Emporium in imperio: Nanyang networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819-1914.
Migrants, cultures and power-structures that were transposed across Asia at this time created a degree of interconnection that also challenges any simple binary oppositions that might restrict our understanding of such phenomena. Though international capital generated centripetal forces that drew Western countries and their individual colonies closer together, a rapid expansion in steam navigation, railways and telegraphic communication brought many of the territories bordering the Indian Ocean, the China Seas and the Pacific into closer contact with one another. The global context in which the formation and transmission of colonial knowledge were taking place highlights the limitations of a bilateral approach couched in terms only of 'centre' and 'periphery'. Some historians of British imperialism now suggest that the Empire is best characterised as having functioned like a 'web'. The movement of policies, practices and information through this web was not simply 'mono'- or 'bi'-directional, enacted bilaterally between Britain and each individual colony, but was occurring across the British Empire between colonies--colonies which themselves were functioning as independent loci of historical change. (2)
Crucial to the effectiveness of European empires as global systems were the activities of non-Europeans in sustaining regional and inter-regional networks within them. Throughout the nineteenth century, merchant diasporas of Gujaratis, Parsees, Jews, Hadrami Arabs and Armenians, not to mention mercantile indigenes, continued to trade in ports linking India with the east coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf and Red Sea; and in the opposite direction with the Malay Peninsula, the Indonesian Archipelago and coastal China. (3) Nearer the century's end, Muslims and Buddhists began to rediscover their global missions and utilised modern channels of communication to re-invigorate pilgrimage routes and establish international book trades. Among their growing reading publics imperial postal services were used to exchange periodicals, pamphlets and religious texts, and consolidate ecumenes that spanned oceans. (4) These same postal services permitted illiterate 'coolies' to remit their earnings home. Mining and plantation enterprises in Ceylon, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies attracted large-scale migrations of agricultural labourers, miners, farmers and artisans--migrations that were far less regulated than in the present day. Accompanying these itinerant workers came a new generation of Asian professionals: minor government officials, engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists and lawyers whose Western education and multilingualism allowed them to seek employment in colonial ports and towns at a great distance from home, over hand and sea. Colonial port-cities, the emporia in imperio as they might be called, became places where Asian 'men in the know' congregated to do business and exchange views. (5) Vocal intelligentsia increasingly made these cities cultural centres in their own right, producing unique responses to the colonial predicament that, particularly from 1870, often had a wider regional impact.
Chinese communities from the coasts of Fujian and Guangdong to settlements along the Straits of Melaka were hardly insulated from these global developments, especially after Britain seized control of the Middle Kingdom's treaty ports. As their predecessors had done in earlier periods, merchants, sailors, pedlars, priests and literati of Chinese descent travelled across a region that eventually became known to them as the 'Nanyang' (Southern Ocean) and in the process became vital agents of interconnection within it. While much has been written about the obvious commercial impact of Nanyang networks, their cultural and political importance--especially in influencing the self-perceptions of Chinese settled in the region--has not so far been accorded detailed discussion. Indeed, the term 'diaspora' is often applied to Chinese overseas belonging to this period specifically because of the strong cultural ties they are understood to have maintained with their ancestral places of origin and because of their apparent 'homeland' yearning. The notion that diasporic networks encouraged Chinese living outside the Middle Kingdom to consider themselves part of a dispersed community, united by a distinct maritime-based culture as much as by direct ties with ancestral homelands, or as belonging to the new territories that they settled, has been less strongly argued.
However, the disruptive experience of translocation for many Chinese migrants, especially during periods of political unrest in China, meant cultural ties with homelands were often more easily imagined than enjoyed in practice. For those who rooted themselves abroad and raised families overseas during such periods, ancestral links with the Middle Kingdom might become enshrined in myth through the course of time. On the other hand, contact with areas of Chinese settlement located across the ocean space but more easily reached could become of heightened importance, commercially and socially. This article will argue that such interactions, given a unique flavour through the intermingling of Chinese in the Nanyang with local populations and then accelerated in an age of global empires, produced an important cultural legacy that in modern parlance may also be termed 'diasporic'. In addition, it suggests that through the activities of Chinese working within an expansionist British Empire, by the later nineteenth century not only goods and capital that originated in the Nanyang, but also ideas and practices, began to impact on the Middle Kingdom itself.
Conceptualising Chinese diasporas
So far, the most comprehensive attempt to 'systematically conceptualise the links between different areas of Chinese settlement' in a historical context has been Adam McKeown's exemplary global rendering of Chinese diasporic networks between 1842 and 1949. McKeown writes that these networks are best understood as 'a collection of rays emanating from hubs in Hong Kong and other South China treaty ports, spreading out in one direction to South China's villages and in the other to different locations around the world, further branching out from secondary nodes like San Francisco and Singapore'. (6) When expanded with particular reference to Chinese migrations across the Pacific and into the Americas, such an approach provides invaluable insights. Yet McKeown, despite ostensibly dealing with the 'circulation' of goods, people, information and profit between Chinese settlements, still maintains a strong focus on the bilateral structure of Chinese diasporic networks. He argues that for all but a small Chinese elite, migrant networks represented narrow 'grooves' radiating out across the globe, which
This article has benefited greatly from the comments made by Anthony Reid, Geoff Wade, Jean DeBernardi, Bruce Lockhart, the anonymous reader for JSEAS, David L. Frost and Wang Gungwu on earlier drafts. Without the assistance of Didi Kwartanada, Geoff Wade and Jiang Na, the author's use of primary-source materials in Malay and Chinese would have been greatly hindered. collapsed the cultural distance between home settlements in China and settlements abroad but seem to have afforded those moving through them little opportunity to jump across or get off until the point of destination had been reached. These networks did not therefore function as a 'web' of diasporic connections--or at least not, according to McKeown, until the development of modern communications in the last 30 years of the twentieth century. (7)
This argument better fits the less integrated Americas where an age of empire was passing and independent nation-states, with their boundaries, were beginning to solidify. Applied to the more tightly knit Nanyang, where European imperialism intensified existing connections between territories, the position is less tenable and sometimes McKeown's approach manifests more than a touch of mainland 'China-centricism'. (8) His more contentious claim, however, arises when he moves from ably discussing the function of diasporic networks in enabling the flow of goods, money and people overseas to considering their role in producing Chinese identity. In contrast to Wang Gungwu's forthright dictum that until the Second World War 'all who thought of themselves as Chinese were Chinese', he argues that:
from the perspective of the participants who made up these networks and communities, being Chinese could be everything. Participation depended upon and produced Chineseness. A person was Chinese by virtue of the fact that he moved through networks channeled through Hong Kong, Shantou [Swatow] or Xiamen [Amoy], and back to villages in which they, or their ancestors, were born. (9)
Significantly, in McKeown's account it was in the latter half of the twentieth century, after the People's Republic of China closed its borders from 1949 and 'severely weakened the links of migrant networks with their home villages', that a diasporic culture emerged that represented 'the construction of a self-conscious global Chineseness that has no necessary links to China'. Only 'when further migration had been cut off and it was clear that most Chinese migrants were there to stay' did 'ethnic identities appropriate to pluralist polities' and ideas of 'ethnic' Chineseness start to be formulated. In this interpretation, it appears that participation in networks that eventually led one back to ancestral soil was the crucial element which identified one as Chinese. (10) Yet before the emergence of the PRC, did being Chinese really depend on directly connecting through diasporic networks and institutions with the geo-political reality of the Middle Kingdom?
McKeown's argument, as I have outlined it, represents a major leap forward conceptually for the study of Chinese overseas by dispensing with a constricting nation-state framework. However, his approach contrasts with a substantial body of literature on the adaptations made by Chinese living in Southeast Asia that is less concerned with establishing global generalisations; and when it comes to the tricky question of what exactly constitutes 'Chineseness', he presents us with a number of historiographical problems. (11) In the first place, Chinese communities that have been settled in the region for generations have often retained and even fossilised customs that, taken together, might be seen as constituting an ethnic identity which has either died out or evolved out of all recognition in the homeland itself. Furthermore, as we have already suggested, the decades following 1949 were not the first occasion that Chinese migrants in the region found themselves cut off from China, nor the first time that contact between Chinese settlements was sustained independent of direct Middle Kingdom involvement. Nor, as we shall see, was the period after 1949 the first time these networks produced shared cultural formations which contemporaries, especially those who participated in them, would have identified as in some way Chinese. McKeown's account, by adhering to a 'sojourner'-dominated framework that it refines, inadvertently marginalises those people who identified themselves as Chinese but were born outside China or settled and raised families abroad before 1949. Such groups we might now refer to as luodi-shenggen ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], literally 'to fall to the ground and put forth roots') but at the time were known across the Malay world as Peranakan (local-born), Baba or, in the Straits Settlements, 'Straits Chinese'. Their frequent omission from accounts of Chinese overseas reinforces an implicit assumption that the only 'real' Chinese before this time were those born in the Middle Kingdom, or (to put it in McKeown's more subtle formulation) those bound to the homeland by diasporic institutions that related back directly to it. (12)
To comprehend the vitality and cultural importance of Nanyang networks before 1914 we must turn to Chinese born or settled permanently beyond the Middle Kingdom's borders, and especially to those domiciled in the increasingly Chinese city of Singapore. This involves a shift of focus away from bilateral links between settlements within the Middle Kingdom and settlements abroad, and away from predominantly sojourner-dominated narratives, a shift which raises many interesting questions about the nature of 'Chineseness' in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The remainder of this article examines the role of Straits Chinese--as well as other local-born or permanently settled groups in neighbouring settlements--in sustaining diasporic networks in the Nanyang. It also highlights their use of these networks to generate cultural change among Chinese communities across the region and sometimes within China itself. In contrast to studies that have positioned Straits Chinese and groups like them as separate 'hybrid' or 'creolised' communities which mainly acted as intermediaries between the colonial state and transient Chinese populations, this article argues that such groups freely interacted and mingled with newer arrivals across a whole range of public spaces and institutions. (13) In so doing, Straits Chinese and other Chinese rooted in the Nanyang played a greater role at the heart of Chinese diasporic society than they have previously been given credit for.
Nanyang networks and the making of Singapore
To a large extent, the maritime activities of Chinese in the Nanyang have always proved a threat to effective central control within the Middle Kingdom. After the famous Cheng Ho (Zheng He) voyages across the region in the early 1400s revealed the extent of Chinese achievements in seaborne technology, repeated bans by the Ming and later the Qing dynasties failed to prevent private trade and smuggling in the Nanyang during the three centuries that followed. Using Taiwan as their base, sea-lords such as Wang Chih, Kapitan Li Tan and then Cheng Chi-lung oversaw fleets of junks cruising to and from Japan, Vietnam, Siam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Java. (14) The second half of the seventeenth century, in particular, witnessed an expansion in Hokkien naval enterprises and attacks on the mainland under Cheng Chi-lung's son, Koxinga, that represented a direct challenge to the authority of the Qing at the borders of their influence. When Koxinga's Taiwan base fell in 1683, several of his defeated partisans fled to various parts of Southeast Asia, swelling existing settlements of local-born Chinese. (15)
Though political events in the Middle Kingdom contributed to an ebb and flow in commerce, Chinese trade in the Nanyang continued to survive during these centuries and at times even to expand. Between 1570 and 1750, Hokkien merchants operating out of Fujian ports such as Yuegang, Quanzhou and later Xiamen established sojourning communities in Nagasaki, Manila, Banten, Batavia and Melaka. Important research by James Chin has brought to light the operation of zones of Chinese influence radiating out from these settlements and the vitality of contacts between them. A major factor sustaining these linkages, despite the risks involved in early-modern seaborne commerce and the periodic massacres of overseas Chinese unleashed by foreign powers, was a flexible kinship system. Hokkien family enterprises were expanded by the adoption of sons who were sent overseas to serve as business assistants and sometimes through the adoption of 'brothers' resident in overseas ports. Merchants with daughters encouraged their sons-in-law to live in the family home and become commercial partners.
Emigration destinations for traders from the same family were 'purposefully mapp[ed] out', so that relatives did not double up in one country, and family contact was maintained through letters sent on junks, a channel of communication not restricted only to wealthy merchants. As their sojourns overseas became lengthier and their profits greater, a bilateral kinship structure sometimes emerged by which Hokkien merchants maintained two families, one in Fujian and one resulting from marriage to a local wife in the host country. Contemporary records indicate that second, local wives managed the business affairs of their husband while he was out of port. (16) Over time (and through a process that requires more detailed investigation) responsibility for Nanyang trading enterprises in many places passed to local-born sons produced by such unions. Already by the early eighteenth century one source indicates that local authorities were beginning to classify Hokkien merchants active in the region into those originating from China and sojourning abroad and those claiming they resided more permanently outside the Middle Kingdom in overseas ports. (17)
A powerful inducement to settlement in the Nanyang was the growing presence of Europeans in the region from the seventeenth century onward. European merchants relied on Hokkien traders and the commercial networks they commanded to purchase goods and Chinese cargoes or to set up small-scale industries. In return for acting as agents in these ventures, Hokkien traders received much sought-after advances of capital. The credit system that emerged relied on a deal of trust between both parties and benefited Chinese merchants who demonstrated that they had laid down local roots and therefore would not be returning to the Middle Kingdom without re-paying their debts. (18) After the East India Company's seizure of Bengal in 1757, Nanyang maritime networks were intensified by the expansion of opium trading. 'Country traders' sailing from India sold opium to Chinese merchants in exchange for silks, tea, ceramics and other Chinese products at geographically convenient bases such as Riau and then, afterwards, at Singapore. (19) As the global opium trade grew, it was again important for Chinese merchants to show they had put down roots if they were to secure European capital. British traders in a new port usually deemed as least likely to abscond whilst owing money those Chinese who, in addition to some skills in English, had acquired families and property. Singapore soon after its establishment attracted the relocation of junk traders from Siam, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Permanently settled and local-born (Baba or Peranakan) families from Riau, Penang and especially Melaka also migrated. These descendents of the region's pioneering Hokkien navigators were the leading commercial partners of European firms in the Straits for much of the remainder of the century. (20)
Singapore's links with coastal China, Vietnam and Siam through the junk trade were apparent only a year after its establishment and became a source of delight to colonial officials. However, regional trade closer to home carried out by both junk traders and Bugis prahu fleets remained a fundamental element in the port's early growth. In particular, the continuing vitality of traditional Hokkien and Bugis trade routes linking Malaya and the Indonesian Archipelago encouraged more immigrants from the southern provinces of China to make their sojourns in the Straits a permanent affair. (21) One of the most famous Teochews to follow the trade winds piloted by his Hokkien predecessors and lay down roots abroad was Seah Eu Chin. Born in a village some way inland from the port of Swatow, Seah worked his way to Singapore in 1823 as a clerk on board a junk and then took a similar position on several other trading vessels. His biographer tells us that during five years of 'roving sea life ... the various junks whereon he was employed visited from time to time practically all the coasts of the Straits of Malacca, the islands of the Rhio [Riau] Archipelago and the east coast of the Malay peninsula as far north as Singgora [present-day Songkhla in Thailand]'. At age twenty-five, Seah established himself as a commission agent supplying goods for junks trading between these places as well as Sumatra, receiving from them 'all the produce they had collected for sale on commission'. In the 1830s, he began investing his profits in property, married and settled down in Singapore to become one of the island's major pepper and gambier planters and the colony's first Chinese 'man of letters'. (22)
Although few contemporary accounts remain that detail the precise nature of Nanyang trading enterprises in the early nineteenth century, it is evident that maritime commerce out of Straits emporia directly involved local-born Chinese merchants as well as new arrivals, and often the partnership of both. (23) Continuing patterns of flexible kinship cemented commercial and social relationships between established Baba Chinese and newcomers who sought to enlist their local status and knowledge. Since a steady increase in female migration from China only began from the 1880s onwards, Baba were in an advantageous position to extend their family businesses by marrying off their daughters to new arrivals. Lim Boon Keng, a Straits-born leader of the Chinese population in Singapore from the 1890s, recorded that amongst these families the junk season generated 'considerable interest' since it brought 'welcome batches of eligible sons-in-law for the daughters who could not marry the natives of the country'. (24) Seah Eu Chin himself married a daughter of the Kapitan Cina (the appointed head of the local Chinese community) of Perak; she was accompanied to Singapore by her nine-year-old brother, Tan Seng Poh, who later took over the family firm when Seah retired. Until 1870, Baba of Hokkien descent and their Hokkien and sometimes Teochew commercial partners from China continued to comprise the greater part of Singapore's mercantile elite. (25)
Nanyang networks in an age of global empires
The argument has been made in various places that from 1830 European incursions, in the form of square-rigged clippers and later steamers, displaced existing Nanyang trade patterns and the direct influence Chinese had on maritime commerce by integrating the region into a world economic system dominated by Western powers. (26) If taken to mean the disruption of a pre-existing 'organic' unity in the region, the picture presented is somewhat misleading. Although European maritime technology eventually forced out traditional craft plying certain Nanyang trade routes such as that between Singapore and Siam, Chinese junks continued to be heavily involved in transshipment across the China Seas through much of the nineteenth century, carrying human cargoes of migrant labour on their outward voyages and goods on the return leg. (27) Furthermore, in many places maritime links between traditional Chinese trading settlements in Southeast Asia continued to flourish and remained in the hands of Chinese merchants. A revolution in maritime communications similar to that occurring across the Indian Ocean during the same period meant existing Nanyang networks experienced a period of readjustment and reordering. (28) Central to understanding this process is the fact that Baba Chinese in Singapore, in partnership with newly arrived merchants who entered into familial and commercial relationships with them, were successfully appropriating the supplies of capital and new technologies that Europeans brought with them--the very 'tools of Empire' on which Western domination in the region is seen to have rested.
