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State and Industry in Shaping of Local Society: The Changes of Chinese Society in Larut, a Mining Frontier of Malaya (1848-1911)
new regional geography
tin mining industry
The recent discussion about social relationship of the overseas Chinese in 19th century was highly affected by the essentialist view based on the explanation of the nature of place of origin or language per se. This study attempts to approach the aforementioned issue by using the geographical concept of human-land relationship. We intend to focus on the interaction of state, economic activities, and society to examine how Chinese diaspora responded to challenges from these factors for survival. This approach also contributes a new perspective on the fields of Chinese diaspora studies. The study focuses on the case of Larut during mid-19th century to early 20th century. Larut was an important mining frontier in the Northern Malay Peninsula, there was serious dispute among local rival Chinese miners over the control of mining areas for decades, but the relationship of rival factions became stable by the end of 19th century. During the period, Larut had experienced two different regimes. This study consists of three major parts as below: Firstly, this study has examined the formation of Chinese society of Larut under the development of the colonial economy in a Malay feudal state. In addition, we also showed how the mining activities embedded into the everyday life of Chinese miner in the forming of mining society. Secondly, the study focuses on the construction of social linking by operating of tin production and marketing structure, secret society system, and social welfare in daily life under the laissez-faire ruling in the Malay feudal state. These linkages enable Chinese of different backgrounds integrate into “kong-moon System”, a fate community consists of multi-dialect and cross-region (Penang-Larut) groups. This fate community highly dependent on the non-renewable resource (tin), once the resources became depleted, the carrying capacity cannot afford the needs of consumers, the rule no longer served its conciliatory function anymore, the two factions would fight for their subsistent resource. The continuous disputes eventually brought about the British intervention. The third part will concentrate on the changes of Chinese society under the British’s rule. Discussing how Chinese production and marketing structure, economic field and scope of activities affected by the intervention of the colonial power, which had hastened the disintegration of the “kong-moon System” based relationship. Henceforth Chinese forced to adapt themselves in order to meet the new challenges of the new order, this adaption was also the main factors in reshaping social relationship. This study finds that social relationship is highly dependent on the nature of state and economic activity. During the Malay feudal period, the economic activity of Chinese society was highly overlapping in a single industry (tin mining). The weakness of state and carrying capacity of economic activity would affect the economic become the main factor in the social linkage rather than nature of origins or dialect groups (essentialism), the unity of social is strong. In the British colonial period, the reliance on single, non-renewable resource based industry had reduced. In addition, along with strengthening of state power and conditions of carrying capacity, the essential factors will become more important than the economic linkage conversely, the social will also tend to fragmentize.
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