Taiwanese Colonial Japanese Subjects in Java

While reading on colonial-era ethnic Chinese businesses in Java, I came across a fascinating case study of one NV Handelmaatschappij Kwik Hoo Tong, founded by a family named Kwik who hailed originally from Taiwan.

About the time when the Kwiks registered their trading society in Solo, Japan and China went to war, which resulted in Japan’s colonisation of Taiwan in 1895. This event would have a large impact on the brothers’ legal status in the Indies. After concluding a Treaty of Trade and Navigation in 1896, the Netherlands and Japan recognised each other as most favoured nations, and subsequently the Tokyo government pressed the Dutch to accord its migrants in their colonies the same legal status as Europeans. In 1899, Japanese citizens in the Indies acquired European status; this ruling applied not only to migrants from Japan proper, but also to inhabitants of its colonies. Although many Taiwanese Chinese in the Indies resented the Japanese takeover of their homeland, they were quick to recognise the advantages of registering as Japanese in the Dutch colony.

That means that, under Dutch law, ethnic Chinese who happened to be born in what later became a colony of Japan were, legally, Europeans. Or at least, they could choose to be treated for legal and business purposes as Europeans. And at least one of the Kwik brothers did just this, which allowed him to have access to Dutch financial capital, something which would have been illegal for a non-European.

This is a neat parallel for recent research being done here at Cornell about ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and post-independence citizenship. It turns out that after the 1955 citizenship treaty between China and Indonesia, a substantial number of Chinese families strategically chose to divide themselves by nationality: one child would choose Indonesian citizenship, another Chinese citizenship, as a way to hedge their bets.