial policy that used the issue of slaves to infringe upon Ottoman sovereignty, and the actions of the slaves themselves. [36] In Central Asia, informal slavery continued into the Soviet period and some forms of slavery continue to exist today. [37] A notorious slave market for captured Russian and Persian slaves was centred in the Khanate of Khiva from the 17th to the 19th century. [38] During the first half of the 19th century alone, some one million Persians, as well as an unknown number of Russians, were enslaved and transported to Central Asian khanates. [39] [40] When the Russian troops took Khiva in 1898 there were 29,300 Persian slaves, captured by Turkoman raiders. According of Josef Wolff (Report of 1843–1845) the population of the Khanate of Bukhara was 1,200,000, of whom 200,000 were Persian slaves. [41] At the beginning of the 21st century Chechens and Ingush kept Russian captives as slaves or in slave-like conditions in the mountains of the northern Caucasus. [42]

The tradition of slavery exists today in Russia. [43]


Slavery throughout pre-modern Chinese history has repeatedly come in and out of favor. Due to the enormous population and relatively high development of the region throughout most of its history, China has always had a large workforce.

Tang Dynasty

A contract from the Tang dynasty that records the purchase of a 15-year-old slave for six bolts of plain silk and five Chinese coins. Chinese Slave trade.jpg
A contract from the Tang dynasty that records the purchase of a 15-year-old slave for six bolts of plain silk and five Chinese coins.

The Tang dynasty purchased Western slaves from the Radanite Jews. [44] Tang Chinese soldiers and pirates enslaved Koreans, Turks, Persians, Indonesians, and people from Inner Mongolia, central Asia, and northern India. [45] [46] [47] [48] The greatest source of slaves came from southern tribes, including Thais and aboriginals from the southern provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Guizhou. Malays, Khmers, Indians, Negritoes, and black Africans were also purchased as slaves in the Tang dynasty [49] during the exchange of the Silk Road.

Yuan Dynasty

Many Han Chinese were enslaved in the process of the Mongol invasion of China proper. [50] According to Japanese historian Sugiyama Masaaki (杉山正明) and Funada Yoshiyuki (舩田善之), there were also certain numbers of Mongolian slaves owned by Han Chinese during the Yuan dynasty. Moreover, there is no evidence that Han Chinese, who were considered to rank at the bottom of Yuan society by some research, were subjected to particularly cruel abuse. [51] [52]

Qing Dynasty

In the 17th century Qing Dynasty, there was a hereditarily servile people called Booi Aha (Manchu:booi niyalma; Chinese transliteration: 包衣阿哈), which is a Manchu word literally translated as "household person" and sometimes rendered as "nucai".

In his book China Marches West, Peter C. Perdue stated:"In 1624(After Nurhachi's invasion of Liaodong) "Chinese households....while those with less were made into slaves." [53] The Manchu was establishing close personal and paternalist relationship between masters and their slaves, as Nurhachi said, "The Master should love the slaves and eat the same food as him". [54] Perdue further pointed out that booi aha "did not correspond exactly to the Chinese category of "bond-servant slave" (Chinese:奴僕); instead, it was a relationship of personal dependency on a master which in theory guaranteed close personal relationships and equal treatment, even though many western scholars would directly translate "booi" as "bond-servant" (some of the "booi" even had their own servant). [53] [55]

Various classes of Booi
  1. booi niru a Manchu word (Chinese:包衣佐領), meaning Neiwufu Upper Three Banner's platoon leader of about 300 men .
  2. Booi guanlin a Manchu word (Chinese:包衣管領), meaning the manager of booi doing all the domestic duties of Neiwufu.
  3. Booi amban is also a Manchu word, meaning high official, (Chinese:包衣大臣).
  4. Estate bannerman (Chinese:庄头旗人) are those renegade Chinese who joined the Jurchen, or original civilians-soldiers working in the fields. These people were all turned into booi aha, or field slaves.

