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Title: Banking, business and race : the Kwong Yik Bank in colonial Singapore and the Malay States
Authors: Goh, Jeremy
Keywords: Humanities::History::Asia::Southeastern Asia
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Goh. J. (2020). Banking, business and race : the Kwong Yik Bank in colonial Singapore and the Malay States. Master's thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: In 1903, a group of ten Cantonese businessmen and one Peranakan comprador formed the Kwong Yik Bank (KYB), the first “modern” incorporated bank in Singapore and Southeast Asia. It was a short-lived venture, having collapsed after ten years of operation. The KYB’s failure resulted in a protracted liquidation process that took another decade to complete, two lawsuits against its Assistant Managing Directors, public criticism against the supposed failings of the organizational structures and behavior of “Chinese” enterprise, as well as the British colonial state’s laxity in enforcing the Companies Ordinance. In response, the state tightened regulations on the finance and business sectors through amendments to the Companies Ordinance, which were vehemently opposed by the European non-official members to a greater extent than their Chinese counterparts in the Legislative Council. Despite the KYB’s pioneering role and the significant impact of its collapse, it remains understudied in the historiography of banking and business in the Straits Settlements and Malay States. Using business documents, legislative minutes, primary biographical accounts and newspaper articles, this thesis argues that the KYB reveals new insights on banking, business and race in colonial Singapore and the Malay States in the early twentieth century. The bank was an amalgamation of financial and banking concepts and practices from China and the West. It belonged to a shared business culture with its Western counterparts in terms of having similar practices, such as interlocking directorship, obtaining loans and the adoption of limited liability. Given these practices, the use of race by the European Legislative non-officials and the local English press in essentializing “Western” and “Chinese” business was contradictory. Tensions ran high among the Chinese communities over the KYB’s liquidation, reflecting the importance of class, alongside bang considerations, in shaping trust between these communities. These findings would be useful in enabling us to interrogate the dichotomous labels of “traditional” and “modern” that pervade works on banking in colonial Singapore and Malaya by showing how the bank integrated financial and banking concepts, institutions and practices from China and the West. A study of the KYB would also broaden the business history of these regions by allowing us to question the definition of business culture along ethnic lines, in turn highlighting the overlaps and convergences in the understanding of the histories of Western and Chinese businesses. By examining the framing of “Chinese” and “Western” enterprise and debates in the Legislative Council and public sphere over the failure and liquidation of the bank, this thesis problematizes the question of race in colonial society, politics, and economy. Finally, the KYB would shed new light on the dynamics of class within the Chinese diasporic communities, which are often seen through the lens of bang — dialect and regional — structures.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/146235
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Fulltext Permission: embargo_20230201
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
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