Tony Johor Kaki Travels for Food · Heritage · Culture · History

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Was There Ever a Lanfang Republic in West Kalimantan? 蘭芳共和國

There was once a democratic entity in West Kalimantan referred to as Lanfang Republic which existed for 107 years between 1777 and 1884. It lasted longer than the kingdom of Singapura which existed for 99 years between 1299 and 1398.

Both Lanfang and Singapura were vanquished by foreign hegemons - Singapura by the Majapahit empire in 1398 and Lanfang by The Netherlands in 1884. The story of Singapura is still being told in Singapore but Lanfang has been reduced to an obscure footnote of history.

In the 1700s, the Muslim kingdoms (sultanates of Sambas 三发, Sukadana, Mampawah, Landak, etc) in West Kalimantan recruited Chinese labourers from south China (Guangdong and Fujian) to exploit the tin and gold deposits in their territories.

The decades preceding the fall of the Ming dynasty to the Manchus in 1662 and the decades after, saw the first big waves of Chinese emigrating to the Malay archipelago. These include political refugees (Ming loyalists), Han Chinese seeking freedom from Manchu oppression and fortune seekers. Before this, Chinese overseas were mainly pilgrims, traders, diplomats, and adventurers all in relatively small numbers.

The Chinese miners who were Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese came in the tens of thousands. The majority were Hakka. The miners were organised in clan associations 同乡会 known as kongsi 公司 according to their hometown / village and family names. There were up to fifty such kongsi or associations of miners in West Kalimantan with mandates from the sultans. There were kongsi(s) of farmers too.

Far from their homeland, the kongsi(s) were autonomous political entities with their own governance and even their own currency. For example, the Lintian Kongsi 霖田公司 in Boedok, West Kalimantan issued their own coins.

Heshun Zhongting 和顺总厅 1776

In the 1730s, clashes broke out between the kongsi(s) over territory (inter clan rivalries already existed back in China and the enmity just followed them overseas). To restore the peace among the kongsi(s), fourteen kongsi(s) banded together to form a federation of kongsi(s) known as Heshun Fourteen Kongsi 和順十四公司.

The member kongsi(s) of Heshun Fourteen Kongsi were located around the Monterado 打唠鹿 region of West Kalimantan. They included Dagang 大港, Santiaogou 三条沟, Shanxin Jinhu 山心金湖, Sida Jiawei 四大家围, Jusheng 聚胜, Lanheying 兰和营, etc.

Heshun Fourteen Kongsi pioneered a organisation structure with democratic characteristics. It had a governing structure known as Heshun Zhongting 和顺总厅 founded in 1776. Heshun Zhongting had an elected president 总厅大哥 or 大唐總長, executive council, (elected) parliament, (public) assembly, temple, and military headquarters. Elected officials were from all Chinese communities. It had no standing army but had trained clan members ready for war. The Heshun Zhongting was headquartered in Monterado town. The first leader of Heshun Zhongting was Xie Jiebo 谢结伯.

Langfang Zhongting 1777

Luo Fang Bo 羅芳伯 was a Hakka born in 1738 in Jiaying (known today as Meixian district) in Meizhou, Guangdong province of China. Luo was unsuccessful in the Imperial Exams and thus left for Kalimantan to seek his fortune. Luo initially worked as a teacher. He was well read and poised, earning him the respect of his compatriots and was appointed head of Lanfang Kongsi (originally a farming kongsi).

In 1777, Luo Fang Bo reorganised Lanfang Kongsi into a federation of kongsi(s) following the Heshun Zhongting model and was elected its inaugural president in 1777.

Republic's seal of Lanfang
CC0, Link

The Lanfang Kongsi Zhongting was established in 1777 and based in Mandor town. Lanfang Kongsi Zhongting had its own currency, and taxation system.