Chinese Muslim (Tungans) Sufis who were charged with practicing xiejiao (heterodox religion), were punished by exile to Xinjiang and being sold as a slave to other Muslims, such as the Sufi begs. [56]

Han Chinese who committed crimes such as those dealing with opium became slaves to the begs, this practice was administered by Qing law. [57] Most Chinese in Altishahr were exile slaves to Turkestani Begs. [58] Ironically, while free Chinese merchants generally did not engage in relationships with East Turkestani women, some of the Chinese slaves belonging to begs, along with Green Standard soldiers, Bannermen, and Manchus, engaged in affairs with the East Turkestani women that were serious in nature. [59]

The Qing dynasty procured 420 women and girl slaves, all of them Mongol, to service Oirat Mongol bannermen stationed in Xinjiang in 1764. [60] Many Torghut Mongol boys and girls were sold to Central Asian markets or on the local Xinjiang market to native Turkestanis. [61]

Here are two accounts of slavery given by two Westerners in the late 19th century and early 20th century:

"In the houses of wealthy citizens, it is not unusual to find twenty to thirty slaves attending upon a family. Even citizens in the humbler walks of life deem it necessary to have each a slave or two. The price of a slave varies, of course, according to age, health, strength, and general appearance. The average price is from fifty to one hundred dollars, but in time of war, or revolution, poor parents, on the verge of starvation, offer their sons and daughters for sale at remarkably low prices. I remember instances of parents, rendered destitute by the marauding bands who invested the two southern Kwangs in 1854–55, offering to sell their daughters in Canton for five dollars apiece. . . .

The slavery to which these unfortunate persons are subject, is perpetual and hereditary, and they have no parental authority over their offspring. The great-grandsons of slaves, however, can, if they have sufficient means, purchase their freedom. . . .

Masters seem to have the same uncontrolled power over their slaves that parents have over their children. Thus a master is not called to account for the death of a slave, although it is the result of punishment inflicted by him." [62]

"In former times slaves were slain and offered in sacrifice to the spirit of the owner when dead, or by him to his ancestors: sometimes given as a substitute to suffer the death penalty incurred by his owner or in fulfilment of a vow. It used to be customary in Kuei-chou (and Szü-chuan too, I believe) to inter living slaves with their dead owners; the slaves were to keep a lamp burning in the tomb....

"Slavery exists in China, especially in Canton and Peking.... It is a common thing for well-to-do people to present a couple of slave girls to a daughter as part of her marriage dowery [sic]. Nearly all prostitutes are slaves. It is, however, customary with respectable people to release their slave girls when marriageable. Some people sell their slave girls to men wanting a wife for themselves or for a son of theirs.

"I have bought three different girls: two in Szü-chuan for a few taels each, less than fifteen dollars. One I released in Tientsin, another died in Hongkong; the other I gave in marriage to a faithful servant of mine. Some are worth much money at Shanghai." [63]

In addition to sending Han exiles convicted of crimes to Xinjiang to be slaves of Banner garrisons there, the Qing also practiced reverse exile, exiling Inner Asian (Mongol, Russian and Muslim criminals from Mongolia and Inner Asia) to China proper where they would serve as slaves in Han Banner garrisons in Guangzhou. Russian, Oirats and Muslims (Oros. Ulet. Hoise jergi weilengge niyalma) such as Yakov and Dmitri were exiled to the Han banner garrison in Guangzhou. [64] In the 1780s after the Muslim rebellion in Gansu started by Zhang Wenqing 張文慶 was defeated, Muslims like Ma Jinlu 馬進祿 were exiled to the Han Banner garrison in Guangzhou to become slaves to Han Banner officers. [65] The Qing code regulating Mongols in Mongolia sentenced Mongol criminals to exile and to become slaves to Han bannermen in Han Banner garrisons in China proper. [66]

Modern times

Although slavery has been abolished in China since 1910, [67] in 2018, the Global Slavery Index estimated that there are approximately 3.8 million people enslaved in China. [68]

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the Yi people (also known as Nuosu) of China terrorized Sichuan to rob and enslave non-Nuosu including Han people. The descendants of the Han Chinese slaves are the White Yi (白彝) and they outnumber the Black Yi (黑彝) aristocracy by ten to one. [69] As much as tens of thousands of Han slaves were incorporated into Nuosu society every year. The Han slaves and their offspring were used for manual labor. [70] There is a saying goes like: "the worst insult to a Nuosu is to call him a "Han" (with the implication being that "your ancestors were slaves")". [71]

