By Hugh M. Lewis


Copyright 2000, by Hugh M. Lewis

All Rights Reserved.

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A Brief Introduction to Nanyang Studies

It has been twelve years since I undertook writing these texts based upon preliminary bibliographic research in an Anthropology program in New York. I was at the time heavily influenced by economic theory and socio-structural theories as well as by literary theory.

My interest in the Overseas Chinese grew from my travels to Malaysia, fieldwork with the Vietnamese Refugees, who were in fact de facto Chinese from Vietnam, and of course, marriage to my overseas Chinese wife. In hindsight, though the contribution of the Chinese historically and culturally to the civilization and development of Southeast Asia has been significant and largely down played due to ethnocentric and nationalistic policies of Southeast Asian nation states and post-colonial regimes, it is also evident to me that the Chinese had never been politically preponderant in the region, except perhaps from a remote distance in casting a giant shadow from the mainland and in relation to the history of Vietnam. Though the Nanyang, as the network of the overseas Chinese is called in this essay, was vast, far reaching and considerable especially in terms of its economic integration of the region, I do not believe that the Nayang was ever identified, either by the Chinese, or their native counterparts, or by scholars, as such. It was never a coherent socio-political organization in and of itself. It existed only as implicit to the network of economic relations that Chinese traders established for themselves in the Southeast Asian context. This was a vital role, to be sure, but one that cross-sected competing political boundaries at every corner.

The positions occupied by the Chinese of the Nanyang, as merchant-middle men, pioneer entrepreneurs, settlers, plantation owners and managers, as clerks, shop-keepers and wealthy tycoons,  was not unlike the positions that European Jews came to occupy in the traditional frameworks of the European countries they inhabited. Thus, many of the results in terms of mass persecution and periodic slaughter of this inbetween "pariah" group were the same in both instances, and in general, they serve as parallel analogies to a similar kind of social patterning, albeit with different origins, directions and histories. The allusion to the overseas Chinese as the Asian Jewry has been made by others than myself, with far different implications. But it is, from an economic and structural standpoint, a valid kind of comparison to make. We seek comparative examples by which to understand complex social patterns, especially from alternative contexts that can be said to be relatively independent of the subject at hand.

Since the first writing of this work, I've done much subsequent research and fieldwork in Southeast Asia in relation to the Overseas Chinese. I do not claim to be an authority on the topic. The Overseas Chinese are a heterogeneous lot--they have been affected not only by the segmental, isolating cleavages of homeland, of language, surname, patrilineage, etc., but also by the long heritage of the countries in Southeast Asian in which they resided. Fundamental differences can be found for instance between Chinese in Thailand and Chinese in Malaysia or Singapore, or those in the Philippines or those in Indonesia.

The latest violence and turmoil in Indonesia over the last two years (1999-2001) has almost certainly, in many cases, targeted the Chinese, especially those who lived and owned small shops in urban or village areas. The fact that the press plays down this aspect of much of this violence demonstrates the extent to which the world has ignored the frequent plight and persecution of the overseas Chinese at the hands of their host peoples. Southeast Asian governments have frequently found the Chinese to be a convenient scape-goat when their own people become restless. Thus, one thing that unites all overseas Chinese is that they in general share a fundamental sense of structural and existential insecurity and ambivalence of identity in their host nations. This insecurity and ambivalence to a great extent, like the prostestant ethics of the spirit of capitalism, becomes translated frequently into intensive preoccupation and success of these people in economic spheres of activity especially. More overlooked but no less intensive and interesting has been the activities of these same people in religionism in the region.  To a lesser extent, the overseas at times have become implicated at high levels in the political involvement of their nations, but as previously remarked, such political involvement tends to take the form of alternative clan or lineage organization, secret society affiliation or trade union involvement. Only in Singapore have the overseas Chinese managed to establish themselves as politically preponderant, demonstrating their clear capacity for politic prowess when the circumstances are conducive to such action.

To focus upon the political economy of the Nanyang Chinese is to demarcate essential role and structure of the overseas Chinese in the Southeast Asian setting. Only one caveat should be remarked upon in this regard. Not all Chinese make excellent businessmen. Many are downright terrible businessmen. Many chinese are poor and working class. Many are farmers or fishermen, and others pull trishaws or haul heavy loads. Chinese communities have their own internal class divisions and cleavages, and they are not all united in conspiracy against the state. Some Chinese lean toward the left and others toward the right. But economic participation in trading and money-handling, in production, transportation and marketing, have been a enduring and significant occupational niche of these people and their communities throughout the Souteast Asian setting, and remains so until today.

I would say that the Chinese, unlike many of their native counterparts, are very practical minded when it comes to business affairs and family affairs especially. They are quick to see and seize what few opportunities are available to them, and they are opportunistic in this regard. But this does not mean that they lack a sense of larger loyalty or commitment to systems, if they see realistic prospects for the future of their families in such systems.


The Nanyang


The Chinese of Southeast Asia, or the Nanyang (South Sea) Chinese, have long been integral to the regional development of Southeast Asia, probably going back as far as the first century BC, if not earlier.

"…the Chinese communities of the Nanyang are now both culturally and politically more influenced by their Southeast Asian environments than by their Chinese motherland. Nor is the use of the plural 'minorities' without forethought: a recurrent theme…will be the varied ways of adaptation of these persons of Chinese origin to their countries of residence." (Mary F. Somers-Heidhues; Southeast Asia's Chinese Minorities: 1-2)

The ethnic Chinese have long been present in every nation state in Southeast Asia. Like their European counterparts the ethnic Chinese have long remained significant minorities wherever they have settled. Unlike the European colonizers and imperialists in Southeast Asia, whose impact was aggressively sudden, militarily coercive and politically predominating, the significance of the Chinese influence in Southeast Asia was primarily economic more than political. Only upon the small island city-state of Singapore did the overseas Chinese eventually become to politically predominate in Southeast Asia, and then only upon a precarious 'toe-hold' as a result of Malaysia kicking Singapore out of the Malaysian union.

"The emergence and formation of Chinese capital in Southeast Asia was due to the peaceful colonization of that area by Chinese immigrants and their economic activities. And the Chinese immigrants never pursued any political aims in those countries nor did they seek to subordinate them to China." (N. A. Simoniya; Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia: 39)

The purpose of this paper is to address the hypothetical problem of the possible political economy underlying Nanyang ethnicity, in order to delineate the broad outlines of some form of structure that may theoretically account for or explain the phenomena referred to or related to the notion of ethnicity. Any structure is in fact only a hypothetical sense of order or a recognizable pattern or a system or model which is supposed to adequately account for the interrelated phenomena of interest. In this case a structure is presumed to refer to consistent and persistent sets of recurring processes that have some measure of historical continuity through time and geographical presence across a wide area, a region that in this case is specifically Southeast Asia.

Because these processes have some recognizable form of consistency through time and across space, they are held to represent recurrent patterns that are the manifestations of larger and enduring regional structures. Structures endure historically on account of regional and cultural conditions even though there may occur periodically a complete turnover of individual personalities and organizations who are caught up within and involved with the activation of these patterns. Structures may even endure human social organizations that makes them happen--enduring through the life cycles of many such organizations.

The particular kind of structure this paper is concerned to elucidate may more appropriately be called political-economic substructure that underlies and enables the hermeneutical understanding of the surface patterning of ethnicity; in particular, of a certain historically particular kind of ethnicity described euphemistically as Nanyang Chinese.

At the outset several preliminary points must be properly delineated before the central theoretical problem can be broached.


1. It is to be inferred that the phenomenon of ethnicity is somehow epi-phenomenal to some other processes, that it alone does not adequately account for itself as something self evidently in and of itself but is presumed to be something, a process or occurrence, which needs to be explained by something else to which it is somehow related. Thus ethnicity in general is presumed to be representative of some kind of more basic or preexisting structure that gives rise to it or causes it, thus standing for that other structure. By this thesis if ethnicity has some kind of structure of its own, that serves to distinguish it and characterize it, to make it recognizable as ethnicity as such wherever it is experience or happens, then this structure did not just come on its own, but only arises in relation to some other structural form which is its precondition.

2. The inference of the title is that somehow political economy is the underlying structure of the phenomena of ethnicity, such that if properly elucidated may its understanding  might sufficiently account for the occurrence of ethnic phenomena in general or in particular. This is in lieu of some other possible form of substructure or prestructure that may just as adequately and parsimoniously account for ethnic phenomena. It is the thesis of this paper that in actuality political economy represent but a duality of dimensions of a more complex kind of structure which has several other important dimensions, namely religious, social, psychological and cultural. This kind of multidimensional structure not only provides a sufficient account of ethnicity but more importantly serves as the basis of definition of the dimensionalities of the structure itself. In other words, it may be employed to account for a wide variety of other kinds of 'problematic' phenomena as well. Political economy is merely a point of entry towards defining the whole problematical structure.

3. As the initial purpose of this paper is stated, the meaning and definition of what is ethnicity is left to the inferred only and has been defined only implicitly as something epi-phenomenal which stands for something else. This does not imply that ethnicity as a phenomena is somehow in and of itself unreal or inadequate, that it cannot stand on its own terms or even that it may, in its own way be pre-phenomenal in relation to something else which stands in relationship to it as epi-phenomenal. Ethnicity as a recognizable phenomena of experience has a substantial, phenomenological ground in human reality and this may be said to have its own structure that may give rise to other kinds of phenomena to which it is related.

4. The notion of a somehow historically particular or general Nanyang. Ethnicity as a real phenomena or set of phenomena is presumed to be important enough to include in the title without clearly elucidating the parameters of these phenomena. Whether Nanyang ethnicity is to be treated as somehow privileged among possible kinds of ethnicity has somehow representative or demonstrative of the structural processes underlying all possible forms of ethnicity is taken for granted. Why Nanyang and not some other instance of the general phenomena of ethnicity particularly exemplifying of this generality remains to be answered or demonstrated and though defensible cannot be conclusively answered except perhaps by default. Why not some other ethnicity? I will reverse the order of these points and proceed backwards in their clarification before going on to the central problematical topic of 'the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity'.

This paper will seek to answer, then, the following questions in this order:

1. Why Nanyang ethnicity?

2. What is ethnicity and its structure?

3. How does political economy and other dimensions prestructure ethnicity in general and Nanyang ethnicity in particular?

4. How does the structure of ethnicity in general come to stand for some kind of underlying substructure or set of substructures pertinent to the predicament and distinctive style patterning of the Nanyang Chinese?




1. In answer to why the Nanyang, it is important to understand what it is. The Nanyang or the "Southern Ocean" used to be the Chinese equivalent of Southeast Asia as it was then known--Nanyang refers to those Southeastern territories that were reached by the overseas Chinese people via the South China Sea. These overseas Chinese of the Nanyang form a distinct nation within many different nations, within the Southeast Asian region and beyond, a nation whose only real territory was a sort of socio-structural space within a larger regional framework and the freedom of the South China Sea itself. They are the heterogeneous quasi-citizens of a Nanyang trading empire that had its own social structure, common culture and political economic organization but whose only territorial boundaries were the social and colonial boundaries around their "Chinatowns." "Nanyang Trade" was the principal raison d'être of this truly interregional, extra-territorial nation. It was truly an imperium in imperio "a power within a power; an empire within an empire; a state within a state." But it was not just one, but many such states within states organized into a loose confederacy labeled the Nanyang Nation.

It was really a nation without external territorial boundaries, one with a national kind of culture and a distinctive style of civilization. Its boundaries though are not geo-political but mostly socio-cultural. The Nanyang Chinese have been more culturally influenced by the Nanyang itself than by their common Chinese homeland. They form a heterogeneous population--varied adaptations to a regional environmental mosaic hat has led to a great range of cultural and social diversity--though all within a single Nanyang continuum.


"The complex set of identities, or organizations which may be built upon them are most visible from the inside. Viewed from the outside, the Chinese look, to most Southeast Asians as simply Chinese--notoriously persistently Chinese." (Brown 1976: 96-97)


The Nanyang nation has several unusual features unlike the usual geo-political nation state. It is a marginal state composed almost entirely of overseas immigrants which exists mostly within the interstices between local and global socio-structural frameworks. This structural marginality of the Nanyang accounts for a variety of interrelated characteristics of the Nanyang citizenry. Nanyang citizenship or ethnic identity, has long been overshadowed by a fundamental structural ambivalence and basic insecurity of existential precariousness. They are a people within many different countries but without a real homeland. The Nanyang Nation exists now only as a fictive cultural region of history books about Southeast Asia.

Making money, and making money make money, and making money in order to make money has been essentially the only form of security which the Nanyang people have ever had. It has been their most persistent pattern in the past, becoming the structure of their Nanyang tradition and it is their only safe guarantee of future security, making the structure of their Nanyang ideology for meeting the future. A people politically dispossessed and existentially precarious, making lots of money becomes the only real substantial form of security that they can afford. This is the basis of the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity.

The question of ethnic overseas Nanyang identity in Southeast Asia remains a veritable conundrum--both and neither the People's Republic of China and the Nationalist Government of Taiwan claim them as citizens as so do many of the Southeast Asian national governments simultaneously persecute and discriminate against them, rejecting their full citizenship status or else seeking to coercively assimilate them, but usually only upon certain partial or a conditional basis. If there remains a single common thread to Nanyang identity in Southeast Asia, then it is this double hyphenated citizenship to a Nanyang quasi nation that only really existed in the mercantile networks of overseas Chinese entrepreneurs and their communities or enclaves. The inherent ambiguity of their ethnic status reflects the existential ambiguity of their shared political economy as merchant middlemen--their primary means of livelihood and social organization and cultural survival as a distinctive grouping of people with a common heritage and historical tradition. In a sense, the plastic success of modern hyper modern neo-colonial Singapore as an ethnic overseas Chinese Mercantile City State, the capital of the Nanyang Nation, is the concentrated, distilled crystallization of a Nanyang empire which might have been given a different turn of historical events, but now will never be. In every other Southeast Asian nation, the overseas Chinese must face an existential fate of choosing between enforced assimilation with a loss of face--the abolition of a distinctive cultural identity and an acceptance of structural discrimination and inequality, or else coerced emigration--on a few occasions they have been faced with genocide and ethnocide.

In order to answer the why Nanyang we are now in a position to examine more carefully the profile of ethnicity of Nanyangness. Like the Chinese from both an etic and emic viewpoint and then to see how this ethnicity becomes prestructured within a framework of a certain kind of colonial political economy.

Unlike most other minorities of Southeast Asia, the ethnic Chinese are not geographically isolated or separated--only socio-culturally so--most of them inhabit urban areas, but not exclusively so. Without a common territorial identity to reinforce or ground their ethnic national identity for the ethnic Chinese the question of common Chinese origin and common Chinese traditional heritage become more crucial, even more so among the half caste Babas and Peranakans such that present day Chinese minorities strive to buttress their separate identity through essentially cultural institutions in particular schools and the Chinese language press. Most of these ethnic Chinese are engaged in trade and form extensive geo-political, supranational networks of commerce and communication over the South China Sea which in range and sophistication are matched by none others in the region. "This is far more complex than mere contact with the motherland or some other two way trading path; it involves a net of relationships within Southeast Asia, focusing on Singapore and Hong Kong and extending out to the Japanese, Europeans and North American markets and sources of capital, as well as to China and Taiwan. Commercial considerations and not political loyalties draw this network together." (Mary Somers-Huedhues: 2)

Being a citizen of the Nanyang is largely a matter of situation, circumstance and self definition....

"As one scholar puts it, 'Being a Chinese is, in Southeast Asia, essentially a matter of self identification.' .... The imprecision of the definition makes an exact count of the 'Chinese' an impossible undertaking, not least because many persons consider themselves 'Chinese' in some contexts, but not in others…" (Heidhues; 1974: 2-3)

It is even more curious in this regard that the Peranakans and Baba communities, more assimilated than Chinatown ghettos usually considered themselves to be more genuinely, more traditionally Chinese, even more so than the newcomer Chinese sinkehs or totoks who were considered of inferior status. Even these communities while presenting a united 'face' of being Chinese were quite varied and internally divided:

Regardless of the exact origin of the terms, it must be made quite clear that in the context of the present study the three terms are used interchangeably and as synonyms, and are used only to refer to those Straits born Chinese who developed the syncretic culture which is the distinguishing characteristic of this group of indigenized Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese. At the same time, it must be made clear that this is not to say that the Straits Chinese formed an entirely homogeneous culture or one that did not change over time. Straits Chinese society was differentiated by dialect origin…by locality of origin (whether Malacca or elsewhere), by social class and economic division and by religion. In the 19th century the women had already long adopted their characteristically modified form of Malay costume, but the men continued to wear Chinese dress, and to arrange their hair in the traditional queue, although being well outside of the influence of the Manchu empire they had no reason to adhere to this 'badge of servitude' (as Vaughn phrased it). Indeed this Chineseness in outer appearance (of people who often could not speak or read the Chinese language) struck Vaughn as a very intriguing aspect of early Baba culture:

"One may see in Malacca Babas who can claim no connection with China for centuries, clad in long jackets, loose drawers and black skull caps, the very counterparts of Chinese to be seen any day at Amoy, Chusan or under the walls of Nankin. Strange to say that although the Babas adhere so loyally to the customs of their progenitors they despise the real Chinaman and are exclusive fellows indeed; nothing they rejoice in more than being British subjects. The writer has seen Babas on being asked if they were Chinaman bristle up and say in an offended tone 'I am not a Chinaman, I am a British subject', an Orang Putih literally, a white man: this term is invariably applied to an Englishman. They have social clubs of their own to which they will admit no native of China. At those clubs they play at billiards, bowls or other European games and drink brandy and soda ad libitum; yet they adhere strictly to the Chinese costume--the queue, thick soled shoes, mandarin dresses and conical hats on state occasions and the manners and customs of those people who otherwise have no sympathies with …" (J. D. Vaughn; 'The Manners and Customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements', 1971 in Straits Chinese Society by John R. Clammer, 1980: 5-6)

The Nanyang Nation provided a cultural mode from which may indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia learned and borrowed and applied to their own existential predicaments vis-à-vis European colonial masters. The strength of the Nanyang Nation existed in the strength of adherence to this common identity of overseas 'Chineseness'--its ability to organize and mobilize Nanyang resources, principally people and capital, to secure and improve its political economic basis for existence.