After the First Opium War several Baba firms in the Straits Settlements began trading with traditional out-ports in the Nanyang where Chinese settlements existed, such as Bangkok, Saigon and later Nagasaki, as well as ports in the Dutch East Indies. Such firms also purchased vessels that could sail between these ports. Even before Straits-born Chinese came to dominate short-haul steam shipping in the region at the end of the century, the number of craft plying the China Seas that were owned by Chinese merchants resident in Singapore was considerable. In 1866, out of 178 schooners, barques, brigs, junks and ships registered under Act of Parliament as belonging to the port, only 58 were in the possession of Europeans, Indians and Malays; local Chinese owned the remaining 120. (29) Taking advantage of British penetrations into coastal China, Baba merchants in Singapore also utilised the protection of their colonial partners to establish renewed commercial contact with the Middle Kingdom. In the 1850s, the firm of Lim Leack, Chin Seng and Co. ran 'several schooners flying the British flag' which it used to export tin and tapioca to China from its branch in Melaka. In addition, Eng-Wat, Moh-Guan and Bros became one of the first Singapore firms to trade with Amoy, where its Baba representatives were sent to sojourn, while the Hiap Hong Watt Seng firm, also owned by a Baba, Tay Ho Swee, began running vessels that shipped planks to Tianjin and Shanghai. In the 1860s, Tan Beng Swee opened a Shanghai branch of Kim Seng and Co. and in the same decade Cheang Hong Lim was on his way to securing his position as a ship-owner, opium 'farmer' and property magnate powerful in Singapore and Hong Kong. (30)
Baba influence in China was especially strong in Amoy, the traditional out-port for much Hokkien migration into Singapore, the Straits Settlements and beyond. In the late 1840s, Straits-born Chinese already made up the majority of British subjects registered in the concession and according to colonial officials, few merchant families in the city were not connected with British, Dutch or Spanish settlements in the Nanyang through kin. As well as engaging in trade, Baba sojourning in Amoy acted as interpreters, translators and coolie brokers, and some were involved with secret societies whose brotherhoods and activities--especially smuggling--spanned the China Seas (such as the Xiaodaohui or Small Sword Society). (31) By 1870, the implementation of a direct steamer route between Singapore and Amoy meant that Straits-born Chinese could make visits to the ancestral homeland to find wives for themselves and for their sons. Some Baba and China-born merchants who had settled in the Straits sent their children to Fujian for a period to be brought up as well as educated, and on occasions pregnant wives were also sent to China so a new generation would be born on ancestral soil before spending the rest of their lives abroad. (32)
Although the trade depression of 1864 affected the Nanyang ventures of several Chinese firms in Singapore, in the following decades syndicates of Baba and naturalised Chinese resident in the Straits used their control of lucrative opium 'farms' to extend their business interests to Bangkok, Saigon and Shanghai. Revenue from these ventures, combined with fortunes made from tin-mining and later rubber, provided capital for more families to move into international shipping and banking. (33) By 1914 the global expansion of Straits Chinese commercial activities was such that British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Siam, French Indochina, Hong Kong and ports elsewhere were linked by their ships and capital. In particular, the development of Hong Kong and Saigon as Nanyang entrepots in the second half of the nineteenth century was bound up with their southern counterpart's expansion. (34) Imperial ambition, combined with Straits-born Chinese mastery of Nanyang networks, meant that Singapore increasingly generated centripetal forces drawing monies, peoples and ideas to it before dispersing them to Chinese settlements throughout the region.
The impact of this development on closer Nanyang settlements was dramatic. As Mary Somers Heidhues has shown, in Dutch-controlled Borneo, where many Chinese smallholder farmers and traders settled after 1850, lines of communication linking the port of Pontianak with Singapore became far busier than those linking it with Batavia. Chinese traders shifted cash crops such as coconut oil, sago, pepper and gambler through Singapore's international markets and brought back hevea seeds from Singapore to establish rubber plantations. Through networks linked through Singapore these same traders were able to bring in large quantities of rice from Saigon and Siam, as they did in 1891 to cover a failed harvest even before Dutch officials reacted. Secret societies, meanwhile, maintained links with their Singapore 'brothers', and many merchants operating on Borneo's west coast were agents for the city's Chinese firms. As was the case in other parts of the Dutch East Indies, the wealthier Chinese in Borneo sent their children to Singapore to be educated, transferred their profits and savings to the port-city's banks, and in several instances eventually moved there (or on to other parts of British Malaya) to continue business. As late as 1928 steam ships of the Royal Packet Company (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij) departed Pontianak for Singapore every four days but left for Batavia only once a fortnight. (35) Heidhues's figures show that a significant number of traders, market vendors and smallholder farmers depended on trade routes linking Borneo via Singapore with other settlements across the region. The movement of goods, people and information across this web of diasporic connections thus involved, and influenced the lives of, more than a few members of the wealthy Chinese elite. Such a group included farmers, coolie-brokers, secret society members and, as we shall see from other sources, clansmen, smugglers and sailors.
The rise of Straits Chinese
At the Western end of this emerging mercantile imperium in imperio, a powerful clique of Singapore-based Chinese merchants and financiers superintended the Nanyang's commercial traffic and concurrently served as the British Empire's protected intermediaries. In order to manage the growing Chinese community within the Straits Settlements, British officials regularly used Baba Chinese as interpreters, informants and local political agents. In 1852 the administration began naturalising Chinese who qualified as permanent residents of the Straits based on their possession of money, property and some proficiency in English, and in 1867 it conferred on Baba the status of British subjects by the fact of birth within the Empire. Local-born and other naturalised Chinese subsequently became co-opted as official justices of the peace, magistrates and jurors and later as representatives in the Chinese Protectorate and on the Advisory Board (administrative bodies set up by the British to govern, and to intervene in the affairs of, the Chinese community).
The rise of this class, which came to refer to itself and be labelled by observers as 'Straits Chinese', is mapped out through family histories recorded in the Baba Song Ong Siang's One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Returning to the life story of Seah Eu Chin, we find that following the success of his commercial dealings and his purchase of property in 1840 he was elected a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce. From 1851 he was frequently summoned to act as a grand juror and in 1853 he was granted a certificate of naturalisation. In the years that followed, the Straits Courts advised Chinese suitors to refer their cases to Seah and he eventually became Singapore's first Chinese Justice of the Peace (JP). Retiring from his business in 1864, Seah 'spent the remainder years of his life in the cultivation of Chinese literature' while continuing to serve as a leader of the Teochew dialect community. Significantly, Seah also provided his four local-born sons with private tuition in Chinese at home while sending them to English-language schools such as St Joseph's Institution. These sons grew up to form a cadre of multilingual gentry-officials which dominated the Teochew community, a domination that occasionally caused tensions within it. At some point in their life all of Seah's sons were appointed JPs, the most prominent amongst them being Seah Liang Seah, who became a member of the Legislative Council and leader of the Straits Chinese British Association. (36) The pattern of the Seah family's emergence is repeated in the case of other lineages established by China-born merchants in the nineteenth century such as Whampoa (Hoo Ah Kay), Wee Ah Heng, Low Ah Jit, Wee Bin, Lim Ho Puah and Wong Ah Fook. (37) The Straits Chinese elite also included merchants and professionals from China who were naturalised as British subjects and who served alongside Baba as officials and colonial representatives. Below this rank came Straits Chinese employed as company clerks or compradores in European and Baba firms or, after 1870, as bureaucrats in an expanding colonial administration. (38)
For some new migrants from China access to this clique was securable through dialect and clan links. From the middle of the nineteenth century Hokkien merchants, scholars and professionals fled upheavals in southern China, especially those caused by the Short Sword Rebellion in Amoy in 1853, and arrived in Singapore, where they made contact with Hokkien Baba who helped establish them in their new homes. On other occasions the colonial government's pressing need to co-opt local power-brokers meant that brothel-owners, secret-society leaders and opium magnates attained social respectability as co-opted officials and British subjects. (39) The attraction that naturalisation as a British subject held for new Chinese migrants who could qualify is easily explained. Holding second and even third nationalities generally did not mean revoking one's Chinese nationality, which was increasingly a hard thing to achieve even if one wanted to. In addition, a second nationality was assumed to mean security under a foreign flag when trading with coastal China (a lucrative market for Straits Chinese merchants), exemption from mainland taxes and an improved legal status. British nationality also had immediate local benefits in terms of status within the Chinese community, news of which may well have encouraged traders from Fujian and elsewhere to migrate to the Straits in search of a similar social ascendancy. (40)
As a settled, gentry-official class, co-opted by the colonial state as intermediaries between it and the wider Chinese population, Straits Chinese could present themselves as the guardians of tradition and custom. Prominent Straits Chinese were instrumental in preserving the Chinese graveyard in Melaka, for instance, and in 1850 Tan Kim Seng and other associates of the British petitioned the colonial government 'for liberty to observe the rites and customs' involved in almost every Chinese public ritual and festival held across the Straits Settlements. On the condition that 'the firing of crackers' would be limited to weddings, the colonial authorities, for their part, agreed to prohibit the practice hitherto prevailing amongst the police of seizing Chinese men by the 'thauchang' (queue). (41) Processes of negotiation like this were fundamental to the successful operation of imperial authority in Singapore. Out of such repeated contact at both a commercial and a political level, multilingualism and a capacity to move from one public space to another while adopting the new codes and languages that were appropriate flourished among Straits Chinese families. Cultural adaptability became the hallmark of that particular elite for decades to come.
As noted earlier, much of the research into local-born and permanently settled Chinese in the Malay world has focused on their intermarriages with local populations and the resulting development of 'hybrid' or 'creolised' cultures identifiable by their unique patois, dress and cuisine as Peranakan. While intermingling certainly occurred, and continued to occur in this period, an overemphasis on hybridity in these communities and a failure to appreciate distinct gender roles within Peranakan families easily give rise to an assumption that on account of their perceived cultural and racial impurity these groups experienced a social separation from new migrants. Indeed, the identification and isolation of a 'third' sociocultural system emerging from the fusion of two 'parent' societies have meant that the significance of the continued efforts by Baba to represent themselves as authentically Chinese in public has not been adequately examined. (42) Specifically, the extent to which new migrants socially accepted Baba as being Chinese and interacted with them across a number of spaces publicly designated as 'Chinese' has been largely underplayed. (43)
This is not to say that male Chinese in the Straits Settlements who were subjects of the British Empire, whether through birth or naturalisation, did not perceive themselves as belonging to a unique group distinct from newcomers from the mainland--quite the contrary. What is interesting is that when this collective consciousness was articulated publicly, it was done in a manner that reveals a striking concern to maintain authentic Chinese tradition amongst a people recognising themselves as making a permanent home across the sea. A fine example of this comes to us in the form of the sworn oath taken at the time of the establishment of the Keng Tek Whay (Qingdehui). Established in 1831 by 36 shophouse owners (mostly Baba from Melaka and other Chinese merchants who had settled in Singapore), this 'family benefit society' eventually took up residence in a pagoda at the Thian Hock Keng (Tianfu gong), the main Hokkien temple in Singapore. At its inception its founders acknowledged that:
It has been said that, though a solemn oath is made in a day, it lasts through a thousand years, even at the streams and the banyan tree. The Ancients regarded an oath as a thing that is binding by its sincerity and its righteousness, and usually considered that 'plighted words once uttered make the heavens tremble and the earth shake.' Therefore, in the midst of tribulation and of wealth and prosperity, their purpose remains unchanged. For this reason, succeeding generations earnestly desire to imitate them ... Under the present dynasty, our people have for more than two hundred years enjoyed prosperity. It is meet therefore that we, who live in this part of the world, should according to custom respect age and revere the teaching of the Sages ... We thirty-six persons who are followers of the Sages, one and all now undertake to form this Association. We invoke for this movement the blessing of the God Sam Kwan Thai The in whose presence we take this oath to become brothern [sic] (Hianh Tee), though we have different clan names. (44)
The Straits Chinese leader Lira Boon Keng was particularly keen to emphasise the fact that his community was most of all distinguishable as a group by virtue of their decision to reside in the Straits permanently rather than by their adoption of Malay customs. In his 1917 ethnographical history of the 'Chinese in Malaya', Lim argued that the increased migration of Chinese families to Singapore in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had, in effect, diluted the 'Malay-blood' which characterised the 'permanent Chinese population when the British appeared on the scene'--a population which, he carefully notes, had nevertheless 'more or less scrupulously observed' Chinese 'traditions and conventions'. As Lira saw it:
the habit of new-comers in bringing their womenfolk with them ... has resulted in the production of a pure race of Chinese in Malaya. This fact should be known, as otherwise the study of the ethnological characters of the Straits-born population would be complicated ... Chinese merchants and scholars have visited Malaya with their families and have adopted the different places in the Archipelago as their permanent domicile. The Chinese colony in Singapore, as in every large town in this part of the world, consists therefore of a very mixed community of Chinese from different parts of the Middle Kingdom, as well as of the families which have made their homes in these parts. A distinct line of demarcation separates the two elements--the permanent families or Peranakans, and the migratory population who hope eventually to return from the Tropics to China. (45)
Diasporic religion and social organisation
For much of the nineteenth century the temple was most often the public stage where Straits Chinese returned to enact ritual performances of their ancestral identities. Amongst a settler population divided by speech groups and swelled by newcomers, the rituals and social organisations connected with temples were fundamental to local-born and naturalised Chinese in establishing their cultural authenticity and political authority. In an entrepot environment where new arrivals from China were faced with often unintelligible dialects, temples provided essential services; they functioned as focal spaces for socialising, entertainment and seeking employment as well as for the placating of new 'local' and old 'traditional' protector gods. (46) Fraternal associations that sprang up on newly established sites ensured the observation of customary rituals involved in festivals, ancestral worship and burials. They also functioned as welfare organisations, sponsors of education and tribunals for the settlement of disputes.
