Meixian, Guangdong: Two brothers & 10,000 coolies
Tjong A Fie was born in 1860 in ‘Hakka capital’ Meixian, when the Taiping Rebellion, the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars, and the Second Opium War were all in full swing. As if the wars and rebellions weren’t enough, Meixian also faced severe population pressure and subsequent food shortages. (Photo credit to Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures)
Around the age of 17, Tjong A Fie set sail for Sumatra in Indonesia. Basing himself in Medan, he spent the next two decades building extremely successful tobacco, tea, and coconut plantations and mining businesses, bringing him honorary titles from the Dutch as well as the Chinese. Over the years, he and brother Tjong Yong Hian also imported over 10,000 coolies from China to work at their Indonesian businesses.
Investing in the motherland
At the age of 44, Tjong A Fie, his brother, and their cousin Cheong Fatt Tze, an even more successful overseas Chinese businessman, decided to turn to their roots and invest in a project back in China: a railway between Chaozhou and Shantou. If only they had known of the challenges awaiting them…
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