The Chinese Protectorate
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The Chinese Protectorate was established in
the Straits Settlements in 1877 to administer the needs of the
Chinese community. Its main functions include the establishment
of a pool of civil servants conversant in the Chinese language,
administering newly-arrived coolie labourers (known as
sinkeh), regulating secret societies, rescuing female
victims of prostitution, and the containment of venereal
Office of the Chinese Protectorate
The Chinese Protectorate was established in the Straits Settlements in 1877 to administer the needs of the Chinese community in the British colonial territory. A Protector of Chinese was appointed to run the affairs of this office. William Pickering (1840-1907) was the first Protector of Chinese, and subsequent Protectors include Francis Powell (1888-1892), George Crofton Wray (1893-1894), and William Evans (1895-1900).
Functions of the Chinese Protectorate
The Protectorate oversaw all matters concerning the Chinese community. Its main functions include the establishment of a pool of civil servants conversant in the Chinese language, administering newly-arrived coolie labourers (known as sinkeh), regulating secret societies, rescuing female victims of prostitution, and the containment of venereal diseases.
Raising Up Chinese-speaking Officers
As the Protector of Chinese, Pickering worked to establish a corp of European officers who were conversant in the Chinese language and thus able to handle Chinese affairs. He conducted Chinese languages classes and held examinations for government civil servants at the Raffles Institution. Those who passed would assume appointments in the Chinese Protectorate and other government departments where such knowledge was of value. The Protectorate also trained up a regular team of efficient and trustworthy Chinese interpreters.
Eradicating the Abuses of the
Many sinkehs arrived in Malaya under the credit-ticket system and were often abused by coolie brokers and their eventual employers. Despite having fulfilled their contracts, they were ill-treated and suffered from repudiated contracts or indefinite detainment. Pickering set out to right this by having an officer to go onboard ships to inform sinkehs that the Chinese Protectorate was their avenue of help. The sinkehs were given handbills, and dissuaded from approaching secret societies for help.
Upon disembarkation, sinkehs were also interviewed individually to ascertain their circumstances and then put up in depots with reasonable living conditions for no longer than 10 days until relatives came for them or agencies hired them. The Protectorate required employers and sinkehs to sign a serialised contract, with a copy kept at the Chinese Protectorate. The terms of the contract were explained to the sinkeh in his dialect and he was told how to report mistreatment. These measures were refined in subsequent years as the coolie trade sought ways to circumvent them.
Regulating Chinese Secret Society
Instead of complete suppression, Pickering managed secret societies through measures of surveillance and control, being concerned that a weakening of the headman's influence without an alternative system of controlling the Chinese would spell disaster. One such measure was to register the societies. The Chinese Protector was made the Registrar of Societies and kept the following records: society's name and address; its President's name, address and occupation; and information on its office-bearers, members and subscriptions. Those pertaining to the societies' signs, passwords and the like were withheld.
To effectively control the secret societies and the lower classes of Chinese, Pickering used the secret society headmen as channels through which government regulations were passed down, and also to mete out punishment on law offenders who were often invariably secret society members. Pickering also arbitrated the petty disputes of the Chinese, positioning himself as non-partisan to the conflicting interests of the various Chinese community sectors. He soon won their trust, as the many pairs of red candles that adorned his office walls bore testimony to the Chinese's acceptance of his authority. To the Chinese, Pickering and the Chinese Protectorate presented an alternative authority to the secret societies.
Liberating Women from
A severely disproportionate sex ratio in 19th century Singapore meant that prostitution was rampant. Though prostitution was permitted on the account of a woman's free will, there were many who were deceived or coerced into it. The Chinese Protectorate sought out such victims of forced prostitution to free them from the control of brothels and secret societies. The Protector was also able to enter any premises where he had reason to suspect that any women or girl obtained by fraud was being concealed, and was authorised to remove any girl under 16 years of age from the brothel. Female domestic servants were also visited to check for inhumane living conditions.
The Protectorate also enforced the Contagious Disease Ordinance in 1881, with the Protector serving as the Registrar of Contagious Diseases. It monitored the prevalence of venereal diseases among prostitutes and the British land and sea forces. Newly-arrived women and girls, especially those suspected of being brought in for prostitution but being passed off as cabin passengers or female relatives joining their families, were checked for venereal diseases.
Women and girls rescued from prostitution
were sent to a refuge set up by the Chinese Protectorate with
the help of prominent Chinese in 1876. A committee of European
ladies ran the home, and equipped them with domestic and
literacy skills. In 1886, the Office for the Preservation of
Virtue (Po Leung Kuk, in Cantonese) was formed to
oversee the refuge, with the Chinese Protector as its chairman.
It vetted applications from families interested in their female
wards as adopted daughters, servants and wives. Men who applied
to marry a female ward had to have his background thoroughly
checked. Wives who were ill treated thereafter could seek help
from the Po Leung Kuk. The home grew from a single room with
less than a dozen inmates to four large wards with a matrons
house enclosed in a compound for 120 residents in 1896.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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