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The Singapore rickshaw pullers: The social organization of a coolie occupation, 1880–1940

Warren, J. (1985) The Singapore rickshaw pullers: The social organization of a coolie occupation, 1880–1940. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 16 (1). pp. 1-15.

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This article integrates the history of the experience of rickshaw coolies into the larger history of Singapore in the period from 1880 to 1940. These were decisive years. They witnessed the extraordinary economic development of the vast potential for tin, rubber, oil palm, and tobacco in the Malay peninsula and on the east coast of Sumatra under colonial rule, and the evolution of Singapore as a “coolie town”, with a colonial administrative heart and an entrepôt port, with the birth of the rickshaw and a stream of emigrants from China who poured in faster and faster to pull it. This floodtide ofsingkeh singkeh (newcomers from China) came to Singapore with the hope of forming a foundation for a new and prosperous life. Expanding Singapore, especially at this stage of its growth from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, was often considered by the migrants as a place of hope and betterment. There were in Singapore tens of thousands of Cantonese, Hengwah, Hockchia, and Foochow sojourners who hoped to find a pipeline to prosperity since the second half of the nineteenth century, when dire poverty and overpopulation plagued Southeast China.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Inquiry
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: © 1985 The National University of Singapore
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