Seah Eu Chin on the Chinese in Singapore

Originally published in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, vol. 2, pp. 283-289 (1848). Popularly known as "Logan's Journal". Seah Eu Chin's article was part of a series on the "Chinese in Singapore". Footnotes in the original are visible on mouseover. Additional notes not from the original are italicized and in grey. Spelling and punctuation follow the original.

The Chinese in Singapore

No. II footnotesee vol. I. p. 35. – “Annual Remittances by Chinese Immigrants in Singapore to their families in China.”

General Sketch of the Numbers, Tribes, and Avocations of the Chinese in Singapore.

footnoteThis paper is composed of answers written by Siah U Chin to queries by Dr. Oxley, to whom we are indebted for it. The original Chinese has been literally translated. The estimate of the numbers of each tribe engaged in different occupations we have procured from Siah U Chin. Ed.

by Siah U Chin.

In all Singapore, including the interior and the Town, there are, men and women, old and young, upwards of 40,000 Chinese.

There are 1st. Chinese from Hokien Province; these come from the departments of Chiang Chiu, Chuan Chin and Eng Chun.

2nd. Malacca born Chinese.

3rd. Chinese from the department of Tio Chiu, which is under the jurisdiction of Canton Province.

4th. Chinese from Canton; these men are here commonly called Macao Chinese.

5th. The Khe Chinese, these are men who come from the two Provinces of Hokkien and Canton.

6th. Chinese from Hai-nam, which is also subject to the jurisdiction of Canton.

This is speaking of them collectively and in a general manner. There are also some few Chinese from other tribes, but of these it is difficult to form an estimate. Each individual tribe speaks the dialect of that tribe, and although there may be a slight difference in the dialect spoken by Chinese who belong to one and the same tribe in consequence of the remoteness of their respective districts, yet that difference, as it consists only in a few inflexions, cannot be properly called a different dialect. It is not however possible to enumerate all the different dialects spoken by the Chinese. I have not made it a matter of deep inquiry, touching the few residing in this settlement who belong to other tribes.

The different trades and professions of the Chinese in Singapore, are School-masters, Writers, Cashiers, Shop-keepers, Apothecaries, Coffin-makers, Grocers, Gold-smiths, Silver-smiths, Tin-smiths, Blacksmiths, Dyers, Tailors, Barbers, Shoemakers, Basketmakers, Fishermen, Sawyers, Boat-builders, Cabinet-makers, Architects, Masons, Manufacturers of lime and bricks, Sailors, Ferrymen, Sago manufacturers, Distillers of Spirits, Cultivators of plantations of Gambier, Sugar, Siri [i.e. sireh, the betel-nut], Pepper, and Nutmegs, Play actors, Sellers of cakes and fruit, Carriers of burdens, Fortune tellers, idle vagabonds who have no work and of whom there are not a few, beggars, and nightly, there are those villains the thieves.

The above different trades and professions may be classed under four divisions.

1st. Those whose profession it is to teach come under the designation of Su, the literate.

2nd. The cultivators of fields and gardens come under the denomination of Long or husbandmen.

3rd. Those engaged in handicraft business belong to the class called Kong, mechanics, or manufacturers.

4th. Those who trade and open shops are designated Siang, merchants.

In my opinion, the greatest number of married men are to be found among the Malacca born Chinese; next to them among the Hok-kien shop keepers, then the Tio-Chin [sic], then the Khé, and lastly among the Macao Chinese; but Shop keepers chiefly can afford to marry. As for common laborers and coolies and those who have no fixed employment very few among them get married.

The Chinese who congregate here are a mixed mass from all parts; the unmarried ones among them are very numerous, and the married ones very few. Though the number of the latter is very small still I cannot with any certainty state it; upon a general calculation I should suppose there were about 2000 married Chinese.

The number of Chinese who return annually to China is probably 3,000; of this number a large proportion come hither from other parts to procure a passage to China.

