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Ubiquitous but Elusive: The Chinese of Makassar in VOC Times

Pages 81 - 103



1 Makassar was renamed Ujung Pandang in 1971, but reverted to its former name in 1999 in an attempt to revitalize the region economically.

2 The Great Evacuation (遷界令; alternatively 遷海令) at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) required the mass departure of the population from the coastal areas of China in order to suppress the anti-Qing movement begun by loyalists of the defeated Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shandong were affected to varying degrees. The ban was lifted in 1669.

3 For historiography of the region before the conquest by the VOC in 1669, see William P. Cummings (tr. and ed.), A Chain of Kings: The Makassarese Chronicles of Gowa and Talloq, Bibliotheca Indonesica 33 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007), and, by the same author, The Makassar Annals 1545–1751, Bibliotheca Indonesica 35 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2011).

4 It seems that much was destroyed by the Chinese themselves during the riots of 1965 that heralded a period of severe repression during which possession of such documents was extremely dangerous. Many Chinese citizens even had their family names changed into Indonesian ones for fear of reprisals. Iconographic traces were wiped out as well when Makassar's oldest surviving, mid-eighteenth century temple was destroyed in the riots of 1997, and the ancient cemetery was demolished in favor of urban development. Currently, the majority of Makassar's Chinese does not speak their native language and feels little connection to Chinese culture. On the lack of Chinese written sources, see Leonard Blussé, “Batavia, 1619–1740. The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Colonial Town”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 12 (1981), pp. 159–178, see pp. 162–163. On iconographic sources,

5 The only surviving correspondence appears to be the forty letters written by several yang hang merchants between 1790 and 1810 and found in the library of Leiden University. Until now only seven of these letters, written by a single merchant to the VOC authorities in Batavia, have been published. See Leonard Blussé, “The Vicissitudes of Maritime Trade. Letters from the Ocean Hang Merchant, Li Kunhe, to the Dutch Authorities in Batavia, 1803–1809”, in Anthony Reid (ed.), Sojourners and Settlers. Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese (St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1996), pp. 148–163.

6 For the sea routes and early Chinese trade to the eastern Malaysian regions, see various studies in Roderich Ptak, China's Seaborne Trade with South and Southeast Asia, 1200–1750 and China, the Portuguese and the Nanyang. Oceans and Routes, Regions and Trade, c. 1000–1600 (both Aldershot et al.: Ashgate, 1999 and 2004 respectively). For the Indian Ocean, recently Tansen Sen, “The Formation of Chinese Maritime Networks to Southern Asia, 1200–1450”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49 (2006), pp. 421–553.

7 For earlier Chinese sources with references to the “eastern world”, see Ptak, “Jottings on Chinese Sailing Routes to Southeast Asia, Especially on the Eastern Route in Ming Times”, reprinted in his China, the Portuguese, pp. 115–124. For cloves, see his “China and the Trade in Cloves ca. 960–1435”, reprinted in China's Seaborne Trade.

8 For a panorama of Southeast Asian trade, see e.g., George Bryan Souza, The Survival of Empire. Portuguese Trade and Society in China and the South China Sea, 1630–1754 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). The latest survey of the Chinese in Manila is Juan Gil's Los Chinos en Manila, Siglos XVI y XVII (Lisbon, Centro Científico e Cultural de Macau, 2011).

9 On all particulars of the trade routes and Chinese sources for these see Ptak, “Jottings”, pp. 107–113, 125. For the entry on Donggala, see e.g. J. V. Mills, “Chinese Navigators in Insulinde about A.D. 1500”, Archipel 18 (1979), pp. 69–79.

10 Kwee Hui Kian, “Money and Credit in Chinese Mercantile Operations in Colonial and Precolonial Southeast Asia”, in David Henley and Peter Boomgaard (eds.), Credit and Debt in Indonesia, 860–1930. From Peonage to pawnshop, from Kongsi to Cooperative (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2009), pp. 124–143, see p. 125.