Crimean Khanate

In the time of the Crimean Khanate, Crimeans engaged in frequent raids into the Danubian principalities, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy. For each captive, the khan received a fixed share (savğa) of 10% or 20%. The campaigns by Crimean forces categorize into "sefers", officially declared military operations led by the khans themselves, and çapuls, raids undertaken by groups of noblemen, sometimes illegally because they contravened treaties concluded by the khans with neighbouring rulers. For a long time, until the early 18th century, the khanate maintained a massive Slave Trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Caffa was one of the best known and significant trading ports and slave markets. [72] Crimean Tatar raiders enslaved more than 1 million Eastern Europeans. [73]

Indian subcontinent

The early Arab invaders of Sind in the 8th century, the armies of the Umayyad commander Muhammad bin Qasim, are reported to have enslaved tens of thousands of Indian prisoners, including both soldiers and civilians. [74] [75] In the early 11th century Tarikh al-Yamini, the Arab historian Al-Utbi recorded that in 1001 the armies of Mahmud of Ghazna conquered Peshawar and Waihand (capital of Gandhara) after Battle of Peshawar (1001), "in the midst of the land of Hindustan", and captured some 100,000 youths. [76] [77] Later, following his twelfth expedition into India in 1018–19, Mahmud is reported to have returned with such a large number of slaves that their value was reduced to only two to ten dirhams each. This unusually low price made, according to Al-Utbi, "merchants [come] from distant cities to purchase them, so that the countries of Central Asia, Iraq and Khurasan were swelled with them, and the fair and the dark, the rich and the poor, mingled in one common slavery". Elliot and Dowson refers to "five hundred thousand slaves, beautiful men and women.". [78] [79] [80] Later, during the Delhi Sultanate period (1206–1555), references to the abundant availability of low-priced Indian slaves abound. Levi attributes this primarily to the vast human resources of India, compared to its neighbors to the north and west (India's Mughal population being approximately 12 to 20 times that of Turan and Iran at the end of the 16th century). [81]

The Siddi are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan. Members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese slave traders. [82]

Much of the northern and central parts of the subcontinent was ruled by the so-called Slave Dynasty of Turkic origin from 1206 to 1290: Qutb-ud-din Aybak, a slave of Muhammad Ghori rose to power following his master's death. For almost a century, his descendants ruled presiding over the introduction of Tankas and building of Qutub Minar.[ citation needed ]

According to Sir Henry Frere, there were an estimated 8 or 9 million enslaved persons in India in 1841. In Malabar, about 15% of the population were slaves. Slavery was officially abolished two years later in India by the Indian Slavery Act of 1843. Provisions of the Indian Penal Code of 1861 effectively abolished slavery in India by making the enslavement of human beings a criminal offense. [83] [84] [85] [86]

Modern times

There are an estimated five million bonded workers in Pakistan, even though the government has passed laws and set up funds to eradicate the practice and rehabilitate the labourers. [87] As many as 200,000 Nepali girls, many under 14, have been sold into sex slavery in India. Nepalese women and girls, especially virgins, are favored in India because of their fair skin and young looks. [88] In 1997, a human rights agency reported that 40,000 Nepalese workers are subject to slavery and 200,000 kept in bonded labour. [89] Nepal's Maoist-led government has abolished the slavery-like Haliya system in 2008. [90]


Slavery in Japan was, for most of its history, indigenous, since the export and import of slaves was restricted by Japan being a group of islands. The export of a slave from Japan is recorded in a 3rd-century Chinese document, although the system involved is unclear. These people were called seiko (生口), lit. "living mouth". "Seiko" from historical theories are thought to be as prisoner, slave, a person who has technical skill and also students studying abroad to China. [91]

In the 8th century, a slave was called nuhi (奴婢) and a series of laws on slavery was issued. In an area of present-day Ibaraki Prefecture, out of a population of 190,000, around 2,000 were slaves; the proportion is believed to have been even higher in western Japan.

