121 , 2016-03 , Society for Cultural Interaction in East Asia
Many historians have examined why Singapore failed to be a major trading center before the nineteenth century. This paper revisits the current scholarly literature on the founding of Singapore to make two arguments. First, I argue that we cannot understand the founding of Singapore and its role in the British Second Empire without delineating Singapore's role as a forest- and marine-goods metropolis in the precolonial Chinese trading networks of Southeast Asia. Second, I try to show how the Chinese kongsis 公司 of West Borneo turned Singapore into a forest- and marine-goods metropolis, formed their own political and social institutions, and collectively functioned as a third autonomous pseudostate power alongside the British and the Dutch. This reconceptualization enables us to see the founding of Singapore as a joint enterprise, and not a solely British achievement.