Kongsi (Chinese: 公司; pinyin: gōngsī; Wade–Giles: kung-ssu; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kong-si) is a Hokkien transcription term meaning "company", especially businesses which have been incorporated. However, the word has other meanings under different historical contexts.[1][2] Kongsi were most commonly known as Chinese social organizations or partnerships, but the term was also used for various Chinese institutions.

Khoo Kongsi Clan House, Georgetown, Penang

Amongst overseas Chinese, the word kongsi was applied to reference both clan organizations, whose members shared a common descent, and to district-dialect clubs, for Chinese immigrants originating from the same district speaking the same dialect. In the late 19th century, these district-dialect associations came to be known as wui gun (huiguan; traditional Chinese: 會館; simplified Chinese: 会馆; pinyin: huìguǎn; Jyutping: wui6gun2),[3] especially in San Francisco, California where many Chinese from eight districts on the west side of the Pearl River Delta near the City of Canton went for the California gold rush.

Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, the kongsi republics were made up of Hakka Chinese mining communities that united into political entities that functioned as self-governing states.[4] By the mid-nineteenth century, the kongsi republics controlled most of western Borneo. The three largest kongsi republics were the Lanfang Republic, the Heshun Republic (Fosjoen), and the Santiaogou Federation (Samtiaokioe).[5]

Functions of the Kongsi system

The system of kongsi was utilized by Cantonese throughout the diaspora to overcome economic difficulty, social ostracism, and oppression. In today's Cantonese communities throughout the world, this approach has been adapted to the modern environment, including political and legal factors. The kongsi is similar to modern business partnerships, but also draws on a deeper spirit of cooperation and consideration of mutual welfare. It is believed by some that the development and thriving of Cantonese communities worldwide are the direct result of the kongsi concept. A vast number of Cantonese-run firms and businesses that were born as kongsi ended up as multinational conglomerates.

See also


  1. Peng, Wang Tai (1979). "The Word "kongsi": A Note". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 52(1 (235)) (1 (235)): 102–105. JSTOR 41492844.
  2. Bingling., Yuan (2000). Chinese democracies : a study of the kongsis of West Borneo (1776-1884). Leiden: Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies, Universiteit Leiden. ISBN 9789057890314. OCLC 43801655.
  3. "Huiguan". Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  4. Heidhues, Mary Somers (1996). "Chinese Settlements in Rural Southeast Asia: Unwritten Histories" in Sojourners and settlers : histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese : in honour of Jennifer Cushman. Reid, Anthony, 1939-, Alilunas-Rodgers, Kristine., Cushman, Jennifer Wayne, 1944-, Asian Studies Association of Australia. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1863739900. OCLC 34635810.
  5. Heidhues, Mary Somers (2003). Golddiggers, farmers, and traders in the "Chinese districts" of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University. ISBN 9780877277330. OCLC 52052835.
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