"It was apparent that the strength of the Chinese lay in communal solidarity and organizational sophistication.... To put it briefly, the Chinese demonstrated the means and utility of political modernization to increasingly receptive audiences. Paradoxically, the Southeast Asian nationalist campaigns that were initially so indebted to the overseas Chinese for technical guidance eventually turned against their mentors, for anti-Sinicism became a conspicuous feature of them all." (Lea E. Williams; Southeast Asia: A History, 1976: 171)

Nanyang ethnicity and Nanyang nationality is a sort of model or a set of interrelated models, which serve both to structure our understanding of its phenomena and which provides a common point of reference, a baseline which serves as a guideline which sanctions for correct citizenship behavior. It is a malleable, plastic model. Itis polythetic and polythematic, with its only common element being some strange chameleon form of Chineseness. It is a set or complex political economic vulnerability and insecurity which becomes somehow translated into persistent patternings of entrepreneurial business activity within a supranational trade network and into consistent kinds or modes of social structural organizations called segmentary corporate groupings along primarily sub-ethnic, occupational and familial lines and finally the social functioning of exploitative and competitive class relations. These common patternings have their origins in a shared heritage, a common historical background, and a shared identity within a regional Southeast Asian context and post colonial framework which serves to render the ethnic overseas Chinese of the Nanyang similarly vulnerable in a similarly perceived set of existential circumstances and similarly adaptive throughout the Nanyang Nation.

In returning to the question once more of why Nanyang, it becomes clear that the rationale of this paper is to elucidate the existential ethnic predicament of what are figuratively referred to as the floating Chinese of the Nanyang who have become the flotsam and jetsam of dramatically developing situations of political economic complexity. It is my contention that this broad based, trans-national, regionally defined sub-grouping of humanity shares a common political economic situation and inter-ethnic orientation which serves to historically define and existentially reinforce a shared Nanyang ethnicity and Nanyang nationality or Nanyang citizenship. 

This loose status role grouping of humanity is comparable to the European Jewry before WW11 to such an extent that they have been aptly if somewhat ignominiously and derogatively referred to as the Asian Jewry. The elucidation of the possible socio-structural dimensionalities of Nanyang ethnicity as representatively grounding and illustratively elaborating an alternative theory of structural functional process and patterning is important because the political economic structures characteristic of this inbetween status role grouping of humanity is particularly exemplifying the socio structural interrelationships between different persons and different groupings of people in a cultural historical framework and as deterministically demonstrative of the consequential changes in these interrelationships between different people and their groupings. 

The Nanyang are not the only grouping of humanity possibly relevant to such a study, nor are they necessarily the best possible such grouping, but they are clearly a good example, combining the paradox of being quite anomalous in many regards with being quite representative in many other regards. Though they are well documented objects of study, better than any other similar such groupings, their studies do not as yet represent a closed book. The universal relevance of the past, present and future does not diminish with the objective distanciation of being definitively different.

2. What is ethnicity and what is its phenomenological structure in an of itself, and how might this structure underlie or pre-structure other forms of phenomena?

The unabridged 1983 Webster's Dictionary defines ethnic as '1. A heathen; a pagan. [Obs.] 2. A member of an ethnic group, especially a member of a minority or nationality group that is part of a larger community.' This definition carries a connotation of rank order status of superiority/inferiority or of a value orientation of hierarchy within a larger communal or community framework.

Ethnic or ethnical is derived from the Greek ethnikos which meant 'national, foreign' coming from ethnos which meant 'a company, people, nation.' Ethnic is defined as 'designating or of any of the basic divisions or groups of mankind, as distinguished by customs, characteristics, language, etc.; ethnological.' Ethno- is a combining form meaning race, peoples as in ethno-history, ethno-centrism or ethnology. Ethnicity refers to ethnic identity or 'ethnic classification or affiliation'. Ethnocentrism implies the 'attitude of pride or hubris', 'the emotional attitude that one's own race, nation or culture is superior to all others.' Ethno also forms the root of both the basic branches of cultural anthropology--ethnography as 'that branch of anthropology that deal descriptively with specific cultures, especially those of primitive peoples or groups' and of ethnology, defined as 'the branch of anthropology that deals with the comparative cultures of various peoples, including their distribution, folkways, etc.' Ethnogeny is that branch which deals with national or racial origins. Ethnarchy might refer to the state of the rule by a people, or over a people, of a particular province. There is another, less frequently acknowledged connection to ethos, stemming from the Greek ethos meaning 'an accustomed place or habitation; hence habit, custom, character', and which is defined as '1. The characteristic and distinguishing attitudes, habits, etc. of a racial, political, occupational or other group.' Ethos forms the root of ethnology defined as 'the science of ethics or morality.' We have in a condensed form the raison d'être and rationale of cultural anthropology as ethnography, ethnology and ethnogeny, to describe, explain and compare folkways, habits, customs and character or the 'ethos' of different groupings of humankind. If it is on one hand a descriptive, explanative and comparative 'science' it is always also a normative 'science' dealing with values, stereotypes and existential choices.

Ethnicity has come to mean several things at once--ethnic identity, ethnic classification and finally ethnically related studies or the study of ethnicity, implying the study of ethnic diversity or difference. There is a broad scope for ethnic studies which are theoretically divided alone several lines. One such orientation is to study ethnicity as primarily a matter of common origins, tending to conflate the notions of race, culture, ethnic groups and nationalities. This primordialist orientation may be contrasted with several other orientations--the structuralist, looking for structurally related mechanisms for resource acquisition, mobilization along ethnic boundaries as ecologically adapted to an 'eco-niche' or eco-tone and as competing interest groups within a single eco-zone, or in an underclass perspective of majority-minority relations. 

This comes from a cultural pluralism orientation characteristic of complex heterogeneous societies. These studies focus upon interethnic relations, particularly unequal or competitive relations and often tend to be written from an 'assimilationist' perspective often seeing the problem as being one of successful integration within a larger host society--primarily political economic integration. 

A multi-cultural perspective sees the peaceful coexistence of many or several or more than a single ethnic group. A cultural continuum sees the breakdown of ethnic boundaries and a range of alternative ethnic choices available to members of a society, a kind of existential ethnicity. 

The symbolic perspective sees culture or ethnic groupings as a repository and repertory of historically acquired symbols which may be differentially used to create alternative ethnic identities. Some of these symbols are internally oriented and are primarily religious in character, concerned with cultural purity or sacredness, others are political, concerned externally with creating and maintaining ethnic boundaries and control. Symbolists are primarily concerned with the phenomena of ethnic identification and of ethnic consciousness and of how ethnic symbol systems create and maintain such identities and consciousness. The study of ethnic groups involves also the classification of different ethnic phenomena and therefore the development of some kind of ethnic typology.

"Accordingly, an ethnic community proper, or ethos in the narrow sense of the word, may be defined as a historically formed aggregate of people who share common, relatively stable specific features of culture (including language) and psychology, realization of their unity and distinctiveness from other similar aggregates of people as well as the self nomination." (Yu. V. Bromley; On the Typology of Ethnic Communities, 1978: 18)

The Soviet ethnos theory fits within a Marxist framework which views ethnic processes as evolutionary historical phenomena which are determined by political economic factors. Other theoretical conceptionings of ethnic phenomena tend to be framed more implicitly within other kinds of orienting paradigms. Immanuel Wallerstein, in his world systems theory, does not readily distinguish between classifications of nations, nationalities, peoples, ethnic groups but all these terms denote variants of a single phenomenon which he terms ethno-nations, identifiable by their functioning within the world economy as a whole rather than as merely the consequence of existing within separate nation states. 

By this criteria, ethnic analysis must consider the relative positioning of a grouping within the world economy, distinguishing the range of interests between core, periphery and semi-periphery. "The meaning of ethnic consciousness in a core area is considerably different from that of ethnic consciousness in a peripheral area precisely because of different class positions such ethnic groups have in a world economy." (I. Wallerstein; The Capitalist World Economy, 1979: 24-5) In the semi-peripheral position of the Nanyang, ethnic consciousness and status becomes inter-class and relative in its juxtapositioning between the core and the periphery. From the point of view of the core it remains peripheral in character and from the point of view of the periphery it resembles the core. In its ethnic unity the Nanyang is intrinsically divided by the dual economy of its structural existence. The function of its peculiar ethnic consciousness is to span this inherently ambiguous structural division.

It is important to adopt a multidimensional perspective upon the conceptioning of phenomena we refer to as ethnical, one which openly sees the truth and limitations of all the theoretical orientations about ethnicity. Ethnicity as a conception and as a set of interrelated phenomena incorporates inherently into its meaning the connotation of diversity, of unity in diversity. Thus there can be no single pat definition that adequately accounts for the complete range of diversity of ethnic phenomena. It is better to see such phenomena as somehow cohering together into a system that exhibits a patterned form or coherent structure. This system represents a complex interaction of many elements and is somehow processual in its happening. This brings the conceptioning of ethnicity clearly within the hermeneutical circle of the horizon of historicity. If it exists as something all its own, then this something is clearly a phenomenological process with its own characteristic historical patterning. 

In this sense, it is better to refer to the process of ethnicity as ethnization which sees ethnicity metaphorically as a mode of information and a mode of realization. It is an open ended metaphor which through its extended application and reapplication to historically situated and particular phenomena, accretes new meanings to itself and creates a growing, ever increasing base for its application. It is an organizational or referential metaphor which has its own kind of metaphysical and epistemological implications and ramifications. 

Realities and realistic issues deemed important become ethnicized when cast in terms of the ethnical 'language game' that serves to define itself and thereby create and justify itself. If ethnic categories did not officially exist previous to a study of ethnic boundaries which are evident in a complex community, then the researcher is bound to manufacture such categories in order to fill in the gap in his own worldview. The study of ethnicity as objective science can not be completely or safely separated from the processural creation or ideological promotion of ethnic boundaries after the fact of their existence in the ethnically minded view of human reality.

Ethnic groupings or communities, then, must be construed as organismic entities with a life style of their own. These groupings occur in relation, in ecological symbiosis or interaction, in adaptation to a certain kind of environmental context, both social and physical. They are cybernetic systems which are or become synergistic in the creation of their distinctive style of living that is structurally and functionally, ecologically adapted to a perceived environment. Historical accident enters into this process, in the form of unpredictable human agency and tends to destabilize the entire synergistic process. 

Scientifically explaining the structure or adaptive functions of an ethnic process or style is not necessarily a complete understanding of the meanings and phenomena coherent in or through that style. The synergistic raison d'être of that ethnic style extends beyond and encompasses that structural functional explanation, that by analysis of its parts and interrelations between parts is alone insufficient to completely account for the occurrence of ethnic process. 

The difference here is precisely the difference between etic and emic approaches to studying ethnic phenomena. The structural/functional explanation of objective science is clearly the etic approach of an outsider looking in who sees the actors toing and froing but who cannot presume to know the intelligence of the system he observes, the individual motives and rationales of those participants within the system. 

To adopt an emic approach of an insider looking out is to gain through the membership-role process a more genuine understanding of why the people are engaged within the system, but it is also to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Objective etic assignation of structural explanations for ethnic culture amounts to no more than rendering that culture spurious'to an extraneous context of relations. It de-authenticates the coherent and inherent meanings by their appropriation and distanciation from their original existence.

The real problem is to see ethnicity from both points of view as a dialectical reading/writing of its culture. Ethnicity is made up of symbolic and metaphorical models with both intrinsic and extrinsic meanings, both emic and etic understandings, both endogenous and exogenous raisons d'être. Within this dialectic scientific explanations and humanistic understandings come full circle as contrapuntally complementary processes whose patterning, a dialectical dance, completes and then repeats a hermeneutical circle. 

The arc of these trace patterning forms the historical horizon which is unbroken in which ever direction we look, which is ever receding in which ever direction we move. The real problematic is to see the historical horizon for what it is, in and of itself, as defining the metalogical boundaries for our own pre-understandings. The way we understand and see the world conditions the selectivity of the phenomena which we experience, conditions the ways we perceive, or choose to see the world of human reality. Consciousness awakening or enlightenment that we strive for in our understanding of human reality is the dispelling of our own ignorance and prejudices of our conceptuality and perceptuality--the reflexive meat-logic of the apperception of our own pre-understandings--the self-reflective recognition of our own historical/hermeneutical event horizons of our own consciousness.

The thesis of this paper is that the understanding of Nanyang ethnicity in particular and of ethnical phenomena in general, must proceed as a dialectic of etic and emic points of view, demonstrating how this dialectical interplay between exogenous and endogenous elements and interrelationships creates a synergistic patterning that is distinctively and characteristically ethnic in nature, culture and structure. 

The etic perspective proceeds from a structural functional analysis of the exogenous processes which create and maintain ethnically identifiable phenomena. The emic perspective proceeds from a symbolic identification of endogenous processes and patterns, notably the problems of ethnic consciousness, ethnic self-identity and ethnic symbolization. The overall dialectic between etic and emic, endogenous and exogenous, it will refer to as the cybernetic system or the synergistic process of ethnicization of human social reality.

3. How does the political economy and other structural dimensions pre-structure ethnicity in general and Nanyang ethnicity in particular? To do justice to this question involves a lengthy recursive review of the ideas related to the structural dimensionally underlying ethnic phenomena in general and the political economic dimensionally of the problem of Nanyang ethnicity in particular.

It is important to reiterate a previous point made in passing, that the basic definition of ethnic carries with it a connotation of hierarchy within a larger communalistic framework. This relates to the idea of ethnarchy. It is important to emphasize that this larger framework is structurally social, political, economic, religious and cultural in dimensionally. These dimensions will always be more or less present in the consideration of ideal ethnic phenomena. In actuality, some dimensions become over emphasized or over determined while some are ignored or inconspicuously absent. Indeed, in the experiential realization of ethnic phenomena, some aspects are recognizable preeminent, while others may see, trivial or irrelevant as a center of focus of critical attention. The connotation of ethnarchy as implying ethnic inferiority, difference, subordination and rank ordering is from an historical perspective preeminently a process of colonial institutionalization or colonialization of an ethnic grouping of humanity within a larger structural framework. This can be a matter of internal colonization in terms of structural inequality, segregation and discrimination, or external in terms of an established, politically reinforced core-periphery or heartland-hinterland interrelationship. This implies a relationship of hierarchy or asymmetrical power relations.

Colony comes from the Latin colonus, meaning a husbandman and from colere meaning to cultivate. It is defined: '1. A group of people who settle in a distant land but remain under the political jurisdiction of their native land. 2. The region thus settled. 3. A territory distant from the state having jurisdiction or nominal control over it…4. A community of people of the same nationality or pursuits concentrated in a particular district or place…5. Such district or place.' Colonization implies political control at a distance primarily for economic interests and pursuits. External colonization refers to geographical distance while internal colonization refers to relative social distance between sub-groupings within a shared community framework. A colony also implies a kind of boundary around a given territory or region of settlement separating it from its host environment. 

The fact that the conceptioning of ethnicity as a useful analytical and cognitive marker has become an important and salient concern in more recent times is indicative of the underlying colonial implications of the notion of ethnicity and of its socio cultural political economic and religious interrelationships between groupings of humanity. Furthermore, this primarily colonial significance of ethnicity has a concise history which can be clearly divided into for stages of development--the pre-colonial, the colonial, the imperialistic and the post colonial phases. These phases correspond exactly with the historical stages of the modern development of European civilization. If we remain today in the midst of what has somewhat nomothetically classified as a capitalist world economy, then it is true by virtue of the historical fact European imperialism and colonial development, and the enduring structural relations of a post colonial political economy which remains primarily Euro-centric. This explains our current involvement in the Middle East and Latin America and our recent past involvement in Southeast Asia. If this is indeed a capitalist world economy, then it remains a post colonial political economy. And if nation-states remain the principal participants of a capitalist world market, then ethnic sub-groupings of humanity have become the post colonial pawns of political economic trade and barter.

The political economic social structure of the colonial framework in which to understand ethnicity leads to a consideration of the concept of dual economy--essentially the need to articulate traditional village economics, micro-political economics at the local level, with a world wide market political economy. Social structure was the underlying factor of such a colonial setting. The strategy of the colonialist was to divide and conquer and to interpose a third minority group to mediate the articulation.

If the social and economic situation and the discussion surrounding it sound surprisingly contemporary so does Boeke's interpretation of the situation. Boeke draw attention to the unifying force of capitalism in Europe and asked why capitalism did not exert a similar influence in Southeast Asia (Boeke; 1961: 171). He showed how mass products from the colonial metropolitan countries destroyed native handicraft and trade to Southeast Asian indigenous societies.

