ABSTRACT. Southeast Asia is an ideal location in which to study the modernization of sugar production, given that the presence of six colonial powers makes comparisons possible. The Dutch took the lead in modernizing the region's sugar industry by breeding new varieties of sugarcane and by introducing central sugar factories. The article takes these two innovations as indexes of modernization and traces their diffusion through the region. It demonstrates that colonial policy largely determined the speed of acceptance of these innovations. Modernization made the sugar industry dependent on the continuing success of scientific research, restructured the relations between worker and factory, and, by supplanting the previous system of sugar production, Chinese in origin, changed the human geography of the region.