11 Many studies include references to early European descriptions of the cultivation of cloves and the clove trade in colonial times; for an excellent overview see: Gerrit J. Knaap, Kruidnagelen en Christenen. De Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie en de bevolking van Ambon, 1656–1696, KITLV 125 (Dordrecht: Foris Publications, 1987), pp. 229–251. For a detailed description of nutmeg and mace and the trade therein, the old monograph by Otto Warburg is still useful: Die Muskatnuss, ihre Geschichte, Botanik, Kultur, Handel und Verwerthung, sowie ihre Verfälschungen und Surrogate; zugleich ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte der Banda-Inseln (Leipzig, Engelmann, 1897).

12 On the early history of the Makassar region, see e.g. John Villiers, “Makassar: The Rise and Fall of an East Indonesian Maritime Trading State 1512–1669”, in J. Kathirithamby Wells and Villiers (eds.), The Southeast Asian Port and Polity (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), pp. 143–159.

13 On the English trading post, see D. K. Bassett, “English Trade in Celebes, 1613–1667”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 31 (1958), pp. 1–39;

14 Heather Sutherland, “Eastern Emporium and Company Town. Trade and Society in Eighteenth-Century Makassar”, in Frank Broeze (ed.), Brides of the Sea. Port Cities of Asia from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries (Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1989), pp. 97–128, see pp. 100–102.

15 On textiles, see Kenneth R. Hall, “The Textile Industry in Southeast Asia, 1400–1800”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 39 (1996), pp. 87–135; Ruurdje Laarhoven, The Power of Cloth. The Textile Trade of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1600–1780, 1994 (PhD thesis, Australian National University, Canberra);

16 Its goal attained, the VOC pursued a three-pronged policy to preserve its position: fix the retail prices in the Dutch Republic, exercise strict quantitative control on the production, and monopolize the trade. Production control was practiced particularly relentlessly and by 1670 clove cultivation was restricted to a few isolated islands in the Moluccas. In Banda, the only area where superior quality nutmeg and mace was produced, the Dutch wiped out the population and installed a plantation system to replace the local economy. For further details, see E. M. Jacobs, Merchant in Asia. The Trade of the Dutch East India Company during the Eighteenth Century (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2006), pp. 291–292;

17 The war between the VOC and the state of Bone on one side and the states of Gowa and Talloq on the other side is well researched; see F. W. Stapel, Het Bongaais verdrag (Groningen: Wolters, 1922), pp. 93–191 and

18 Various decrees attest to these restrictions: In 1632, free trade was still allowed between Batavia and Banda, Ambon and Makassar. In 1650, Malays and Javanese were only allowed to trade in Ambon and Banda if they resided in Batavia, as this was to be reserved for Burghers and Chinese. In 1677 vessels smaller than 30 last (1 last = 2 tons) were refused passes to Banda and Ambon in order to prevent spice smuggling. From 1697 till the end of the century various restrictions are issued on trade routes: traders to Banda and Ambon could not stop in any harbor on their return, residents of Banda and Ambon were forbidden to trade with Batavia etc.; see J. A. van der Chijs (ed.), Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1605–1811 (hereafter: PB), 12 vols. (Batavia: Landschdrukkerij, 1887–1897; online:, I, p. 280; II, pp. 160, 581; III, pp. 35, 36, 138, 262, 342.

19 Generale Missiven 1610–1795 (hereafter GM), various editors, 13 vols. (Den Haag: Nijhoff, 1960–2007; online:, I, p. 402; II, p. 302. For the dispute on Makassar's status of entrepôt, see Heather Sutherland, “Trade, Court and Company: Makassar in the Later Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries”, in Locher-Scholler/Rietbergen (eds.), Hof en Handel, pp. 85-112, here p. 87;

20 Sutherland, “Eastern Emporium” p. 100. GM, I and II, passim. For a recent overview of Chinese trade in Batavia,

21 Hubert Jacobs (ed.), The Jesuit Makassar Documents 1615–1682, Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu 134 (Rome: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1988), p. 145 (Makassar to Nagasaki, 1656). Unfortunately, this letter contains no details at all on the Chinese inhabitants of Makassar.