Slavery persisted into the Sengoku period (1467–1615), but the attitude that slavery was anachronistic had become widespread. [92] Oda Nobunaga is said to have had an African slave or former-slave in his retinue. [93] [ dubious ] Korean prisoners of war were shipped to Japan as slaves during the Japanese invasions of Korea in the 16th century. [94] [95]

In 1595, Portugal passed a law banning the selling and buying of Chinese and Japanese slaves, [96] but forms of contract and indentured labor persisted alongside the period penal codes' forced labor. Somewhat later, the Edo period penal laws prescribed "non-free labor" for the immediate family of executed criminals in Article 17 of the Gotōke reijō (Tokugawa House Laws), but the practice never became common. The 1711 Gotōke reijō was compiled from over 600 statutes promulgated between 1597 and 1696. [97]

Karayuki-san, literally meaning "Ms. Gone Abroad", were Japanese women who traveled to or were trafficked to East Asia, Southeast Asia, Manchuria, Siberia and as far as San Francisco in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century to work as prostitutes, courtesans and geisha. [98] In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a network of Japanese prostitutes being trafficked across Asia, in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and India, in what was then known as the ’Yellow Slave Traffic’. [99]

World War II

As the Empire of Japan annexed Asian countries, from the late 19th century onwards, archaic institutions including slavery were abolished in those countries. However, during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, the Japanese military used millions of civilians and prisoners of war as forced labor, on projects such as the Burma Railway.

According to a joint study by historians including Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyoshi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilized by the Kōa-in (Japanese Asia Development Board) for forced labour. [100] According to the Japanese military's own record, nearly 25% of 140,000 Allied POWs died while interned in Japanese prison camps where they were forced to work (U.S. POWs died at a rate of 37%). [101] [102] More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway. [103] The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. [104] About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%. (For further details, see Japanese war crimes.) [105]

Approximately 5,400,000 Koreans were conscripted into slavery from 1944 to 1945 by the National Mobilization Law. About 670,000 of them were brought to Japan, where about 60,000 died between 1939 and 1945 due mostly to exhaustion or poor working conditions.[ citation needed ] Many of those taken to Karafuto Prefecture (modern-day Sakhalin) were trapped there at the end of the war, stripped of their nationality and denied repatriation by Japan; they became known as the Sakhalin Koreans. [106] The total deaths of Korean forced laborers in Korea and Manchuria for those years is estimated to be between 270,000 and 810,000. [107]


The Joseon dynasty of Korea was a hierarchical society that consisted of social classes. Cheonmin, the lowest class, included occupations such as butchers, shamans, prostitutes, entertainers, and also members of the slave class known as nobi. Low status was hereditary, but members of higher classes could be reduced to cheonmin as a form of legal punishment. During poor harvests and famine, many peasants voluntarily sold themselves into the nobi class in order to survive. [108] The nobi were socially indistinct from freemen other than the ruling yangban class, and some possessed property rights, legal entities and civil rights. Hence, some scholars argue that it's inappropriate to call them "slaves", [108] while some scholars describe them as serfs. [109] [110] The nobi population could fluctuate up to about one-third of the population, but on average the nobi made up about 10% of the total population. [111] In 1801, the vast majority of government nobi were emancipated, [112] and by 1858 the nobi population stood at about 1.5 percent of the total population of Korea. [113] The hereditary nobi system was officially abolished around 1886–87 and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894, [113] but traces remained until 1930.