The strong involvement of Straits Chinese with temples, and with their structures of informal government, is evident throughout the period of this study. Under the Dutch the Cheng Hoon Temple (Qingyun ting) in Melaka, founded in the mid-seventeenth century, had served as the political headquarters for the Kapitan Cina of the local Chinese community. Although the British officially abandoned the 'Kapitan' system in 1831, the 'temple master' (tingzhu) continued to function as the head of the local Chinese community; from 1840 this office was dominated by Baba descendants of Melaka's original Hokkien mercantile elite. (47) Chinese arrivals from Melaka were likewise involved in founding the Guanyin Teng in Penang, which from 1800 served a similar function to its Melaka counterpart and may have been structurally modelled on the latter rather than following the designs found in mainland China at this time. (48) In Singapore, Melaka Baba and other Straits Chinese oversaw a spate of temple-building as the port developed into a colonial metropolis. See Hood Keh, having established himself in Singapore in the 1820s, founded one of the colony's first temples, the Hang San Teng (Hengshan ting). Other notable temple-builders in the city included the Singapore-born opium farmer Cheang Hong Lim, who built the Giok Hong Tian (Yuhuang dian) on Havelock Road, and Seah Eu Chin, who contributed towards and was heavily involved in the Teochew Wak Hai Cheng Bio (Yuehaiqing miao, Temple of the Calm Sea), built in the 1850s on Phillips Street. (49)
As we have noted, the most important religious site for Singapore's dominant Hokkien community was the Thian Hock Keng, established in 1840 on Telok Ayer Street. The first Chairman of the Board of the Temple's Directors was the Melaka Baba Tan Tock Seng, who donated $3,000 in gold (over an eighth of the original cost) towards its construction. Through the rest of the century Straits Chinese dominated the temple's committee of management, many concurrently being members of the Keng Teck Whay. (50) In 1860 the temple's premises became home to the Hokkien Huay Kuan (Huiguan or dialect association), first presided over by Tan Tock Seng's son, Tan Kim Ching. In the 1870s J. D. Vaughan recorded that his Baba Chinese informant had 'visited the temple all his life' and that Cheang Hong Lim was responsible for erecting a theatre on the other side of the road to the front gates for performances during festivals in honour of the patron goddess. Lavish festivals, especially, were occasions for the local Chinese elite to display their power and prosperity and to Vaughan were no different from the political spectacles of 'civilised London', bearing a 'strong resemblance' to the Lord Mayor's Show. (51)
As well as linking Straits Chinese with the wider Chinese community in Singapore, temples functioned as diasporic spaces connecting them with other Nanyang settlements. Within the Straits Settlements these links often emerged when prominent Straits Chinese served as officials in temples in more than one place. (52) Certain sites also seem to have functioned as 'mother' temples, maintaining links with shrines in other parts through fenxiang, the division of incense ritually transported from a mother temple. Although most evidence of fenxiang in the Nanyang indicates the carrying of incense across land and sea from existing temples in China to shrines in new settlements, some sources reveal a practice of bringing in incense that originated from sites within the region. According to an inscription of 1902, the Tou Mu Kung (Doumu gong) on Upper Serangoon Road in Singapore was built around a shrine erected after incense had been ritually transported from Penang. The temple subsequently became a centre for the worship of the Nine Emperors, a cult popular in Penang and Phuket where censers are employed in annual festivals to represent an earthly link with nine divine brothers believed to have ascended to the Southern Heaven. (53)
For Chinese merchants, sailors and farmers who first journeyed across the China Seas, settled in its various ports and began trading with one other, the maintenance of recognisable deities and rituals at the temple was an obvious strategy that facilitated regional interaction between them. At the same time, a more pressing reason for establishing temples in the Nanyang was to provide supernatural protection for their often-perilous sea journeys. (54) As maritime networks across the region survived, revived and even became intensified in the nineteenth century, efforts by Straits Chinese (especially those of Hokkien descent) to maintain the signs of a shared maritime culture kept pace. Following a precedent laid down in Chinese settlements elsewhere, in 1840 leaders of the newly built Thian Hock Keng temple in Singapore made arrangements to receive its patron deity, Mazu (also known as Tianhou), from Fujian; Mazu according to popular accounts was a fisherman's daughter who later became deified as the 'Queen of Heaven'. The Singapore Free Press, in recording the lavish procession signalling Mazu's arrival, reported:
She is supposed to be the especial protectress of those who navigate the deep: at least, it is to her shrine as the Goddess of the Sea that the Chinese sailors pay the most fervent adoration, there being an altar dedicated to her in every junk that goes to sea. The procession is regarded as a formal announcement to the Chinese of her advent in this Settlement, and the exhibition, with the feasting attendant thereon, is stated to cost $6000. (55)
The 'formal announcement' of the goddess' advent in the colony integrated Singapore's Thian Hock Keng into a network of other Mazu temples spread out across the Nanyang from Taiwan to Saigon, Pontianak and Batavia. For Hokkien sailors and their passengers, temples belonging to the protector deity of seafarers served as transit points during their voyages from settlement to settlement. Before the 1880s land reclamation, like other temples dedicated to Mazu, Thian Hock Keng was situated directly on the waterfront, a few yards from where passengers on junks disembarked at Telok Ayer basin. Once on dry land, passengers and crew made their way to the temple to give ritual thanks to the goddess for their safe arrival; those about to depart made offerings for a calm journey onward. Moreover, such temples and the fraternal associations they housed, like harbour fronts and quayside shop-houses, functioned as focal spaces for regional exchanges of knowledge in a largely pre-print world, often providing traders and others with a far wider access to information than their extended families and businesses could provide. At the temple recent arrivals could relate news from other settlements and from China--details of events, kin and commercial opportunities--or they could consult the spirit medium of the place for advice from the patron deity regarding future voyages and undertakings.
Not surprisingly, a recurring theme in Chinese diasporic religion in the Nanyang was the prominence given to the seas. Around the corner from Thian Hock Keng, the Teochew Wak Hal Cheng Bio was similarly built on the waterfront with one of its two main altars likewise dedicated to Mazu. Other divinities popular in the region for providing protection for seafarers were Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, who in the Straits also often went by the alternative title 'Goddess of the Southern Seas', and the gods Sam Po (Sanbao) and Toa Peh Kong (Dabogong). These last two deities are particularly interesting because, having been worshipped and preserved for future generations by local-born Chinese across the Straits and Indies, both divinities came to bear little or no resemblance to gods found on the Chinese mainland and to be understood as pioneer deities unique to the lands joined by the Southern Ocean. Sam Po was possibly the deification of the Eunuch admiral Cheng Ho, and was worshipped in temples in Java, Singapore and Malaya--temples that often reveal in their physical features the earlier syncretism of Chinese and Islamic religious practice. Similarly, shrines to Toa Peh Kong, another highly syncretic divinity, were found across the Straits Settlements, Dutch East Indies, Malaya and Siam. (56)
For Chinese involved in nineteenth-century traffic in goods, people and information between Nanyang settlements, it was inevitable that some would imagine they belonged to a people united by the Southern Ocean, and especially by unique divinities who guided their ships across it and ensured their common livelihood. Expressions of this nascent diasporic consciousness become evident when we examine the inscriptions from this period in Singapore's remaining temples and clan-houses. While some of these sources record that new arrivals saw the city as a foreign land in which they sojourned, and to which they had to literally 'ship out' their own gods from the mainland so as to feel less homesick, sentiments elsewhere differ markedly. In the Giok Hong Tian an inscription dating from its foundation in 1887 reads:
In this place called Singapore, which is part of the Southern States (Nanbang), where gathered more than several tens of thousands of people travelling by sea ... the magnificence of the temples is nearly catching up with China (Zhonghua) and outstrips other states. (57)
Elsewhere, other inscriptions refer to Singapore as belonging to a specifically Chinese region extending south from the coastal borders of the Middle Kingdom, describing it as part of the 'haibang' (maritime states) or as the 'zonghui' (junction) of the Southern Seas. That this region was to some minds far from alien but instead a home away from their home on the Chinese mainland is especially brought out in a 1902 inscription at the Siong Lim Sze (Shuanglin si). Detailing the temple's origins, one wall reads:
I, the mother of the two monks who established the temple, am from Quanzhou Huiyi ... and all my family have become Buddhists. After journeying to the Buddha's country (India) I travelled through Penang and Singapore and it was as if I was returning to the old country. (58)
After 1900, the 'southern' Or 'maritime' states in which more and more Chinese were born or settled became commonly known to literati in China as the 'Nanyang', a nomenclature which temples and clan associations in the region readily adopted. Well before this time, however, and certainly well before 1949, Chinese living beyond the Middle Kingdom's official boundaries were developing a wider conception of Chinese settlements geographically distant from them and a self-conscious sense of a unique regional identity. The popularity of the belief that the haibang, Nanbang or eventually Nanyang was home to a dispersed people united by the sea and dependent on a common supernatural order is especially evidenced by the number of temples dedicated to Toa Peh Kong during our period. From the time of Singapore's establishment this divinity--the unique protector god of the region of whom knowledge had been preserved and passed on to new arrivals by Chinese rooted in the Straits Settlements, Siam, Malaya and the Indies--emerged as the titular deity of Chinese overseas in Southeast Asia. An 1856 calligraphic poem, presented to Toa Peh Kong by Teochews at Singapore's oldest temple, the Fuk Tak Chi, explained:
[His] powerful divine presence has bestowed mercy on the Southern Countries for a few decades, the people are healthy and there is an abundance of goods. Divine light has been shining upon the Maritime States (haiguo) for several thousand generations and the cycle of life is renewed and grows more beautiful. (59)
The process whereby self-perceptions of Chinese overseas were transformed from those of sojourners to those of rooted settlers was also fostered in more earthly ways. Fraternal bodies in Singapore run by Straits Chinese provided burials on local soil for both rich and poor migrants, maintaining funeral customs and providing mourners when sufficient family members were unavailable. (60) Initially housed in temple premises, these organisations also established local ancestral halls for the maintenance of spirit tablets and saw to it that deified clan progenitors continued to be appeased, thus shifting the focus of worship away from the patrilineal altar back in China towards the new land of settlement. A significant role of the Hokkien Huay Kuan, meanwhile, was as a marriage registry, making the unions of merchants from China with local Nonya women authentic and legally binding and hence tying Chinese sojourners down to the preservation of their new Nanyang families under British law. (61)
Such fraternal associations maintained Chinese observances that would have been recognisable in parts of the Middle Kingdom as well as Chinese settlements across the Nanyang. Yet the practical concern of these associations was as much with the region in which their members now lived as it was with the maintenance of direct ties to an ancestral place of origin that many members might have lost physical contact with. Clan assembly halls such as the Tan Si Chong Su (established in Singapore by local-born members of the Tan clan in 1878 and also known as the Po Chiak Keng) served as Nanyang mustering points. The port-city's importance as a regional centre for dispersed clans is particularly evident in the case of the Eng Choon Huay Kuan, established in 1867 and housed on Amoy Street from 1905. An inscription from the same year inside the clan association building reads:
Since the abolition of the sea commerce banning order in Guangdong there has been constant trade and now in the Nanyang there is no island which does not bear the footprints of people from our Yong (Eng) Chun region. All of these people must pass through Singapore, therefore they trade and sell and gather their families here. For this reason was established here this huiguan to link Yong (Eng) Chun people. (62)
Regional identifications by Chinese in the Nanyang were not exclusive expressions of cultural belonging. As greater numbers of migrants were channelled through Singapore during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and stayed or moved on elsewhere, ties between individual settlements and ancestral homelands within China were naturally strengthened. However, the idea amongst settlers who laid down roots that they were living in an integrated region connected by maritime networks, and through these networks with the coastal parts of Fujian and Guangdong, appears to have coexisted alongside such provincial Chinese self-representations. Indeed, by the turn of the century the character of the Nanyang as a unique maritime zone of Chinese cultural and potentially imperial influence had come to the attention of intellectuals in China itself. In 1904, in an article devoted to Cheng Ho and intended to rouse the Chinese nation to knowledge of a seafaring tradition supposedly extending back 2,000 years, the reformer Liang Qichao claimed (in undoubtedly imperialistic terms):
The large part of the Southeast of Asia, the so-called Indochina and various islands of Nanyang, constitute the unique lower reaches of the Chinese nation, and in future will again be a unique sphere of power for our Chinese nation. (63)
Nanyang literati and diasporic print culture
From the last decade of the nineteenth century, several Straits Chinese leaders in Singapore began to comment on significant social and cultural shifts within their community. As in other emporia in imperio, an expansion in global commerce and colonial bureaucracy after 1870 created a demand for Western-educated company clerks, civil servants and urban professionals. While Straits Chinese capital and shipping continued to link Nanyang settlements, a younger generation appeared to have lost their desire to trade, especially when faced with competition from new arrivals, and showed an increasing preference for 'white-collar' professions. (64) However, this change in occupational status did not immediately signal the demise of Straits Chinese involvement in Nanyang networks, nor diminish the part they played in shaping diasporic religion and consciousness; rather, it appears to have extended it.
In many parts of the Nanyang after 1870, literate Chinese began to expand on nascent expressions of a regional diasporic identity through the new medium of print. Participation in this community of text was made possible through an expansion of education in both Chinese dialects and European languages--an expansion led by local-born Chinese elites--and through the extension of imperial postal services. (65) By 1900, sons of successful Chinese elites resident in the region constituted a new generation of literati, accustomed to travelling along the Nanyang's shipping lanes in search of education, employment or commercial opportunities and possessing an impressive multilingual proficiency. These literati nurtured a creative milieu characterised by translation, the use of both Roman and Chinese scripts and the development of reading publics through which knowledge of other Chinese settlements elsewhere in the region was increasingly acquired.