The labouring class of people that emigrate to this Settlement are mostly very poor. Originally they come with the intention of returning to their native land after a sojourn of 3 or 4 years, but out of 10 only 1 or 2 individuals are able to return after that time, and when they do retire they do not take with them much wealth; still as the remembrance of home is not obliterated from their minds they are willing to return even with a small fortune. There are some who return to China after 5 or 6 years, and others after 7, 8, and 10 years. The periods of return are various; there are a great number who remain here upwards of 10 and 20 years, and yet, unable to return, ultimately die and repose their ashes in this Settlement. Alas! for those who originally intended to return to their native country after 3 years, and yet after the lapse of more than 10 years have not been able to fulfil their wish; but what is the reason of it? It is because they become addicted to the prevailing vice of Opium smoking. After a continued residence here they learn the habit, which afterwards becomes fixed. Many of the Chinese labourers after having earned a little money, waste it upon opium or expend it in gambling. After a series of years they save nothing, and every day it becomes more and more difficult for them to return to their country. With empty purses and empty hands they may manage pretty well without gambling, but to go without opium would be to them certain death. When these opium smokers are reduced to straits from want of money they resort to schemes of plunder and robbery. They do not fear being immured in prison, nor do they dread being transported to Bombay. It is not however that they do not actually dread the one or fear the other, but the hope of impunity emboldens them; they think that if they become robbers, it is not so very sure they will be apprehended, or f they are apprehended and brought before the Magistrate, they hope by clever subterfuges to escape punishment. Should they however not escape punishment but be confined in prison, or transported to Bombay and there die, that would be a death they would far prefer to the wretched death from deprivation of opium. It is on this account that robberies have multiplied to such an extent, and they may be uniformly traced to opium, the instigating cause of all; and the laborers of the interior who consume their days in fatiguing toil, and constant exposure to destruction from the numerous tigers do thus brave death only that they may obtain the means of indulging themselves in the luxury of opium smoking. Incalculably great is the bane of opium. It urges the robber to death. It hurries the labourer to destruction by the jaws of tigers. Grievous to the last degree is this fact. Philanthropists of the age does not this rend your hearts, and affect your eyes? Does it not lead you to lament their stupidity, and to contrive means by which you may rescue them?

The number of men that arrive in the Junks annually amounts to about 10,000. [Footnote] Some of these, after remaining in Singapore a few days or months proceed to Rhio, Penang, Padang, Acheen, Java, Minto, Pahang, Malacca and other parts in the Archipelago.

In the gambier and pepper plantations there are generally 9 or 10 men employed, 12 and 13 men are considered a full complement. I have never heard of any plantation having as many as 20 men upon it. Sometimes when the relations of Chinese labourers arrive from China, if they have no home to go to in Town they immediately proceed to their relations in the jungle, and take up their abode with them for a short time; then there may be a collection of as many as 20, but these temporary sojourners I do not include in my estimate. The plantations that have most men employed on them are those of persons who possess large capitals, and who are engaged in the cultivation of nutmegs, also the sugar plantations of the Americans.

It is very difficult to ascertain the proportion of healthy and sick persons in the interior; it is however supposed that the majority are healthy.

In the town it is difficult to find out how many die; it is still more difficult to ascertain the number of those who die in the interior, as the localities of the different groups are separated by distance and divided by rivers. Not knowing, were I to state any thing on the subject it would be tantamount to falsehood. However as the head of the Police has issued orders that the different tribes of Chinese shall give information at the Police office of the diseases of their countrymen who die, in order that the same may be registered in the Records; you will be able hereafter to obtain the desired information by applying to that office.

Those who plant vegetables and siri do not venture to work at midday, for if they do so they get afflicted with dropsy. The effluvia of decomposed substances in the marsh Payo lands inhaled by the people causes this. Although this disease may be avoided still it is of frequent occurrence. Those who plant gambier, in consequence of their having constantly to split wood, get their legs and feet hurt with splinters, the broken skin being disregarded, large ulcers are formed.

The Chinese in the jungle having daily to work very hard, are much oppressed by the heat in hot weather and affected with colds in cold weather. Would it not be considered a great virtue in those benevolent people who may pity their sufferings to provide them with medicines?

They have three meals daily, which consist of rice, fish, and different kinds of vegetables. Those who have a little money add to these things, arrack, fowls, ducks, and pork; they also eat siri and smoke tobacco just as the Chinese in Town do. There are also a good number of opium smokers; when they have once acquired the habit they cannot break it off and they consume their money upon the drug.

They wear short jackets and short trousers made mostly of coarse Nankeen, and unbleached stuff; they have a bag tied around their loins in which they keep their money and other little things; they go bare footed and wear bamboo hats on their heads to protect them from the sun; some wear feltcaps, which, though very thick, they say are not uncomfortably warm; this is their common dress, but on extraordinary occasions they wear shoes, white jackets, and silk trowsers [sic], and when they come to Town they have umbrellas to screen them from the sun, and in every particular resemble the Chinese in Town.

