Chinese Revenue Farm Networks: The Penang Connection
Well before 1900 prominent Chinese businessmen were involved in both tax farms and newer enterprises including mines, smelters, mills, plantations and steamship lines. Early capitalists also moved into insurance and banking. Quite a few, like Thio Thiau Siat and Foo Choo Choon, invested heavily in China or, in the famous case of Oei Tiong Ham, elsewhere around the world. But while major farms (opium, spirits and gambling) could return large profits, without detailed financial records it is impossible to follow the actual flow of capital. It could be that, as bidding wars intensified and the international economic climate became less hospitable, funds were moved away from more modern enterprises or simply squandered on extravagant lifestyles. However, on balance, tax farming does appear to have contributed considerably to development.
KeywordsFamily Firm Opium Farm Steamship Line Secret Society Opium Commission
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