22 NA, Aanwinsten 1524, 1926-I:10–11, ff. 707–708 and 704 (Cornelis Speelman aan Jan van Opynen, provisioneel Opperhooft in Makassar in 1670). Citations like this refer to the Netherlands National Archive in The Hague (Nationaal Archief), specifically to VOC matters, with the inventory and folio number.

23 NA, Aanswinsten 1524, ff. 704.

24 GM, III, p. 755. Also description by Francois Valentijn (1666–1727), Dutch vicar in Ambon; see François Valentijn, “Beschrijvinge van Macassar”, in his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien, vol. 3–2 (Dordrecht/Amsterdam: Johannes van Braam en Gerard onder den Linden, 1726), p. 135.

25 GM, III, passim; for the distribution of the mail, see the Daghregisters published online Also see GM, II, pp. 120, 136, for reports from the Governor of the Moluccas to the Governor-General in Batavia in 1641 on the gambling dens operated by Chinese, that corrupted and ruined the population; and GM, II, p. 404, for an example of a successful Chinese swindle involving falsified measures and soaking cloves in seawater to boost their weight.

26 GM, V, p. 615. This occurrence is not commented upon in the Generale Missiven so that the ship's reasons for coming to the port of Makassar and the VOC's reasons for the extension of the trading permit are an unsolved mystery.

27 For details on Amoy's rise to preeminence in maritime trade, see Ng Chin-Keong, Trade and Society. The Amoy Network on the China Coast 1683–1735 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1983).

28 Sutherland, “Trade, Court”, pp. 104–107.

29 In VOC documents population statistics are called “soul counts” with the status of women and slaves following the identity of their husband or master.

30 VOC 1364 and 1368, in Jürgen G. Nagel, Der Schlüssel zu den Molukken. Makassar und die Handelsstrukturen des Malaiischen Archipels in 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. Eine exemplarische Studie, 2 vols. (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2003), p. 392; GM, VII, p. 755.

31 Heather Sutherland, “A Chino-Indonesian Commodity Chain. The Trade in Tortoiseshell in the Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, in Tagliacozzo and Chang (eds.), Chinese Circulations, pp. 172–202, here p. 177.

32 On the VOC's officer system, see Mona Lohanda, The Kapitan Cina of Batavia 1837–1942 (Jakarta: Djambatan, 1996).

33 The rijksdaalder or rixdollar was the usual “money of account”. For currencies of the Netherlands, see Hans Jacobi/Bert van Beek, Geld van het Koninkrijk (Amsterdam: Pampus Associates, 1988).

34 Sutherland, “Eastern Emporium”, p. 119.

35 Sutherland, “Eastern Emporium”, pp. 124–126.

36 Samuel Hull Wilcocke (tr. and ed.), Voyages to the East-Indies; by the late John Splinter Stavorinus, Esq. Rear Admiral in the Service of the States-General, vol. 2, A Voyage to the Cape the Good Hope, Batavia, Samarang, Macasser, Amboyna, and Surat. With Accounts of Those Places in the Years 1774 and 1775 (London: Robinson, 1798), p. 371. Another theory is that Balinese women, not being muslims, knew how to keep pigs and prepare pork,

37 See Yuan Bingling, “Chinese Women”, passim, and Leonard Blussé, “One Hundred Weddings and Many More Funerals a Year. Chinese Civil Society in Batavia at the End of the Eighteenth Century”, in Blussé Chen Menghong (eds.), The Archives of the Kong Koan of Batavia, Sinica Leidensia 49 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003). Valentijn, Oost-Indien, p. 257, describes the position of these “Chinese” women and their customs in Ambon.