"…capitalism only offered new products and did not provide any new sources of labor. From a social point of view its effect was destructive rather than constructive. Instead of enriching the pattern of oriental society it made forms of social activity superfluous…The development of the West meant the retrenchment and diminishing differentiation of the East." (Boeke; 1961: 171-173). (Hans-Dieter Evers; 1980: 2)

It is my contention that the structural relations underlying Nanyang ethnicity were different and modified by each of the phases of political economic colonization in Southeast Asia--with increasing political economic interest and immigration of sojourning Chinese to the Nanyang. As a result the characteriological nature of Nanyang ethnicity became transformed fundamentally with each succeeding phase. 

What is of greatest relevance to the theoretical understanding is that the Nanyang overseas Chinese have always played an important role in the historical development of Southeast Asian civilization--a role gradually increasing  in importance that cannot be ignored in the understanding of the emergence of modern Southeast Asia. Nanyang ethnicity as a regional maritime merchant grouping gave emphasis to enduring trade patterns and structural relations regionally in Southeast Asia which persist until the contemporary era. Nanyang ethnic groups mediated the transition and pioneered the political economic development from a pre-colonial frontier into a post colonial national international trade association. Each of the periods was characterized by increasing immigration of Nanyang Chinese into Southeast Asia and a subsequent growth and spread of Nanyang Chinese settlements and colonies. There occurred simultaneously a corresponding diversification of Chinese economic interests in the Southeast Asian economies, along with an increasing complex degree of social organization of the Nanyang Chinese society and along with an increasing intensity of Chinese involvement in Southeast Asian political economic interests.

The object of this brief overview of Nanyang ethnicity is to consider closely the case of the political economy of maintaining ethnic group boundaries. It remains profitable for the few haves who inherited a colonial apparatus of leadership and control to exaggerate and perpetuate ethnic solidarity and in-group/out-group prejudices in the name of nationalistic solidarity, at the expense of the many have-nots of both camps whose cries for democracy, communality and equality remain unheeded. Ethnic conflict fomented by competing political economic interest serves as a useful smoke-screen masking intra-group class differences and tensions arising from the inequities of wealth and power and mediated by a middleman bureaucracy and marketplace which protects, masks and promotes the hierarchy of interests. "Both Malay and Chinese national elites, in the communal formula established before independence and still holding rather firmly, are responsible to the masses of their own ethnic communities." (Strauch; 1981: 12)

"…political elites are among those realizing rapid increases in personal wealth while inequalities in income distribution nationally are seen to be growing…The radical analysis now current is summed up by one writer as follows: 'While the origins of ethnic conflict can be traced to the colonial past, its continued presence today must be attributed to the post colonial state and the manipulation of ethnic issues by Malay bureaucrat capitalists in their drive for more and more economic power.'" (Southeast Asia Chronicle, April 1980, from Strauch; 1981: 23)

Ultimately, we are dealing with the socio-political structural interrelationships between political power and economic advantage--on one hand how economic resources, opportunities, skills and motivations underlie and empower political organizations of power and on the other hand, how power and political control in turn decisively determines and critically conditions economic change, development and differential access to resources. Inter-group conflict represents the competitive schismogenesis of intra-group tensions. "…the path to leadership lay chiefly in social influence obtained through acquisition of economic power. In other words, wealth and social power went hand in hand (as they still do)." (Chin; 1981: 79)

Ethnic identity becomes the in-group repression of within group differences. Ethnic stereotype and discrimination becomes the out-group projection of between group differences. Possibilities for becoming within both groups becomes closed and one way, limited to a solitary course of action, a single minded orientation and a monopolar ideological directionality. Ethnic conflict and competition becomes the zero sum game in which both parties are bound to lose--a game of dominance submission in which one group will succeed at the loss of the other. History written in a nationalistic idiom serves to legitimate and rationalize this deadly game. Development, however ill defined, becomes the one sided promise of social progress. Development, like ethnicity, to which it is inextricably tied, becomes inseparably both political and economic in character.

Power enacts change, creates it, directs it, destroys it, controls its--economics enables change, facilitates it, empowers it. Power is the form of change, the vehicle, economics is its substance, its content. Development can never be only economic or only political--development must always carry political implication. There can be no such thing as any pure economic theory which is 'uncorrupted' by the action of politics.

"...we can readily perceive how ethnic labels conceal the underlying struggle for the appropriation of certain economic, political and social advantages among the different racial and status groups in the wider Malaysian society…" (Lawrence K. L. Siaw; The Legacy of Malaysian Chinese Social Structure)

This understanding of the colonial political economic ramifications of ethnicity must furthermore be fit within the framework of competing interest groupings operating within a post colonial global political economic market still dominated by western power. In order to do so, it is necessary to recognize the preeminent position of Nanyang Chinese in this world market political economy as intermediary marginal minority middleman merchants serving in their designated status roles as mediating-articulators between a local level and international level market political economies. Historically, these people have long occupied a middle stratum in an essentially colonial political economy structured around the marketplace. According to Immanuel Wallerstein, this middle stratum is a crucial part of the normal 'three layered structure' upon which the world capitalist system depends. "In a world empire, the middle stratum is in fact accorded the role of maintaining the marginally desirable long distance luxury trade, while the upper stratum concentrates its resources on controlling the military machinery which can collect the tribute, the crucial mode of redistributing surplus…" (Wallerstein; Inequalities of Core and Periphery: 23)

The Nanyang empire, in other words, exists in the 'semi-periphery' of the world capitalist political economy. This semi-periphery is the distance between the bottom and the top--the political economic vertical stratification between core and periphery. It exists primarily for political purposes of stability, in order to serve as a buffer in the conflict laden tensions between the core and the periphery. It is bought off from the top and becomes the scapegoat for injustices from the bottom. It is both exploited and exploiter without political legitimacy or independence. It is a commercial urban middle stratum containing pressures toward cultural homogenization and in a marginal discontinuous position rendering them constantly vulnerable to conflict or confiscation.

In a sense the political economic dimensions of ethnicity defines the conception of ethnicity as a status role--the status end of the continuum being largely the political dimension, while the role end of the continuum is largely the economic dimension of ethnicity. As a status role defined somewhere along a political economic continuum, ethnicity is a category of social organization which ties the individual actor or agent to some kind of phenomenon on a colonial institution as somewhere between class stratification and caste differentiation. Whereas class may be seen as largely a vertical form of social division, caste may be referred to as primarily horizontal division. Ethnic group identity is then in a sense a diagonal social stratification in which the horizontal bar has been skewed and the vertical order has also been tilted. This skewing of a traditional social order is the result of the opening of political economic competition between ethnically defined social groupings that tend to cross cut both horizontal and vertical axis of class/caste stratum. This occurs in a modern world market place, largely in primate urban centers, in which greater opportunities for resource acquisition present themselves. In an industrial setting--the proletarianization of wage labor leads to a democratization of labor value. Skills, experience, labor productivity count for greater labor value and are no longer class or caste tied, unless these coincide with or happen to reinforce market opportunities. "…the market and its processes 'knows no personal distinctions'. 'Functional' interests dominate it. It knows nothing of 'honor'." (Max Weber)

I have arrived at a point of proffering a theory of ethnization as a process of diagonal mobilization and stratification which tends to cross cut both political vertical class boundaries and religious caste boundaries. As such the process of ethnization is critically tied to the process of economization or marketization or commodization that fuels modern economic development. The link is clear--the ethnic communities are economic communities that defines values as reward structures, reinforcement priorities or as resource systems. The structure of ethnic patterning is a type of multiplex networking. Ethnic communities define, in the Weberian model, opportunity structures.

Lawrence Siaw relates Max Webers notion of stereotypes, accumulated in linguistic and symbolic terms of direct social action, in defining communalistic relations in relation to the ethnicity of the Chinese in Malaysia. Meaningful interaction across group boundaries is hindered by the cultural complexity and plurality of the context. "Such a situation tends to strengthen in-group solidarity and heighten ethnic and racial stereotype conceptions of other groups, thus causing the sanction of actions taken by the dominant groups, depriving the weaker ones of access to economic and political opportunities." (Lawrence Siaw: 395) Stereotypes can in time become firmly entrenched and reinforced by the structural patterning of intergroup relations that results from the implementation of such stereotypes themselves.

In socio-structural terms, there are religious, social, psychological and cultural dimensions that have been excluded from this political economic formula for ethnicity, which I believe to be in the final analysis as necessary to the eidetic structure underlying a comprehensive theory of social structure and cultural historical process. The roles of these alternative dimensionalities are viral in a complete understanding which provides formal/functional explanation of structural interrelationships between people and their social groupings within a common environment. In this sense functional does not refer to primarily to an on going organizational mechanisms of synchronic, formally static or universal interrelationships, but refers to the dynamic, processural interrelationships which create change or controls change to effect continuity or consistency.

These multiple dimensions are merely multiple extremes of a single complex continuum of cultural historical process. These extremes form multiple even horizons which tend to limit or bound our understanding of human reality. Structure as it is employed here refers only to the eidetic and formulaic understanding of complex phenomenological processes. The complex of interrelationships between these dimensions constitutes what I will call a complex dialectic as opposed to a simple dialectic in the Hegelian sense. This dialectic ranges between two sets of horizons, the psychological and the social, the understanding of the individual process can be viewed as emic and that of the group process of communicational exchange and interaction can be viewed as 'etic'--the former is thus endogenous part of the dialectic, the latter exogenous. 

Whereas the simple Hegelian dialectic that forms the basis of logical discourse in unilinear and progressive of a thesis, antithesis and synthesis which describes a deterministic order to an historical logica of developmental change, the complex dialectic is modeled as a cyclical process without an a priori set order or directionality of change. Its unfolding is not unilinear but multi-linear and is not necessarily progressive in a decisive replacement sense, but includes the opposite tendency for regression and the process of simple growth, accumulation or enumeration of variations, possibilities and differences. The entire system contracts and expands, with each successive expansion subsuming the previous stages. Religious structure, political structure and economic structure are viewed as the three vertices of an equilateral triangle in which any or each of the vertices can become the thesis, the opposite vertice the antithesis and the remaining alternative vertice the synthesis.

Our discourse will take theoretically whichever form we choose depending upon which dimensions we prefer as primary and which as antithetical. We suffer in our theory construction always diminishing degrees of freedom. The point of this model is the delineation of the complete and sufficient range of possibilities of the development of social phenomena, as opposed to theoretical, as opposed to the actual or probable directions in which social phenomena historically unfold. If applied to class structure then it opens up a more complex range of possibilities than Marxist interpretation. The actual order or sequencing of events is itself not historically predetermined, but the dialectical process itself is what is structural determinant--giving a sense of fate to historical process. Depending upon which structural dimensions are chosen as oppositional contrasts, the remaining dimensions will become determined as the mediator between the analytically opposed dimensions. If we choose the contrasts of political and economic, then we should expect religious dimensions to effect an obviation of the structural conflict. In this sense the religious dimensionally underlying ethnicity, which remains to be explored.

Ethnic or ethno is a particularistic substitute for the terms of culture and/or civilization. As such these alternative metaphors are framing metaphors which allow us to organize our comprehension of human reality. These are the terms used to describe the whole dialectical structure, as it becomes historically translated through time. They are stepping outside the etic/emic dialectic to review the overall process as it unfolds through time. In this sense we are being irretrievably holistic and synthetic. The important theoretical question is this, can we ever step outside of the existential horizon of human reality and then what do we have? In this theory, ethnic is merely a way of talking about human reality, one that has become quite fashionable with the rise of ethnic consciousness.

4. How does the structure of ethnicity in general come to stand for some kind of underlying sub-structure? If we accept the thesis that, as a substitute for culture and civilization, ethno or ethnic becomes a framing metaphor for the theoretical organization of reality, then it is not difficult to commit the leap of faith to say that ethno not only is a symbolic metaphor that always stand for itself but is also simultaneously a metaphor which always stands for many other things as well. It comes to subsume the entire complex of dialectical interrelationships which it both summarizes and serves to elaborate. 

The notion of ethno is more serviceable that its parent notion of culture which has that relativistic-deterministic connotation of the culture garden or of the isolated island. An ethnic grouping may be an enclave, but always in reference to some kind of larger framework. Perhaps ethno will come to replace culture in our terminology, as culture has tended to replace the less efficient notion of civilization, while all the concepts will retain more precise, technical meanings. Ethnic as a notion must always stand for some kind of substructure, as its inherent meaning is structural. To describe phenomena is to perceive and conceive of these particular phenomena as somehow ethnical or ethnically related but this begs the definition of ethnic as being anything other than a framing metaphor. Delineation of the underlying substructure is not the reifying of the reality which the models are supposed to depict. It suffices as an adequate explanation of the phenomena, but not as a sufficient description for that phenomena. The description of the reality which models seek to explain is a problem of hermeneutical/historical narrative. It sets the language rules of the game--the event horizons of our pre-understandings.

Upon the edge of the hermeneutical/historical circle, things political, economic, religious, social and ethnic become inseparably inter-fused and confused in the cultural historical delineation of developmental process of change, of social group interests, tensions, conflicts, relations and structures such that there can be little concise formal delineation of substantive experiential phenomena. In other words, in the emerging process of living there can be no precise, clear cut, categorical separations between things labeled political, economic or ethnic. Such things become inextricably interrelated and become in essence more a matter of definition of relationships between things rather then any discrete, finite things in and for themselves. 

In the general consideration of human reality and the science which seeks to describe and explain this reality, the irreducible things that are both the subject and object of our knowledge and understandings are individual human beings within a spatial-temporal continuum, and the social groupings into which they congregate, aggregate, coalesce and which become perpetuated despite a continual turnover in individual identity and personality. 

The fundamental analytical dichotomization applied to these two categories of things seen as discrete entities with a well defined, corporeal outline and concrete content, is between external and internal relationships. Relationships of similarity and difference within the inner environment of the individual, between the identifiable sub-elements of the persons, and with the external environment, and then internal relationships within a group, and external relationships outside of the group, or between groups and their environments. Our systematic understanding of these things forms two separate horizons--two horizons at the individual level of personality and at the interpersonal level of the group entity. Somehow these are polar extremes of a single dialectical continuum, from a continuous ever expanding, circular horizon, which becomes fused in the broad open in between spaces. In our attempt to understand the dynamic process of interrelationships between things, versus static descriptive differences, we seek causal deterministic relations--i.e. directions and we distinguish between endogenous and exogenous factors or sources of change.

Things political become translated into things economic and ethnic, and vice versa. Power translates into money and money translates into power. The analytical categories separating what is political, economic or ethnic are more conceptual categories in our own minds, hypostatized upon things with metaphorical meanings, and relationships between these things.

What I have been searching for in this paper has been the elucidation of relations between things--i.e. people and social groupings, which coherently and consistently, necessarily and sufficiently, parsimoniously and empirically, tie together the understandings of 'things and relations' which are political, economic and ethnic by name. These are labels describing interrelationships between people as defined by their interactions, by similarities and differences, by changes and by continuities.

It is now time to return to our original question, and ask once again, 'What is the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity?'




"…to classify a Chinese association according to its name is always misleading." (T'ien; 1953: 19)


"In Burma as in Java, probably the first thing that strikes the visitor is the medley of peoples--Europeans, Chinese, Indians and native. It is in the strictest sense a medley for they mix but do not combine. Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet, but only in the marketplace in buying and selling. There is a plural society with different sections of the community living side by side, but separate within the same political unit. Even in the economic sphere there is a division of labor along racial lines. Natives, Chinese, Indians and Europeans all have different functions and within each major group subsections have particular occupations…The plural society has a great variety of forms, but in some form or other, it is the distinctive characteristic of the tropical economy." (J.S. Furnival; 1956: 304)


Many situations in which the Nanyang Chinese find themselves have been referred to as complex--complex pluralism of societies characteristic of the post colonial Southeast Asian geo-political environment. Such societies have been referred to as multi-cultural, radically plural, consociational or communalistic, poly-ethnic.

J. S. Furnival first introduced the conception of the plural society that is so characteristic of Southeast Asia, 'a society that is, comprising two or more elements or social orders which live side by side, yet without mingling, in one political unit.'

"The ethnically homogenous Chinese middleman group (EHMG) is ubiquitous to the dual economies of Southeast Asia. The very ubiquity of Chinese middleman in Southeast Asia prompted J. S. Furnival to coin the term 'plural society' to describe the pattern of specialization and division of labor along ethnic lines." (Janet T. Landa; 1983: 86)

The notion focuses directly upon ethnic differentiation within a colonial framework entailing economic and political dimensions of the social order. The basic features of such pluralism are ethnic group boundaries including separate communities, ethnic differentiation of economic functions, roles, status and class, low rate of intermarriage and uneven distribution of wealth, power and opportunity, within a politically unified community framework. Rulers and ruled are ethnically distinct and there is an absence of national consensus--i.e. common cultural and political values. Economic competition and political conflict becomes cast in ethnic terms. 

The marketplace is an urban setting becomes the only common meeting ground for the different communities--an interethnic 'no man's land' in which political economic strategies become played out. These plural societies came into being in a colonial political economic context and require colonial style domination in order to maintain social stability, as they are inherently prone to divisive political economic conflict. Such societies arose with the need to articulate between the local peripheries and the international core, by the strategic political economic inter-positioning of a third, in-between party which seemingly lacked vested interests beyond economic and political survival. According to Furnival, ethnic groups within plural societies can meet safely only in the marketplace within an urban commercial center. Conflict can only be avoided by maintaining colonial hegemony and a laissez faire exchange market economy.

