Chinese in Southeast Asia - History and Cultural Relations

Chinese Buddhist monks paid early visits to Southeast Asia, but regular trading visits did not begin until the fourteenth century. Chinese were drawn to the rich entrepôts of Malacca, Manila, and Batavia as trade developed between Europe and Asia in the following centuries, and they were also attracted in considerable numbers to work in Ayuthia, Thailand. In 1842, Great Britain and China signed the Treaty of Nanking, which ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain and opened five treaty ports to British trade and residence, including Xiamen (Amoy) and Fuzhou (Foochow) in Fujian Province. Labor migration was encouraged, and a thriving "coolie trade" brought many Chinese men (and a much smaller population of Chinese women) from these ports to work in parts of the world where labor was needed, including colonial Southeast Asia. The coolies met with varied fates: some returned to China after their sojourn in Southeast Asia; some perished under arduous working conditions and ill treatment; and some stayed, the most successful prospering greatly under the protective umbrella of European colonial rule. In the colonial period, Overseas Chinese were frequently middlemen between the European colonists and Southeast Asian producers or consumers. In the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements, for example, Chinese bid for contracts to manage the lucrative opium farms and controlled opium distribution on behalf of the British. In Indonesia, Chinese farmers collected taxes and worked as labor contractors for the Dutch; they were also moneylenders and dominated internal trade. The legendary successes of a few who amassed great wealth reinforced the stereotype of Chinese migration as a form of economic colonialism that exploited Southeast Asian resources and the Southeast Asian "peoples of the soil."

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