38 Since then, Chinese women also acquired the right to manage their own property and to claim this right as from the age of 25. Citation from J. Th. Vermeulen, “Some Remarks about the Administration of Justice by the Compagnie in the 17th and 18th Century in Respect of the Chinese Community” (translation into English Y. S. Tan), Journal of the South Seas Society 12 (1956), pp. 7–8; for the edict, see PB III, p. 350.

39 Valentijn, Oost-Indien, II, pp. 259–260, and the note on a specific funeral pp. 267–268. See also Salmon, “Women's Social Status”.

40 Heather Sutherland, “The Makassar Malays. Adaptation and Identity c. 1660–1790”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32 (2001) pp. 397–421, here pp. 413–415.

41 Kwee, “Money and Credit”, p. 125. On the harbormasters' farm,

42 On the organization of the port of Makassar, see Nagel, Schlüssel, pp. 407–414.

43 Until then, this information was probably recorded in the Daghregisters that are lost to us. For further details on the harbormasters lists, see Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders; Nagel, Schlüssel, pp. 471–550.

44 For the history of tobacco in Southeast Asia, see Thomas O. Höllmann, Tabak in Südostasien. Ein ethnograpisch-historischer Überblick (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1988). On cotton and rice, see the remark by VOC Rear Admiral Stavorinus: “The chief production of the island of Celebes is rice, of which it yields more than a sufficiency to maintain its own inhabitants, though they are very numerous, but it is not as good as the Java rice. Much cotton is likewise produced, of which the inhabitants make women's dresses, which are held to be the finest of all India.” Wilcocke, Voyages by Stavorinus, p. 180.

45 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, p. 61.

46 The animal called trepang in colonial literature is also known as sea slug, sea cucumber or bêche de mer and hai shen in Mandarin (the name is derived from the Malay teripang also spelled tripang) and belongs to the Holoturoidea of the Echinoderm family (Phylum Echinodermata); it was sought after as a stimulant in traditional Chinese medicine and had considerable commercial value. See J. C. Koningsberger, Tripang en tripangvisscherij in Nederlandsch-Indie (Batavia: Kolff, 1904).

47 See also Roderich Ptak, “China and the Trade in Tortoiseshell, Sung to Ming Periods”, in Ptak and Dietmar Rothermund (eds.), Emporia, Commodities and Entrepreneurs in Asian Maritime Trade, c. 1400–1750 (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 1991), pp. 195–230, and Heather Sutherland, “Commodity Chain”.

48 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, p. 98.

49 British Library London, OIOC, G/10/1, G. Cockrane (Makassar) to Gov. Thomas Smith (Banten), 16 July 1615, 2, cited in Nagel, Schlüssel, p. 251; for the protection of the China-Batavia trade, see Leonard Blussé, “No Boats to China. The Dutch East India Company and the Changing Pattern in the China Sea Trade, 1635–1690”, Modern Asian Studies 30 (1996), pp. 51–77.

50 NA, VOC 776, ff. 42–43; 2674, f. 30.

51 On restricting edicts, see PB, V, p. 323; GM, XI, p. 342; PB, V, p. 426. On permission for annual trade, PB, VI, p. 350. On the ban in 1764, PB, VII, p. 774.

52 PB, VIII, p. 519. There are indications that direct China trade continued even when prohibited, which would account for discrepancies in the sources. For instance, Eerdmans notes that a license for an annual junk was granted in 1767, see A. J. A. F. Eerdmans, Algemeene Geschiedenis van Celebes (n. p., n. d.), pp. 368–369.

53 Wilcocke, Voyages Stavorinus, pp. 283–285; Blussé, “Trade to Batavia”, p. 211.

54 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, p. 49.

55 Wilcocke, Voyages Stavorinus, pp. 283–285. The “idol” could refer to Mazu 媽祖, the Chinese deity of sailors.

56 Wilcocke, Voyages Stavorinus, p. 285.

57 Heather Sutherland, “Trepang and Wankang. The China Trade of Eighteenth Century Makassar, c. 1720s–1840s”, Bijdragen KITLV 156 (2000), pp. 451–471, here p. 453.