Plural societies become complicated by the coexistence of over lapping and competing multiple political economic hierarchies of social stratification which tend to become skewed. In such multiple hierarchies, stratification is termed multi-dimensional and there occurs inconsistencies in the over lapping areas such that "individuals may occupy different positions in the several hierarchies." (Blumberg; 1972: 22) In such societies ethnic status role becomes largely a matter of positioning between different hierarchies, which because of a relative inbetweeness becomes characterized by a kind of status inconsistency seen as a form of marginality that may breed discontent and resentment. (Blumberg; 1972: 22)

"Status are the cognitive, formal, ideal aspect of status role complexes: roles are the behavioral correlates of statuses. Statuses are designated by identities or identifying labels." (D. E. Brown; Principles of Social Structure: Southeast Asia: 17-18)

The political legal order determines in the strict sense the legal status of the individual. In many countries, the legal citizenship status of the ethnic Chinese minorities is unconstitutionally provisional. In all legal orders, the legal structure directly influences or orients the distribution of power 'economic or otherwise, within its community' in which power is defined in a competitive setting. According to Max Weber--

"The social order and the economic order are, of course, similarly related to the 'legal order'. However the social and the economic order are not identical." (Max Weber; 1946)

While the Nanyang Chinese have been consistently economically more powerful and privileged, in most Southeast Asian countries they remained politically subordinate. Such conditions tend to break down into a complex situation of radical pluralism in which social stability is reinforced politically from above, even though economically it remains divided. Truly equal, consociational ethnic groups within a democratic social political milieu are viewed as politically unstable entities, unless several conditional factors are present which would stabilize--primarily either environmental ecological surplus and stability, or else the presence of an outside external threat demanding the mutual cooperation of all groups. In the absence of such external conditions to reinforce internal stability, which tend to be ephemeral anyway, such relatively equal consociational groupings, while ideologically desirable, tend to fracture and break down under the stress of limited resources and political economic competition between ethnic groups. One group will tend to achieve political predominance and thus foster social relations conducive to its groups economic success. In most Southeast Asia countries, while the ethnic Chinese were frequently economically more powerful, they remained politically subordinate. Such conditions tend to break down into a complex situation of 'radical pluralism' in which social stability is reinforced politically 'by probability that an order will be upheld by a specific staff of men who will use physical or psychical compulsion with the intention of obtaining conformity with the order, or of inflicting sanctions for infringement of it.' In such a system we have the emergence of a colonial ethnarchy.

According to Weber, a class consists of a grouping of people sharing in common a "specific causal component of their life chances, in so far as (2) this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income and (3) is represented under the conditions of the community or labor markets." Accordingly, then, class is clearly tied to economic relationships, particularly the state of property ownership or of relative propertylessness. Class situation is in this sense ultimately a kind of "market situation; in the sense of the kinds of chances in the market " is the decisive moment that presents a common condition for the individual's fate." Weber distinguishes the class situation from the status group:

"In contrast to classes, status groups are normally communities. They are, however, often of an amorphous kind. In contrast, to the purely economically determined 'class situation' we wish to designate as 'status situation' every typical component of the life fate of men that is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honor." (Max Weber; 1946)

Weber also contends that that lifestyle differences that relate to the question of what is proper and honorable are often used to differentiate status communities whose members share every typical component of the life determined by a specific positive or negative estimation of social honor. Status communities constitute one of Webers three dimensions of social order, which can be either acriptive or aquisitive.

"In other words, social prestige can be claimed by virtue of birth or by the appropriation of political and hieratic powers. Like ethnic communities, status communities can also monopolize economic or occupational advantages. Implicit in this analogy is the close relationship between social status and ethnicity. Hence ethnic differentiation can be paralleled with social gradation." (Lawrence Siaw: 395)

Weber links status honor to a particular 'style of life' shared by the members, the expectation of which is linked to restrictions on social intercourse. Such closure is based upon usurpation of status honor leading to social stratification. The most extremes form of this restriction and usurpation of status honor becomes a form of caste endogamy. The road from conventional to legal privilege is easily traveled once the social stratum become stable and become linked to the distribution of economic power. Status honor is linked to his notion of ethnic honor that he assumes is characteristic of all ethnic communities and defines as "belief in the superiority of one's own customs and the inferiority of those of others," or as ethnocentrism. It is "accessible to all those who belong to the subjectively believed community of descent." Unlike status honor, it is not as restrictive in its qualifying characteristics.

According to Weber, status structure reaches extreme forms in structural contexts where differences are presumed to be ethnic. Caste is the normal form in which ethnic communities coexist in a "societalized" manner. Social intercourse and intermarriage is prohibited, and principles of lineage or clan are exaggerated. Caste is common to "pariah" peoples all over theworld

"These people form communities, acquire specific occupational traditions of handicrafts or of other arts, and cultivate a belief in their ethnic community. They live in a 'Diaspora' strictly segregated from all personal intercourse, except that of an unavoidable sort, and their situation is legally precarious. Yet, by virtue of their economic indispensability, they are tolerated, indeed, frequently privileged, and they live in interspersed political communities. The Jews are the most impressive historical example."

A 'status' segregation grown into a 'caste' differs in its structure from a mere 'ethnic' segregation: the caste structure transforms the horizontal and unconnected coexistences ethnically segregated groups into a vertical social system of super and subordination. Correctly formulated: a comprehensive societalization integrates the ethnically divided communities into specific political and communal action. In their consequences they differ precisely in this way: ethnic coexistences condition a mutual repulsion and disdain but allow each ethnic community to consider its own honor as the highest one; the caste structure brings about a social subordination and an acknowledgment of 'more honor' in favor of the privileged caste and status groups. This is due to the fact that in the caste structure ethnic distributions as such have become 'functional' distinctions within the political societalization (warriors, priests, artisans that are politically important for war and for building, and so on). But even pariah people who are most despised are usually apt to continue cultivation in some manner that which is equally particular to ethnic and to status communities; the belief in their own specific 'honor'. This is the case with the Jews. (Max Weber)


This brings us to reconsider the notion of the ethnic boundary and to its artificial contrivance in order to maintain social separation and colonial distance. Such boundaries arise as the result of political economic competition for control over limited resources. Cultural assimilation and integration tend to break down ethnic boundaries, just as inter-caste exogamy tends to undermine any horizontal stratification. It is interesting that before the post colonial era ethnic assimilation of the overseas Chinese proceeded upon a normal rate in many Southeast Asian settings, but now this natural process has been stemmed and in many cases even reversed. Assimilation rates between ethnic groups, between the Nanyang Chinese and their host societies have been found to vary alongside of rates of vertical social mobility. "Ethnic diversity varies with the hereditary closure on ranking systems". (D. E. Brown; 1976: 95) "Closed hierarchies beget ethnic differentiation…the observe of this proposition is that vertical mobility reduces ethnic differentiation." In the case of the Nanyang Chinese as a conspicuous minority in their host societies, ethnic boundaries have been contrived in the purported cause of insuring the political stability and economic mobility and exploitability within a radically plural society.

"Societies with open hierarchies have tremendous powers of assimilation--witness China... In an open hierarchy, with readily perceptible vertical mobility, an explanation of high low cultural differences in ethnic terms would be absurd. But in a closed system, where the high and low are biologically 'closed' groups, a claim of their ethnic distinctiveness could be entertained." (D. E. Brown; Principles of Social Structure: Southeast Asia: 95)

The marketplace becomes the center of exchange between ethnic groups. If it is the only place in which exchange relations between such groups is affected then the two communities are more or less otherwise segregated. The transaction hypothesis states that the higher rates of interaction among persons of different backgrounds, the greater their degree of integration. "Put more simply, people who deal with one another tend to like each other more than those who keep entirely to themselves…" (Rabushka; 1973: 124) We would thus expect a kind of marketization tendency for inter-ethnic relations to become defined and expressed in terms of marketplace transactions. Market exchange is voluntary and mutualistic, involving therefore some measure of reciprocity, or give and take, between buyer and seller. In such contexts, racial tensions and conflicts must be minimized. Individuals as members of particular groups may gain or loss on the basis of their marginal productivity and groups having low marginal values of productivity may attempt to seize political control over resources to compensate for the inequality of marketplace interactions.

"The public activities of the government in the multiracial environment thus convert private economic conflict among individuals in markets into group conflict between races. When the economic well being of groups is significantly affected by political activity, politics becomes a fight between groups (or races) for survival. Thus, in a society in which race is politically crucial, the greater the public use of resources, i.e. the greater likelihood of racial conflict. Politics therefore entails neither unanimity or voluntaries…In short, while racial harmony can exist in the market place, politics set race against race in the struggle that is very often to the death." (Rabushka; 1973: 100-101)

The primate city is the urban marketplace of the world economy that provides the common post-colonial setting for the playing out of the political economy of ethnicity in plural society. It is the meeting ground where political conflict and economic competition between the ethnically distinctive groups takes center stage.

"Some countries posses a very large city which exercise a dominant influence on national life; not only does it contain a very large proportion of the total urban population, but it virtually monopolizes non-agricultural activities and plays a major role in the national culture." (Donald W. Fryer; Emerging Southeast Asia: A Study in Growth and Stagnation: 84)

It is in such urban areas, core regions of the periphery, that ethnic relations are played out most fully. It is the marketplace of such centers where political economic tensions and conflict are most in evidence.

Unequal or uneven exchange of scarce, or highly values, or human resources associated with the market network, or the exploitative appropriation of such resources, can become the source of exchange generated conflict in which normal exchange mechanisms serve as a mode of negative solidarity in the Durkheimian or Maussian sense. Conflict may include contests, competitions, disputes and tensions as well as socially expressed aggression. Intensity and destructive consequences of such exchange generated conflict become the relevant considerations. Relationships between trading parties depends upon the trade itself, which comes to constitute one of the most important modes of inter-group relations. "In more complex societies, trading specialists emerge who, along with political authorities and property owners, become major foci of conflict relations. By focusing conflict upon themselves, the compensating effects of other, cross cutting conflicts, are diffused and their relative forces diminished" (B. L. Foster; 1978: 10) Exchange generated conflict relationships within a stratified community can be regulated by ritual or jural proscription, by limiting the range of interaction possible, by "putting distance between the parties--whether such distance is spatial or social" and by displacement of conflict upon a third in between party which is not the direct cause of the conflict.



"In addition, trade in peasant societies is often characterized by a special form of social distance: it is often largely in the hands of ethnic minorities. Ethnic differences have many of the same, although weaker, properties of spatial distance. Interaction usually occurs in only limited spheres of social life--notably economic. (The classic definition of plural societies embodied the idea that the segments came together only in the marketplace.) Marriage and therefore kinship relations are usually limited (as are friendships, common religious activities and recreational activities) and trading relations are thus socially separated from other spheres of day to day life.

The social distance has two contradictory effects. On the one hand, as we have seen, by socially separating the traders it focuses the conflict on them and diminishes the possibilities of its being offset by cross cutting conflicts. On the other hand, it insulates most community social relations from an important source of conflict and ,as with the spatial separation brought about by markets, helps relieve the trader from the expectations of fair dealing and generosity which the peasants have among themselves. This change of expectations, as does the marketplace, constitutes a mechanism for displacement of the exchange generated conflict by focusing some of the tension on inter-ethnic group relations rather than on the remarkable hostility often encountered by minority trading groups. It also helps explain why traders who are the object of such hostility are not readily replaced by traders from the majority groups: the latter are destroyed by the conflict inherent in their commercial activities or by the uneconomic behavior required of them if they are to avoid conflict." (Foster; 1978: 14)


Fostering and maintaining ethnic group boundaries and identity between groups within a plural colonial setting can be not just a source of potential conflict and tension, but in serving as a kind of social distancing mechanism mediated via the ritually sanctioned structure of the market exchange relations, can be a method of assuaging and alleviating potential threatening conflict. The existence of a convenient out group can appropriately allay tensions which might otherwise break down a class hierarchy and threaten to destroy the traditional integrity. Shifting class tensions derived from purely economic orientations upon a neighboring status grouping not directly involved in the dame class structure becomes an effective means of displacing potential conflict and disorder. In this sense ethnic tensions may be seen to have a positive as well as a primarily negative influence in maintaining the status quo of social and communal solidarity in a complex political economic arena.


"…we might also consider whether simply being different from the Filipino majority, simply being distinguishable as an ethnic group, also facilitates commerce.

I perceive the usefulness of these ethnic differences to be as follows:

1. A shift of to commercial transactions across ethnic lines increases the chance of decision making by both parties on more purely economic, goal oriented and impersonal bases…

2. In transactions across ethnic lines, there is the mutual expectations of negative reciprocity…

3. In commercial transactions across ethnic lines, each party exploits certain aspects of the stereotypes which the other holds for him. In fact one might find that each group purposely developed their ethnic personae for complementary business dealings…

4. An ethnic difference between parties in a commercial transaction may facilitate trade by 'differentiation the reward structures' of each side so that they are complementary rather than identical…

5. …a series of phenomena may be applied to reduce tensions inherent in face to face commercial deals…'ad hoc' categorization by occupational requirements…adherence to 'fixed price' transactions…" (Omohundro; 1977: 130-133)


"Breakdown of the minority trading mechanisms provide large scale, inter-group conflict which, in extreme cases can take the form of genocide. Persecution of minorities who are active in commerce has been known for centuries in the western world and has become an important fact in the Third World today. Trading minorities are especially vulnerable to the machinations of politicians who wish to invent enemies for purposes of mobilizing political support. Even weakening or withdrawal of protection by the police power of the state may be sufficient to precipitate widespread violence against minority traders. Destruction or expulsion of the trading minority may lead to severe economic dislocation and to long term social change, but the society is less vulnerable than simpler tribal societies." (B. L. Foster: 22)


The other complementary side of the coin of economic marketization of inter-group relations and ethnic boundaries is the political bureaucratic 'encapsulation' of majority-minority relations and ethnic 'enclaves' within a host society. This encapsulation is multi-tiered within a larger colonial political economic framework. Encapsulation by divisively national interests and global market political economies tied to Nanyang economic empire to a set of cross cutting chains of political authority and dependency. The Nanyang was never really and independent state in terms of territorial sovereignty or political economic autonomy. It was always semi-peripheral whose marginal 'intermediate' status was determined instead by situational geo-political contexts and circumstances and by its adaptability to changes in such circumstances. Encapsulation brings into play the notion of political economic integration of ethnically diverse stratum within a unified geo-political sphere of influence and the related notion of culture brokerage in articulation between local and higher level systems, mediating the boundaries of ethnic encapsulation within stratified societies. Within the bureaucratic structure of the encapsulation of the periphery by the core via the semi-periphery, there prevails a bureaucratic tendency to minimize local interaction within a larger field of action and to pass the buck up the chain of command, as well as the delegation of negative authority. "Thus, a tendency toward 'encapsulation proper' persists, as Chinese political leaders at all levels serve as specialized middleman linking their fellow Chinese further down the scale into Malay dominated political system. Rather than integration per se, an attenuated encapsulation prevails." (Strauch; 1981: 12)


"In this setting, linkages, alliances and coalitions at all levels of society combine what appears on the surface to be situational flexibility and fluidity with a certain degree of underlying rigidity based on the givens of ethnicity and power. Center periphery relations ideally incorporate not only elements of dominance, demanding compliance and submission, but also elements of solidarity, promising consonance and unity of interests as a basis for legitimacy and trust. Such solidarity must be found in common ethnicity or level of power, however. The Malay dominated center shares bonds of interest with the Chinese elites who share some power at the center, but in relation to the Chinese periphery an operational commonality is lacking. The Malay center dominates the Chinese periphery, but it is able to offer little direct inducement to or reassurance of solidarity; instead it seeks merely to minimize alienation and fall back of acceptable neutrality. It is left to the subordinate Chinese elements from the center, from its ambiguous position of uncertain proximity to real power, to act as mediator and convey and aura of solidarity and inclusion embracing the Chinese periphery. It is a task that is not always accomplished." (Strauch; 1981: 13)


The overseas Chinese of the Nanyang have been noted for their overall failure to achieve the prerequisite 'community closure' construed as necessary for their ethnic political economic mobilization. They are involved in particularistic and cross cutting organizations which inhibit the development of 'pan Chinese' solidarity. Their 'nationalistic' movements, however apparently threatening from the outside were always limited and divided from the inside, never 'whole hearted'. The Chinese have been typically unable to assert authoritatively their 'ethnic honor'. "Instead history has shown that the Chinese…have had great difficulty in uniting as an ethnic entity against non-Chinese threats." (Siaw:397) Lacking the necessary community solidarity, they are, as a whole, typically unable to mobilize for action. "When communal actions of an economic or political nature occurred, they have been supported by certain sub-groups, but have not involved the ethnic Chinese community at large. To the degree that the overseas Chinese are unable to engage in concerted actions on a community wide basis, they do not constitute and ethnic community in the Weberian sense." (Siaw: 398)


"…As for the immigrant communities, mainly the Chinese and the Indians, most of the legitimate avenues towards economic and political power in the wider society were still generally closed to them before and after Independence. Hence, in order to survive and to survive well, these immigrant communities must resort to illegal or illegitimate activities to satisfy their basic social and psychological needs for reward and recognition even among themselves." (Siaw: 397)


As a result, the overseas Chinese in general seem rather to have resigned themselves to their ethnic membership as defined by others and their inevitability of their ethnic label and its consequences. Too little attention has been given to the organizational/administrative side to the structure of colonial political economy, which from a bureaucratic standpoint always seems over weaning in its fundamental functions of conflict control, tension mediation and resource extraction and policy implementation. Ethnic brokerage within an encapsulated state economy by 'towkay entrepreneurs' represents a form of 'bureaucratic co-option' which serves to reinforce differences and ethnic boundaries while simultaneously distancing the minority underclass from their own ethnic leadership. In complex systems such as colonial political economies, potentially subversive elements are much more dangerous if left outside of the systems functioning than if it is marginally incorporated into the system, 'bought off' by enforcing functional interdependency upon the system--it is a way of 'stabilizing radical' elements.

