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The Chinese Protectorate and the Role of the Prostitute in the FMS

Between the 1890s and the 1930s, prostitution flourished in Malaya − it was an important factor in maintaining a cheap Chinese workforce in the tin-mining industry. The colonial government did not allow free immigration, nor did it assist Chinese families to immigrate.6 The state’s main interest was to profit from the tin-mining industry, not to develop a settlement colony for the migrant labour force. The government did not attempt

4 Victor Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 178.

5 Victor Purcell, Malaya Outline of a Colony (London: Thomas Neilson and Sons Ltd, 1946); Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya; Victor Purcell, Malaysia (London: Thames and Hudson, 1965).

6 Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya, 134.

to bring Chinese families to the FMS until well into the twentieth century.7 There was no policy that encouraged the large-scale migration of Chinese women, married or single, to Malaya until the 1930s. The colonial government favoured the transient system of labour.

Under it labourers immigrated to Malaya, worked for a period, and then returned to China. This system and brothel prostitution kept wages low and facilitated European as well as middle-class Chinese capital accumulation in Malaya.8

The Chinese system or, Truck system, from the eighteenth century onwards allowed the key Chinese benefactors of the tin-mining industry to organise the supply of Chinese labour in Malaya.9 It involved Chinese employers using the clan system, found in most Chinese communities, to bring poor Chinese from their own provinces.10 In most cases, single men were brought into Malaya on an indenture and the employer provided accommodation and food as well as other ‘fringe benefits’ such as prostitutes, alcohol, opium and gambling.11 The workers were usually paid every twelve months and ‘fringe benefits’ were deducted from their wages. Historians such as Mills have noted that workers were offered ‘fun money’, registered as an advance on their wages, to pay for these ‘fringe benefits’.12 This was a system whereby the employer provided all the workers’ needs at a price, which often kept them in debt to the employer for years. Under it the labourer could return to China after the debt was paid off but, according to Wong and Warren, many labourers remained in debt to the employer and had little chance of

7 Ibid., 198.

8 Chin, In Service and Servitude: Foreign Female Domestic Workers and the Malaysian 'Modernity' Project, 35.

9 Robert Heussler, British Rule in Malaya: The Malayan Civil Service and Its Predecessors, 1867-1942 (London: Oxford University Press, 1981), 145.

10 Jomo K S, A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya (New York:

Monthly Review Press, 1988). Chin, In Service and Servitude: Foreign Female Domestic Workers and the Malaysian 'Modernity' Project, 35.

11 Secret societies were divided into different dialects and rules which reflected the different provinces in China and, as noted in the last chapter, the colonial officers pointed out how the secret societies were often engaged in violent conflict.

12 Lennox Mills, Malaysia (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 78.

returning home.13 The close-knit Chinese system made it difficult for the government to access labour for the colonial projects which included jungle clearing, road-building and, more importantly, British tin-mining.

As the Secretary of the Chinese Protectorate noted in 1895:

it is Chinese immigration at present, however, that is more important than the law that is wanted in Selangor for Selangor has at present to supply the labour wants of both itself and Pahang and to work its own deep mines that require a large supply of workers working on a fixed wage.14

To facilitate the development of a British-controlled economy, it was necessary to introduce state legislation that would enable the colonial government to eliminate the power of the secret societies over Chinese labour migration, and to rearrange the interior frontiers of Malayan society so that Malays remained in agriculture, and the Chinese largely supplied the labour for the European as well as the Chinese tin-mining industry.15 The first step was to break the hold of the Chinese secret societies and ban the entry of any person suspected of organising one. In time, several pieces of legislation were passed, including the Chinese Immigration Ordinance of 1877, which regulated in-migration through the Chinese Protectorate; the Societies Ordinance 1889, which outlawed secret societies; and the amended Labour Contract Ordinance of 1914, which banned indentured Chinese labour.16

13 Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1965). For further references see Warren in Lenore Manderson, Peter Rimmer, and Lisa Allen, eds., Underside of Malaysian History: Pullers, Planters and Prostitutes (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990).

14 Secretary for Chinese Affairs, "Annual Report of the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor 1898," (Kuala Lumpur: 1899), 6.