58 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, pp. 59–61.

59 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, pp. 98–99.

60 For details on trepang in Chinese writings and their function in medicine and culinary use, see Dai Yifeng, “Food Culture and Overseas Trade. The Trepang Trade between China and Southeast Asia during the Qing Dynasty”, in Y.H. Wu and Sydney C.H. Cheung (eds.), The Globalization of Chinese Food (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2002), pp. 23–24. On fishing methods and fishing grounds,

61 Dai, “Food Culture”, p. 27; PB, VIII, p. 672.

62 Sutherland, “Trepang”, p. 468.

63 Birds' nests are not really a forest product as they were usually obtained from cliffs and caves on the sea in just a few areas of the region. For further details, see Leonard Blussé, “In Praise of Commodities: An Essay on the Cross-Cultural Trade in Edible Birds' Nests”, in Ptak and Rothermund (eds.), Emporia, Commodities, pp. 317–335;

64 In the early 1700s rattan for packing and furniture was traded from Kalimantan through Makassar mainly by indigenous traders. By the end of the 1780s, rattan from Sulawesi was traded in bulk to Amoy by Chinese traders (92% of total volume). See Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, pp. 102–103.

65 For more details, see Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, p. 99, table 16; p. 103, table 17. One pikul is 62.5 kilograms. On the terminology of weights and measures

66 Gerrit J. Knaap, “All About Money. Maritime Trade in Makassar and West Java around 1775”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49 (2006), pp. 482–508, see pp. 490–491.

67 Knaap/Sutherland, Monsoon Traders, pp. 74–75. For details on ownership, organization, numbers, size, cost, crew, and trade routes of Chinese shipping,

68 Heather Sutherland, “Money in Makassar. Credit and Debt in an Eighteenth Century VOC Settlement”, in Henley and Boomgaard (eds.), Credit and Debt, pp. 102–123. On the temples, see Salmon, “Women's Status”, p. 159.

69 Leonard Blussé (包乐史) et al. (eds.), Gong'an bu 公案簿, several vols. (Xiamen: Xiamen daxue chubanshe, 2002), I, pp. 2–50 and 188–190; Ng, Amoy Network, pp. 100–102.

70 Over time protecting the population of Makassar became also an important factor. When a dispute between a VOC employee and the junk captain over bad debts arose, Makassar's governor concluded: “The Chinese merchants come here with the junk, do business with Christians and natives, and make various money loans that they use to purchase trepang, and other trade goods, and it can happen very easily that our inhabitants are ruined […]. This is a matter that has to be settled here, not in China, bearing in mind that even if the Chinese do not stay here, they leave behind wives or concubines who buy up commodities for them or dispose of their Chinese goods.” Sutherland, “Trepang”, p. 457.

71 Sutherland, “Makassar Malays”, p. 413.

72 Sutherland, “Money in Makassar”, pp. 727–729.

73 See e.g. NA, VOC 1762, f. 127.

74 NA, VOC Overgekomen brieven en papieren 8269 ff. 90–93.

75 Sutherland, “Money in Makassar”, pp. 105–118.

76 Knaap, “Money”, p. 506. On the designation “Chinese century”, see e.g. Eric Tagliacozzo, “A Sino-Southeast Asian Circuit. Ethnohistories of the Marine Goods Trade, in Tagliacozzi/Chang, Chinese Circulations, pp. 432–454; Blussé, “Chinese Century” and “Junks to Java”; and Sutherland, “Trade, Court”. Other scholars would prefer to call the eighteenth century the first Chinese century and the twentieth century the second one;

77 James F. Warren, The Sulu Zone. The World Capitalist Economy and the Historical Imagination, Comparative Asian Studies 20 (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1998); Knaap, “Makassar and West Java”, p. 506. NA, VOC 3418: 176, 1773.

78 MacKnight, “Marège”, p. 145.


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