Murder and the Working Lives of Chinese Male Servants in Colonial Singapore, 1910s-1930s

Publication Name

International Review of Social History


Chinese men working as servants in colonial Singapore were a largely unregulated group of workers and, as a result, few traces of their lives have been preserved in the colonial archive. Rare cases in which Chinese domestic workers were accused of murder compelled the colonial state to directly intervene in their lives. This article explores the experiences of Chinese migrant men who worked as domestic servants in Singapore by analysing three murders that occurred between the 1910s and the 1930s. Details of the crimes and the arrests, along with the processes of conviction and sentencing, were reported in detail in the local newspapers. In addition, testimonies of the accused and of witnesses were preserved in Coroner's Court records. This rich criminal archive is used to shed light upon aspects of domestic servants' lives that would otherwise remain obscure.

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