The earliest Chinese literati in the Straits Settlements and Dutch East Indies were usually merchants, businessmen and even shopkeepers who pursued publishing as a sideline to their main commercial ventures. The audience they wrote for possessed a varying understanding of Chinese vernaculars and was sometimes literate in Jawi (Malay written in Arabic script), but was most comfortable reading and writing Rumi, the Romanised Malay disseminated by colonial and missionary educators. Initially, the literary tastes of their reading publics leaned towards local styles and themes. In the 1880s and 1890s, however, Nanyang literati increasingly began translating Chinese literature into Malay, versions that grew in popularity as contact with coastal China intensified. News of the success of translations in Java appears to have filtered through to Baba Chinese in the Straits Settlements: in 1889 four presses, of which three were Chinese-owned, published nine Chinese texts rendered into Rumi, the titles of which recall the same works published earlier that decade in Batavia and elsewhere. (66) Translations of works in Singapore such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi Yanyi) were undertaken by well-travelled Baba fluent in Chinese--men like Tan Beng Teck, Chan Kim Boon, Tan Kheam Hock and Chea Choo Yew. (67) Singapore also provided a base where local-born Chinese from the Dutch East Indies could get their works printed. Among Nanyang literati from across the water publishing with the port-city's presses were the Fujian-born Batavia resident, Lim Tjay Tat; Na Tian Piet, originally from Bengkulu; Kwa Tek Yee from Palembang; and Lira Hock Chee from Aceh. Other translators and authors active at this time in Singapore, of whom little more than their names is now known, were Lau Kim Kok, Baba Chek Swee Liong, Goh Len Joo (the manager of the Kong Guan Hin Press) and Pang Teck Joon. (68)
Literati activities in print at this time were transcultural in a linguistic as well as geographic sense. Works in Romanised Malay were generally more widely read than those in Chinese script and therefore received larger print-runs. (69) Some of the earliest works published by Chinese firms in Singapore, however, were guides to learning Malay in Chinese and Chinese-Malay vocabularies aimed primarily at newly arrived traders, merchants and shopkeepers. (70) Other works, such as Lira Tjay Tat's translation of Master Zhu Bolu's family instructions (Zhu Bolu Xiansheng jiaxun), which was sold in both Singapore and Batavia, featured parallel versions of the text in Chinese characters, Rumi and Romanised Hokkien. (71) Translation efforts were assisted by missionary publications such as the Straits vocabulary, written in English, Malay and Romanised Hokkien; or the Tright vocabulary by W. G. Shellabear and West, which provided English, Malay, Romanised Hokkien and Hakka and Chinese character equivalents. (72) Romanised Hokkien transcriptions alongside texts in Chinese and Malay also featured in translations published in the Indies after 1900, when Chinese-owned presses in Java succeeded in purchasing Chinese print-blocks. In Singapore, the ubiquitous Chan Kim Boon provided his readers with lists at the beginning of his works comprising Chinese expressions used in the text accompanied by Malay and English explanations. (73)
Nanyang literati usually financed and publicised their works themselves, relying on business contacts and travelling book hawkers for distribution. However, advertisements and serialisations in regional Malay-language newspapers and the spread of the imperial parcel post made access to these works easier than has been assumed; and although audiences were most likely limited in size, they were nonetheless geographically dispersed. (74) As Ian Proudfoot has argued, serialisation of Chinese romances printed in Singapore, usually while the work of translation was still in progress, helped generate audience solidarity, especially when periodic episodes published readers' correspondence with the translator and with each other. Between 1892-96, Chan Kim Boon's Malay serialisation of his version of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms became the equivalent of a modern magazine. Alongside the main story, monthly editions featured historical backgrounds to the drama, illustrations, photographs, poems in English, news reports from the Sino-Japanese war, bonus anthologies of humorous and amazing stories, brain teasers, comic sketches and jokes. Readers' correspondence was printed in English, Chinese and Malay and included letters from Chan's former students in Fuzhou and even one approving letter from a reader in Guangdong. According to Claudine Salmon, before the publication of a full version of the Romance in Java, Chan's version of this work was also available to readers in the Dutch East Indies. (75)
If the size of reading publics with access to bound books was relatively small, those created by the emergence of Nanyang journalism in English, Chinese and especially Malay were much more extensive. In the 1890s and 1900s local-born Chinese in the Straits Settlements and Indies established a number of newspapers in Romanised script providing news from mainland China and Chinese settlements across the Malay-speaking archipelago and peninsula. A number of these journals also served a didactic purpose. In Singapore, some newspapers were published in bilingual versions to assist Baba in learning English and Europeans in mastering Malay, while in Java those papers established in the 1900s by local-born Chinese contained full articles in Chinese characters with translations into Malay and Romanised Hokkien. The front pages of the newspapers Li Po and Ik Po regularly featured Romanised Hokkien puzzles and proverbs and sometimes discussions of translation methods. (76) Other Chinese-read papers in Rumi were distributed and perused across both colonial territories, sustaining regional interactions that surmounted the barriers between two European empires. Song Ong Siang's and Tan Boon Chin's Bintang Timor, founded in Singapore in 1894, sold throughout the Straits Settlements and Malaya, Borneo, Sumatra and Java. Although the paper only ran to 200 issues and folded because of financial problems within two years, its place as a regional forum for Chinese in settlements across the Malay-speaking world was taken by another organ, Pembrita Betawi. By the mid 1890s Pembrita had become a successful daily with a widespread readership of local-born Chinese, and other Malay speakers, and with a growing number of firms seeking to advertise in its pages. It featured reports from Singapore on subjects such as opium smuggling across the Straits Settlements and Riau Archipelago and its translations included news lifted from Singapore's Straits Times. (77)
Regional literary exchanges through these two papers were chiefly encouraged by their leading Singapore correspondent, Na Tian Piet. A trader and Christian convert who had resided in Aceh, Riau and Deli, Na eventually came to Singapore, where he met Song Ong Siang and began writing for Bintang Timor with news from Sumatra, his place of birth. However, under the pseudonym of 'Kalam Langit' (Celestial Pen), Na's front-page columns in Pembrita featured regular reports from his new place of residence focusing on Straits Chinese as models of Chinese progress. His particular gripe against the Dutch administration in the Indies concerned its failure to provide Western education for its Chinese subjects, in contrast to the policy of the British in the Straits Settlements, Malaya and India. Whereas the British had created an educated class of Chinese conversant in English, Na claimed that many Chinese over the water understood 'Dutch letters' (surat Olanda--meaning Romanised script) but could not fathom their coloniser's language. Calling on the administration to rectify this situation, Na published in a follow-up argument a list of government and non-government schools in Singapore where 'correct English' was taught to non-Europeans; he also supplied information about tuition costs, upper schooling and overseas scholarships. Other articles focused on successful products of this system: Straits Chinese such as his friend Song Ong Siang, the Batavia-born Lee Teng Hui and Lim Boon Keng, whose medical practice received special journalistic attention and whose monthly income, converted into rupiah, even merited publication. In Na's eyes, Straits Chinese were examples of the 'love' (kasjih sayang) of the British government for its colonial subjects and of the opportunities for profit offered by an administration that treated them as 'its children' (anaknja) and not, as the Dutch did, as its 'step-children' (anak-tiri). (78)
News from Singapore appears to have generated particular interest amongst Chinese in the Indies since their mobility within and outside their colony was, by comparison, more restricted and their opportunities for personal advancement through travel significantly fewer. A special concern of Na Tian Piet's was to encourage Chinese merchants in the Indies to follow their cousins across the water by expanding their horizons through overseas voyages. Reporting on the Baba Tan Hap Leong's globe-trotting journey in 1895, Na exhorted his readers to stop hoarding their money in banks and to start paying for their children to see the world 'in all its beautiful glory'. (79) In other articles Na focused on the different practices of local-born Chinese across the Malay-speaking world, contrasting the Peranakan in Java, who 'liked to imitate' (suka meniroe) the habits of their colonial masters and mingled with them socially without speaking their language, with Baba in Singapore who spoke 'correct English' but still kept their 'ancestral traditions' (hadat neneh moijangnja). He did not find everything in Singapore worthy of commendation, however. In February 1895, he wrote in both Bintang Timor and Pembrita criticising the Straits Chinese for their informal habits at weddings and also for their failure to recognise the military backwardness of the Chinese Empire compared with the modern Japanese army it was then fighting. (80)
These criticisms form part of a wider debate about Chinese 'foolishness' that filled both papers in early 1895, a discussion that revealed the burgeoning in the region of a critical public. In Pembrita Na labelled both mainland Chinese and Melaka Baba as 'stupid' (bodo) for indulging in expensive celebrations of the Chinese Empress Dowager's birthday. In Bintang Timor, meanwhile, Baba from Singapore ridiculed Palembang Chinese for boycotting a Japanese acrobatic troupe on account of the war, while Melaka Baba wrote in to describe the general stupidity of their cousins in China. In March 1895 a correspondent to Pembrita argued that Palembang Chinese were indeed 'stupid' because they ignorantly adhered to the customs of their ancestors and maintained traditional Peranakan dress. The anonymous writer called on them to follow the example of their cousins in Java, who were educated and modern, and signed off his contribution with the words 'Is that correct, Mr Kalam Langit in Singapore?'--a question that seems to indicate that Na Tien Piet had emerged briefly as a Nanyang 'voice of reason'. (81)
Straits Chinese inevitably came to the forefront of Nanyang journalistic activity since their advantageous position in Singapore afforded them access to various sources of education, capital, and information. Tan Teck Soon, a graduate of Raffles Institution who had travelled to Xiamen to complete his studies and was fluent in English, Malay and Chinese, edited the Daily Advertiser, which ran from 1890 to 1894, to serve as a forum for all of the 'English-speaking Asiatic population' and especially for discussion of Chinese reform. (82) Three years after the paper had folded as a consequence of a libel suit, Tan began writing for the Straits Chinese Magazine, a quarterly edited by Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Slang. Despite being in English, the magazine sold out its first edition of 800 copies and eventually had distributors in Melaka, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Batavia, Labuan, Sarawak, Saigon and Yokohama. However, the region's most widely distributed Chinese-run periodical was the newspaper Lat Pau. Printed from the early 1880s, Lat Pau was established by See Ewe Lay, a Straits Chinese comprador with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, assisted by his father, See Eng Watt, the Amoy trader and son of one of the first Melaka Baba to settle in Singapore, See Hood Kee. Similarly beginning with around 800 subscribers, the paper built up links among Chinese across the Nanyang and reconnected them with events on the Chinese mainland by reproducing extracts from newspapers based within China and its treaty ports. Lat Pau also carried advertisements from European firms, employed staff writers from Hong Kong and published imperial edicts from Peking while at the same time receiving telegrams and reporting commercial news from ports across the region where Chinese merchants were active. Correspondence was published from Chinese based in Rangoon, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Batavia, Bangkok, Manila and Saigon and was a major source of the paper's regional news content. Eventually Lat Pau became such a useful means of transmitting information across the Nanyang that both the British and Dutch administrations used it to publish their official notices. (83)
Literacy rates among Nanyang Chinese reading Romanised and Chinese scripts are hard to gauge for this period, as is the readership for periodicals, for though most print runs before 1900 were in the hundreds rather than the thousands, actual circulation is likely to have been higher, as a consequence of reading clubs and the practice of gathering and redistributing copies. (84) What is clear, nonetheless, is that the printed word, transmitted through the region by modern maritime communications, allowed a powerful and influential minority to discover more about their ancestors' homeland and more also about the different parts of the Nanyang where Chinese had settled. At the turn of the century, reading and writing became new rituals through which access to a Chinese cultural universe--not necessarily limited in its scope to, or dependent on, the rural Chinese village or the pronouncements of mainland Chinese literati and officials--was possible. For those who could read, the multilingual abilities of Nanyang literati and their willingness to translate into a number of languages meant that participation--at this early stage, at least--was inclusive rather than exclusive and not simply restricted to the China-born who were educated in Chinese characters. (85) Moreover, through continuing traditions of oral recitation such as were habitual among established local-born families, involvement in this universe could also extend to a non-literate but 'literary aware' audience. In the minds of some the discovery of a global community of Chinese presented an opportunity for profit, especially once literacy in its various lingua francas was achieved. To this end Singapore functioned as a regional centre and a gateway. In 1907, the Indies-born Phua Keng Heck wrote in the Chinese-run newspaper Perniagaan:
Because in the last ten years the relationship between the Dutch East Indies and other areas such as Singapore has become closer, many Chinese from these areas visited the Indies and became friendly with people here. Likewise, Chinese in the Indies travelled overseas and discovered in these places, in Singapore, Penang and especially China and Japan, for instance, that Chinese characters were still widely in use. This situation was different from that in the Indies where such knowledge had almost disappeared. The Chinese here then learned that Chinese with this knowledge outside the Indies live comfortably and have greater opportunities to make a better living ... Chinese in the Indies have opened their eyes. They realize that the Chinese and English languages are widely used outside the Indies. It is then not surprising that nowadays the Indies Chinese are more interested in teaching their children these two languages than Dutch, although they are still under Dutch rule. Moreover, they have realized that if they are literate in Chinese and English, they can simply take a two- or three-day voyage (Java-Singapore) into a wider world where they can move freely. With such knowledge, the Chinese here feel that the Indies is too small for them ... (86)
Confucian revival and Nanyang reform
As we have begun to appreciate, a growing concern evident in Nanyang newspapers in the last decade of the nineteenth century was for the reform of outdated Chinese customs and traditions. To a large extent, this fascination with notions of 'progress' was prompted by the modern education many Nanyang Chinese had received, and by the journeys to the West some of them had undertaken, as a consequence of colonial administrators and Christian evangelicals seeking to secure local manpower for their respective bureaucratic and spiritual missions. As was the case with their counterparts in other emporia in imperio such as Calcutta and Colombo, the desire of Nanyang Chinese intellectuals to reconcile non-European spirituality with European rationalism and science led to a flourishing of literary activity and associational life. However, it would be a mistake to see the reform movements that the region's Chinese literati engaged in subsequently as symptomatic only of an increased contact with Europeans. Literacy, even if it were limited to only one of the region's lingua francas, opened up an entire world 'in motion'. (87) Developments in Singapore and further east, as reported by Nanyang periodicals, provided Chinese literati in the region with examples of modernity drawn from within Asia. Such examples became cultural reference points of great importance in the quest for 'progress', largely because they represented an authentically non-European response to the modern world.
