Immigrants

A boat arriving in Singapore with coolies, circa 1900. The coolies step out of the hold and stand on deck for a photograph taken by the German boat owner. This is a rare and valuable image because there are generally no photographs of early Chinese coolies. Coloured using modern image-processing technology, the photograph takes us right back to that boat deck a century ago, giving us a hint of how these coolies must have looked and felt upon arriving at their destination.

An album of rare photos: From Chinese coolies to Singaporeans

From the 19th century to the 1920s and 1930s, ships transporting hundreds of Chinese coolies ready to work hard and make their "fortune" in Nanyang often docked at Kallang River. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao recently obtained an album with rare photographs of such a ship bringing coolies from Xiamen in Fujian, China, to Singapore in the early 20th century. They are an authentic visual record of Chinese coolies in Singapore a century ago and a powerful throwback to that period.
A Chinese ethnic woman at her shop in Chinatown in Jakarta, 7 May 2020. (Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Indonesians welcome Chinese investment but fear influx of new Chinese migrants

There has been an influx of new mainland Chinese migrants arriving in Indonesia since the BRI was launched in 2013. Chinese businesses have flourished and people who are bilingual in both the Indonesian and Chinese languages are in huge demand. However, ISEAS academic Leo Suryadinata notes that newcomers may create tensions, as they negotiate trust issues with the indigenous community as well as Chinese Indonesians who have made Indonesia their home for several generations.
This Christmas tree in the home of early US immigrant Seid Back in the 1890s is full of decorative lights, with lots of presents below. But the children are not dressed as Santa Claus, or the three wise men visiting baby Jesus in the manger as written in the Bible, which are Western observances. Instead, we see the children quaintly dressed in Chinese-style Han clothing, reminiscent of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai in the classic Chinese story of The Butterfly Lovers.

Early Chinese immigrants: Embracing the American way of life

America has long been known as the land of opportunity for people from all over the world, not least China. As 2019 draws to a close, photo historian Hsu Chung-mao retells the stories of the first wave of Chinese immigrants to America in the 19th century, capturing how they quickly embraced the American way of life, some even accepting Christianity and celebrating Christmas.