The Development of Cantonese Chinese Community in the Klang Valley, 1860-1941

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Tze Ken Danny WONG


This article traces the development process of the Cantonese community in the Klang Valley. As indicated in the local sources of the Chinese community history in this region, the Cantonese group, among other Chinese dialect groups, contributed significantly to the early development of Kuala Lumpur. They also rose as a dominant economic group among the Chinese community in the Klang Valley from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. The Cantonese of Kuala Lumpur gradually replaced the Hakka group and emerged as the dominant group until the 1930s in both economic and social domains. In the process, the personal resources of group members, the organizational structure, the hierarchy within the Cantonese leadership, and the gender ratio were the four primary elements that impacted the growth of the Cantonese community. The Cantonese business elite took advantage of new economic opportunities such as the Chinese banking and real estate development. When the Chinese tin mining industry began to decline in 1914, these new business ventures sustained the overall Chinese economic system in the Klang Valley from the 1910s to 1920s. Along with the surge of the Cantonese economic strength, the hierarchical differentiation within the Cantonese community emerged, and some business elites started to shift their loyalty to the British. On the other hand, the Cantonese social elites from labour and middle classes actively participated in the political movement related to Mainland China. In the Klang Valley, the Cantonese leaders served as the mouthpiece for the Chinese community in dealing with the British colonial government. At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of gentry class businessmen emerged amid a new wave of Cantonese immigration. After the 1920s, they were accepted as the new leaders of the Cantonese community. When sub-ethnic integration began to take place among the Chinese, the Hokkien leadership gradually challenged the social leadership of the Cantonese elite.

Keywords: Cantonese community, Leader-hierarchy, Dialect Association, Straits Cantonese


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