Events in the Middle Kingdom following its defeat by a modernised, industrialised Japan were monitored with particular attention. Between 1895-98, Confucianist reformers in China, led by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao and backed by a sympathetic young emperor, had initiated a movement that sought to overhaul the imperial bureaucracy and education system, thereby challenging the existing social order. (In Kang's eyes, Confucian classics reinterpreted in a progressive light served as the ideological foundation whereby China might embrace elements of modernity while purging itself of foreign religious practices.) News of this gentry-literati-led drive for reform soon spread to the Straits Settlements, where the region's unique programme of Confucian revival and reform was launched from Singapore. Though this movement has been portrayed as dominated by China-born, Chinese-educated merchants and scholars (assisted by Qing officials), who were responding to the perceived 'Babaisation' of Chinese society they saw around them, such a picture is misleading. Not only was the intellectual leadership of Confucian revival in the city largely undertaken by local Straits Chinese, the particular brand of reform they promoted--characterised by the creation of a 'rational' Confucian cult and (in Lim Boon Keng's words) by the attempt to adapt the 'Chinese system of thought and social polity' to the 'newer needs of international intercourse'--exerted a regional influence through existing Nanyang networks to which they, in the main, had access. (88)
In March 1896, Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, along with other Baba leaders, inaugurated the Straits Chinese Philomathic Society (known in Chinese as Haixia Huaren Haoxuehui) for lectures and debates on literature and Confucianism. (89) In September 1897, after a crowd of 35 had dispersed following a paper, a 'few energetic members' who stayed behind discussed the 'question of the reforms for the young Baba party', deciding to cut their queues 'so as to mark the difference between the progressive party and the conservatives'. (90) The following year Lim, Tan Teck Soon and the Hokkien poet-scholar Khoo Seok Wan (recently returned from studying in China) established the Chinese newspaper Thien Nan Shin Pao, and in 1899 Lim took over the defunct Sing Po and renamed it Jit Shin Pao. Both papers served as vernacular mouthpieces for their owners' efforts towards Confucian revival, and often featured Chinese translations of news and articles originally in English. From 1899 the Straits Chinese Magazine also became a key vehicle for articulating the progressive party's reform programme in the fields of education, religion and dress and for promoting its leaders' desire to mould the Straits Chinese into a model people capable of leading Chinese everywhere into the modern world. (91)
By reprinting news and editorials from mainland Chinese and overseas reformist papers, these periodicals connected Singaporean literati with a global network of Chinese 'progressives'. Locally, the publicity they gave to Philomathic Society lectures meant that from 1899 its doors were thrown open to those who spoke mainly Chinese along with their regular Anglophone participants, so that translators had to be drafted in to provide relays of speeches in various dialects. The Society soon claimed to have a membership of 200, consisting of merchants, doctors, journalists and government servants, of whom around 50 were Straits Chinese and the rest from China and elsewhere. Especially significant is the number of participants attending who originated from other Nanyang settlements in the Straits and Indies, as well as from Hong Kong, Macao, Shanghai and Japan. (92)
Utilising their links with their dialect communities and with the Chinese consulate, Lim and his circle's reform programme transformed the educational scene in Singapore, establishing Mandarin classes and female education using 'improved and modern systems, distinctly in consonance with Chinese principles as laid down in the classical works of Confucius'. (93) Yet at the same time, a striking feature of the reform movement they orchestrated was their attempt to dismantle existing customs and ritual observances that for over a century had been the very mechanisms by which Baba had negotiated the arrival of newcomers and cemented their dialect identities. In the SCM, articles and published speeches cited Confucius as an authority to sanction cleansing Chinese society of all 'idolatrous practices' and 'superstitions'. (94) To Lim and Lee Teng Hui ancestor worship was anathema; food offerings and other methods of placating family spirits were rejected as a corruption of the Confucian ideal of 'filial piety'; instead, 'hero-worship' on 'rational lines' was advocated. The 'parade and extravagance' of Chinese funeral rites were likewise attacked: all 'gaudy shows' and 'discordant noises' were to be banished, as well as the Buddhist or other priest 'with his incantations, prayers or masses and all his paraphernalia'. Mourners were advised not to 'break out in lamentations calling upon the dead to rise, eat and sleep' and the art of fengshui was discredited by Lin Meng Ching (probably Lim under a pseudonym) as the 'false science of geomancy'. (95) Moreover, in 1906 Straits Chinese leaders used their status as leaders within the Hokkien community in Singapore to directly intervene in the affairs of the Thian Hock Keng, halting its involvement in the Chingay procession (a festival originating in Penang which features floats, costumes, and masks) and the Hungry Ghosts festival. At the first temple meeting where the ban was discussed, Lim and Tan Boo Liat argued that such celebrations were in no way Confucian and that the money spent on them should be redirected towards education. (96)
By attacking Chinese ritual observance per se, the maintenance of which was a central aspect of Confucianism, Lim and his circle were going much further than most reformers active in the Chinese mainland had envisaged. Although Kang Youwei sought to end 'improper sacrifices' to Taoist, Buddhist and local deities in China, he still desired that Confucius be worshipped and so form the basis of a virile, national religion. In contrast, Straits Chinese reformers portrayed Confucius as a rational philosopher of ethics best approached through the classroom and the printed word. Lim claimed Confucius was a scientific sage and that the 'scientists of Europe openly profess [Confucian] tenets, though they do not call themselves Confucianists, though this is a small matter'. This alternative approach proved of great significance to Chinese living in British- and Dutch-controlled parts of the Nanyang, because it allowed those who styled themselves as 'progressives' in the light of their Western education, and those who were Christian converts, Christian syncretists or products of missionary schooling, to participate in revival. (97) Rather than being an attempt to re-Sinify overseas, hybridised Chinese to a cultural orthodoxy then prevalent in China, the Confucian revival and reform movement in Singapore (and soon elsewhere) was being used to radically reconstruct Chinese religion and identity. To the movement's leaders the problem was less the assimilation of new, 'local' practices by Chinese in the Nanyang than their stubborn adherence to ancient, traditional ones. (98)
The regional impact of Straits Chinese reform and Confucian revival was quickly apparent. In the early 1890s Straits Baba were already teaching 'correct Chinese and English' at an Anglo-Chinese School in Batavia, which advertised its English and Chinese textbooks as being the same as those used in Raffles Institution and available at the same (cheap) Singapore price. (99) In 1899 the Chinese Philomathic Society printed 1,500 copies of a Malay pamphlet pleading for the removal of the queue, a pamphlet presumably for distribution across both the Straits and Indies, while in December of that year Lira Boon Keng was visited by Tan Ging Tiong and Yoe Tjai Siang, local-born literati from Java. Tan, who claimed Lim as his friend, explained that the latter had confided there was no one in Singapore 'able to translate perfectly' Confucian classics into Malay and had asked him to do so and to pass his work to the Philomathic Society on completion. (100) Returning to Java, Tan and Yoe began work together on translations of The great learning and The doctrine of the mean, both of which appeared in 1900. In that same year the inaugural branch of the Tiong Hua Huay Kuan (THHK), the Indies' first Confucian association, was established in Batavia. Tan's and Yoe's Li Po newspaper became the THHK's official organ, which was then followed by Ik Po, published in 1904, and by the establishment of other Confucian journals in major Chinese settlements. (101)
The direct influence of Lim and his circle on Confucian revival in the Indies becomes evident from a number of sources. Li Po's motto was a straight translation into Malay from the frontispiece to the SCM of the Confucian saying 'if you have faults, do not fear to abandon them'. Likewise, its prospectus edition featured a ten-point summary of Lim's article on funeral rites from the same Singapore journal, and to this Indies readers were encouraged to respond. (102) Lim himself was enlisted by the THHK in Batavia to find a principal for its first Confucian school; this marked the beginning of a modern education drive for Chinese throughout the archipelago. Between 1900 and 1906 Lim also embarked on several tours across the Indies, giving lectures on reform and revival topics that sparked lively debates among Indies Chinese in their Malay-language papers. (103) Meanwhile, Lee Teng Hui had left Singapore to run the 'Yale Institute' in Batavia, a THHK-backed English language school which by its statutes was required to provide students with an education in Confucianist teachings. As in Singapore, under Lim's and Lee's guidance the curricula for THHK schools placed a strong emphasis on the teaching of Mandarin and English as compulsory languages. According to one THHK teacher in the Indies, English education had allowed the Straits Chinese to gain equality (sama rata) with Europeans. (104)
Through the press, news of revival and reform activities in the Indies spread across the Nanyang, encouraging some Chinese in Malaya to donate funds to the THHK and eliciting strong moral support from as far away as Hong Kong. (105) According to the SCM's 'Batavia correspondent', by 1902 many Indies Chinese preferred English to Dutch education and were publicly discarding the 'national appendage', the thaw-chang or queue. In Java, Chinese-run Malay newspapers labelled these 'progressives' 'Kaoem moeda thawtjang' (kaum muda were 'progressive youth'), listing the names of prominent figures who had cut their queues, detailing the public meetings held to discuss the measure and informing readers of young Chinese who were now signing their names with the additional suffix 'K.M.' so as to register their enlightened status. Other articles and letters reported that un-Confucian traditions and customs, such as festivals for the regional deity Toa Peh Kong or the burning of paper offerings along with prayers, were becoming less popular and in places had been curtailed. (106)
As in Singapore, the THHK's programme for religious and social change aimed at totally abolishing 'superstitions' and 'idolatrous practices', reforming wedding and funeral customs, and elevating Confucius as a rational, moral philosopher. Several revival leaders in the Indies, men such as Yoe Tjai Siang, Lie Kim Hok and Phua Keng Hek, mirrored Lim Boon Keng and his circle: they were Christian-syncretists or had attended missionary institutions and continued to maintain contact with European evangelicals. (107) The extent to which these leaders followed a distinct Singaporean brand of neo-Confucianism is brought out in sharp relief by the visit of Kang Youwei to Java in 1903. According to Lie Kim Hok, a THHK leader and journalist, Kang on arriving in Batavia failed to comprehend why local leaders who claimed they were Confucian did not want a shrine to Confucius placed in their association building. 'Traditionalists' in the city, who were trying to reverse the THHK's refusal to sanction altars, approached Kang to persuade him to use his considerable influence to have the association's headquarters converted into a Confucian temple (or bun-bio, Mand. wenmiao). Learning of this plan, Phua Keng Hek met with Kang in person. Using the example of Si Jagur (the Portuguese cannon in Batavia popularly worshipped as a fertility god), Phua persuaded Kang that the local Chinese were so superstitious that any altar to Confucius would in reality undermine their shared reform efforts: the THHK would become just one shrine to an idol amongst many hundreds dotted across the city. Lie's account dramatically concludes: 'Following this, the mind of Kang Youwei was changed and holding Phua's hands in his he said, "you are right. Please hold firm to this principle and don't let it go".' (108)
After 1900 the increasingly global context of the news, views and ideologies being transmitted across the Nanyang is borne out by press coverage of reactions to the 1905 Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States. Drawing on their extensive networks and multilingual talents, the editors of Li Po and Ik Po in Java provided information about Chinese activities in Peking, Yokohama, Singapore and Penang that had followed in the wake of the Shanghai boycott of US products, and hoped that these agitations might spread to the Indies. They featured accounts of meetings held by merchants in Chinese treaty ports and published, in Malay translation, speeches given thousands of miles away by mainland Chinese propagandists. (109) A further indication of a growing global consciousness among Chinese literati in the Indies was that they began envisioning their publics as 'bangsa orang Tjina' (the nation of Chinese people); occasionally, in a more particular vein, as 'bangsa kita orang Hokkien' (our nation, the Hokkien people); or, increasingly, as 'orang Tiong Hoa' (China people). But these terms did not necessarily signify a community inextricably bound by ties of nationality to the Middle Kingdom--specifically referred to as 'negri Tjina' ('country of China' in Malay) or 'Tiong kok' ('Middle Kingdom' in Hokkien)--or to its political fate. Their sense of identity was more a global ethnie, imagined and transacted through print and extending well beyond the Kingdom's official geopolitical boundaries. (110) To Nanyang literati such a community transcended social divisions between local-borns and new arrivals and united all who, whatever their descent or language, called themselves Chinese; all who read or wrote and desired reform; and even those who did not desire it but were deemed to be in need of it. (111)
Diasporic nationalism and the making of ethnic Chinese
Expressions of nationalist sentiment by Chinese who believed they belonged to a global community, but not necessarily to the Middle Kingdom or a particular province within it that represented home, were especially strong in Singapore, where news of this wider community was collected and ideas as to its progress were formulated and distributed. At first sight the involvement of British subjects in overseas Chinese nationalist activities might seem remarkable (and, as has been the case with the Confucian revival, this involvement has often been underestimated); but when we consider the local importance of Straits Chinese as dialect leaders it becomes less surprising. When mainland Chinese officials established themselves in the Straits to exploit the Nanyang's resources from the early 1880s, creating what the Assistant Chinese Protector described as a 'sentimental imperium in imperio', Straits Chinese mixed with them socially, joined with them in cultural activities and occasionally acted as their local political agents. (112) Following the failed 'Hundred Days Reform' in 1898 and the subsequent palace coup, China's political situation became a major subject of discussion in the periodicals that Straits Chinese read and in the clubs they attended. When exiled reformers and then revolutionaries sojourned in Singapore during their global progresses through the Chinese diaspora, prominent Straits Chinese acted as their intermediaries and became fundraisers and publicists for their causes. (113) Both Singapore's revolutionary and reform papers, though they indulged in repeated battles of the pen with each other which involved Straits Chinese, continued to form part of a global press network that gave their readers access to news and comment from activists in places as far apart as Tokyo, Hawaii and Vancouver. (114)
Chinese nationalist sentiment expressed by elites who were legally British subjects did on occasions create tensions with the European settler population. (115) The major political anxiety manifested by Straits Chinese leaders at this time, however, did not relate to British concerns about their loyalty so much as to any question of the further claims that the Qing government might make. An early editorial in the SCM entitled 'What is loyalty?' rejected the notion that political allegiance was based on blood alone and argued that any man true to the Queen and the British constitution was 'a fit member of the British Empire and entitled to all its immunities and privileges'--a prescient statement in that China officially applied the principle of jus sanguinis in 1909 to claim all those with Chinese blood through the male line as its nationals. In other editions readers of the SCM were asked to contemplate the question, 'Are Straits Chinese British subjects?' and to consider what would happen if 'the Chinese government should suddenly develop an affectionate and paternal regard for them and claim them to be Chinese subjects'. Song Ong Siang maintained that such a debate was needed at a time when the Chinese authorities were already making extended claims over Chinese peoples and were supported by a 'remarkable concession on the part of the British government'. Asking whether the nationality of one's parents or birth on British soil determined nationality, Song concluded that 'having realised from experience the inestimable advantages they enjoy as British subjects', Straits Chinese 'will not be in a hurry to give up the belief that they are British subjects'. (116)
It is within this context of political and cultural negotiation that we come to understand Lim and Song's inauguration in 1900 of the Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA), designed to maintain the community's loyalty to the Empire and safeguard its rights as British subjects. Rather than being the act of an Anglicised, deracinated group of 'mimic-men' cut off from their Chinese heritage, the association was a necessary response to an expansionist Qing state now extending its tentacles through the Nanyang and apparently claiming as its subjects Chinese who had been settled for up to four generations in the region. Indeed, the China focus of the SCBA, though it has been little researched, was evident from its inception, its members being called immediately to support the reform party agenda. (117)
Elsewhere, the extent of cultural and political pluralism that Straits Chinese clubs negotiated and encouraged was even more striking. The Chinese Philomathic Society, in addition to its Confucian revival activities and political debates about China, met for regular chess sessions and provided classes in English literature and Western classical music. In 1900 we find the society providing its members with the very heights (or perhaps depths) of late-Victorian entertainment. At a Philomathic Society concert reported by the Straits Times the 'attendance was chiefly Chinese, but there were present a fair number of European ladies and gentlemen, and some Malays'. The evening's programme consisted of songs played on violins and sung (such as the 'Jubilee Polka') and included a 'particularly successful' impersonation of a black minstrel by Song Ong Siang's brother Song Ong Joo, before concluding with a rendition of 'God Save the Queen'. This concert, held at Tan Boo Liat's house and presided over by Lim Boon Keng, took place around the time of Kang Youwei's arrival in Singapore, after which the Society began functioning as a front organisation for Kang's Emperor Protection Society. As they listened to and applauded Victorian ditties, members of the Philomathic Society were already sending telegrams of protest to the Dowager Empress, and later that year some would become involved in a secret plot to restore the Manchu Emperor by force. (118)
In a modern age where modern nation-states still seem generally to demand a singular political allegiance, such Janus-faced behaviour might appear like cultural schizophrenia. In an age of expanding global empires, however, prominent Straits Chinese saw their plural identities as a source of opportunity rather than crisis. If we examine the pronouncements of their debating and reading circles, we find repeated calls for the community to make the most out of its inherent cosmopolitanism and to become further involved in China's transformation. Lim Boon Keng exhorted Straits Chinese to go to the Middle Kingdom and reap the rewards they enjoyed as members of both the Celestial and British Empires. They should, he said, 'take your fair share of the heritage that belongs to the son of Han ... Moreover, as British subjects you must enjoy all the benefits that accrue from the spread of British influence which unfortunately has not been in evidence for some years in China.' (119)
China's need for 'many thousands of teachers for years to come' encouraged another writer to state: 'we Straits Chinese have the material and the resources. Let us supply this demand and in this manner save ourselves and help the Fatherland.' Female education was championed to halt the supposedly damaging influence of Malay customs in the household and transform Straits Chinese into 'such an ideal people that our men and women may even be in a position to help in the work of civilisation in the Far East'. (120) Following Dr S. C. Yin's fact-finding mission of 1912, Republican China was deemed a 'new field for Straits Enterprise'; Lira Boon Keng believed that the opening up of China provided 'splendid opportunities' for Straits Chinese, 'especially in co-operation with Britishers' who might be interested in the Celestial Empire's 'industrial awakening'. (121) After 1900 prominent Straits Chinese travelled to the Middle Kingdom to sojourn and work with the Chinese authorities and a few remained there permanently. Among the most famous were Gnoh Lean Tuck (Wu Lien Tuck, the 'plague doctor'), Lee Teng Hui and Lim Boon Keng himself. Moreover, several other less famous names accompanied them, mainly Straits Chinese doctors, lawyers, interpreters, journalists and engineers. (122) Nanyang networks, which had played such an important role in the emergence of the community, seemed on the point of forming one part of an even larger Anglo-Chinese commercial empire.
