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The Noulens Affair in East and Southeast Asia

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International Communism in the Interwar Period

image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

In June 1931, British authorities in Singapore arrested a Comintern operative using the name Joseph Ducroux. An address book found on his person then led the Shanghai Municipal Police to Hilaire Noulens and his wife, both Comintern agents, who were collectively in charge of funneling all monies and communications between the Comintern, the Chinese Communist Party, and Communist organizations throughout East Asia. The arrest of the Noulens, and the material found in their apartments, compromised hundreds of Communists and their international networks in East and Southeast Asia. The case materials themselves, found in British, French, and Dutch archives, expose the ways the Comintern’s Far Eastern Bureau used Soviet capital and an international cast of characters to combat European imperialism in East and Southeast Asia during the interwar period. Although these efforts suffered from serious weaknesses, European colonial administrators nevertheless worried constantly about the specter of an all-powerful Soviet machine bent on world domination. Their response was cross-colonial collaboration to undermine and destroy the Comintern’s activities in the region. This article explores the circumstances surrounding the Noulens Affair, as it came to be known, to argue that the global struggle between communism and anti-communism that marked the years of the Cold War after 1945 cannot be adequately understood without reference to this earlier, interwar period.

Affiliations: 1: Northeastern University,


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