Kapitan Cina or Kapitan China (English: Captain of the Chinese; Chinese: 華人甲必丹; Dutch: Kapitein der Chinezen) was a high-ranking government position in the civil administration of colonial Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Office holders exercised varying degrees of power and influence: from near-sovereign political and legal jurisdiction over local Chinese communities, to ceremonial precedence for community leaders.
The origin of the office goes back to court positions in the precolonial states of Southeast Asia, such as Banten (or Bantam), Melaka (modern day Malacca) and Siam (now Thailand). Many rulers assigned self-governance to local foreign communities, including the Chinese, under their own headmen. Often, these headmen also had responsibilities beyond their local communities, in particular in relation to foreign trade or tax collection. For example, the noble title of Chao Praya Chodeuk Rajasrethi in Thailand combined the roles of Chinese headman and head of the Department of Eastern Affairs and Commerce. Similarly, Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy, who played a crucial role in the founding of modern Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, held the Malay title of Sri Indra Perkasa Wijaya Bakti.
When Europeans established colonial rule in Southeast Asia, this system of indirect rule was adopted: for example, by the Portuguese when they took over Melaka in the 16th century, as well as the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies, and the English in British Malaya.
A long succession of Kapitans since formed an intrinsic part of colonial history in Southeast Asia. Some played a significant role in state-building and in consolidating colonial governance: such as Souw Beng Kong, first Kapitan Cina of Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in the early seventeenth century; Koh Lay Huan, first Kapitan Cina of Penang in the late eighteenth century; Choa Chong Long and Tan Tock Seng, the founding Kapitans of Singapore in the early nineteenth century; and Yap Ah Loy, Kapitan Cina and founding father of modern Kuala Lumpur in the late nineteenth century. Kapitans were also pivotal in facilitating large-scale Chinese migration to Southeast Asia, or 'Nanyang' as the region is known in Chinese history. Yet due to their power and influence, many Kapitans were also focal points of resistance against European colonial rule, most notably the Kapitans of the kongsi republics of Borneo in the so-called Kongsi Wars against Dutch colonial rule from the late nineteenth until the early twentieth century.
Throughout Southeast Asia, Batavia (now Jakarta) arguably boasts the longest continuous history of the institution of Kapitan Cina. In 1619, the Dutch appointed Souw Beng Kong, formerly Kapitan Cina of Bantam, as the first Kapitein der Chinezen of Batavia. Through Kapitein Beng Kong, then, the Batavian Captaincy succeeded the much-earlier institution of Kapitan Cina of Bantam. Batavia also produced probably Asia's only female Kapitan Cina, the so-called Nyai Bali, who was appointed officially to her post in 1649 by the Dutch East India Company. The Batavian Captaincy ended in 1945 with the death of Khouw Kim An, the last Majoor der Chinezen of Batavia, possibly also the last such intermediary rulers in Southeast Asia.
- List of Kapitan Cina
- Sia: hereditary title of descendants of Kapitans Cina.
- Kapitan Arab: similar bureaucratic post for ethnic-Arab leaders.
- Kapitan Keling: similar bureaucratic post for ethnic-Indian leaders.
- Kangchu system
- Kongsi federations
- Overseas Chinese
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