Southeast Asia


During the millennium long Chinese domination of Vietnam, Vietnam was a large source of slave girls who were used as sex slaves in China. [114] [115] The slave girls of Viet were even eroticized in Tang dynasty poetry. [116]

There was a large slave class in Khmer Empire who built the enduring monuments in Angkor and did most of the heavy work. [117] Slaves had been taken captive from the mountain tribes. [118] People unable to pay back a debt to the upper ruling class could be sentenced to work as a slave too. [119]

In Siam (Thailand), the war captives became the property of the king. During the reign of Rama III (1824–1851), there were an estimated 46,000 war slaves. Slaves from independent hill populations were "hunted incessantly and carried off as slaves by the Siamese, the Anamites, and the Cambodians" (Colquhoun 1885:53). [120] Slavery was not abolished in Siam until 1905. [121]

Yi people in Yunnan practiced a complicated form of slavery. People were split into the Black Yi (nobles, 7% of the population), White Yi (commoners), Ajia (33% of the Yi population) and the Xiaxi (10%). Ajia and Xiaxi were slave castes. The White Yi were not slaves but had no freedom of movement. The Black Yi were famous for their slave-raids on Han Chinese communities. After 1959 some 700,000 slaves were freed. [122] [123] [124]

Maritime Southeast Asia

Two slaves of the Raja of Buleleng, Bali, Indonesia, 1865-1870 KITLV 26556 - Isidore van Kinsbergen - Two slaves Raja of Buleleng- I Loeh Sari and I Mrijakti - Around 1870.tif
Two slaves of the Raja of Buleleng, Bali, Indonesia, 1865–1870

Slaves in Toraja society in Indonesia were family property. Sometimes Torajans decided to become slaves when they incurred a debt, pledging to work as payment. Slaves could be taken during wars, and slave trading was common. Torajan slaves were sold and shipped out to Java and Siam. Slaves could buy their freedom, but their children still inherited slave status. Slaves were prohibited from wearing bronze or gold, carving their houses, eating from the same dishes as their owners, or having sex with free women—a crime punishable by death. Slavery was abolished in 1863 in all Dutch colonies. [125] [126]

Slavery was practiced by the tribal Austronesian peoples in pre-Spanish Philippines. Slaves were part of the lowest caste ( alipin ) in ancient Filipino societies. A caste which also included commoners. However, the characterization of alipin as "slaves" is not entirely accurate. Modern scholars in Philippine history prefer to use more accurate terms like "serfs" or "bondsmen" instead. [127]

Garay pirate ships in the Sulu Sea, c. 1850 Garay warships of pirates in the Sulu Sea.jpg
Garay pirate ships in the Sulu Sea, c. 1850

Slavery in Southeast Asia reached its peak in late 18th and early 19th centuries, when fleets of lanong and garay warships of the Iranun and Banguingui people started engaging in piracy and coastal raids for slave and plunder throughout Southeast Asia from their territories within the Sultanate of Sulu and Maguindanao. It is estimated that from 1770 to 1870, around 200,000 to 300,000 people were enslaved by Iranun and Banguingui slavers. They came from ships and settlements as far as the Malacca Strait, Java, the southern coast of China and the islands beyond the Makassar Strait. The scale was so massive that the word for "pirate" in Malay became Lanun, an exonym of the Iranun people. Male captives of the Iranun and the Banguingui were treated brutally, even fellow Muslim captives were not spared. They were usually forced serve as galley slaves on the ships of their captors. Female captives, however, were usually treated better. There were no recorded accounts of rapes, though some were starved for discipline. Most of the slaves were Tagalogs, Visayans, and "Malays" (including Bugis, Mandarese, Iban, and Makassar). There were also occasional European and Chinese captives who were usually ransomed off through Tausug intermediaries of the Sulu Sultanate. [128]

European powers finally succeeded in the mid-1800s in cutting off these raids through use of steam-powered warships. [129] [130]

In Singapore in 1891 there was a regular trade in Chinese slaves by Muslim slaveowners, with girls and women sold for concubinage. [131]

Modern times

The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer") were forced to work by the Japanese military in World War II. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, there were as of 2015 an estimated 11.7 million trafficked people; within the Asia Pacific, the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), which includes Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vietnam, "features some of the most extensive flows of migration and human trafficking." [132] Industries with major problems with human trafficking and forced labor in Southeast Asia include fisheries, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and domestic work. [132] The child sex trade has also plagued southeast Asia, where "[m]ost sources agree that far more than 1 million underage children are 'effectively enslaved'" as of 2006. [133]