The way Straits Chinese literati between 1900 and 1914 navigated competing cultural and political currents reveals the development of an ethnic Chinese identity that had been formulated well before any post-1949 exile from China. To be 'Sons of Han' who were 'King's Chinese' permitted participation in a cultural and sometimes political Chinese universe while remaining legally free from the demands of the Chinese state. Lira Boon Keng and his circle in Singapore, supported by other literati in the Nanyang, were building what might be seen as a Chinese 'nation without a state'. Through reading and writing and then by more overtly political activities, those who no longer possessed strong familial links with China's provinces emerged as key members of the 'sentimental imperium in imperio' that colonial officials had once feared. While some no doubt continued to fear it, other British officials, together with missionaries and businessmen, seem to have seen the development as perfectly acceptable and went so far as to endorse it publicly. As Lim Boon Keng had told them, Straits Chinese involvement in China and with other Chinese was a vital part of the further international penetration of British interests and thus a respectable activity.
Just how respectable this 'empire within an empire' became was revealed in the aftermath of the 1911 Chinese Revolution. On 27 April 1913 a multilingual service of intercession for China was held in St Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore, apparently in response to a request from the Chinese government for its 'Chinese subjects to join together and pray for the welfare of the nation'. The service was attended by the British Governor and his wife, leading English residents, the Chinese Consul-General and his staff, the Straits Chinese Voluntary Infantry, representatives from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the revolutionary Chinese Reading Club, and leading Chinese ministers from the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. (123) A year later the Straits Times revealed what some thought essentially constituted ethnic Chinese identity and why the Straits Chinese must keep hold of it lest they lose their role as international, Anglo-Chinese intermediaries:
It must not be forgotten that the soul of Chinese morality and piety is inextricably identified with the claims of culture, that this culture is a process of national evolution, and that it represents the nation's efforts to meet man's needs of conformity to higher laws than mere personal fancy, caprice or power ... For a Chinaman, therefore, to be deprived of the invigorating stimulus of his country's literature is indeed to be denationalised. And not only that, but, in the coming years when the schools of Hong Kong and China pour forth their hosts of Anglo-Chinese educated office seekers and workers, the Straits Baba will find himself sadly handicapped by his want of foresight and narrow outlook. (124)
At times even a British Governor could be found publicly encouraging Straits Chinese to retain their 'ethnic' identity, specifically through reading and writing. At the opening of the Anglo-Chinese School back in 1893, Cecil Clementi Smith had remarked:
The school might be devoted to the study of English, but I am glad to know that a knowledge of Chinese will also be gained there, which to me appears an essential part of the education of a Chinese boy ... The boys who grow up with a knowledge of Chinese and also attach to it a knowledge of English will prove better citizens than those who throw off the language of the country to which they naturally belong and adopt the English language simply from a utilitarian sense of the time they are going to spend in this settlement. (125)
The fact that influential Europeans saw the Straits Chinese as 'naturally' belonging to China in a cultural sense while remaining British subjects (and intended them to continue this way) is crucial to our understanding of the formulation of ethnic Chinese identities during this period: literate, ethnic Chinese were fundamental agents in the Empire's eastward expansion. Moreover, such formulations were part of a broader imperial project to create Asian objects of 'cultural perfection', as Yao Souchou has called them; in our case, what might be described as a sanitised, opium-free, rationalised Chinese--a living justification for the entire imperial project. (126)
The plural identities and allegiances exhibited by Straits Chinese seem to have also exerted a wider regional influence. As we have seen, to their cousins in the Indies the commercial advantages Straits Chinese enjoyed as British subjects capable of reading Roman and Chinese scripts and interacting both with Europeans and a global Chinese community were obvious and where possible were to be emulated. Perhaps more remarkable at this time was the widespread adoption of dual nationalities by merchants operating out of commercial ports in China itself. (127) It is especially significant that this practice became most popular in Fujian, a coastal province integrated into a southern maritime region where Straits Chinese merchants 'flying the British flag' had traditionally been visible. Chinese merchants in Fujian appear to have learned from Straits Chinese what to the latter was obvious: that to trade in the Nanyang while holding foreign nationality made commercial sense. Furthermore, in an age of global empires, and before the rise of modern nation-states and the emergence of mainland Chinese intellectuals and nationalists with more centrist ideas of cultural authenticity, multiple nationality in and of itself did little to make one any less Chinese.
Studying groups of Chinese who laid down roots outside the Middle Kingdom, and exploring their interactions with newly arrived migrants and with other areas of settlement, highlights several important points that are relevant to our understanding of Chinese diasporas as global phenomena. Although much research has emphasised the transformation of Huaqiao (Chinese sojourners) into Huaren (people of Chinese descent) during the period after 1914, and especially following the exile created by the formation of the PRC in 1949, this process appears to have a much longer and more complex history. (128) In the nineteenth century, new Chinese arrivals in the Nanyang came into contact with entrenched elites who, though they made sojourns to the Middle Kingdom for material and emotional profit, nonetheless identified themselves as 'permanent families' (as Lim Boon Keng called them) who lived outside it. Through their temples, graveyards, associations and literary imaginations, these elites had long been making a maritime region that stretched out from coastal China and beyond its official borders more Chinese--an endeavour no doubt easier of fulfillment in the Asian territories of European empires than in younger, less self-assured nation-states elsewhere.
To better understand the self-perceptions of Chinese in the Nanyang and the way these perceptions changed over time, a more nuanced appreciation is required of the different experiences of translocation as they were determined by links to dialect groups, class affiliations and relationships with Chinese settlers already rooted abroad. While many migrants who left Guangdong for Singapore and then for other settlements in the region may have felt they were entering alien territory, others (especially Teochews and Hokkiens) travelled to what was perceived to be the Western junction of a Chinese commercial empire. The longer they remained, and the longer they dealt with permanent families, with their gods, ideas, social institutions and capital, the more easily migrant Chinese could conceive of the Nanyang itself as home.
The way goods, people, information and profit circulated through Nanyang networks also suggests that our conceptual model of global Chinese diasporas needs to be modified. While a 'radiating grooves' thesis fits nicely into what a nineteenth-century coolie-trader (having read Paul Gilroy) might have called the 'Yellow Pacific', historical interactions across the China Seas and into the Indian Ocean created a situation that was quite distinct. (129) For merchants, sailors, clansmen, literati and smugglers, diasporic networks in this region did not inevitably emanate from or lead back to China, nor did these people 'become' Chinese by necessarily moving through networks that ultimately originated there. Well before migrant networks began radiating out from the Middle Kingdom in the nineteenth century via treaty ports, links between Chinese settlements overseas had developed through previous historical interactions of Chinese already settled within the Nanyang. When an opportunity presented itself from the 1840s onward, many of these merchants, sailors, students and coolie-brokers utilised British protection to re-connect these networks with China's coastal provinces. Chinese rooted outside China were therefore responsible for the emergence of diasporic networks, in addition to those pioneers leaving its shores. Moreover, for much of our period it was luodi-shenggen Chinese, with often diminished ties to settlements in the Middle Kingdom, who significantly shaped the way in which these networks operated and determined the cultural impact they had.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Middle Kingdom certainly exerted a cultural and commercial 'pull' on Chinese settled overseas in the Nanyang, a pull that this article has not sought to diminish or deny. However, the strength of this pull has to be measured against, and understood as mediated by, new diasporic centres located beyond China's borders. Singapore's development into an emporium in imperio, which generated its own centripetal forces, meant that the ideas and the people carrying them that left China and passed though the colony were often transformed before being dispersed to other settlements in the Nanyang or returned from whence they came. The way people within this city thought of themselves as being Chinese and identified themselves as such in public was something observed abroad. New ideas exerted a regional impact through diasporic links that previously existed in the Nanyang, and that were revitalised by the advent of print. In turn, by the end of our period these regional linkages were becoming part of a wider conglomeration of global Chinese connections. For some of those involved in circulating news about Chinese settlements across the globe, being Chinese already meant being part of a distinct yet global community.
After 1914, the control that permanently settled Chinese held over Nanyang networks was challenged by a number of new local and international forces. Political upheavals in China, internationally negotiated nationality laws, changing attitudes among colonial officials in a defensive post-war Empire (not to mention the Great Depression and Japanese Occupation) made the commercial and cultural opportunities that Nanyang networks and links with coastal China had once offered more difficult to locate. In Singapore, the mercantile and intellectual dominance of Straits Chinese was challenged by the spread of modern, systematic education and by the arrival of a new generation of Chinese merchants and literati. (130) Before this time, however, it is striking how flexible the cultural universe created by Chinese rooted outside the Middle Kingdom actually was. Here was a far-flung community that was not only 'imagined' but discovered and then socially and politically engaged with. More than lines of pure racial descent or adherence to an exclusive linguistic conformity, self-ascription and public participation secured entry. Being Chinese was not yet subject to the painful orthodoxies administered by the dogmatic political parties and authoritarian governments that would follow. In an age of global empires, the ways in which people thought of themselves as Chinese were numerous and diverse; the boundary markers distinguishing what this ethnicity amounted to had not yet hardened.
(1) See Timothy N. Harper, 'Empire, diaspora and the languages of globalism, 1850-1914' and Christopher A. Bayly, '"Archaic" and "modern" globalization in the Eurasian and African arena, c. 1750-1850' in Globalization in world history, ed. Anthony G. Hopkins (London: Pimlico, 2002), pp. 141-66 and 47-73 respectively; Adam McKeown, Chinese migrant networks and cultural change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900-1936 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001); Carl A. Trocki, Opium and the global political economy (London: Routledge, 1999); and Alan Lester, Imperial networks: Creating identities in nineteenth century South Africa and Britain (London: Routledge, 2001). The classic work addressing zones of cultural and commercial traffic in an age of empires remains James Warren, The Sulu Zone, 1768-1898 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1981).
(2) See especially Tony Ballantyne, Orientalism and race: Aryanism and the British Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
(3) See, inter alia, Rajat Kanta Ray, 'Asian capital in the age of European expansion: The rise of the bazaar, 1800-1914', Modern Asian Studies [henceforth MAS], 29, 3 (1995): 449-554; Eric Tagliacozzo, 'Trade, production and incorporation: The Indian Ocean in flux, 1600-1900', Itinerario, 26, 1 (2002): 75-106; Trocki, Opium and the global.
(4) Mark R. Frost, '"Wider opportunities": Religious revival, nationalist awakening and the global dimension in Colombo, 1870-1920', MAS, 36, 4 (2002): 936-67; and Frost, 'Globalization and religious revival in the imperial cities of the Indian Ocean rim, 1870-1920' (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 2002).
(5) This term is borrowed from Timothy Harper, 'Globalism and the pursuit of authenticity: The making of a diasporic public sphere in Singapore', Sojourn, 12, 2 (1997): 261-92.
(6) Adam McKeown, 'Conceptualizing Chinese diasporas, 1842 to 1949', Journal of Asia, Studies, 58, 2 (1999): 306-37 and McKeown, Chinese migrant networks, pp. 84-5.
(7) McKeown, 'Conceptualizing Chinese diasporas', pp. 321-2, 329.
(8) McKeown argues that a 'primary motivation' for Chinese migration was to earn material resources to maintain and extend the family patriline back home and 'its physical manifestation as altar and household'. Fraternal associations became institutions through which migrants 'maintained links to news from their villages, funneled money and influence back home, had their bones shipped back after they died, and met with fellow migrants who provided mutual aid and mutual pressure to maintain village morality and live up to village standards of success'. When marriages and families occurred abroad they were often to 'second wives' and the 'primary wife usually remained in China'. Moreover, 'transformations in personal and communal self-perceptions' more likely resulted from 'ideas and sentiments carried abroad by intellectuals and officials from China who were sensitive to wider global power relations and conceptions of peoplehood' than local interactions (ibid., pp. 318, 320, 322-3). In the case of the Nanyang, many of these statements require qualification.
(9) Wang Gungwu, 'The study of Chinese identities in Southeast Asia', in Changing identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese since World War II, ed. Jennifer Cushman and Wang Gungwu (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1988), p. 1; McKeown, 'Conceptualizing Chinese diasporas', p. 331.
(10) See ibid., pp. 329-30, 326-7.
(11) See, inter alia, Sojourners and settlers: Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese, ed. Anthony Reid (St Leonards, NSW: Mien and Unwin, 1996); Essential outsiders: Chinese and Jews in the modern transformation of Southeast Asia and Central Europe, ed. Daniel Chirot and Anthony Reid (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1997).