The Nanyang state was one composed of semi-peripheral structural interrelations articulating between core and periphery of a global, inter-regional, national and local political economies. It was a state created and reinforced from without more than or as much as from within. Its position and function was intermediary between conflicting interest groups made up mostly of sojourning middleman and immigrant laborers, petty traders and usurers, and merchant entrepreneurs who in a sense were not only overseas immigrants from China but also represented a form of rural to urban, peasant to city person, periphery to core transmigration. Within a colonial political economic framework, a comprador intermediary class arose which affected the articulation of the 'dual economy' at all levels--a class of merchant minority middleman who stood with a monopolistic footing in both domestic and international economies. Primate cities and urbanized colonial towns became the island havens for this perennially insecure grouping of humanity. Concurrent with this kind of geographic and social mobility is a characteristic shift of cultural and characteriological orientation from traditionalistic, paternalistic, familialistic, particularistic, personalistic, hierarchialistic political values within a rural peasant moral economy to a more capitalistically oriented, competitive, universalistic economic orientation within a mostly urban economic market setting and political administrative framework. As permanent 'sojourners' they became affixed mostly somewhere 'betwixt and between' within the no man's land of the semi-peripheral middle ground of the rural urban continuum. Their common political economic interposition remains ambiguous and ambivalent, precariously tied to both a rural economic substructure and an urban political superstructure and the inherent ambivalence and ambiguity of their paternalistic competitive political economic orientation reflects this intermediate positioning between strongly polarized levels.


"Seen from the statistics, the 'average' Chinese in Southeast Asia ranked between European and native in per capita wealth, level of education and other indicators of social and economic status. In another sense, too, the Chinese were a middle group, because of their special position in retail trade: they were intermediaries between the native producer/consumer and the European dominated import-export trade or the world's markets.

However, the foregoing discussion of the kinds of economic activity engaged in by Nanyang Chinese should have made clear that the Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia were too vast and differentiated a group to ever have fitted neatly into a single class segment of the plural society's pyramid. Individual Chinese could be poorer than most natives and richer than most Europeans; the larger the Chinese minority, the more differentiated, and the more potential for internal competition and conflict it might harbor." (Somers-Heidhues; 1974: 18)




"Hence, it seems that the nature of the Malaysian community, as in other overseas immigrant communities, was inherently divisive. This characteristic is due to the extrinsic factor of the British created Malayan social structure which encourages social class and status along ethnic or racial lines within a framework which sustains the whole. The divisive characteristic of Malaysian Chinese society, as of other overseas Chinese communities, is also due to the inadequate sense of ethnic honor among the members of each of the overseas Chinese communities. The general conception that overseas Chinese have always displayed their 'Chineseness' by their persistence in the 'Chinese way of life' is in fact a misconception and a misunderstanding of what is universally Chinese and what is uniquely and exclusively provincial and native from particular places in China. Immigrant overseas Chinese displayed not so much the universally acknowledged learning, and speaking a common language, the Kuan-hua, as their own variety of social, cultural, religious and linguistic traditions which only members of their own group could understand and appreciate fully. Being almost entirely unschooled in the universal way of life based on the Confucian model, the immigrant overseas Chinese could not share a common ethnic identity within their heterogeneous social setting.

Indeed, the more they try to express their 'Chineseness' the more divisive they became." (Lawrence K. L. Siaw; The Legacy of Malaysian Chinese Social Structure: 402)


To the outside observer looking in, the Nanyang Chinese seem to present a common united front, a solidary face of stereotypical similarity. But one must wonder whether or not this is not really a commonly held stereotype which is reinforced from the outside. This solidary exterior persists inspite of the fact that 'studies on the overseas Chinese to date have revealed a consistent theme about the nature of each of these communities: their heterogeneous composition, their complexity and their divisiveness.' Indeed, quite similar to the WASP stereotype of the capitalist from the west, we have a characteristic E.H.M.G. stereotype of the ubiquitous 'ethnically homogenous Chinese middleman group. Indeed, the 'sojourners' and 'comprador' label have been ubiquitously applied by western scholars attempted to understand and explain this curious sub-grouping of humanity.


"The stereotype conception about the Chinese that they were extremely family and home centered, and that they would eventually return to their home country led the administrators and the host communities to treat the overseas Chinese as sojourners. This resulted in their exclusion from participation in the activities of the wider community. The overseas Chinese, on the other hand, generally played the same game with their administrators and their host neighbors. Acting on the expectations of others, the overseas Chinese could excuse themselves from responsibilities in the development of their host societies. They could thus devote their energies to making more money to support themselves and their families in China. This self imposed alienation is the second common factor which caused anti-Chinese feelings." (Siaw: 400)


These stereotypes have indeed been fostered from within by particular interest groups among the Chinese community itself. Not all of the Chinese bourgeois are 'comprador' or sojourners--many are considered part of national domestic economy which does not necessarily look to a larger global market. Not all the Chinese are 'petty merchant' traders or shopkeepers--the more accurate stereotypes are one of 'Jack of all trades, but master of only one--that is making money'. 'Ching-Chong Chinaman, sitting on a fence, trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents!' Indeed--


"The Chinese are everything; they are actors, acrobats, artists, musicians, chemists and druggists, clerks, cashiers, engineers, architects, surveyors, missionaries, priests, doctors, schoolmasters, lodging housekeepers, butchers, pork sellers, cultivators of pepper and gambier, cake sellers, cart and hackney carriage owners, cloth hawkers, distillers of spirits, eating house keepers, fishmongers, fruit sellers, ferrymen, grass sellers, hawkers, merchant and agents, oil sellers, opium shopkeepers, pawnbrokers, pig dealers and poulterers. They are rice dealers, ship chandlers, shopkeepers, general dealers, spirit shop keepers, servants, timber dealers, tobacconists, vegetable sellers, planters, market gardeners, laborers, bakers, millers, barbers, blacksmiths, boatmen, book-binders, boot and shoe makers, brick makers, carpenters, cabinet makers, carriage builders,, cartwrights, cart and hackney carriage drivers, charcoal burners and sellers, coffin makers, confectioners, contractors and builders, coopers, engine drivers and firemen, fishermen, goldsmiths, gunsmiths and locksmiths, lime burners, masons and bricklayers, mat, kajang and basket makers, oil manufacturers and miners. To which we add painters, paper lantern makers, porters, pea grinders, printers, sago, sugar and gambier manufacturers, sawyers, seamen, ship and boat builders, soap boilers, stone cutters, sugar boilers, tailors, tanners, tinsmiths and braziers, umbrella makers, undertakers and tomb builders, watchmakers, water carriers, woodcutters and sellers, wood and ivory carvers, fortune tellers, grocers, idol vagabonds or samsengs and thieves." (Vaughn; 1879, 1971: 15)


How can one manage to distill simple minded labels like 'comprador' or 'sojourner' out of all this diversity is simply beyond belief--indeed, from the insider's point of view, the 'emic' approach, any such facile labels are bound to appear superficial, hiding more then they reveal. Indeed, diversity has long been the hallmark of the internal structure of emic 'Chineseness' which is widely acknowledged by most scholars.


"Chinese ethnic 'identity' in Southeast Asia has been characterized by great variety, originally based on the South Chinese dialects which differentiated groups within the Chinese community. This basic linguistic differentiation was enhanced by differences in occupation, class, nation of residence and various other factors. Another element of diversity within the Chinese community was added by the varying degrees of acculturation and accommodation of the Chinese to indigenous cultures, culminating in some cases in complete assimilation, but more often marked by the creation of new groups of acculturated Chinese. Some acculturated Chinese developed a coherent 'new' identity, such as the Baba in Malaysia, while others in scattered communities were marked by less well defined intermediate acculturated identities." (L. A. Peter Gosling; The Chinese in Southeast Asia, Volume 11, 1983: 2)


"Thus, Chinese carry with them everywhere a remarkably complex set of social identities, which the individual cannot discard without ceasing to be Chinese. They cannot discard them and only within very narrow limits may they alter them. As a further consequence of these facts, a Chinese is a member of a series of nesting and cross cutting corporate forms wherever he goes. The intersection of local identities in the homeland (province, district, village) partially overlapping with linguistic affiliations, cross cutting surname identities, superimposed on the local designations in the host country (e.g. state, district, village) give rise to a series of categorical identities, any of which or all of which may be fully incorporated…the possibilities are enormous. Given the ascriptiveness of the categories they are ever present (Crissman; 1967). The Chinese have ancient patterns of organization suitable to these frames. But more than rank is not ascribed. Among the Chinese the ideology of mobility, upward and downward, is great; so is the empirical occurrence of such movement (Ho; 1964). The combination of ever ready organizational receptacles and high aspirations for upward movement (not to mention other factors in favor of the Chinese in Southeast Asia) make them sociologically formidable. Their success in turning these social structural advantages into economic affluence is too well known to require comment." (Brown; 1976: 96-97)


Indeed one of the 'sociologically formidable' strengths behind 'Shininess' is their sheer numbers--they come by the thousands. And for every successful Chinaman or woman noticed, there have probably been many other failures who have slipped through the historical record quite unnoticed. To neglect this is to neglect the truth behind the mythology of 'Shininess'. We are left then to reconsider the stereotype of Chinese from an insider's standpoint, or 'emic' perspective and to evaluate the 'endogenous' structure lying behind the baseline stereotype of Nanyang Shininess, for structure, system, pattern, order, is maintained and upheld as much from within as it is reinforced or held up from without. If the key characteristic of Nanyang Shininess is their inherent complexity of social organization, diversity and divisiveness, then we are faced with a paradox of finding a common theme of unity within diversity, a common root of 'Shininess' amongst all the many noticeable differences. Unity in diversity has been the overarching historical theme of 'cross roads Southeast Asia' and no less for the Nanyang. 'To recapitulate, ethnic diversity is so fundamental in Southeast Asia that it is one of the great laboratories for the study of ethnicity.' Seen from the inside, the so called 'circumstantialist' perspective of the political economy of ethnicity, which sees competition for limited resources underlying and motivating the ethnic struggle, gives way to a 'cultural' or 'primordialist' orientation stressing commonality of values, heritage and tradition which 'structure from within' the ethnic experience.

If the ethnic Chinese are characteristically different from within, they are also characteristically different from without. These two sets of differences, comparison from outside or inside, tend to become confused and obfuscate the realities behind both. Back to the same astute author who recognized all of the occupational differences among 'Chinaman' so long ago, we have the following set of 'different' characteristics, as seen from without--


"The Chinese are sober, industrious, domesticated, methodical, ingenious, honest and persevering in business, respectful to their seniors and dutiful to their parents, polite in their intercourse with each other, law loving, easily governed with firmness; on the other hand they are crafty, proud, conceited, treacherous, unscrupulous, revengeful, cowardly, cruel and untruthful. Superstitious to a degree. Their features are stolid and never indicate the working of their minds. The Chinese, Sir John Davis says resemble ants, by the manner in which they conquer difficulties by dint of mere numbers; and they resemble those minute animals no less in their persevering and unconquerable industry. Many Chinese customs are just the reverse of ours. We mourn in black, they in white; we propel a boat with our backs to the bow, they with their faces to the front; we make the north point of the compass the chief point, they the south point; we take off our hats and shoes as a token of respect, they keep them on for the same purpose; we fan our faces to cool ourselves, they fan the antipodes to produce the same effect; in our names the surname is placed last, in theirs they place the surname first; their place of honor at table is on the left side, ours is on the right; they mount their horses on the right side, we on the left; in speaking of dates they mention the year first, then the month and lastly the day of the month; we give the date first then the month and lastly the year; their women wear no petticoats and men no shirts. Mr. Wingrove Cook thus amusingly writes with reference to China, and the everyday customs of the Chinese. 'Where the roses have no fragrance and the women no petticoats; where the laborer has no Sabbath and the magistrate no sense of honor; where the needle points to the south and the sign being puzzled is to scratch the antipodes of the head; where the place of honor is on the left hand and the seat of intellect is in the stomach; when to take off your hat is an insolent gesture and to wear white garments is to put yourself into mourning.'" (J. D. Vaughn; 1879, 1971: 43-44)


To 'emphasize' difference is to neglect to see similarities and to conflate mere 'coincidentals' in a trivial sense with more important reasons. The Nanyang coin of 'Shininess' is indeed Janus-faced--it has two sides as with all ethnic badges of honor, but to emphasize the contrasts is to forget to see the coin as a whole and its purposes as a material symbol. Scratch its surface, bit off its edge, and there is just beneath a common element of humanity in its own proportions.

Promoting ethnicity is the manner in which one status grouping achieves political economic mobilization and consolidation at the behest and expense of another 'counter reference' status grouping. Ethnicity is a two faced coin, or coinage system, which is the medium of transaction, negotiation and exchange between different peoples who come together in the competitive marketplace to do business and succeed in getting ahead. There is an emic side to the structure of political economy as well as an etic, exogenous side. There can be no politicality without economics and vice versa. To consider economics as independent or outside the domain of power is to neglect its ultimate function of facilitating the realization of power. To neglect the economic underbelly of the potential monster is to deny the motivations and source of energies and interests behind power--the monster must eat to survive. To claim that ethnicity is both political and economic, as well as a few other unconsidered socio-structural dimensions, and that this political economic 'substructure' has both etic, exogenous and complementary emic, endogenous forms or patterns, is not to deny the phenomenological experience of ethnicity in and of itself as a 'genuine' cultural reality. Ethnicity has its own cunning of reason which cannot be accounted for by the reasons of its sub-structural dimensionally--it is 'organismic' and synergistic, but it is not thereby organic and super organic. In as much as present day political economy is referred to as being determined within a post colonial mentality, but this does not exhaust or sufficiently explain its existential reality--it has a raison d'être rooted in a common ground of human identity, or the common identity of 'humanness' in a shared human identity which goes beyond and comprehends, but is not comprehended completely by political economic, post colonial way of life or 'lifestyle' or 'status honor'.

It is interesting to reconsider now the other side of the coin of ethnic group identity and to talk of the emic, intrinsic and internal structure as opposed to the external, extrinsic and largely etic structure of inter-group exchange relations and conflict. Group boundaries are policed from within as much as delimited from without. In this regard it is pertinent to reconsider and recognize the paramount importance of the phenomena of ethnic consciousness, not just as a conceptuality or mentality or symbol system, but as a consistent, internally coherent, behavioral ethos which dictates a common 'way' or style of life, and which results in the formation of particular kinds of 'authoritarian power structures' and 'achievement orientations' which tie together into a web or network patterning of political economic social structure. Such a structure in turn fosters a kind of consciousness, an awareness of status ascribed as 'Chineseness' and so the system seen internally is complete and cybernetic--schismogenic or synergistic. It relates as an historical-cultural process to a conscientious process of ethnic group boundary identification and affiliation. Symbolic markers direct patterns of mobility, thresholds for passing, gates for closing, means for mediating conflict and creation. This process is referred to as 'ethnicization' of issues, whether political or economic or other, a part of this process involves a politicization of ethnic issues and an economization of ethnic resources--"Ethnic groups maintain their boundaries in part by supporting a certain set of values, or reward structures, that individuals can use for self ascription and self evaluation. In the language of the social psychology of bargaining, (ethnic groups) may differ enough in their payoff matrices by virtue of membership in different ethnic groups that trade can be rewarding for both. These payoff matrices are composed of as many motivational factors as the researcher wishes to insert…" (Omohundro; 1977: 132) In other words, 'ethnicization' or the 'development of ethnic consciousness' represents emically a form of 'structuration' which has its own kind of feedback loop upon historical awareness and symbolisms--it represents a prioritization of 'ethnic' values providing a sense of purpose and order behind and motivation for ethnic identification--it is the development of a consistent ethnically defined value orientation and value system which becomes traditionally sanctioned through its consensus of adherence and its persistence or perseveration through historical process. It is a truism that those who think and perceive themselves as being ethnically distinct, will, if appropriately rewarded, set about systematically becoming or making themselves ethnically distinct and different. The lines are thus drawn for battle, the boundaries become well mapped out for future way.

This is not so much a static social structure as it is a dynamic social individual process which is phenomenological, historical, hermeneutical and existential in character. This is not to say that there is no such thing as a kind of 'social structure'--a corporate organizational identity and entity, which is tied to the emergence and historical patterning of this social process--in part 'structuring' the orientation and directionality which it assumes. But any such patterning becomes necessarily influenced by unexpected change and unpredictable human agency. From historical epoch to historical epoch, its name may remain the same, and its principles of organization or structuration may be similar, but its entire content and substance will have become completely, irreversibly altered beyond any previous recognition. This process can only be understood within an historical/hermeneutic framework.

