Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

Lim, J. (2010). Digging up the past in Singapore, Mainland China and Taiwan: research into the overseas Chinese merchants in the China-Singapore trade. In K. Loh & K. Liew (Eds.), The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History (pp. 182-192). Singapore: Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society.


Standard texts on the history of Singapore point to the important role Chinese merchants played in the commercial and economic affairs of the island. They also highlight how the merchants were not involved solely in trade but were also community leaders on the island. However, the texts tend to present the history of the few rich merchants as representative of every Chinese merchant in Singapore.1 The reality, however, was that most Chinese merchants in Singapore were neither wealthy nor powerful. Many of them owned small or medium-sized family-run businesses that provided essential goods and services for the Chinese community. These businesses could be either wholesale import companies or retail provision shops.