Lim Jian Ming (Gary) - The Chinese of West Borneo residency: A study of socio-economic networks and political developments, 1880-1930


This present work is intended as a contribution to the study of overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and in particular Indonesia. West Borneo has been considered, historically, together with eastern Sumatra, Bangka-Belitung, and the Riau Archipelago, as one of the four major concentrations of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia outside Java. In fact, they are a significant minority in the province, numbering perhaps four hundred thousand persons, accounting well over 15 per cent (the national average of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is currently around 3 per cent) of the total population in the province. Basically, I will examine the socio-economic networks and political developments encountered by the Chinese of West Borneo residency from the period 1880 to 1930. A period when the Dutch colonial government defeated the last standing gold mining kongsi (Lan-Fong Kongsi) and extended formal rule over the territory and population. In West Borneo, due to the fame of powerful mining ‘republics’ or kongsis of the early- and mid-nineteenth century, Chinese communities did attract much historical attention. Most accounts, however, end before the post kongsis transitional periods, save for the general historical overview by Heidhues (2003), and even so, she focuses mainly on the economic transition of Chinese gold miners to cash crop cultivators and traders.

A breakthrough in my research is to encompass hinterland towns and settlements such as Sanggau and Sintang into my research scope where a substantial amount of Chinese traders and miners settled in the upstream rural regions. Together with the more widely-known “Chinese districts” of Mandor, Monterado, Bengkayang, Singkawang and Pontianak (just to name a few), this study aspires to remedy the limitations of previous works where most emphasis is given only to the Chinese people living in the more urban regions in the residency.

I will look at the inter-ethnic interactions between Chinese, Malay and Dayak people and illustrate how these interactions can be different when comparing the settings of urban or rural inland regions. Therefore, this thesis will also examine the Chinese’s socio-cultural lifestyle, assimilation process (if there is any) and inter marriages with other ethnic groups. I will also discuss the issue of whether West Borneo is a plural society. According to Furnivall, a plural society refers to a society made up of disparate ethnic categories, each of which occupies a particular place in the economic sphere…. In my presentation, I will elaborate what I think about West Borneo society, and how we can better understand the social structure of such a colonial society.

My general research questions:

a.) How were the Chinese of West Borneo unique and different from other Chinese communities in Indonesia and Southeast Asia?

b.) What were the socio-economic policies and strategies implemented by the Dutch administration when dealing with the Chinese peoples, socio-political institutions and economic networks in West Borneo?

c.) What and how can we perceive from the ‘self-renewal’ and transitional developments of Chinese socio-cultural identities and institutions’ set up in the residency during this period?

d.) What were the kind of networks established between West Borneo Chinese and their counterparts in Southeast Asia or even South China?

Mr. Gary Lim has graduated for his Research MA degree in 2011. He is currently on training with the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore and will teach History and Social Studies in a local high school upon graduation. He hopes to share what he had learnt and seen in the Netherlands and Europe to the young generations of Singapore, creating the awareness and importance of historical learning to future historians. Concurrently, he is still doing part-time research on Overseas Chinese diasporas and their socio-economic links in Guangdong and Fujian provinces, South China.


Last Modified: 05-09-2012