Raising ethnic consciousness is a means of increasing the social distance between groupings and of maintaining ethnic solidarity, conspicuousness and symbolic boundary--identification within and between groups, primarily by symbolic process. Ethnic symbolization provides 'meaning structures' which are metalogical and metaphorical, which in the inherence of their presumed 'naturalness' and 'givenness' become un-self reflexive--built in and thereby unquestioned. They are thereby harder to see structurally, hidden beneath a veneer, a vestige, a façade of 'ethnicality' or 'ethnicity'--they are rendered invisible beneath an ethnic disguise or mask. Ethnic symbolization provides the significant markers of the general process, symbols which are drawn from an historical-mythological-ideological reservoir--symbols of 'people hood' and of heritage, tradition, origin or 'roots' of common values, models, baselines, expectations, goals, dreams and stereotypes. Such symbolization process is largely mythological which becomes ideological in praxis when it becomes enacted. Such symbols are employed purposively, arbitrarily and cunningly to effect the 'awakening' of ethnic consciousness or the elevation or achievement of the 'realization' of a distinctive, special, unique ethnic identity. It is primarily an attempt to create within group similarity, unity, solidarity--a conceived and perceived sense of commonness. Ethnic identity becomes a kind of uniform and uniformity, complete with its badges of authority and tokens of membership. It manufactures token equality of status in order to achieve without group projection of difference or prejudice. Within group differences of class and/or status become regularized and 'naturalized' and thus down played and eventually 'repressed' from conscious awareness--while such differences become pronounced or played up or projected upon members of out groups who likewise appear 'one of a kind'. Within group differences are generally, purposefully, dutifully ignored and neglected--differences originating in individuals are displaced to the group level, and between group differences become 'over emphasized' and thereby 'reified' or 'hypostatized'. The stereotypes take on in their everyday use a feeling of objectivity, a common senseness of truth, a concrete appearance of substantiality which obviates and obfuscates its contrived artificiality, its superficiality, its own simple mindedness. Always underneath such processes of 'ethnic honor' and 'ethnocentrism' is a deep seated jealousy, selfish desire for wanting to be different but lacking the courage to do so--an ad hoc living by proxy only, a vicariousness of desire--the grass is greener on the other side orientation which comes from frustration, anger, unhappiness within one's own existential predicament. Chinese are no different from Americans or any other grouping in this 'fundamentalness' of 'human nature'--it is indeed universal in structure--just as childishness is universal to the condition of childhood. So humanness, mature or underdeveloped, is a universal condition of humanity, whether it becomes 'realized' in human reality or not. This form of symbolic process is common and characteristic of all human groupings. Conflictual tensions created by within group inequalities become effectively displaced or enervatively neutralized upon targeted counter reference out groups by a process of cognitive perceptive 'group counter transference' of affective, emotional symbolically constituted 'things' and their 'interrelations'. Curiously the out group is never allowed to speak for itself except that it becomes translated in a negative fashion--individual character differences of the members of out groups become ignored, with only a stereotyped façade visible from without. Learning to see within group differences means simultaneously concomitantly breaking through, or seeing through between group barriers and boundaries, while simultaneously seeing between group similarities. The human other on the other side becomes more individuated, more distinct, more human as the self becomes more complexly differentiated. Groups become more complex--group identity becomes more problematic, more highly individuated. Statistics give way to names, names give way to faces, faces give way to personalities, personalities become people, human beings. Group identity looses its taken for granted natural, ascriptive quality--achievement by group standards and values of success or orientation become defined in more complex, universalistic ways. When wearing a monotypical mask it becomes much easier to make of it what one wills, to ignore real natural differences and similarities. At the same time, the individual character of the in group members become more pronounced, dramatic, even exaggerated beyond recognition. Status symbols hide human realities.

If ethnic consciousness is to be awakened, and promoted or promulgated, then there is a need for the promulgation of a primary reference group around which one's symbolic markers are to be oriented. The most basic theme of the primary reference group is a special sacred status based upon a sentiment of common origin and an appetite for a common cultural heritage--"A categorical ascription is an ethnic ascription when it classifies a person in term of his basic, most general identity, presumptively determined by his origin and background." (Barth; 1969: 13) Ethnic consciousness of a distinctive common origin is promoted as an important aspect of a status role relationship. There is also a necessity in drawing the ethnic boundary identification to have a designated counter reference out group which will serve as a common target for projection, as a common enemy against which to achieve consolidation. Ethnicity is forged in the political economic transactions of inter-group relations--in order to promote ethnic consciousness and identification it is necessary to first create a distinctive group upon which the badge of ethnic honor can be hung, the tattoo of ethnic status inscribed. It also becomes important to create a common enemy which also forms a counter ethnic grouping against which all comparisons and contrasts deemed to be negative or 'relativizing' can have some kind of externalized validity--without the visibility, the conspicuous presence of this kind of 'anti-identity' competing as it were within the same living space, or eco-niches, for the same resources, then ethnic identity would have no apparent, substantial basis for group solidarity, corporate organization and mobilization and would thus likely fission or fragment into splinter groupings. There also occurs the presence frequently of a third or in between grouping which in a sense becomes inherently self contradictory, ambivalent, Janus faced. I will call this the intermediary reference grouping which tends to occupy a precarious in between position of enforced neutrality and of ambivalent status and ambiguous identity. In this sense, though dealt with, they are not to be trusted--serving as indirect reference groupings upon which conflictual or contractual relations between the other two groups may be harmlessly displaced or safely neutralized. They are viewed as potential turncoats--useful allies but untrustworthy traitors who must be kept in view--whose loyalty and genuine commitment is always suspect. On the other hand, their doubly reinforced identity and status neutrality and high visibility renders them 'safe' for normal or 'para-normal' business relations--as go betweens their apparent existential vulnerability renders them safe in the sense of a special kind of 'thieves honor'. Such groupings, between others, are usually politically interdependent and independently powerless, forming more of an economic class than an ethnic status grouping. Status becomes class tied. It is because they are relatively powerless, without apparent hierarchy, that such groupings serve as safe if dangerous go betweens, even if somewhat nefarious, immoral or unethical in conduct--they are 'without honor' divested of 'status'.

The symbolic importance of status ascription follows from a psycho-social sense of insecurity and felt need for social solidarity reinforced by primary symbolisms--social insecurity and the need for group solidarity beget a kind of symbolic dependency, a predisposition to employ social symbolisms projectively in a pronounced, public fashion and to express repressed, 'illicit' symbolisms privately in a repetitive, obsessive compulsive manner. That this may be directly tied to sexual repression is possible. There is a failure of cognitive control over their manipulation or deployment. The media and its role in fostering ethnic consciousness and symbolic boundary identification cannot be underestimated in the subliminal, pre-conscious cultivation and manipulation of this form of psycho-social dependency. I believe there can be found a high correlation between this form of symbolic dependency, if somehow measurable, and three differential forms of characteriological authoritarianism, as well as with perhaps other forms of social psychological pre-dispositions or character structures. I believe the various forms of authoritarianism which I briefly describe here to be but differential symptomatic expressions of a common fixated motivational source which is symbolically dependent and therefore neurotically frustrated, for its manifestations. These forms of authoritarianism are conditioned by, contextualized within, and connected to alternative modes of social 'structuralism' which tend to foster or reinforce and in turn become reinforced by, alternative socio-structural forms.

In general, authoritarianism is correlated negatively with high achievement motivation as defined by McClelland et. al., which is in turn associated positively with high self esteem. Self esteem is interdependent and defined by social status. Self esteem, achievement motivation and authoritarianism must also be associated with a social situational context--the 'moment' of class or status mentioned by Weber--which is pre-structured by social stratification, class relations and status group identity. Authoritarianism is somewhat conveniently also contrasted in a relativistic sense with egalitarianism--authoritarianism begets closed minded preoccupation with hierarchical social relations and symbols of hierarchy which may be associated with political hierarchy, economic class and social status rank. Depending upon which of these kinds of hierarchy are stressed, authoritarianism becomes expressed differently with each kind--'paternalistic authoritarianism' is associated with traditional colonial social orders--feudal or semi-feudal, while 'competitive authoritarianism' resembles the classic 'f-scale' profile and is associated with competitive relations in an economically defined market arena. The final form is 'regal ritual' authoritarianism, and becomes associated with a 'true believer' profile of the fanatical ideologue who is to be found in the bureaucratic hierarchies of world order society. This type is also associated with a kind of two value, monothetic, concrete logic, or concrete thinking. Its modern form is the restrictedly rational routine operationally efficient marionette who is more preoccupied with numbers than with people--manipulating 'things' rather than human beings. There are other types of authoritarianism, each begetting a different epistemological model of conceptioning

Also it is important to note the opposite of 'status honor' or 'ethnic honor' as 'negative status honor'--a 'third world' mentality of believed in intrinsic inferiority, low self esteem, of chronic belittlement, preoccupation with failure leading to perfectionism and 'choking'. It is a self consciousness of failure and inferiority, and a failure and inferiority of self consciousness. It is linked to a 'culture of poverty' orientations as well as a spurious poverty of culture. It becomes reflected in airport arts of acculturation. No one wants to be a 'niggar'--especially not the Blacks. We are dealing in this sense with an accepted, embedded, institutionally established and reinforced, colonialized, cultural or ethnic inferiority complex which undermines motivation, models of achievement and effective group or social action.

Besides the first, exogenous set of factors of the common cultural historical context of a post colonial political economy and the ethnic status role of 'merchant minority middlemen' within such a framework, there are I believe at least four interrelated factors contributing to Nanyang ethnicity of overseas 'Chineseness'. These four sets of factors are:

1. The stereotypical socio-structural form of organization of overseas Chinese communities and commercial enterprises.

2. An historically and socially well developed network of commercial relations which contribute to enduring long distances structural relations of power within developing 'situations of complexity'.

3. A relatively open class structure which is reinforced by a common cultural ethos of 'Confucian' values and which encourages educational mobility, entrepreneurial risk taking, strong achievement and competitive motivations and value orientations.

4. And finally, a common cultural ethos stressing paternalistic and particularistic and personalistic values of parental authority, familial piety, traditional education, pragmatic value orientation, hard work and educational achievement, set within a competitive colonial political economic milieu which is reinforced by commonly prescribed values of 'Chinesenesss' in cuisine, dress and past times, and which reinforces No. 3 above.

Each of the four sets of factors will be dealt with in turn, but it must be recognized at the outset that whereas the former 'exogenous' set of etic factors might be seen as 'structural', these 'endogenous' set of emic factors might be construed as 'functional' in the Malinowskian sense. This kind of functionalism must be tempered by an appreciation of the cultural historical process in which it is embedded and from which it has been extracted. It is only an explanation of a patterning and not the cultural reality itself.

1. The most salient factor of the effectiveness of Nanyang ethnicity is the widespread presence of overseas Chinese communities which are politically and economically integrated along a common line of segmentary corporate group structure organized 'sub-ethnically' upon an ad hoc, situationally defined basis, along the lines of principles of ethnic origin and heritage--locality, lineage descent and language. This common type of segmentary 'kongsi' and 'pang' or 'fang' organization, which may range in size and definition anywhere from "a group of 2 or more unrelated persons of the same sex forming a household" (Kaye Barrington; 1960) to an essentially transnational clanship or secret society or dialect organization. This kind of organizational structure, in its adaptiveness to situational demands, and preexisting capacity for mobilizing activity and coordinating it, has been proffered as the secret of Chinese organizational success in commerce, inspite of their plasticity, 'camouflage, puffery and fragility'. "Students of the Overseas Chinese societies are familiar with the traditional clan and surname associations, secret societies, pang and kongsi work groups, and the varied combinations among the Chinese forming their own interest groups…In fact the overseas Chinese have always been known to be one of the most organization oriented people in the history of modern man." (Siaw: 398) These organizational structures are inherently paradoxical in being 'ethnical like' organizations and yet mitigating against an overall communalism of pan Chineseness. "Hence, these mutual feelings of belonging together have produced no positive system of identification." (Siaw: 398) Most noteworthy was the strength and influence of the Chinese secret societies in the Nanyang as a basis for political economic consolidation. "The extent of their influence can be judged at least by the fact that no sizable group of Chinese immigrants could engage in any kind of trade, business or industry without the support of a particular branch of the secret society." (Simoniya: 41) Yet despite this sense of solidarity, such organizational structures were always inherently divisive--"Any misunderstandings or dispute arising among various dialect groups of Chinese immigrants usually results in desperate struggle (frequently an armed struggle) between their supporting secret societies, sometimes going on for years." (Simoniya: 41)


"…Their social organization enabled them to overcome the problems of land, labor and capital and in effect gave to Chinese agricultural enterprise some of the characteristics of the corporation, the device that finally enabled the Europeans to reach a dominant position in plantation crop productions.

Basic to Chinese agricultural enterprise were the social institutions giving it cohesion, the clan, kongsi and above all, the secret society. These provided the capital for financing the acquisition of land from native rulers, organized the import of immigrant sinkhek labor from China for the work of cultivation, kept the laborers supplied with provisions including the indispensable opium, and marketed the produce. All the participants were rewarded with a share of the profits if any (thus anticipating a system of estate wages linked to the current price of the commodity produced by the estate), less expenses incurred on their behalf,, which in the case of the laborers who were indebted with the cost of their provisions and opium, were very substantial. But inevitably the lion's share of the profits went to the merchants of Singapore or Malacca…who in effect provided the entrepreneurial functions and to the semi-feudal headmen or kangchus who performed the managerial functions." (Fryer; Emerging Southeast Asia, 1970: 62)


As a self governing community of members with shared economic interests and political aspirations, kongsi's were "the natural outcome of the experience of Chinese immigrants who had come to a strange land in compact clan and village groups and who had to find ways to secure their livelihood, self protection and governance." (Chin; 1981: 15-16) Though the modeled was borrowed from South China, its form and functionality was variously adapted, localized in different Nanyang contexts.


"Partnerships, generally called kongsi, or 'companies' almost always lacked legal and written contracts between members. The partners verbally agreed on the requirements for capital accumulation and spending, division of profits and the divisions to be made upon a reshuffling or dissolution of the partnership. They simply followed certain, rather loose conventions. This system meant great ease in creating capital combines, but it also made for many conflicts, misunderstandings and unscrupulous manipulations." (Omohundro; 1981: 70)


Understanding of this kongsi system and the organizational complexity of Nanyang communities cannot be had without appreciating these focal manifestations of a 'business culture' or 'merchant way of life' which has its praxis, its norms of commercial life, and which exerts 'an enormous shaping influence on the rest of community life.' 'Business activity' constitutes a cultural 'given to which their socio-cultural life must adapt.' "The community's institutional structure, its kinship practices and its family life are molded about the shopkeeping life." (Omohundro; 1981: 46) This 'way of life' also has an important history of development against which it needs to be contextualized.


"After completing the place of worship the early Chinese immigrants organized themselves socially in a different manner. Having been uprooted from the Chinese homeland and replanted on foreign soil with its strange customs, the immigrants felt, as did other migrant groups elsewhere, the necessity of clinging tenaciously to the way of life that they had to leave behind in China. This nostalgia is a common human characteristic. As soon as they were well established the immigrants tried to satisfy this nostalgia by organizing clan associations which would bring together people of the same clan or locality in a congenial setting where they could continue familiar interests and practices. Although most clan associations began by catering for people of the same clan or neighborhood in China, many enlarged their membership by accepting people of the same dialect group or of the same surname although belonging to different clan and localities. These latter grew into full fledged community associations.

Clan associations helped the immigrants to strengthen group solidarity, promote understanding between members, enhance their social and economic welfare and foster closer cooperation with other clans. They were generally able to take over diverse social roles from clan temples such as the administration of a burial ground, the organization of clan festivities and other seasonal celebrations, thus releasing the temple premises for worship and other religious purposes. The clan associations also became a venue for the distribution of charities and for alms giving to the less fortunate members of the association and their families, the provision of accommodation and assistance to its aged and destitute; and the association's premises often served many different varieties of communal uses." (Chin; 1981: 81-82)


In general, even though the definition of what a kongsi is ranges from small living arrangements to business enterprises, to larger, inter-city clan organizations, the kongsi system shares certain important attributes--it is primarily a corporate grouping organized longitudinally and diachronically along basic principles of locality of origin, occupation, dialect, descent, surname, for the purpose of ensuring long term economic political security and stability in an inherently unstable environment. Its primary purpose was political economic mobilization of limited capital. There was complementary with this kind of corporate organization a cross cutting form of associational organization on a voluntary, versus ascriptive basis, which reinforced this with a kind of latitudinal integrity--synchronically organizing actors and agents across space. This mode of organization was strongly associated with occupational monopolization and paralegal economic and political activities in coolie trafficking, prostitution, gambling, opium and facilitated in the mobilization of political resources, its primary function being to ensure political stability, hierarchical continuity at any single instant or episode of history, and to effect political consolidation during crises periods of political instability or turmoil. Thus longitudinal clan kongsi's and latitudinal chambers of commerce, dialect associations, secret societies and business kongsi's were mutually complementary in reinforcing Chinese community solidarity, while simultaneously the cross current patterning tended to undercut and undermine overall communalism or spirit of communal Chineseness, tending instead to produce a recognizable ceiling of segmentary fissioning of small groupings, organized competitively for private interest, or special mutual interests. Thus the competitive strength of Chinese organization proves its own greatest shortcoming to achieving 'community closure'.

Individual actors inhabited discontinuous inter-positions or multiple 'nesting' positions within several overlapping organizational frameworks. Their status roles were largely situationally and circumstantially defined, and loyalties tended to be undermined by several allegiances. Thus corporate organizations benefited from access to a broad network of overlapping hierarchical spheres of affiliation, while simultaneously suffering from an inherent structural weakness of a lack of undivided commitment--shifting loyalties and membership as individuals navigated and maneuvered between several ladders of success. Options becoming closed in one hierarchy, an individual might easily shift with a minimum of downward mobility. Though the status of Chineseness was highly ascriptive but hierarchically open, multiple criss crossing statues within multiple hierarchical structural frameworks, ensured a high level of potential mobility for the individual--diagonal mobility which is tied to ethnic status of 'Chineseness'.