In 1789, at the request of the sultan of Pontianak, Luo Fang Bo and Lanfang Kongsi helped him defeat the sultan of Landak. To reward Luo Fang Bo for his help, the sultan of Pontianak gifted Lanfang Kongsi land for its activities.

Luo Fa Bo died in 1795 after 19 years as president of Lanfang Kongsi Zhongting. His tomb is still in Mandor today. Lanfang Kongsi had 12 more presidents before it was dissolved.

The end of Lanfang Kongsi came when the Dutch East India Company used the tried and tested strategy of divide and rule. The Dutch recruited Liu Tai Er 劉台二, sixth president of Lanfang Kongsi who helped the Dutch capture the leader of Dagang Kongsi of Heshun Zhongting and handed him over to them. The Dutch then went on to attack and subdued the Kongsi(s) of Heshun Zhongting one by one.

The last president of Lanfang Kongsi Zhongting Liu Asheng 劉阿生 signed a secret non aggression treaty with the Dutch. But, when Liu Asheng died, the Dutch attacked Lanfang Kongsi as well.

Mandor Monument in Pontianak

This led to the Mandor Revolt and Monterado Last Stand by the Lanfang Kongsi and sultanate of Sambas against the Dutch. Resistance collapsed in 1853, thus ending both the Lanfang Kongsi and sultanate of Sambas.

After the war with the Dutch, many Chinese remained in Kalimantan or moved to British Borneo (in Sarawak). Some migrated to British Malaya (including Singapore).

Was there really a Lanfang Republic sometimes touted as preceding even the USA declaration of independence in 1776?

John Crawfurd, the second Resident of Singapore (1823 - 1826) wrote that the estimated 130,000 Chinese in West Borneo were "living under a kind of rude republic" - the first time the kongsi is described as such. 

Dutch Sinologist JJM De Groot in his book Het kongsiwezen van Borneo (published 1885) characterised Lanfang Kongsi as a "village republic". He likened it to the form of village governance transplanted from Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China. 

But, none of these is to say that Lanfang Kongsi is a republic in the sense of an independent country.

Lanfang Kongsi Zhongting pledged its loyalty and paid tribute to the Qing dynasty. By doing so, Luo Fang Bo dispelled any suspicion of disloyalty which would bring reprisals not only on Lanfang but also their families back in China. Throughout its reign from 1636 to 1912, the Manchus had always been wary of rebellious Han Chinese.
To pronounce itself a "republic" would only bring the wrath of the Qing dynasty with all its inevitable dire consequences on Lanfang Kongsi.
Luo Fang Bo also hoped to earn protection from the Qing dynasty. Whether the Qing dynasty would oblige or not, the Dutch did consider the potential of Qing dynasty reaction when dealing with the West Kalimantan kongsi(s). The Dutch waited until the dissolution of the Qing dynasty in 1912 before it declared its successful conquest of Lanfang Kongsi.

This 100 Yuan banknote is often seen in articles on Lanfang Republic without any explanation or elaboration. It is most likely inauthentic.
The Lanfang Kongsi did issue currency like other kongsi(s) in West Kalimantan but very unlikely as Lanfang Republic. The name 兰芳共和国 is in simplified Chinese which is not in use until 1956. The most telling is the date 2012 at the bottom of the "banknote".

Why is this relevant?

This background article prepares me for my trip to trace the legacy of Heshun Kongsi and Lanfang Kongsi through the food of Pontianak and Singkawang today.

Written by Tony Boey on 2 Feb 2022


Chinese Democracies (A Study of Kongsis of West Borneo) by Yuan Bingling

In 2013, Minister Chan Chun Sing used the example of Lanfang Republic to remind the audience not to take Singapore's long term survival for granted.

Map of kongsi in Kalimantan courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Luo Fang Bo courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Lintian coins courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Mandor Monument courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Pontianak courtesy of Flickr. Image of VOC soldiers courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of JJM De Groot courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of John Crawfurd courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Qianlong emperor courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Qing soldiers courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of tin miner courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

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