Thai women are frequently lured and sold to brothels where they are forced to work off their price. Burmese are commonly trafficked into Thailand for work in factories, as domestics, for street begging directed by organized gangs.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 800,000 people are subject to forced labor in Myanmar. [134] In November 2006, the International Labour Organization announced it will be seeking "to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity" over the continuous forced labor of its citizens by the military at the International Court of Justice. [135]

As of end-2015, Singapore has acceded to international standards of prosecuting and convicting human traffickers under the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. [136]

Further reading

Related Research Articles

History of Asia Overview of human history on the continent

The history of Asia can be seen as the collective history of several distinct peripheral coastal regions such as East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East linked by the interior mass of the Eurasian steppe. See History of the Middle East and Outline of South Asian history for further details.

Slavery Treatment of people as property

Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave, who is someone forbidden to quit their service for another person, while treated as property. Slavery typically involves the enslaved person being made to perform some form of work while also having their location dictated by the slaver. Historically, when people were enslaved, it was often because they were indebted, or broke the law, or suffered a military defeat, and the duration of their enslavement was either for life or for a fixed period of time after which freedom was granted. Individuals, then, usually became slaves involuntarily, due to force or coercion, although there was also voluntary slavery to pay a debt or obtain money for some purpose. In the course of human history, slavery was a typical feature of civilization, and legal in most societies, but it is now outlawed in all countries of the world, except as punishment for crime.

Sexual slavery Slavery with the intention of using the slaves for sex

Sexual slavery and sexual exploitation is attaching the right of ownership over one or more people with the intent of coercing or otherwise forcing them to engage in sexual activities. This includes forced labor, reducing a person to a servile status and sex trafficking persons, such as the sexual trafficking of children.

Naval warfare Combat involving sea-going ships

Naval warfare is human combat in and on the sea, the ocean, or any other battlespace involving a major body of water such as a large lake or wide river.

Islam in Korea

In South Korea, Islam (이슬람교) is a minority religion. The Muslim community is centered in Seoul and there are a few mosques around the country. According to the Korea Muslim Federation, there are about 100,000 Muslims living in South Korea, and about 70 to 80 percent are foreigners. Seoul alone has 40% of South Korea's total Muslim population. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has hosted an Iftar dinner during the month of Ramadan every year since 2004. Among Koreans, Muslims consist of only 0.2% of the total population. However, the increasing immigration of Muslims to Korea is allowing the Muslim communities in Korea to continue to grow and take on significant roles.

Khalji dynasty Islamic dynasty of Turko-Afghan origin who ruled the Delhi Sultanate from 1290–1320

The Khalji or Khilji dynasty was a Turko-Afghan dynasty which ruled on the Delhi sultanate, covering large parts of the Indian subcontinent for nearly three decades between 1290 and 1320. Founded by Jalal ud din Firuz Khalji as the second dynasty to rule the Delhi Sultanate of India, it came to power through a revolution that marked the transfer of power from the monopoly of Turkic nobles to Afghans. Its rule is known for conquests into present day South India and successfully fending off the repeated Mongol invasions of India.

Slavery in Japan

Japan had an official slave system from the Yamato period until Toyotomi Hideyoshi abolished it in 1590. Afterwards, the Japanese government facilitated the use of "comfort women" as sex slaves from 1932 – 1945. Prisoners of war captured by the Japanese were also used as slaves during the Second World War.

Slavery in medieval Europe Slavery during the medieval period in Europe

Slavery became increasingly uncommon through the Middle Ages, replaced by serfdom by the 10th century, but began to revive again towards the end of the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Era. The Byzantine–Ottoman wars (1265–1479) and the Ottoman wars in Europe resulted in the capture of large numbers of Christian slaves.

White slavery Enslavement of people of European descent

White slavery refers to the chattel slavery of Europeans, whether by non-Europeans, or by other Europeans. Slaves of European origin were present in ancient Rome and the Ottoman Empire.

History of slavery Aspect of history

The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. Likewise, its victims have come from many different ethnicities and religious groups. The social, economic, and legal positions of slaves have differed vastly in different systems of slavery in different times and places.