The segmentary structure of ethnic Chinese corporate organization also meant that ethnic status overall was largely positional, personal, relative and conditional to ascriptive, achieved and voluntary statuses--the system was to some extent flexible rendering it highly adaptable to changing environmental circumstances in many varied situations. It also assured that Chinese ethnicity with all its dialectical 'sub-ethnicities' was highly personalistic and particularistic--'Chineseness', though overall in an absolute ascriptive category--even this broke down--was finely divided internally in degree and kind. Intra-ethnic strife and competition was as important as inter-ethnic competition and conflict. "…partnerships are volatile organizations due to domestic matters, old fashioned management methods and the personalistic nature of the money handling and power structure…" (Omohundro; 1981)


"…the Chinese were principally local traders and individuals who built their private fortunes wherever they could. Invariably theirs were little firms with a tendency for any large organization to be ephemeral, or, at best, to be quickly splintered into other little firms." (Wang Gungwu; 1959: 20)


"The kongsi never enjoyed any sovereignty in their territory. In its internal structure the kongsi institution resembled the guild organization in which family ties were very strong and which was built exclusively on the geographic or dialect principle: only the immigrants from the same village or province of China, speaking the same dialect, could become kongsi. A distinctive feature and important function of these (as all the other) associations of Chinese immigrants was the mutual aid practiced by their members, which was of enormous importance in view of their lack of rights and helpless conditions in the countries of Southeast Asia. At the same time, it should be emphasized that inequality was the dominant feature within the kongsi organization. Taking advantage of their privileged status, the leaders of these associations amassed fabulous wealth by ruthlessly exploiting the Chinese coolies." (Simoniya; 1961: 40)


The second endogenous factor contributing to Nanyang ethnicity concerns a cultural historical patterning of a long term established networking among Chinese traders via the Nanyang connection. The merchant Chinese have a long and continuous presence in the history of Southeast Asia. They have consistently contributed to the regional development of Southeast Asian civilization even though their contributions have long been downplayed and unrecognized. Long enduring long distance trade networks developed which formed part of the regional structure of Southeast Asia. The Chinese merchant has been held as the principal agent of these networks. The Chinese communities, large and with their overlapping organizational structures, formed the nodes of intersections of these networks--facilitating and mobilizing the exchange of capital, the movement of sojourners, the exchange of commodities, finance and resources. Commercial centers and trade entreports served as a kind of maritime merchant capital cities of the Nanyang Nation. Credit associations and financial institutions facilitated the movement through the Nanyang trade network. Centers and capitals may wax and wane, cities and Chinatowns may come and go, but always there remained a complex network of many other such nodal points of articulation to fill in. the enduring persistence of such networks provided the necessary 'developing situations of complexity' as preconditions for regional development and growth--enabling Chinese to pioneer new settlements and enterprises and to open new markets and providing a stable base for community growth and cultural development. Without the presence of such a network, so extensive and multi-layered, the overseas Chinese would not have become so economically successful. The Nanyang trade network was the substratum of an overseas Chinese empire. This empire maintained a tenuous long distant if somewhat sensitive ties to the Chinese mainland. Indeed, Southern China was shaped as much by these South China sea connections of the 'floating Chinese' as it helped to shape the Nanyang itself.


"The sojourning pattern, immigrant associations, credit arrangements competitive strategies, the Chinese family and the apprentice system, as Chinese cultural patterns, all confer commercial advantages upon the immigrant merchants…" (Omohundro; 1977: 129-130)


"Writing with this in mind, George Weightman (1960) developed his historical study of the Philippine Chinese, describing them as a 'marginal trading community'. They are marginal in the sense that Robert Park (1928: 881) defined the culturally 'marginal man'. Economically, however, they are dead center; the legendary middleman. Besides being culturally marginal, they are definitely also a community…" (Omohundro; 1981: 47)


Chinese commercial activities had long formed an integral part of the internal trade and commerce of the region. The coming of the Europeans crowded them off the foreign markets,, but they retain their control over domestic markets, which during the colonial period developed into powerful monopolies in a number of spheres of exchange. "It should be pointed out that the rigid organization of the Chinese bourgeois played a very important part in the consolidation of its position in domestic trade as well as in the handicraft and other branches of production." (Simoniya; 1961: 40) The Chinese were organized into a 'ramified network of buyers' who could buy up small scale production for large markets. "…the inevitable result of this purely economic advantage of large scale sales was that the small producer was cut off from the market and found himself helpless before the power of commercial capital." The colonial framework augmented this commercial pattern. The direct producer was effectively cut off from the markets by this network, rendering them completely dependent upon the buyer. The buyer became the only source of credit which extended from the big monopolies. The net result was the credit bondage of primary producers to the buyers. "Running through the vast network of business middleman, however, is an invisible chain of economic mutual dependence with which these middleman are chained to the general chariot of colonial exploitation in the countries of Southeast Asia." (Simoniya; 1961: 43) Commodity credit and finance became a powerful means of control over the network of buyers by the big monopolies.


"Another characteristic features was that the buyer was, as a rule, also a retail merchant. He supplies products to the cities and ports where he acquired import commodities to be resold in the villages. He frequently paid for his products with imported commodities, thereby cutting off the peasants not only from his own product market but also from the market of industrial manufactures." (Simoniya; 1961: 44)


A large measure of the success of the Chinese commercial networks is the facilitation of via a system of well established credit networks--an individual's credit 'rating' was dependent upon maintaining a reputation for successful and sound business practices, and for trustworthiness. Loss of face or shame would be avoided because it would damage an individual's ability to secure credit when it is important to do so. One's reputation or credit rating are linked to one's status within the community. Commercial success is directly related to this status--the ability to improve or climb the ladder of success was tied to the capacity for securing credit and hence to one's status. Therefore it was important to 'show good fact' to the community to improve one's status. The credit itself flowed in a well developed network, albeit from the top down--"The credit system…'descended in a cascade' from the large import-export merchants and wholesalers to the hierarchy of smaller traders in the market centers and villages throughout the country." (Clifton. A. Barton; 1983: 51) This kind of reputation conveyed status not only of credit rating, trustworthiness, or economic reliability, but also an individual' social and psychological characteristics. It operated on two levels--'of specific interpersonal relationships which a businessman maintained with members of his social network' and 'as a more general reputation for trustworthy behavior and credit worthiness which a merchant commanded in the community at large'. Such a general reputation increased the range of potential business contacts, contracts and opportunities. Business could be initiated among those with well developed reputations much more easily and safely, thus reducing the risks of extending credit at long range. Such reputations facilitated long distance mobility of finance and capital so important to the success of business enterprises.


"One of the main contentions of this paper is that the Chinese were able to succeed in Vietnam because they developed mechanisms for generating interpersonal trust and regulating business behavior in the absence of a well functioning formal legal system. The Chinese approach to business was based upon personal relationships and word of mouth agreements. And these verbal agreements relied solely on mutual trust--sun yung--backed by informal group sanctions. Under these rules, if a merchant was not trustworthy and reliable, that is, if he lacked sun yung, it would be impossible for him to do business. Once the fact that a merchant had failed to honor his word became known, other merchants would simply refuse to do business with him." (Clifton Barton; 1983: 53)


"Participation in only a small number of the associations which every Chinese businessman had available to him provided a merchant with sources of information and a wide range of potential business contacts. Generally the strategy of successful merchants seemed to be to maintain large numbers of persons in the 'known' category through minimal participation in a large number of association and social activities. If they subsequently needed to contact someone either for information or to initiate a business transaction, common group membership and prior acquaintance smoothed the way.

Common group membership creates among merchants a 'presumption of trust' and this, in itself, gives certain advantages to businessmen…" (Barton; 1983: 60)


Also related to Chinese networking success are the kinds and degree of network relationships established over the course of an individual's career development. It has been found that as much as fifty percent of the average businessman's ties are kin related or very personalistic. Important are 'fictive kin ties' who act as benefactors in business relationships. Business success and social networks are always interactive. More kinsmen are found on the inside as coworkers in successful businesses than as benefactors from the outside.


"Almost all Chinese…have available to them a wide variety of social relationship with which to reinforce their commercial connections. Consanguine kinsmen, in-laws, persons from the same hometown, classmates and others may play roles in a Chinese business. To have connections with persons or businesses who offer favors, loans, emergency assistance or inside information, who can be trusted and by whom one will be trusted, is clearly to have a commercial advantage in an erratic, potentially hostile, highly competitive economy…" (Omohundro; 1983: 67-68)


Marriage becomes a business merger, whether or not love is involved--'love will grow'. "The consequence of this endogamy and residential stability is a thick web of kin and business interconnections that serve to reinforce partnerships, import-wholesale-retail distributor chains, credit arrangements, commercial apprenticeships and other business deals." (Omohundro: 69) 'To the Chinese, money and marriage is serious business.'


"The Philippines Chinese merchant community is thus in constant evolutionary motion by means of small incremental choices all individuals are making to secure their security and livelihood…change in the merchant community comes from the statistical trend of these small and constant network adjustments. All merchants participate in this statistical trend of minute changes over time…Individuals are ruined and rewarded and the resulting pool of cultural values and strategies, though based predominantly upon preexisting cultural material, is altered in emphasis, in proportions.

…No particular network configuration or role application of decision making rules will always insure a merchant's success, since the environment is constantly changing and success is probabilistic…But merchants are aware of their stakes, the odds, and the rules of the game through their patterns of social and business networks are imitated by or passed on to others, while failures either change their ways or leave the ethnic group, then the 'Chinese community' is a changed entity." (Omohundro; 'Social Networks and Business Success for the Philippine Chinese' in The Chinese in Southeast Asia Vol. 1, edited by Peter Gosling: 80)


3. Consideration of network patterns among the Nanyang Chinese leads directly into consideration of the third set of endogenous factors--that of class stratification within the Chinese community. Indeed, the status linked to one's credit rating and community standing is a guide for class determination, just as the networks of credit and exchange relations tends to recapitulate the class structure of the Nanyang, arranged as it is as a kind of loosely structured pyramidal hierarchy. The status rating based upon the need to take business risks with unknown partners, creates a kind of 'moral community' of traders who are arranged along a rank order system based upon grades of trustworthiness. In this hierarchy of gradations and determinations, ethnicity is the primary principle employed to mark off the insider/outsider boundary of the group--there is a tendency for insider networks towards ethnic homogeneity.


"Confucian ethics in the overseas Chinese society, prescribes differences in the pattern of mutual aid obligations between people with varying degrees of social distance within a well defined social structure--near kinsmen, distant kinsmen, clansmen, fellow villagers and fellow Hokkiens. Kinship relations, in which social distance is at a minimum, are strong ties that involve the severest degree of constraint in dealings among kinsmen. This is because kinship relations are the irreducible jural and moral relations. Because of this, kinsmen are the most trustworthy people with whom to trade. Because of the existence of differences in the degree of behavioral constraint, each of the five categories of members occupies a special place within the overall social structure of the Hokkien ethnic community. This implies that different behavioral patterns can be predicted for each category of members corresponding to their location in the social structure." (Janet Landa; 'The Political Economy of the Ethnically Homogeneous Chinese Middleman Group in Southeast Asia: Ethnicity and Entrepreneurship in a Plural Society' in The Chinese in Southeast Asia Vol. 1, edited by Peter Gosling; 1983: 98)


It is not too difficult to imagine many merchant middleman employing a similar rational calculus by which to make business decisions and determinations of business relationships and thereby for a kind of social stratification along ethnic and sub-ethnic lines to occur overall. Chinese middleman success is directly related to the capacity for collective action via mutual aid arrangements which facilitate entrepreneurship. When such rank order determinations are consistently and statistically significantly employed, and become consistently linked to 'status ratings' of individual within networks, then it is not too difficult to imagine a kind of class hierarchy crystallizing from the network patterning--status becomes class tied via money. There occurs a solid class structure which is spread across the Nanyang and which serves to unify the Nanyang merchant empire into essentially pyramidal hierarchy which spans the rural urban continuum, with the rural laborers at the base, and the rich commercial elite in the commercial capitals at the apex. At its apex are a small elite group who inhabit the major commercial centers. At its apex are a small elite group who inhabit the major commercial centers. In between is a range of small merchants and petty shopkeepers and corporate managers. At the base of this pyramid is a teeming mass of indentured laborers and coolie population--a labor surplus which is readily mobilizable and therefore highly exploitable. At the top sets a financial apparatus in the form of a commercial banking institution. In between is an elaborate system of credit, money handling, trade and property ownership. This pyramidal structure provided the necessary class leadership of the Nanyang empire.


"The economic stratification of Sarawak's Chinese society--or alternatively the interrelationship between rural and urban economy--is arranged like a pyramid, with a broad base of laborers and agriculturalists in rural areas, a class or rural bazaar shopkeepers in the middle, an at the apex a small number of big business and industrialists who actually control the economy…and who usually become the recognized leaders of the community. Whether in the prewar or post war period the economic strata in the Chinese community have stayed substantially unaltered. It is through this economic stratification that social power is channeled and leadership structure traditionally developed.

…Because of interrelationship between rural bazaar shopkeepers and urban businessmen as between the latter and the top merchants, it can be seen that social power was channeled through the rural shopkeepers (who derived it from the grassroots agriculturalists by the granting of credits) to the urban businessmen, and again through the latter to the top merchants…" (John Chin; 1981: 76-77)


Overseas class structure has been divided into a three tiered hierarchy with two sub-divisions of each stratum. At the top was the Shang class which was composed of shopkeepers, exporters and importers, plantation owners, property owners, financiers and tin mining proprietors. This was sub-divided into two groups--capitalists and general merchants. "The former consisted of exporters and importers, big plantation owners, tin mining proprietors, big contractors, property owners and financiers; while the latter consisted of shopkeepers, general traders and small plantation owners. The middle class was the Shih class composed of clerks of foreign and Chinese firms, junior government officers, interpreters, school teachers and professional. The Shih was sub-divided into upper and lower class groupings, with professionals, junior government officials, interpreters and clerks occupying the upper middle class and the Chinese school teachers and clerks of Chinese firms occupying the lower middle class positions. The lower working class was referred to as the Kung class and was composed of artisans, shop assistants, plantation workers, mining workers and rickshaw pullers, which was sub-divided between artisans and laborers, with the former consisting of 'carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, bricklayers, mechanics, cooks and tailors; while the latter consisted of shop assistants, plantation workers, mining workers, and rickshaw pullers. The dividing line between the artisans and general workers was the possession of a skill.'


"…Thus at the apex of the class hierarchy in the overseas Chinese community in this period was a small group of capitalists and in descending order a large group of general merchants, a small middle class, a small group of artisans and a large group of general workers."


Status distinctions, life styles, sumptuary, polygamy, power and prestige were all class tied. Dress served to create social distance. Class frequently became the self fulfilling prophecy of success or failure, fortune and hard work or misfortune and laziness. Class relations were principally ones of political economic interdependency and exploitation, transacted through paternalistic superior subordinate occupational roles.


"…three points need to be borne in mind; firstly, the overseas Chinese community was a predominantly immigrant society; secondly, it was a subordinate community in terms of power and authority; and thirdly, it was an urban community. Its nature thus determined its class structure. As an immigrant community, it was characterized by an unstable population. Many immigrants treated their time overseas as a sojourn rather than settlement; those who succeeded in making enough money returned to China, while many others continued to travel overseas to try their luck. This fluctuation in population affected the profile of the class structure and so membership of the classes, in particular the workers, changed frequently. Since the community was a subordinate one, it did not have a fully grown class system, comprising a ruling class and a sizable peasant class, as in China. As it was predominantly urban, it produced largely merchants and workers a rather than landlords and peasants." (Yen Ching-hwang; 1986)


"The main characteristic of the overseas Chinese class system was its fluidity. There was no legal barrier to social mobility, nor was there a competitive examination system that people had to go through before higher status could be acquired. Wealth was the main determinant of social mobility; those who possessed it moved up to the apex of the class hierarchy and those who lost it descended, even down to the bottom…(Yen; 1986: 143)


4. Closely related to the class structure of overseas Chinese society are the patterns and opportunities for social mobility which were or have been prevalent, and how these opportunities have been related to achievement motivation, values of hard work, thrift, skills in money handling, and a strong emphasis upon educational attainment. The ethnic Chinese have had a long list of Kapitans China and Towkay business entrepreneurs to look up to as symbols of success, leadership, as embodiments of their Horatio Alger myth. The class structure was relatively open. Power and social status were tied directly to wealth and economic success. Wealth and social status and power went hand in hand. Money bought privilege and power tended to create opportunities for wealth. The traditional Chinese social structure is noteworthy for its relative openness for climbing its ranks. But this relative openness did not mean that opportunity was equal for the sons of the poor as it was for sons of the wealthy and influential. Many created screens of opportunity and class structure tended to propagate itself. There are a set of interrelated factors affecting this social mobility--'intelligence'--i.e. education, skills, information, talents would be cultivated and utilized.

Group relationships within social networks created or fostered screens of support if not opportunity for social mobility. The capacity to overcome certain social disqualifications--indebtedness, indentured service, and especially gambling, enabled an individual to save money in order to invest. More frequently mobility was by small, gradual increments, rather than the phenomenal Horatio Alger. For the skilled artisans and members of the lower middle class, upward mobility was easier than for unskilled laborers. These middle class merchants achieved success as small or petty businessmen and as commercial entrepreneurs.


