The Title of Kapitan Cina

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What does Kapitan Cina mean?

The title of Kapitan Cina or Capitan China is thought to originate from the Portuguese who ruled Malacca after defeating the Malaccan sultanate. They continued the system practised by the Malaccan sultanate of administering the various foreign traders in Malacca, whether Indian, Arab, Javanese, Chinese and so on, through a headman of their own choice. The headman was then confirmed in their appointment by the ruler.

Kapitan Cinas had the powers of a typical Malay chief, including the power of life and death over his followers. They could also make laws when necessary. 

The Kapitan Cina's primary duty was to keep peace, administer civil and criminal law, and occasionally collect tax when required. This institution spread to the Malay states with the arrival of foreigners.

The office of Kapitan Cina became closely assimilated to the Malay political system, as with the arrival of Chinese tin miners, Malay chiefs found it easier to collect their share of tin revenues through the Kapitan Cina. They were ready to accept any candidate who was supported by the Chinese, could keep peace amongst his countrymen, and was able to pay taxes promptly.

Yap Ah Loy held the honorific title of Dato and the personal title of Sultan Indra Perkasa Wijaya Bakti Kapitan China Kuala Lumpur Klang - which can be translated to "Yap Ah Loy (acknowledged by the) Sultan Gallant Victorious Loyal Chief (of the) Chinese (of) Kuala Lumpur (and) Klang." 

He was given a silver seal, with his title inscribed in Jawi Malay and a drum as his office insignia. Like other Malay chiefs, he was allowed personal bodyguard under 2 captains, the Panglima Kanan and Panglima Kiri. He wore Malay dress during Malay ceremonies and sometimes wrote to the British Resident in a formal Malay letter.

One of Yap Ah Loy's seals. Note the Chinese carving of a lion on it. Yap Ah Loy's seal with English, Chinese and Jawi inscriptions. Another of Yap Ah Loy's seal.

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The History of Yap Ah Loy
This page was last modified on September 12, 2000