15 Chin, In Service and Servitude: Foreign Female Domestic Workers and the Malaysian 'Modernity' Project, 34.

16 The Immigration Ordinance provided for depots to be set up to receive immigrants and contracts to be signed between employers and employees under the control of the Chinese Protector. R N Jackson, Pickering: Protector of Chinese (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 64. There were also earlier Labour Codes introduced in 1884 which provided various legislation to stop the exploitation of workers under the Truck system. The colonial government wanted to loosen the hold Chinese employers had over their employees. The Discharge Ticket System was introduced in order to allow a coolie to move from one employer to another. Once the worker’s contract expired he was given a discharge ticket and could then become a free worker. The legislation also allowed for longer working hours and better food for the

The Chinese Protectorate became the single most important department concerning the Chinese migrant labour force in Malaya. Most colonial officers claimed the establishment of the Protectorate and the outlawing of Chinese indentured labour was an act of compassion on the part of the colonial government and was done in the name of protecting Chinese workers’ interests.17 Like Swettenham and Clifford, who highlighted the paternal side of colonialism, Purcell claimed that the Chinese Protectorate was established in order to save workers from their own kind.18 Thus notions of paternalism were convenient for the colonial agenda. According to Purcell, the situation concerning prostitution and male workers was part of the culture of Chinese tin-mining towns and the British could do little more than regulate the unrestrained behaviour of sections of the Chinese community. Purcell argued that ‘the disparate sex ratio was foremost among the factors leading to the traffic in women and children’, but while this was a most important factor, he argued that the real cause of prostitution in Malaya was poverty in China.19 While the situation in China was significant, the poverty in Malaya also contributed to the traffic in women and children, because the majority of men who travelled to Southeast Asia to work in the capitalist enterprises were paid wages that did not allow them to bring a wife or support a family in Malaya. While workers were poor when they came to Malaya, as already noted, they remained destitute despite many years in the colonies.20

workers. Another aim was to ensure that they were paid every 6 months and not every 12 months; and did not end up owing the employer more money than he was paid. Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914, 95.

17 Purcell stressed that ‘the increased acquaintance with Chinese life brought to the fore Chinese shortcomings, which might otherwise have been unobtrusively or easily glossed over. Outstanding among these were the oppression and unjust system of recruiting labour from China and the traffic in women and children encouraged by the disparity of the sexes. It thus became the duty of the government to remedy these evils so far as lay in its power’. Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya, 147.

18 Wong, writing in 1965, refers to the terrible conditions that mining labourers were subjected to during this period but he also argues that the legislation introduced by the government was to free labour from

‘debt slavery’ and make workers available for European employers. Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914, 95-7.

19 Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya, 174.

20 James Warren, At the Edge of Southeast Asian History (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1987), 129.

Colonial administrators always argued that prostitution was the result of the disparity in the sexes, as women were not as willing as men to leave their families due to filial family relationships.21 However, according to Gronewold, the Chinese in the nineteenth century were quite willing to sell their daughters to ‘adoptive’ families and procurers. Gronewold argues females were viewed as ‘property’ in China, as being more disposable than males.

While the male stayed with and supported the parents, females, once married, went to live with ‘outsiders’. In times of hardship, parents who sold their daughters saw it as only hastening their leaving, not as a fundamental departure from normal social practices.22 Hence, while single women may have been discouraged from migrating to Southeast Asia to work, it was quite acceptable for married women and for those intending to marry in Southeast Asia.23

This argument does not suggest that colonisation was the cause of prostitution in Malaya.24 According to historians such as Warren, brothels were well established in the tin-mining towns before British intervention in Malaya and were under the control of the Chinese secret societies.25 Chinese procurers were familiar with the areas where poverty was most dominant and where the supply of young women and girls was plentiful.

According to Warren, they made use of existing familial relationships of female subjugation to induce young women to come to Southeast Asia. The most important mechanism of the procurer was by way of payment to the girl’s family. The procurer would offer the family money to pay their debts in return for the girl. Once removed from the family, coercive measures were adopted to make the women and girls pay for

21 Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya. For further information see James Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San:

Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

22 Sue Gronewold, Beautiful Merchandise (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1985), 3.

23 Chin, In Service and Servitude: Foreign Female Domestic Workers and the Malaysian 'Modernity' Project, 35.

24 According to Jeffrey, writing about prostitution in Thailand during this period, the outlawing of slavery in Thailand in 1904 (the result of British intervention) increased the numbers of prostitutes. Leslie Jeffrey, Sex and Borders: Gender National Identity, and Prosititution Policy in Thailand (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002), 11.

25 Prostitution and concubinage already existed in China and Japan. According to Warren, Confucian and Buddhist codes and moralities never hindered the acceptance of prostitution in either feudal society.

Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940, 29.

recruitment and transportation costs and to screen them from outside pressures to leave the brothels. As Warren has argued, little attention was paid to the prostitution that followed migrant male labour throughout Southeast Asia before the Contagious Diseases Act in the 1870s.26 Like the migration of Chinese labour, prostitutes were working in tin- mining areas as early as 1848, but the numbers of single men migrating and the numbers of prostitutes increased after British colonisation. Perak and Selangor, the two states which together produced 91 per cent of tin exports, witnessed a population increase from 72,000 in 1874 to over 295,000 in 1881.27 These enclaves of capitalist development, which housed the largest numbers of single men, became the states where prostitution was most common.28 In 1891, there were 829 ‘known’ prostitutes in Selangor.29 In 1906, there were over 3,500 ‘known’ prostitutes in Selangor and Perak.30 The colonial government was well aware of the situation and did not seek to stop prostitution. Brothel prostitution in Malaya operated because the migration of single males was economically viable for the colonial government and because of an alliance between local colonial officers and the Chinese middle-classes that facilitated and maintained patterns of commodified sexual relations. Warren and Jaschok view prostitutes as victims of a vicious system of Chinese patriarchy where women are sexual objects for men. Both argue, however, that the boundaries between outright exploitation, emotional dependence, servitude and filial submission are especially fluid.31 The boundaries between patriarchy and colonisation were also fluid and contradictory, because on the one hand colonial discourses situated prostitution as immoral and exploitative, and on the other colonial men considered prostitution an outlet for their own as well as Chinese

26 Ibid., 34.

27 Jomo K S, A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya, 56.

28 Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940, 181; Maria Jaschok and Suzanne Miers, eds., Women and Chinese Patriarchy: Submission, Servitude and Escape (London: Zed Books, 1994).

29 Residency Surgeon, "2nd Half Yearly Report on Brothels for the Latter Half of the Year 1891," (Kuala Lumpur: 1892).

30 Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report on the Chinese Protectorate, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1906," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Secretariat, 1907).

31 Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940; Jaschok and Miers, eds., Women and Chinese Patriarchy: Submission, Servitude and Escape.

men’s sexual frustrations.32 It is also important to note that while the colonial officers represented the Malay system of polygamy and slavery as uncivilised, they did not see the connections between colonisation and prostitution in the same light.33

In The Straits Times as early as 1869, the editor, discussing brothel prostitution in Singapore, reflected on the position of women under the Chinese patriarchal system.

According to the editor, the government had their hands tied in regard to stopping this

‘evil’ because ‘it cannot be denied that, as abandoned and forlorn as they are these women have exercised a very perceptible beneficial influence on their countrymen here’.34 According to the article, Chinese women were viewed as having a calming effect on the largely Chinese male immigrant population. Like the male Malay ruling classes, Chinese workers were represented as wild men who needed prostitutes to fulfil their

‘uncivilised’ lust.35 According to the authorities, male ejaculation was essential to rid men of excess energy and keep them subdued.36

The state also condoned prostitution because it collected revenue from opium, alcohol and gambling, which were concentrated in the brothels.37 Alatas has pointed out that between 1918 and 1922 approximately 30 per cent on average of government revenue

32 Butcher, The British in Malaya 1880-1941.

33 Yet in 1894 and again in 1907 the government conducted a study into brothels and found that the buildings and the conditions of sex workers were similar to slave conditions. Chinese Protector Selangor,

"Reports on Visits and Inspection to Brothels," (Kuala Lumpur: 1894); Secretariat, "Reports on the Insanitary Conditions of Chinese Brothels in Kuala Lumpur."

34 "Chinese Female Slaves," The Straits Times, Saturday, December 25, 1869.

35 Ibid.

36 David Arnold, Colonizing the Body (Los Angeles: University of Claifornia Press, 1993), 84.

37 The annual revenue collected from opium duties in Selangor in 1901 was $731,272. In 1904, the figure had increased to $817,160. Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report on the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1903," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Secretariat, 1904). During this period, brothel prostitution in Kuala Lumpur was largely centred around Petaling Street. The three storey buildings consisted of Chandu shops (‘opium dens’) and toddy shops on the ground floor, and sitting rooms and brothel cubicles on the floors above. Secretariat, "Reports on the Insanitary Conditions of Chinese Brothels in Kuala Lumpur."

was derived from opium sales.38 Jomo argues that opium was the largest source of revenue for the colonial government from 1874 to World War 11 when it was outlawed.39 The revenue collected by the state paid for the infrastructure (roads and railways), compensation for the Malay ruling class and British salaries.40 In all the Chinese Secretariat Reports there was a section titled ‘Collection of Opium Import Duties’ which detailed the opium sold and the revenue.41 The sex industry and the consumption of alcohol and opium, together with gambling, became a most viable industry for the state, the Chinese capitalist and the procurer.42

38 He also said that the colonists were keen to introduce medicines that would prevent epidemics but they were not concerned about preventing drug addiction among the Chinese labourers. Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native (London: Frank Cass, 1977), 15.