(12) See Wang Li Chi, 'On Luodi-shenggen', in The Chinese diaspora: selected essays, ed. Wang Li Chi and Wang Gungwu (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1998), pp. 10-11. The local-born Chinese community in Singapore numbered 12,805 in 1891 (around 10 per cent of the total Chinese population), and in Java as early as 1812 around 100,000, roughly 2 per cent of the island's population. See Lee Poh Ping, Chinese society in 19th century Singapore (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 87, and James Mackie, 'Introduction' in Reid, ed., Sojourners and settlers, pp. xii-xxx.
(13) For studies which have assumed the social separation of Peranakan, Baba or Straits Chinese from newer arrivals on account of their 'Westernization' or 'Malayanization' and therefore made them appear somewhat peripheral to the political and cultural lives of China-born Chinese overseas see, inter alia, John R. Clammer, Straits Chinese society (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1980); Lynn Pann, Sons of the Yellow Emperor(London: Secker and Warburg, 1990); G. William Skinner, 'Creolized Chinese societies in Southeast Asia', in Reid, ed., Sojourners and settlers, pp. 51-93; Yen Ching-hwang, Community and politics: The Chinese in colonial Singapore and Malaysia (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1995); and Ching Fatt Yong, Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1992). A notable exception to the above literature, however, is Tan Chee Beng's The Baba of Malacca (Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk, 1990) which draws on more contemporary evidence to argue convincingly that Baba and Peranakan are best understood as sub-ethnic identities within larger dialect communities.
(14) In the remainder of this article Chinese personal names will be given in their most common Romanised dialect form or as they were known at the time in English. Names of temples, gods, journals and places well known to Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia are also given in Romanised dialect with Mandarin alternatives in pinyin where appropriate. Direct translations from Chinese-language sources as well as place names in China are given in pinyin. All citations from Malay sources follow the spelling of the day with modernised spelling provided where appropriate.
(15) Wang Tai Peng, The origins of the Chinese kongsi (Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk, 1994), pp. 37-47. Cheng Chi-lung is said to have commanded a force of 5,000 junks and 400,000 men.
(16) James Chin, 'Merchants and sojourners: The Hokkiens overseas, 1570-1760' (Ph.D. diss., University of Hong Kong, 1998), pp. 335-44, 317-22 (quotation from p. 321); Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680--volume two: Expansion and crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 36-53.
(17) See, for example, the statement recorded by Chinese translators at the port of Nagasaki in 1718; Yoneo Ishii, The junk trade from Southeast Asia: Translations from the Tosen Fusetsu-gaki, 1674-1723 (Singapore: ISEAS Data Paper, 1998), pp. 246-7.
(18) Chin, 'Merchants and sojourners', p. 335 has stories of absconding merchants.
(19) Carl A. Trocki, Opium and empire: Chinese society in colonial Singapore, 1800-1910 (Ithaca: Corrnell University Press, 1990), pp. 50-7.
(20) Cheng Lim Keak, Social change and the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1985), p. 18; Lee, Chinese society, pp. 19-21.
(21) See, for example, the biographies of Tan Che Sang and Wee Ah Heng in Song Ong Siang, One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; first published in 1923), pp. 13-14, 102-3; the overseas trade links are discussed on pp. 9-10. On the more local networks, see Wong Lin Ken, 'The trade of Singapore, 1819-69', Journal of the Malayan Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, 33, 4 (1960): 5-302.
(22) Charles B. Buckley, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1965 reprint), p. 151.
(23) Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, The voyage of Abdullah, tr. A. E. Coope, 2nd edn (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1967); see also Song, One hundred, pp. 42-3, 129-30.
(24) Lim Boon Keng, 'The Chinese in Malaya', in Present day impressions of the Far East and prominent and progressive Chinese at home and abroad, ed. W. Feldwick (London: Globe Encyclopedia, 1917), pp. 875-82, 876.
(25) Lee, Chinese society, pp. 39-40, 45; on Seah and Tan see Buckley, Anecdotal history, p. 151 and Song, One hundred, pp. 21,131-3.
(26) Trocki, Opium and empire, pp. 33-4; Jennifer Cushman, Fields from the sea: Chinese junk trade with Siam during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1993); McKeown, 'Conceptualizing', p. 313.
(27) Lee, Chinese society, pp. 73, 76; 'Notes on the Chinese in the Straits', Journal of the Indian Archipelago, 9 (1855): 109-24, 113. In the 1870s, 30,000 Chinese were arriving in Singapore every year on junks; Mary Turnbull, A history of Singapore, 1819-1975 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 82.
(28) Sugata Bose argues this was the case across the Indian Ocean at this time; see Bose, 'Space and time on the Indian Ocean rim: Theory and history', in Modernity and culture from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, ed. Leila Fawaz and Christopher A. Bayly (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 365-86.
(29) Numerous examples of these trading firms are in Song, One hundred.
(30) See ibid., pp. 179-80 (schooners), 103-4, 119 (1850s examples) and Turnbull, History of Singapore, pp. 91-97, 102 (1860s examples).
(31) Yen Ching-hwang, Coolies and mandarins: China's protection of overseas Chinese during the late Qing period, 1851-1911 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1985), pp. 27-31, 38-40; Ng Chin-Keong, 'Sino-British perceptions of the Straits-Chinese status in China around 1850', paper given at the International Symposium on China and Southeast Asia: Historical Interactions, Hong Kong, 19-21 July 2001.
(32) Song, One hundred, pp. 115-17.
(33) Trocki, Opium and empire, pp. 94, 179; Turnbull, History of Singapore, p. 102.
(34) See Feldwick, ed., Present day impressions, pp. 572-95. Singapore Baba merchants were also active in Saigon, in partnership with the opium farmer 'Ban Hap', and possessed their own 'Cercles des Chinois negociants de Singapour' (Carl Trocki, personal communication); see also Trocki, 'The internationalization of Chinese revenue-farming networks', in Water frontier: Commerce and the Chinese in the Lower Mekong region, c. 1750-1880, ed. Nola Cooke and Li Tana (New York and London: Routledge, 2004). The Baba Cheang Hong Lira was awarded a medal by the French authorities in Saigon for his acts of charity in the city (Song, One hundred, p. 169).
(35) Mary Somers Heidhues, Golddiggers, farmers and traders in the 'Chinese districts' of West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 2003), pp. 78-9, 114, 141-61,188.
(36) Song, One hundred, pp. 19-22; Ng Wing Chung, 'Huiguan: Regional institutions in the development of overseas Chinese nationalism in Singapore, 1912-41' (M.Phil. Diss, University of Hong Kong, 1987), pp. 29-31.
(37) Song, One hundred, pp. 56-7, 102-3, 141-2, 114-17, 354-5.
(38) As photographs of the period reveal, company clerks, compradors and junior officials had their own particular style of dress, consisting of white suits with 'Mandarin' collars, pith helmets and Chinese jackets.
(39) David K. Y. Chng, Heroic images of Ming loyalists: A study of the spirit tablets of the Gee Hin Kongsi leaders in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Society of Asian Studies, 1999), pp. 42, 66; Lee, Chinese society, p. 52; Song, One hundred, pp. 518-20.
(40) Lin Man Houng, 'Overseas Chinese merchants and multiple nationality: A means for reducing commercial risk, (1895-1935)', MAS, 35, 4 (2001): 985-1009. By 1900, the reality of British protection could sometimes be limited; see Jurgen Rudolph, Reconstructing identities: A social history of the Babas in Singapore (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 131-3.
(41) These 'customs and rites' were a cause of tension with Europeans across the Straits Settlements because of the noise involved and the public space they took up (Song, One hundred, pp. 81-2, 15, 232-4).
(42) European contemporaries, however, repeatedly commented on such public demonstrations of cultural authenticity; see, for example, Jonas D. Vaughan, The manners and customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985 reprint).
(43) See especially Clammer, Straits Chinese society and Skinner, 'Creolized Chinese'. It must be noted that Skinner has provided a seminal contribution to our understanding of the way local structures created 'creolised' Chinese throughout Southeast Asia that goes beyond the scope of the present discussion. However, his claim that these groups, through 'fusion' with indigenous societies, represent the creation of new sociocultural systems that 'achieved autonomy and stability despite continued contact with both parent societies' is misleading, in the case of Straits Chinese at least. Skinner largely fails to distinguish between a 'domestic' sphere in which local-born Chinese participated--characterised by the use of Malay as a household language, Peranakan wedding customs, the sarong kebaya dress, Nonya cuisine and the recitation of Malay-influenced poems and songs--and a 'public' sphere dominated by temple rituals, commercial transactions and fraternal relationships based on and around clan and dialect affinities. A problem arises when terms like 'hybrid' or 'creolised' are used to distinguish what Skinner calls 'a discrete and stable community alongside of, but clearly distinguishable from Chinese as well as indigenous society', one that was characterised by a 'cultural mix of Chinese and indigenous elements' that 'stabilised into a "tradition"' (see pp. 51-2). As Jurgen Rudolph has revealed, in the case of Singapore this stable 'tradition' appears to have been, to a large extent, retrospectively manufactured from the 1960s onwards (Rudolph, Reconstructing identities). One might add that outside of a gendered domestic context, Peranakan culture seems to be a 'tradition' still in search of its paternity.
(44) This 1918 English translation of an original document in Chinese is quoted by Yao Souchou, 'Social virtues as cultural text: Colonial desire and the Chinese in 19th century Singapore', in Reading culture: Textual practices in Singapore, ed. Phyllis G. L. Chew and Anneliese Kramer-Dahl (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1999), p. 114 (my italics).
(45) Lim Boon Keng, 'Chinese in Malaya', pp. 877-8 (my italics).
(46) See lean DeBernardi, 'Malaysian Chinese religious culture: Past and present', in Ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia, ed. Leo Suryadinata, pp. 301-23; and DeBernardi, Rites of belonging: Memory, modernity and identity in a Malaysian Chinese community (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
(47) Chinese epigraphic materials in Malaysia, ed. Wolfgang Franke and Chen Tieh Fan (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1982), Vol. 1, pp. 223, 242, 258.
(48) DeBernardi, 'Malaysian Chinese', p. 304.
(49) Evelyn Lip, Chinese temple architecture in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press), pp. 35, 67; Song, One hundred, p. 169; Lee Geok Boi, The religious monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2002), pp. 22-3.
(50) Leon Comber, Chinese temples in Singapore (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1958), p. 24; Lee, Chinese society, pp. 46-7; Ng Wing Chung, 'Huiguan', pp. 28-9.
(51) Vaughan, Manners and customs, pp. 57-8, 49.
(52) Such pluralism is evident in the cases of See Hood Kee (see above) and Tan Beng Swee, who conjointly served on the management board of the Hokkien temple in Singapore and the Cheng Hoon Teng in Melaka (Song, One hundred, p. 91).
(53) Xinjiapo Huawen beimingjilu [The collection of Chinese inscriptions in Singapore], ed. Chen Jinghe and Chen Yusong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Chinese University Press, 1975), p. 162.
(54) Wang Gungwu has argued for the role of temples in facilitating interaction in his China and the Chinese overseas, pp. 181-97. On protection see, for example, an 1876 inscription in the Fujimiao, formerly on Smith Street, which explains that the temple was built to 'protect travelling merchants and bless Singapore' (Cheng and Chen, eds., Xinjiapo Huawen beiming, p. 107).
(55) Singapore Free Press, 23 Apr. 1840; quoted in Song, One hundred, pp. 50-1.
(56) In the Fuk Tak Chi (Fude ci) temple on Telok Ayer Street, one of the earliest known temples to Toa Peh Kong in Singapore, a nineteenth-century inscription records that the god was able to bring 'peace on land and water'; Lip, Chinese temple, p. 64. On Toa Peh Kong see Kok Hu Jin, 'Malaysian Chinese folk religion', in Chinese beliefs and practices in Southeast Asia, ed. Cheu Hock Tong (Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk, 1993), pp. 103-42.
(57) Cheng and Chen, eds., Xinjiapo Huawen beiming, p. 171. Some temples, such as the Hong San See (Fengshan si) in Singapore, were established by new arrivals from China to replicate original sites found in their ancestral lands, often functioning as subsidiaries of these institutions and going by the same name (pp. 102, 105).
(58) Ibid., pp. 162 (haibang), 217-18 (zonghui), 155 ('I, the mother').
(59) Lip, Chinese temple, p. 64; this translation is by Geoff Wade.
(60) Such were the Ong, Lim and Tan clan associations, and the Ngee Ann Kongsi. Vaughan states that only amongst the rich Teochews and 'some Hokiens' was it customary to send dead bodies back to China and that 'the rich bury their dead in their plantations in all parts of the country' (Vaughan, Manners and customs, p. 32).
(61) See Song, One hundred, pp. 93, 108-9, 393-5.
(62) Cheng and Chen, eds., Xinjiapo Huawen beiming, p. 211.
(63) 'Zhongguo zhi Xinmin' (Liang Qichao), 'Zuguode hanghaijia Zheng He zhuan' [An account of Zheng He, the Motherland's great maritime voyager], in Zheng He yanjiu ziliao xuanbian [Selected research materials on Zheng He] (Beijing: Renmin jiaotong chubanshe, 1985), p. 20; translation by Geoff Wade.
(64) Rudolph, Reconstructing identities, pp. 123-6.
(65) Across the Straits Settlements (and even the Dutch East Indies), the provision of free education in Chinese dialects for male descendants was another strategy used by Peranakan Chinese during the nineteenth century to secure the survival of a diasporic culture fundamental to their commercial livelihoods (Frost, 'Transcultural diaspora', pp. 11-14). While most pupils at these temple and shop-house schools rarely left with a capacity to read Chinese well, if at all, their importance in reinforcing knowledge of spoken dialects has seldom been appreciated.
(66) For an invaluable survey see Claudine Salmon, Literature in Malay by the Chinese of Indonesia (Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 1981), pp. 19-26.
(67) Claudine Salmon, 'Writings in Romanized Malay by the Chinese of Malaya: A preliminary inquiry', in Literary migrations: Traditional Chinese fiction in Asia, 17th-20th centuries, ed. Claudine Salmon (Beijing: International Culture Publishing Corporation, 1987), pp. 441-96; Ian Proudfoot, Early Malay printed books (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya, 1993), pp. 21-2.
(68) Ibid., pp. 456-7, 551-4, 562-3; Salmon, 'Writings in Romanized Malay', pp. 444-56; Salmon, Literature in Malay, pp. 199, 249-56.
(69) David K. Y. Chng, 'Some notes on the Lat Pau Press', in The need to read: Essays in honour of Hedwig Anuar, ed. S. Gopinathan and Valerie Barth (Singapore: Festival of Books, 1989), p. 354.
(70) For example, Lim Heng Lam's Tongyi xinyu (1877), Lira Kong Chuan's Vocabulary (1888, 3rd edn.) and Lim Tjay Tat's Tongyujinliang (1889, with Malay in Dutch spelling) (Proudfoot, Early Malay, pp. 677, 543, 522).