The houses in which they live have wooden pillars; the walls are formed of attap leaves, they do not cover the roof with tiles, but with attaps. This is the prevailing description of houses. They resemble in a great measure the houses of the Malays, but there is this difference, that the houses of the Malays are mostly raised above the ground, whereas those of the Chinese are low on the surface; the walls of the houses are formed, some of the bark of trees, some of kadjang, and others of dried grass; some cover their roofs also with dried grass; those who are in pretty good circumstances use thin planks for their walls, but there are not very much. Except the temples, none of the Chinese houses are covered with tiles.

Their wages vary. Those who are skilled in planting siri receive a monthly pay of 4 dollars, the next get 3 and 2 dollars. The amount of wages is determined by the quality of work whether it is good or inferior. The amount of wages of labourers in the jungle differs. Generally speaking, each labourer gets about 3 dollars per month, the wages of those who cut the Gambier leaves and of those who boil the gambier are somewhat more, but neither is their rate of wages fixed, they are paid more or less in proportion as the price of gambier rises or falls. If a picul [= 60.5 kg] of gambier realizes 1 ½ dollars the monthly pay will be about 3 dollars. If a picul realizes 2 dollars the price of their labours will amount to about 4 dollars. There is no fixed rule, the workmen who clean the gambier plantation, and those who do different kinds of lighter work, always receive a dollar less than those who cut and boil gambier. The above is, generally speaking, the rate of wages of labourers in the interior.

The numbers in each of the tribes mentioned in the preceding paper may be estimated as follows:

HOKIEN (including Ang Chun people.)
Shopkeepers, such as those who sell rice and other articles by retail1,400
Id. sellers of cloth by retail200
Id. sellers of crockery250
Gambier and Pepper dealers100
Petty traders750
Sago manufacturers500
Venders in the public market300
Lime Burners100
Coolies employed in assisting masons700
Itenerant [sic] venders100
Revenue peons and arrack and chandu preparers 70
Boatmen employed in bringing earth and sand for building and other business of the kind230
Shopkeepers, such as those who sell rice and other articles by retail. Id. sellers of cloth by retail.1,900
Gambier and Pepper dealers200
Id. planters10,000
Venders in the public markets300
Coolies employed in assisting masons100
Itenerant venders300
Stone cutters &c.150
Shopkeepers in the country2,000
Seamen employed in Sampan Pukats360
Charcoal Burners140
MALACCA CHINESE (descendants of Hokien immigrants)
Merchants and shopkeepers and their people300
Cash keepers and others employed by Europeans100
Householders employed variously300
Petty traders200
Shopkeepers such as those who sell rice and other articles by retail. Ib. sellers of cloth by retail350
Employed by Europeans and Chinese as house servants, coolies500
Gambier and pepper planters400
Tailors and Shoemakers400
Ship and boat builders400
Cabinet makers & Carpenters1,000
House Carpenters300
Wood cutters and sawyers1,000
Lime Burners250
Coolies employed in assisting masons500
Brick makers500
Tailors and shoemakers400
Makers of wooden boxes300
Sawyers and wood cutters800
House builders10,000
Petty traders300
Id. in the country300
Persons employed in miscellaneous work200
Shop servants100
Servants employed in the country600

[Following comment and table originally in a footnote]

The Editor of the Singapore Free Press has obliged us with the following table shewing the number of Chinese passengers who arrived in Singapore by the undermentioned Junks from China, from the 28th December 1847 up to the end of April 1848.

By17Junks fromMacao,..3,396men.
6“ “Chong lim,..1,446
10“ “Canton,..1,426
3“ “Kong moon,..637
7“ “Amoy,..631
2“ “Swathow,..580
2“ “Hye Kow,..95
2“ “Chawan,..65
1“ “Chan Chew,..60
1“ “Jeepoon,..48
2“ “Shanghai,..43
1“ “Hokeean,..32
1“ “Tew Chew,..250
23“ from Hy lam..320
30“ “ Anam,..116
108 Junks,..9.145
By11 Square rigged Vossels [sic]..1,330
Grand Total,10,475 men. – ED.

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