General Sketch of the Numbers, Tribes, and Avocations of the Chinese in Singapore
By Seah Eu Chin
Although it was said that Seah Eu Chin published another article in Logan’s Journal called Annual Remittances by Chinese Immigrants in Singapore to their Families in China in 1847, his authorship cannot actually be confirmed because the author of the article was not indicated in the journal.
In Singapore, there are, men and women, old and young, upwards of 40,000 Chinese hailing from:
- Hokkien Province
- Teochew, under the jurisdiction of Canton Province
- Canton, called Macau Chinese
- Hokkien and Canton Provinces, called Hakka Chinese
- Hainan island
Each tribe speaks their respective dialect.
Trades and Professions
- Schoolmasters, writers
- Cashiers, shopkeepers, apothecaries, grocers
- Goldsmiths, silversmiths, tinsmiths, blacksmiths
- Dyers, tailors, barbers
- Fishermen, sawyers
- Basket-makers, boat-builders, cabinet-makers
- Architects, masons, lime and brick manufacturers
- Sailors, ferrymen
- Sago manufacturers, spirit distillers, plantation cultivators
- Play actors, cake and fruit sellers, burden carriers, fortune tellers
- Vagabonds, beggars and thieves
Four classes divide these professions:
- The Literate who teach
- The Husbandmen in agriculture
- The Mechanics or Manufacturers in the handicraft business
- The Merchants who trade and open shops
The greatest number of married men are found among the Melakan-born Chinese, then the Hokkien shopkeepers, the Teochew, the Hakka, and lastly the Macau Chinese. While shopkeepers can mostly afford marriage, labourers—coolies and those with no fixed employment—rarely get married.
A Labourer’s Life
Most labourers emigrating to this Settlement are very poor. About 10,000 men a year arrive in the junks. While they plan to return home after three or four years, only one or two out of 10 can return, and with little wealth. Some remain in Singapore for 10, 20 years, and unable to return, die in this Settlement.
Some labourers find work in gambier and pepper plantations, which generally employ nine to 13 labourers. Gambier planters get their legs and feet hurt with splinters from constantly splitting wood, broken skin developing into large ulcers.
They wear short jackets and trousers made mostly of coarse nankeen
Nankeen is a yellowish cotton cloth originally made at Nanjing, China.
and unbleached stuff and a money bag tied round their loins. They go barefooted and wear bamboo hats to block the sun. Their houses have wooden pillars and attap walls.
Labourers working in the jungle get about three dollars per month, while those cutting and boiling gambier leaves earn somewhat more. Their wages rise and fall with gambier prices.
The Chinese in the jungle having to work hard daily, are oppressed by the heat in hot weather and colds in cold weather. Would it not be considered a great virtue in those benevolent people who may pity their sufferings to provide them with medicines?
The Scourge of Opium
Alas! For those who intended to return home after three years, why have they not been able to fulfil their wish after more than 10 years?
It is because they have become addicted to the prevailing vice of opium smoking. Many labourers, after having earned a little, waste it upon opium or gambling, and save nothing after many years. Every day, it becomes harder to return home.
To them, going without opium is certain death. Labourers would rather rob and be sent to prison, or Bombay to die, than not have opium. Robberies hence multiply, and the risk of labourers mauled by tigers grows.
Philanthropists of the age, does not this rend your hearts and affect your eyes? Does it not lead you to lament their stupidity, and to contrive means by which you may rescue them?