How the Chinese immigrants became God Fathers in SEA
When the Dutch colonized Indonesia for 350 years prior to WWII, they remained in power by using the Chinese to act as intermediaries with the locals. The Chinese were told they are superior to the locals and given the tasks of collecting taxes and some supervision of the locals. The Chinese were a willing player in this game as they profited handsomely from the transactions. However, when riots arised, the Dutch would use the Chinese as scapegoats saying they are the greedy merchants that are taking advantage of the locals. This practice of using Chinese as intermediaries continues after Dutch rule ended. The Suharto regime was notoriously for granting his close Chinese allies with grants for mining, flour importing, electricity and most other natural resources or protected industries. In return, the Chinese families had to provide for and work with Suharto’s family members. Again, both were happy and reaped huge out-of-this-world profit for themselves. And again, whenever locals revolted, the Chinese were pushed to take the blame. Furthermore, because the Chinese are a minority in terms of population, they could never amass enough votes to topple Suharto. In short, the economic benefits/rights were passed to Chinese whereas the political rights were held close to Suharto’s chest. This system worked well. Suharto reigned supreme for 30 odd years. Indonesia’s economy did improve so locals didn’t complain much until the 1998 financial crisis.
One common (sometimes controversial) reason that people say is that the Chinese are smarter and worker harder than the locals, that’s why they are more successful. I am sure there some element of truth to both camps. But personally, I believe it’s a combination of the following environment rather than individual qualities or characteristics. First, the locals were never given a fighting chance. They were colonized for a long time AND there was no land reform post independence (discussed in detail in another story Are the Thais Lazy). This meant that whatever effort they put in, it is others that benefit. As for the Chinese, they immigrated to a foreign land for better opportunities. So yes, they did work longer hours and harder than the locals. But that’s because they just wanted to make money to survive or support families back home. Plus when you are granted monopoly power for certain businesses, why would anyone say no.