Slavery in India

Early sources suggest that slavery was likely to have been a widespread institution in ancient India by the lifetime of the Buddha, and perhaps even as far back as the Vedic period. However, its study in ancient times is problematic and contested because it depends on the translations of terms such as dasa and dasyu.

Barbary slave trade Slave markets in North Africa

The Barbary slave trade refers to slave markets on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman states of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and 19th century. The Ottoman states in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were quasi-independent.

Slavery in Iran History of Slavery in Iran

The History of slavery in Iran (Persia) during various ancient, medieval, and modern periods is sparsely catalogued.

Slavery in Korea

Slavery in Korea formally existed from antiquity up to the 20th century. Slavery was very important in medieval Korea; it was a major institution. The importance of slavery in Korea fluctuated over time. The Korean "nobi" system of slavery peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries and then declined in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some scholars view the Korean system of slavery as serfdom; the nature of Korean slavery is a source of debate. Korea had the longest unbroken chain of slavery of any society in history, spanning about 1,500 years, because of a long history of peaceful transitions and stable societies.

Booi Aha

Booi Aha is a Manchu word literally meaning "household person", referring to hereditarily servile people in 17th-century Qing China. It is often directly translated as "bondservant", although sometimes also rendered as "slave" ("nucai").

Slavery in Portugal

Slavery in Portugal occurred since before the country's formation. During the pre-independence period, inhabitants of the current Portuguese territory were often enslaved and enslaved others. After independence, during the existence of the Kingdom of Portugal, the country played a leading role in the Atlantic slave trade, which involved the mass trade and transportation of slaves from Africa and other parts of the world to the American continent. Slavery was abolished in Portugal in 1761 by the Marquês de Pombal. However, slavery within the African Portuguese colonies was only abolished in 1869 and Portuguese involvement in near-slavery in its colonies continued into the 20th century.

Slavery in China

Slavery in China has taken various forms throughout history. Slavery was abolished as a legally recognized institution, including in a 1909 law fully enacted in 1910, although the practice continued until at least 1949. Illegal acts of forced labor and sexual slavery in China continue to occur in the twenty-first century, but those found guilty of such crimes are punished harshly. The Chinese term for slave (nuli) can also be roughly translated into 'debtor', 'dependent', or 'subject'. Slaves in China were a very small part of the population and could include war prisoners, kidnap victims or people who had been sold.

History of slavery in the Muslim world History of slavery in Islamic lands

The Muslim world initially inherited the institution of slavery from pre-Islamic Arabia; and the practice of keeping slaves subsequently developed in radically different ways, depending on social-political factors such as the Arab slave trade. Throughout Islamic history, slaves served in various social and economic roles, from powerful emirs to harshly treated manual laborers. Early on in Muslim history slaves provided plantation labor similar to that in the early-modern Americas, but this practice was abandoned after harsh treatment led to destructive slave revolts, the most notable being the Zanj Rebellion of 869–883. Slaves were widely employed in irrigation, mining, and animal husbandry, but most commonly as soldiers, guards, domestic workers, and concubines. Many rulers relied on military slaves and on slaves in administration - to such a degree that the slaves could sometimes seize power. Among black slaves, there were roughly two females to every one male. Two rough estimates by scholars of the numbers of just one group - black slaves held over twelve centuries in the Muslim world - are 11.5 million and 14 million, while other estimates indicate a number between 12 and 15 million African slaves prior to the 20th century.

Indian Ocean slave trade Overview of the topic

The Indian Ocean slave trade, sometimes known as the East African slave trade, was multi-directional slave trade and has changed over time. Africans were sent as slaves to the Middle East, to Indian Ocean islands, to the Indian subcontinent, and later to the Americas.

Abbasid harem Portion of the Abbasid household

The harem of the caliphs of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) in Baghdad was composed of his mother, wives, slave concubines, female relatives and slave servants, occupying a secluded portion of the Abbasid household. This institution played an important social function within the Abbasid court and was the part of court were the women of the court were confined and secluded. The senior woman in rank in the harem was the mother of the Caliph. The Abbasid harem acted as a role model for the harems of other Islamic dynasties, as it was during the Abbasid Caliphate that the harem system was fully enforced in the Muslim world.


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