39 Jomo K S, A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya, 171.

40 Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report on the Chinese Protectorate, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1912," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Secretariat, 1913). This is also clearly outlined in Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914, 77-81; Nicholas Tarling, "British Policy in Malayan Waters in the Nineteenth Century," in Papers on Malayan History, ed. K Tregonning (1961).

41 During the year, 1605 chests of Indian Opium were imported into Selangor, and the revenue collected by the Colonial Office amounted to $817,160, as compared with 1680 chests and $810,705 during the previous year. Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report on the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1903." In 1908, import duties went up from $560 to $1200. Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report of the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1908," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Secretariat, 1909).

42 Colonial officers and Chinese capitalists helped each other by working together. This is exemplified in a letter to the government secretary. One colonial district officer asks on behalf of a Chinese, Loh Ching Keng, ‘part owner of the gambier and pepper concession of Sepang, and the leasee of the opium and other farms’ for an extension of ten years from the date of expiry of his present lease, which has two more years to run. According to the officer, in the event of his request being granted he agrees to erect substantial gaming houses of brick. The colonial officer concludes that ‘in the face of the good work done by Towkey Loh Ching Keng in developing Sepang, resulting in much benefit to the government and the large vested interest he has in the District, I am prepared to recommend the advisability of allowing him the lease of the farms at Sepang at 10% increase on the present value of the farms for another period of three years to date from the expiry of the lease he now holds. I recommend also that as a token of the recognition of the services rendered by Towkay Loh Ching Keng to this government: he should be made a native magistrate at Sepang, in which capacity he will be of much help to the officer in charge of the sub-district, which contains a large and mixed Chinese population always at variance with each other’. Senior District Officer,

"Letter to the Government Secretary in Kuala Lumpur from the Senior District Officer," (Kuala Langat:

1894). There are also considerable references in historical writings to firstly, the close connections between Chinese capitalists who accommodated the government’s needs and secondly, to the fact that in some instances Chinese labourers made substantial profits from opium sales and invested the money in other more socially accepted businesses. Wong Moh Keed points out that both her grandfathers started out as poor workers, made money from opium and gambling and invested their money in the tin-mining industry.

Wong Moh Keed, ed., My Heart with Smiles: The Love Letters of Siew Fung Fong and Wan Kwai Pik (1920-1941) (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1988). As Wong argued ‘the system of revenue farming enriched the Chinese capitalists as well as gave them great economic power’. Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914, 80.

According to Jomo, opium was viewed by the colonial state as a means of keeping workers subdued and content and even under considerable public pressure the colonial government continued to supply opium. After reading a variety of reports, one gets the feeling that the colonial government was seeking to reform and discipline ‘unruly’

children. 43 In fact, a colonial commission recommended the government establish a monopoly on the importation and distribution of the drug and continue its availability to Chinese addicts because the addict was more likely to be law abiding. Further, as opium use did not affect worker productivity it was considered to help in the ‘control’ of Chinese labour in the tin-mining towns of Malaya.44 Likewise, prostitution was viewed as having a ‘calming’ effect on the workers.45

As the years passed, increasing pressure from international and local activists forced the government to change its policies on both opium and brothel prostitution. The government was encouraged to limit the numbers of workers and increase those of Chinese women coming into the FMS. In fact, it was suggested that the government only allow males to migrate to Malaya if accompanied by a female. However, the Secretary of Chinese Affairs argued that ‘to restrict male immigration unless the male was accompanied by a female is utterly unfeasible as far as the FMS are concerned and would tend to decrease the immigration of labour’.46 With labour shortages, the state argued that

43 In one report, the government prohibited the smoking of opium in a public place to right the wrongs of a supposedly ‘degenerate Chinese society’. It stated, ‘the prohibition of smoking opium in public places, brothels and lodging houses except a public chandu smoking shop’ ‘abundantly and conclusively proves that the Chinese community appreciate the restrictive measures adopted by the government for their own welfare’. Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report for the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1909," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Protectorate, 1910), 5. However, in another report, the government’s compassion was undermined because the state continued to make large sums of money from opium until pressure from anti-opium movements in Europe and China, in particular, pushed the government into outlawing the drug. Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report of the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan for the Year 1910," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Secretariat, 1911).

44 Jomo K S, A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya, 170.

45 "Chinese Female Slaves." This newspaper article stresses the ‘calming effect’ prostitutes have on ‘their own countrymen’. It also exemplifies the argument that lasted from 1890s to the 1930s for continuing prostitution in Malaya.

46 Protector of Chinese, "Annual Report on the Chinese Secretariat, Selangor for the Year 1925," (Kuala Lumpur: Chinese Protectorate, 1926).