"For unskilled workers (coolies), upward social mobility was more difficult. These included the workers in plantations and mines, and rickshaw pullers. As their labor could be easily replaced, they lost their bargaining power. Because of hard physical labor and frustration, they tended to indulge in gambling, opium smoking and recourse to prostitutes. This further reduced their ability to save. In fact, only a small number of them succeeded in moving up the social ladder. There were several ways of achieving this upward mobility: to move up from rickshaw puller to rickshaw owner, or to become a hawker, peddler, or small planter and then a merchant…After succeeding in small business, they could then start a shop and become a merchant. To be a merchant was to be known and recognized…the acquisition of merchant status was important because a certain prestige were accorded to it." (Yen; 1986: 161-162)


Education has been important to the Chinese, especially traditional Chinese schooling which resurrected the traditional Chinese Confucian cultural orientation and ethos. It facilitated upward social mobility but was not necessarily a ticket to success for the underclass. This traditional type of education fostered a didactic Confucian value orientation which was pragmatic in nature--defining individual responsibility for 'circumstantial control' over events. Shame entailed unforgivable loss of face at being careless in allowing mistakes to happen. The traditional ethos of the Chinese home reinforced this ethos--as children could on one hand be carelessly over indulged and yet not be allowed to get their clothes dirty. No one cried over spilled milk--they were punished. Orientation of values around food and dress must be considered important as well. Hawking food is seen as one of the principal rungs for the socio-economic and status mobility of the Chinese underclass--eating Chinese cuisine is the favorite pastime of all Chinese, food sharing becomes an important means of 'income redistribution' and nutrition for a society traditionally preoccupied with starvation. It is also ritually prescribed and sanctioned business practice for a successful merchant to entertain his comrades and to be a conspicuous consumer.


"…As in Chinese society today…the Chinese community was rich in varieties of food which provided jobs as hawkers, or as meat, vegetables and fruit peddlers…Those coolies who had saved a small sum of money could change their jobs to become peddlers, selling general goods and local produce…The advantages of being hawkers, peddlers, or transient peddlers were that their business involved a small amount of capital, flexible working hours and a better return for their labor." (Yen; 1986: 161)


In this regard, it is important to see the role of 'Chinese restaurants' and grocery stores in the United States--one of the primary mechanisms of upward mobility among the underclass. "If Western armies march with their stomachs, the overseas Chinese pioneers need to work with their taste buds. Chinese cooking has been and still is one of the main cultural pillars that persist among the overseas Chinese…" (Lawrence Siaw: 400)

Upward mobility that was rapid tended to be single generational, associated with a series of correct and lucrative business decisions on the part of an individual entrepreneur that paid off, and perhaps also this form of mobility was associated with rapid downward mobility as well--fast fortunes come and go--and exploitation of opportunities, often illicit, provided the chance for both quick loss and gain. More common and sociologically interesting is a slower, intergenerational, 'statistically incremental' form of social mobility which tended to involve members of family networks. The work of hardworking and earnest ancestor's laid the foundation for future generational mobility and the value orientation of parental authority and familial piety and the cult of ancestor worship, tended to foster this kind of mobility when and where it was steadfastly adhered to and applied.

It is held that the merchant Chinese occupied a marginal position within a colonial political economy. The normal avenues of status recognition are not available to marginal groups thus encouraging them to seek alternative means of self expression and to maintain a low visibility vis-à-vis the host society.


"Even cursory investigation was sufficient to reveal that the economic power of the Chinese reached much further than what was visible from the surface. One of the basic features of Chinese business enterprise is the extent to which success is kept hidden from outsiders. Through centuries of experience in evading the depredations of tax collectors and officials, the Chinese have learned to maintain a low profile and conceal business success. The outward appearance of a shop gives no real indication of the amount of business which is transacted from it or how many other business interests its owner is engaged in. Often a small shop with two or three employees is the front for a booming business empire controlling dozens of other enterprises operating behind closed doors in adjacent buildings or scattered through seldom visited sections of the city. Often the basis of a multi-million dollar enterprise turns out to be an inconspicuous shopkeeper, dressed in nothing but a pair of shorts, sitting in a small, dark and very old looking business establishment which differs not at all from scores of similar firms on the same street. In many cases, successful Chinese firms operated in conjunction with Vietnamese front men, either persons with political connections who could provide protection or special licenses and privileges in exchange for a fee or straw men who were the owners of a firm in name only and allowed the real Chinese owners to operate in an area reserved for Vietnamese nationals. These types of arrangements were, in some cases, the result of legislation prohibiting foreigners from engaging in certain professions, but in other instances were adopted by businessmen who wished to obscure their activities and operate beyond the arm of local officials and tax collectors." (Clifton Barton; 1983: 47-48)


Marginal groups develop and ethnocentric orientation which is one of superiority which is a reflection of high level internal solidarity and cohesion, 'born of the need for mutual protection and reassurance'. This position of common marginality tends to favor achievement. If the group has had past experience in market relationships, then such achievement motivation is likely to be economic in expression. This leads to a consideration of a common ethnic Chinese value orientation which stresses achievement, entrepreneurships and risk taking behavior and education. They had come with previous expertise in money handling and in social organization for business. As a culture of immigrants, the Chinese could not afford to fail and were preoccupied with economic security and success. Chinese value orientations may contribute to economic performance and those values may change as a by-product of such experience. Social structure, with its ethnocentrism and corporate organization for political economic mobilization, creates screens of opportunity conducive to the successful realization of such value orientations. Social structure and cultural ethos reinforced one another.


"The Chinese community grew and evolved out of an environment that required two levels of value orientation. At the individual level emphasis was on work, competition, frugality, achievement, success and accumulation of wealth. At the social level emphasis was on cooperation, mutual help and common endeavor within the family, the clan association and the lineage whether in fact or in attribution. The Chinese community thus grew out of a response to the challenges of survival, growth and consolidation. Its ethos of work, achievement and success was consistently manifested through the social framework and was relatively unstructured." (Tham Seong Chee; 1977: 320)




In concluding, it is important to reconsider the role and meaning of Nanyang ethnicity as an example for our understanding. Many elements are missing from this picture, not the least of which are the parts played by women and religion in Nanyang ethnicity. The Nanyang constitutes an ethnic community without the prerequisite 'community closure'. It is an ethnic community characterized most by sub-ethnic diversity and divisiveness. The Nanyang constitutes an empire from within, an imperium in imperio, with its own historical heritage and traditional civilization. It is a nation which exists 'overseas' a 'floating' Nanyang Nation made up of a vast and intricate Nanyang trade network. The citizen of the Nanyang has a curious double hyphenated status identity and a characteristically chameleon 'Chineseness' which defies facile stereotypes. Stereotypes are useful clues in the quest for the truth underlying human reality. They constitute the historical/hermeneutic baseline from which we begin and to which we inevitably return. We must be very careful in our creation of these stereotypes.

Ethnicity is a framing metaphor which in the post colonial framework takes on the significance of its previously related notions of culture and civilization. It connotes a style of life and living which inexorably carries a connotation and symbolic significance of positional status within a post colonial framework. The ethnic self, like the previous cultural self and civilized self, carries a special significance to the relation to the ethnic other, as defined within this post colonial framework, just as similarly the cultural self and the civilized self also carried special signification and connotations to the culturally and civilizationally defined other. Anthropology turns another page in its history as self and other become redefined within a framework of relations which is a reflection of a global framework of structural interrelations. Old ideals of civilization and old boundaries of culture have broken down or eroded in the historical streams of ethnic consciousness--human interrelationships within an ethnic framework of understanding better reflect the modern existential realities of human groupings within a global political economy. The question which remains to be asked, is, what is upon the next page of anthropological history. In its obsession with science, anthropology has forgotten itself as a hermeneutic enterprise engaged in the reading of human reality and in the understanding of humanity. As the boundaries of a bygone cultural self rooted in a colonial background wear thin, so will the science engineered to protect and reinforce these boundaries become more and more superficial and anachronistic--in a real sense of phenomenological relevance and existential importance, they will become vestigial indeed--disguising more than revealing, obfuscating more then enlightening. We are upon an age of a new 'ethnical science' concerned with labels, stereotypes, classifications and parameters of socio-economic wealth and poverty. This to shall wear away with time. And then there will remain only the human self in relation to the human other, and the need to explore the existential predicament of a common humanity. Then there will be no important boundaries, no labels, no stereotypes. Only a common citizenship in a common world, and the remaining need to achieve a common human understanding.








Southeast Asia's 'primate cities' are generally undergoing rapid urbanization and development. They represent symbolically and materially as well as existentially the focal center of Southeast Asian modernization, westernization and 'secularization' of traditional religious values. They also constitute the focal concern of Southeast Asian problems of social inequality, economic poverty and crowding. Population densities skyrocket in urban centers--making plainly visible to the average tourist the social diseases of poverty, ignorance, exploitation which , though epidemic in these concentrated and severely limited areas, are but the tip of an endemic iceberg which remain hidden under the triple canopy of the tropical countryside. Squatter 'villages' surround the periphery of these urban centers of national economic growth. If one takes a train from a small agricultural town to a major urban settlement, say Georgetown, and then on to Kuala Lumpur and to the final destination of downtown Singapore, one will have taken a train to ride through history from a pre-colonial setting to a 'post modern' synthetic paradise. As one travels the rail gamut from rural to urban, the pace of living and dying picks up--the range and availability of contemporary western manufactured commodities become greater, as does the cost of living, the average per capita income, the screens of opportunity of a better income. The city is the center of the global marketplace--where modernization, development, 'civilization' is much more evident. It is also the place where ethnic and political issues come into clear focus and the future gets played out once and for all. At the gateway to the city, there is no turning back.

The Chinese are a particularly important segment of any urban setting--they are conspicuous and prominent in their habits of living up to their common stereotype of 'cosmopolitanness' and business.

From small town to major metropolis in Southeast Asia, 'Chinese' will be found at its center 'minding their own business'. Whatever their agricultural ties to the countryside and even though they may be found carried wherever civilization may take them, Chinese never stray too far from the 'city'. Not too surprisingly, their fate is the future of the SEA city. It becomes important therefore to look in detail and depth at the character of these 'Chinatowns' which span the gamut between rural and urban, small and large and old and new. Like it or not, the fate of the Nanyang Chinese becomes played out upon an urban stage.

What is the urban dimension of the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity?…and what are its possible implications for modernization, development, poverty, inequality and the process of 'civilization'?






The Nanyang Connection of the overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia is inextricably linked to their political economic success as a network of merchants, traders, middlemen and entrepreneurs. Historically this network expanded during the colonial period into an overseas, trans-national empire which culminated in political reverberations in 'old China'. Now their moment of monetary glory is waning--their moment in the marketplace of humankind as ephemeral as any. Since the end of WW11 their economic co-prosperity and 'peace' has been in decline in the face of burgeoning Nationalism, Nationalities and National Elites. In many nations of SEA their future has become one of ethnocide, genocide or enforced emigrations--their future has become as precarious and problematic as their past. The old colonial elite was replaced by a new nationalistic elite which is no longer sympathetic to the business and organizational qualities of the 'synthesizing' Chinese 'mind'. Now they are seen as either an obstacle to further progress as the Germans once saw the Jews, or else they are relegated into a post colonial latifundrial context of being merely the servants of development--as the White aristocrats viewed the Black Nursemaid. In the meantime the old colonial masters have simply turned their backs upon their plight, like they turned their backs upon all else 'colonial' except profits--now is the age of neo-colonialism.

But with the overseas Chinese, business is always business and money is the ritual religious guarantee of the success of future generations. Kong Xi Fai Cai--Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to you. Business has become more than a means to some capitalistic end--it has become a way of life. If the West invented and developed the idea of capitalism, then they certainly stole it from the original Chinese creation of business--'the state of being busy'. And if it means in the final analysis that there remains a billion over miracle mouths to feed and nurture in the Chinese idiom, then that has merely become the economic side of the political coin of 'Chinese-ness'--Janus faced as it may be--the simple rectification of names and the never ending 'mandate of Heaven'. Meanwhile many more will be born and suffer and perish an untimely death. EAN--this is fate.

What is the Chinese virtuosity of business, the knack of squeezing a dollar out of fifteen cents which has made him/her a success and a threat throughout Southeast Asia? What is the political economy of 'Chineseness' which spells both paradise and doom in contemporary Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has long been a maritime region where trade and transaction ruled supreme--what is the measure and method of Chinese political cultural adaptation to a Southeast Asian environment? What is the merchant dimension of the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity?





Rubber and tin are Malaysia's leading export commodities. Southeast Asian political economy remains basically latifundian--agrarian inspite of the overemphasis of urban development. To find real, widespread poverty in Southeast Asia, one must venture off the beaten tourist track and get away from the short stops and hops of towns and cities--one must penetrate the real countryside to discover what it really means to remain poor and destitute in a multi-trillion dollar world economy. Unpleasant surprises await even the average urbanite of Southeast Asia brave new cities, who naively thinks he/she has seen it all.

The rural dimension is the other side of the coin of Chinese ethnicity--even though the Chinese remains always primarily a cosmopolitan city mouse, he always has connections with second country cousins who are hidden in the woodwork. The Chinese merchant maintains often long reaching vested interests in rural development. Indeed, they were historically the true pioneers and frontiersmen of the agricultural colonial economic development of Southeast Asia. The proud new National Bourgeoisie owe their debt of gratitude to their Chinese 'brethren under the skin--yellow or brown'. The countryside was the place where indigenous natives interacted with the global civilization via the Chinese middleman who developed his own kind of monopoly upon the real edge of modernity. This has been loosely referred to as the 'kongsi' or 'cheong tsu'. The Chinese secretly gains his/her strength in numbers which can be systematically well organized along many different lines--alone the Chinaman is at the mercy of the elements, but among his own kind he can move mountains and transact miracles, as long as there remains a profit of a bowl of broth in the morning, a bowl of noodles in the say, and a bowl of rice at night (not to mention a bowl of food to the spirits). "To classify a Chinese association according to is name is always misleading." (T'ien; 1953: 19)

What is the role of agricultural enterprise in Chinese ethnicity and what is the role of Chineseness in rural development--what is the rural dimension of the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity?






The Chinese 'kongsi' is given as the 'molecule' of Chinese social structure, and yet the only operative definition of 'kongsi' I have found is "a group of 2 or more unrelated persons of the same sex forming a household". (Barrington Kaye; 1960) The 'kongsi' however ill defined, is proffered by scholars as the 'secret' of Chinese organizational success in business, no matter whether this business is conducted in the city or countryside, on a plantation, mine, dock or shop, and yet the 'kongsi' itself remains only a polythetically described name for many different 'things' which have fallen under the stereotypical rubric of 'Chineseness'. My personal experience has taught me that kongsi has many different often totally unrelated realities, while it remains the 'basis' for the public 'Chinese Chamber of Commerce' or the private 'Chinese secret society'. Somehow it has accreted the quality of being automatic or somehow 'natural' in the ethnic Chinese stereotype, a part of a characteristic Chinese instinct for social organization like army ants.

And yet there remains something mysterious about the Chinese social organization in overseas communities which defies explanation, typifying what is stereotypically considered as characteristic 'Chineseness'. Ethnic group identity gains its strength from within, reinforced for survival from within as much or more than maintained negatively in structural political economic relationships from without. Indeed the Chinese can be said to fit 'comfortably' in a characteristic 'habitué' of being and doing which can be denoted loosely by the term of kongis--yet such as structure leaves unexplained the processes of time--historical contingency, human agency and circumstantial agency in the ongoing rise and demise of kongis social organizations. Such groups have a raison d'être which extend well beyond in time and place personality predispositions or characteriological sets shared in common by the individual members of such groupings. These groupings merge and function and then disintegrate with time, while new such groupings take their place, never exactly the same. The raison d'être is preeminently functional, practical, purposeful and arbitrarily instituted as any that every happened upon the face of the earth. The only thing natural about such organizations was their fictive origins among individuals without screens of opportunity, vulnerable in an alien environment, without makeshift family, strange and unfamiliar friends and distant partners for relationship. Such organizations were grass roots and sprung up in every suitable location which encourage the Chinese sojourner to begin thinking about once again taking up roots.

What ate the socio-structural dimensions of the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity?






Entrepreneurship and political economic leadership is consistently downplayed as a critical factor in the make-up of Nanyang success. Factors underlying entrepreneurial success of the overseas Chinese are given as 'cultural agents' or factors which serve to make them ethnically outstanding vis-à-vis less entrepreneurially 'oriented' indigenes, this despite the fact that as a whole the Chinese have never had a surfeited community leadership which provided, historically and culturally, direction, sense of purpose as well as 'orientation' and continuity. In other words, such 'orientation' was never ever 'culturally given' or 'naturally innate' in the character of 'Chineseness' but has always been willfully provided and promoted by key individuals usually operating 'behind the scenes'.

Furthermore, ethnic comparisons of 'achievement motivation' and the pulling factors of an established, ambitious elite, tend to obscure the blatant class differences and tensions which exists as much within ethnic groups as between different ethnic groups. It becomes the political economic advantage of all elite leadership to promote an ethnic orientation which sustains their own wealth and power--ethnicity then becomes a strategic smoke screen hiding the inequality and class tensions behind political economic development.

Education remains the ticket for socio-economic mobility and 'success'--it remains the human oriented motor behind developmental 'progress' of human civilization. Education and 'achievement motivation' must somehow be positively correlated--a kind of mutual symbiosis between mind, matter and spirit. It is small wonder overseas Chinese value education so highly--wherever they may find themselves they are found to compete strongly with other ethnic groups for success in education. And yet the interrelationships between educational success, socio economic success, entrepreneurship, achievement motivation and leadership have yet to be thoroughly or finally elucidated, no matter how much they might be suggestive of some kind of causal determinacy.

What are the entrepreneurial, educational, leadership and socio-economic variables underlying the political economy of Nanyang ethnicity? A Marxist interpretation of class differences among the ethnic Chinese has yet to be written, though it may prove enlightening in this regard.