Commerce and Kinship


The story of Singapore’s growth usually focuses on the island’s geographic position at the convergence of important shipping routes, and the factors that enabled it to flourish as an entrepot, 1E.g. W.G. Huff, The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). which made it a major world port by the beginning of the 20th century, setting the stage for its economic takeoff after World War II. The narrative usually starts with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and emphasizes the role that Singapore played as the main export center for the products of colonial mining and agriculture, especially tin and rubber.

However, the city did not support itself by entrepot trade alone. A large part of the colonial government’s revenues came from revenue farming, especially from opium and gambling. The Chinese syndicates that controlled many of these revenue farms were in turn based upon the infrastructure built by gambier and pepper cultivation in Singapore and Johore. These crops were unimportant to Singapore’s economy by the end of the 19th century, but in their mid-century heyday, they accounted for much of its trade, attracted significant capital, and employed much of its Chinese immigrant labour. 2Carl Trocki, Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control (London: Routledge, 2006).

Seah Eu Chin was one of the major figures on the development of pepper and gambier agriculture in Singapore, and his family members were also involved in the revenue farms that came to dominate Singapore's economy. In this part of the biography we look at how he built up his business, the role played by family ties and kinship, and his legacy today.

新加坡在二十世纪初已经是一座重要的城市和港口。谈起新加坡的经济发展时,我们经常重视本岛的地理条件。新加坡站在东西方之间的商路中,早以货物转口为重要的经济活动,尤其在苏伊士运河(Suez Canal)开辟之后,也是英殖民地之出口货(例如锡和橡胶)的贸易中心。



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