(71) Salmon, Literature in Malay, p. 249. Tan Bian Lock's Menerangkan igamanja Nabie Khon Hoe Tjoe, published in 1902 in Singapore, also featured Chinese, Romanised Malay and Romanised Hokkien transcriptions. Likewise, Peraturan berumah tangga by Wali Cina Tjoepeek and Lie San Seeng, an earlier 1896 Singapore edition of the Family instructions, offered the same equivalents (Proudfoot, Early Malay, pp. 345,407).
(72) The Straits vocabulary (Singapore: American Mission Press) went into eight editions between 1894 and 1904 while the Tright vocabulary, ed. W. G. Shellabear and B. F. West (Singapore: American Mission Press, 1901), went into four editions.
(73) Charles Coppel, Studying ethnic Chinese in Indonesia (Singapore: Singapore Society of Asian Studies, 2002), pp. 261-9; Salmon, 'Writings in Romanized Malay', p. 448.
(74) For example, Goh Len Joo's seven-volume translation of Zheng Dong was sold by Chop Chy Ha in Saigon (Proudfoot, Early Malay), p. 562.
(75) Ibid., pp. 25-7; 456-61; Salmon, 'Writings in Romanized Malay', p. 492.
(76) See Straits Chinese Herald and the Daily Advertiser from 7 May 1894; Li Po, 18 May, 25 May, 1 June, 8 June 1901; Ik Po, 24 Jan., 7 Feb., 14 Feb., 28 Feb., 7 Mar. 1905.
(77) Salmon, 'Writings in Romanized Malay', p. 494; see 'Soerat kiriman--Riouw Tandjong' and 'Warnasari', Pembrita Betawi, 5 Dec., 16 Dec. 1893.
(78) Kalam Langit (Na Tian Piet), 'Perkabaran dari Singapore', 'Dinjatakan apa sebabnya maka ...', 'Dari hal sekola Enggris di Singapore', 'Baba Lie Teng-hei', Pembrita, 5, 11, 19 Dec. 1893.
(79) Kalam Langit, 'Baba Tan Hap Leong....', Pembrita, 16 Apr. 1895. As Na went on, 'Don't think that your country alone is the most beautiful. If you think so you are like a frog under a coconut shell who believes that this is the world. If the frog comes out then he will see and understand the real world and will not be looked down on by others.'
(80) 'Kahadahan tahoen baru Tjina di Singapoera', Pembrita, 22 Feb. 1895; 'Satoe adat tiada baik ...', 19 Feb. 1895.
(81) Kalam Langit, 'Patsal kebodohan orang Tjina', Pembrita, 20 Feb. 1895; Anon.,' Die tjeritaken bagimana kabodhannja orang Bangsa Tjina di Negri Palembang', 29 Mar. 1895.
(82) Daily Advertiser, 2 Apr. 1894.
(83) Chen Mong Hock, The early Chinese papers of Singapore, 1881-1912 (Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1967), pp. 24-53; Chng, 'Some notes'.
(84) In 1901, Lat Pau had a circulation of 500 compared with the Singapore Free Press's circulation of 1,000 and the newly established Thien Nan Shin Pao's 1,100; Straits Settlements Blue Book 1901 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1901), p. SA1.
(85) In Java, articles from Lat Pau and other Chinese papers were regularly translated into Malay, as were reports from English periodicals; see, for example, 'Kongsi' in Li Po, 22 June 1901; 'Ing Kok Kik Gan' in Ik Po, 7 Mar. 1905; and 'Kabar dari negri Tjina' in Ik Po, 30 May 1905.
(86) Reprinted in Kesastraan Melayu Tionghoa dan kebangsaan Indonesia, ed. Marcus A. S. and Pax Benedanto (Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Granmedia, 2001), vol. IV, pp. 487-91; Phua goes on to criticise the Dutch administration for their notorious zoning and pass systems.
(87) Important research on Peranakan Chinese in lava by Didi Kwartanada at the Asia Research Institute and the Department of History, National University of Singapore, is beginning to substantiate this point. See also Takashi Shiraishi, An age in motion: Popular radicalism in Java, 1912-26 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).
(88) For an example of the traditional perspective on this movement, see Yen Ching-hwang, Community and politics, pp. 201, 229-63, 245. The quotation is from Lira Boon Keng, 'Straits Chinese reform -1. The queue question', Straits Chinese Magazine (henceforth SCM), 3, 9 (Mar. 1899): 22-5.
(89) Song, One hundred, pp. 115, 236, 314.
(90) SCM, 1, 3 (Sept. 1897): 113.
(91) Lim Boon Keng's six-part series of articles in the SCM entitled 'Straits Chinese reform' begins in vol. 3, 9 (March 1899): 163-6; see also Chen, Early Chinese papers, pp. 74, 77-8.
(92) Yeap Chong Leng, 'Lin Wenqing, Qiu Shuyuan yu Huaren Haoxuehui (1896-1905)' [Lim Boon Keng, Khoo Seok Wan and the Chinese Philomathic Society (1896-1905)], Yazhou Wenhua/Asian Culture, 27 (2003): 121-45.
(93) Such was the proviso laid down by Lira and Song when they established the Singapore Chinese Girls School in 1899, backed by Tan Boo Liat and with a generous donation from Khoo Seok Wan (Song, One hundred, pp. 305-6). For a full discussion of Straits Chinese involvement in education see Frost, 'Transcultural diaspora', pp. 11-12, 20, 25-7.
(94) Lim, 'Straits Chinese reform -1. The queue question'.
(95) Lim Boon Keng, 'Straits Chinese reform--4. Religion', SCM, 3, 12 (Dec. 1899): 163-6; 'Straits Chinese reform--5. Filial piety', SCM, 4, 13 (Mar. 1900): 25-30; 'Straits Chinese reform--6. Funeral rites', SCM, 4, 14 (June 1900): 49-57; Lee Teng Hui, 'The effects of ancestral worship on society in China', SCM, 5, 2 (Dec. 1901): 130-5; and Lin Meng Ching, 'The doctrine of feng shui', SCM, 2, 6 (June 1898): 67-8.
(96) Also known as sembayang hantu, the Hungry Ghosts festival had been preserved by Straits Baba throughout the nineteenth century; see the inscription from the Melaka Cheng Hoon temple in Franke and Chien, Chinese epigraphic, p. 267. The meeting was presided over by the Baba Lee Cheng Yan, assisted by the naturalised British subject Lim Ho Puah and the wealthy Hokkien merchant Goh Siew Tin. Lim Boon Keng and Tan Boo Liat were the main agitators for the reform and a week later their decision was ratified at the temple by a much larger gathering of the Hokkien community; see SCM, 10, 4 (Dec. 1906): 203-5.
(97) The quotation is from Lim Boon Keng, 'Ethical education for the Straits Chinese', SCM, 8, 1 (Mar. 1904): 25-30. Undoubtedly Straits Chinese awareness of European disparagement of Chinese 'superstitions' and preference for 'rational' Confucianism was also a key local factor in the movement's emergence (Jean DeBernardi, personal communication).
(98) However, the movement did also advocate the removal of Malay fashions in dress amongst Nonyas; see Lim, 'Straits Chinese reform--2. Dress and costume', SCM, 3, 10 (June 1899): 57-9.
(99) 'Anglo-Chinese School', Bintang Barat, 30 Nov., 3 Dec. 1892. The school taught four Chinese dialects ('Fokien, Hakah, Cantonese and Teochew') but not Mandarin.
(100) Towchang fasal (Singapore: Straits Chinese Philomathic Society, 1899); listed in Proudfoot, Early Malay, pp. 521-2; the visit to Lim is in Tan Ging Tiong and Yoe Tjai Siang, Kitab Tai Hak--Tiong long (Sukabumi: Soekaboemische Snelpersdrukkerj, 1900), pp. 3-5.
(101) Such were Loen Boen and Ho Po, of which, unfortunately, no copies seem to be extant. For the expansion and impact of the THHK see Lea Williams, Overseas Chinese nationalism: The genesis of the pan-Chinese movement in Indonesia, 1900-16 (Glencoe: Free Press, 1960).
(102) 'Dipetik dari soerat kabar Dr. Lira Boon Keng', Li Po, 12 Jan. 1901.
(103) See, for example, 'Lauw Soe Kie dan Dr. Lira Boon Keng', 'Soerat Kiriman', 'Hal Dr Lim Boon Keng dan Lauw Soe Kie' in Ik Po, 22 May, 29 May, 12 June 1906.
(104) See Kwee Tek Hoay's footnotes to Phua Keng Heck's newspaper article; re-published in Marcus and Benedanto, eds., Kesastraan Melayu, p. 487. The Yale Institute was named after Lee's alma mater in the US. Lee was also involved in establishing the Lie Loen Hwee in Batavia, a Chinese debating club; Ik Po, 16 May 1905; Nio Joe Lan, Riwajat 40 taon dari THHK Batavia (Jakarta: THHK, 1940), pp. 40-3.
(105) A glowing feature in the Hong Kong paper Slang Po was subsequently reprinted in Malay: 'Tambahan', Ik Po, 1 Aug. 1905; see also Nio, Riwajat 40 taon, p. 58; Li Po, 26 Nov. 1904; lk Po, 25 Sept. 1906.
(106) 'Soerat Kiriman', 'Oepatjara pri Tachajoel jang amat tersesat', 'Tachajoel moelai Ilang', in Ik Po, 28 Feb., 8 Aug. 1905. On the kaoern moeda see SCM, 6, 21 (Mar. 1902): 53; Li Po, 19, 26 Nov. 1904; Ik Po, 15 Aug. 1905.
(107) Williams, Overseas Chinese, pp. 57-8, discusses the THHK programme. These Indies leaders often dealt with the same evangelicals as their fellow Confucian revivalists in Singapore; see the THHK's correspondence with Bishop Oldham in Nio, Riwajat 40 taon, pp. 98-9, 109.*
(108) Lie Kim Hok went on to he a dramatist and this may lend a certain colour to his account, published originally in 1933 and re-printed in Marcus and Benedanto, eds., Kesastraan Melayu, pp. 428-31.
(109) Ik Po, 9 May, 27 June, 4 July, 25 July, 22 Aug., 5 Sept., 12 Sept. 1905.
(110) On the new terms used in the Indies see, for example, Ik Po, 2 May 1905; Coppel, Studying ethnic Chinese, p. 269; William, Overseas Chinese, p. 61. A discussion of the role of print-capitalism in the development of national consciousness is in Benedict Anderson, Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, 2nd edn (London: Verso, 1991). Alternatively, on the development of 'ethnies' into nations and nation-states see Anthony D. Smith, The ethnic origins of nations (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1987).
(111) The social division between totok ('pure', meaning new migrants) and Peranakan (local-born) Chinese that is thought to have existed in Java during this period has to be measured against the solidarity exhibited in the 1900s as exampled by the anti-Kapitan 'boycott' and fund-raising movement for impoverished sinkeh (newcomers) led by Peranakan Chinese leaders in 1905. The mistake of the boycotted Kapitan (the Chinese Lieutenant of Bogor) was to write to the Governor General to ask that sinkeh migration into Java be limited. For details of this movement, described in the press as 'the greatest earthquake, such that only the mute failed to discuss it', see Ik Po, 25 Apr., 2 May, 13 June, 8 Aug. 1905; the quotation is from the 13 June article, entitled 'Disampeken perkoempoelan Kaoem Boijcot njang terdiri di kota Betawi'.
(112) On the Qing officials see Edwin Lee, The British as rulers: Governing multiracial Singapore, 1867-1914 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1991), pp. 186-99; see also Song, One hundred, pp. 209-10, 282-3.
(113) Lim Boon Keng, Tan Teck Soon and Sin Yuat Chin were leading publicists for the reform party in English-language newspapers and debating clubs such as the Chinese Philomathic Society and Straits Chinese Christian Association (see Frost, 'Transcultural diaspora', pp. 28, 31-2).
(114) Chen, Early Chinese newspapers, pp. 86-110.
(115) See the angry response in the English press after the SCBA's official welcome to the Emperor's brother, Prince Chun, or Dr S. C. Yin's soothing of European concerns about the political standpoint of the Union Times in 1909; Michael Godley, The mandarin capitalists from Nanyang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 43-4 and Song, One hundred, pp. 441-2.
(116) 'What is loyalty', SCM, 1, 2 (June 1897): 71-2; editorial note on the British subjects question, 3, 9 (Mar. 1899): 36; Song Ong Slang, 'Are the Straits Chinese British subjects', 3, 10 (June 1899): 61-7.
(117) See Rudolph, Reconstructing identities, pp. 132-3. A circular announcing the association's creation encouraged members to 'use their personal influence in favour of progress and reform in all necessary directions--and not, as hitherto, cast in their lot with the conservative, unprogressive Chinese, who reflexly acquire the worse features of the characters of the Peking anti-Reform reactionaries'. Soon after, the Chinese Loyal and Patriotic Association was created as an offshoot of the SCBA, on one occasion publishing an English translation of the poem 'Jin Shen Tsu' to be sung in support of the Emperor and his reforms; Singapore Free Press, 21 Jan., 21 June 1900.
(118) SCM, 2, 5 (Mar. 1898): 38; 2, 8 (Dec. 1898): 192; Straits Times, 3 Mar. 1900; Yen, Community and politics, pp. 212-16.
(119) The quotation is from an article entitled 'The role of the Baba in the development of China', SCM, 7, 3 (Sept. 1903): 94-100.
(120) Unsigned editorial quoted in Rudolph, Reconstructing identities, p. 323; SCM, 11, 2 (Mar. 1907): 41-3.
(121) Lira, 'Chinese in Malaya', p. 882. Dr S. C. Yin investigated first-hand the problems raised by taxation, the conduct of the army, the state of communications and the availability of raw materials needed for railways such as coal and iron. In addition, he reported back to Singapore on the openings for Straits Chinese capital and investment, especially in Fujian province; see 'China today', Straits Budget, 27 June 1912.
(122) Various examples are documented in Song, One hundred, pp. 274, 511,309-10, 329, 208, 354-5, 516-17, 536.
(123) Ibid., p. 491.
(124) Ibid., pp. 503-6 (my italics).
(125) Ibid., p. 275 (my italics).
(126) Yao, 'Social virtues'.
(127) Lin Man Houng has demonstrated this in 'Overseas Chinese merchants'.
(128) For example, Wang and Wang, eds., Chinese diaspora; Cushman and Wang, eds., Changing identities; and McKeown, 'Conceptualizing Chinese diasporas'.
(129) Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
(130) The changing status of Straits Chinese after 1918 would make an essay in itself and is discussed in more detail in Frost, 'Trancultural diaspora', pp. 34-5; see especially Rudolph, Reconstructing identities.
Mark Frost is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Asia Research Institute and Dept. of History, National University of Singapore; his e mail contact is firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has benefited greatly from the comments made by Anthony Reid, Geoff Wade, Jean DeBernardi, Bruce Lockhart, the anonymous reader for JSEAS, David L. Frost and Wang Gungwu on earlier drafts. Without the assistance of Didi Kwartanada, Geoff Wade and Jiang Na, the author's use of primary-source materials in Malay and Chinese would have been greatly hindered.
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|Author:||Frost, Mark Ravinder|
|Publication:||Journal of Southeast Asian Studies|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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