AHC make the Lanfang Republic survive

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Višeslav, May 12, 2019.

  1. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    The republic of Lanfang was a state established by Chinese miners on the island of Borneo. It was one of, if not the first republic in East Asia and possibly the first modern democratic republic in the world. OTL Lanfang was conquered by the Dutch in 1884. Can you keep them independent for significantly longer (till 1900)?

    Bonus points if you make all of the Kongsi republics (other similar states that were allied with or under the influence of Lanfang but kept worse records, and thus are even more obscure) stay independent.

    Even more bonus points if you make the republic survive until the 2000s.

    • No limit on when the POD is, this is already hard enough, and it limits itself anyway, an early or large POD could butterfly the republic away
    • No ASB please. Keep things plausible. I'd rather you don't try to do the bonus challenge than that you try and do something clearly impossible (this is mostly for the second bonus, which is pretty much impossible, but I you can do it, I'll be so proud of you). (there's a difference between implausible and unlikely though)

    lanfang on blank map.jpg

    Lanfang and its allies

    kongsi republics.jpg
    The other Kongsi Republics


    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  2. Kaze Well-Known Member

    Nov 12, 2017
    The problem is the post Qing problem. The Dutch did not annex until the Qing was dying and dead. Post Qing, they would need a military larger than they had. Then post 1912, there is the 2'000 pound tiger that will be on the horizon -- Japanese expansion. If not the Dutch annexation, the territory might be considered a launching board for a way into India. If somehow they manage to keep a resistance to the Japanese - it is likely that there would be consternation of having it fall to communism post war.
  3. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    A lot of very good points. You have no idea how glad I am that someone replied.

    OTL Lanfang was a Dutch protectorate for a while. I assume that was to not anger the Qing, but is there any way that colonising Lanfang could be less worth it for the Dutch? Maybe it becomes a British protectorate on the same level as the Malay states. Ignoring the get them to the present day bit, can military might alone keep the Kongsi out of Dutch hands or is some clever diplomacy required? Also, assuming they did survive, would Lanfang have any room to grow or would it end up stuck between colonial powers?
  4. Dominic Well-Known Member

    Aug 6, 2008
    It's a fascinating topic, but I have little that I can add. It's a small state, so the easiest way is to alter the fates of the two relevant large states - the Netherlands and China. A stronger China could possibly keep the Dutch out, for a little while, while a weaker Netherlands may lack the strength. Perhaps a proper Dutch collapse around 1800 could do it - the Javanese probably had the military strength to achieve that, if they had the organisation. This butterflies the bulk of Dutch success in Western Indonesia. This doesn't really stop any other Europeans though, which is a bigger problem...
  5. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    A stronger Qing is a more permanent solution, though the implications of such a massive POD would shift the main changes away from Lanfang. Also, yeah, there's like no info on this. So sad.
  6. Dominic Well-Known Member

    Aug 6, 2008
    Ada lebih delam wikipedia bahasa Indonesia, jika kamu bisa mengertinya... https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republik_Lanfang
    More in the Indo wiki, but my Indonesian is too rusty to read it quickly unfortunately. Not sure how good a google translate would be on the page.
    Višeslav likes this.
  7. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    Thanks. I'll see what I can get from that.
  8. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    The Lanfang Republic and her sister states are an... odd sort in Bornean historiography, and this is from someone who has written and tried to research about them. In a sense, they are not de facto independent: The locals considered them and their citizens as tributaries of the local sultanates of Sambas, Mempawah, and Pontianak; each state receiving some sort of tribute (mostly in gold) from some sort of kongsi. On the other hand, they were very loose cannons with their own government, assembly systems, and freedom of movement. There were a few times when kongsi's just... moved wherever they could against the sultans' authority.

    Having an outside backer is their best bet at independence, with the Qing, Dutch, and British as front contenders. It should be noted though that any shenanigans past 1870-71 is hard, if not near-impossible for Lanfang as the British and Dutch have finalized their spheres of influence across Maritime Southeast Asia by then. What the Wikipedia page doesn't tell is that the series of treaties was also an effort by both sides to demarcate their territories officially and effectively across the archipelago, placing British interests squarely on the Malay Peninsula while the Dutch now have free reign over Sumatra and Borneo - save for loose cannon Sarawak.

    In a strange twist, Lanfang wasn't highly regarded by the indigenous folks. I dimly remember reading somewhere (this was a few years ago) that the Lanfang and other kongsi republics desired local women as most residents were migrant men, which didn't endear them to the Dayak population. And James Brooke of neighboring Sarawak saw the kongis as miscreants and rabble-rousers, which was probably influenced by the time local Chinese miners rebelled and tried to sack Kuching in the 1850's.
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  9. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    After these treaties, there was a considerable amount of protectorates in the area that were allowed to govern themselves and maintain their culture, especially under the British. The problem I see here is that the Dutch wanted to rule more directly (maybe could is a better word, since Indonesia was their only major colony, as opposed to Britain's already large empire). If the Lanfang republic sought protection from Britain, would it be able to retain some kind of independence at least for a while, until Britain seeks to centralize its control? If that happened, would the Chinese cultural influence remain? Would Lanfang end up culturally similar to its OTL sort-of-successor Singapore?
  10. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    More likely the latter. If Lanfang could gain some sort of protectorate agreement with the British, it would be undoubtedly connected in various ways to Singapore-Johor, as they are the only close regional center with a large Chinese population that outnumbered local forces and interests. Whether this translates to direct rule is... uncertain. British Singapore directly/jointly administered some really far-out territories such as Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands, so there's a fair chance that Lanfang's democracy is stamped out for Singaporean rule. OTOH, Britain did love making protectorates across Malaya despite some of them being reeaaaally rich in resources, as it would save a lot in administration.

    The main key for Britain's modus operandi in Malaya was that it wanted profitability with the least amount of work, and Malaya already had existing systems of rule that could be supplanted by a Resident or Advisor. So gold-rich Lanfang and Co. might end up in a similar status as a "managed republic", with the locals making gold tributes to a more Anglo-Caucasian empire.
    mrmandias, EmperorBuaya and Višeslav like this.
  11. Admiral Matt Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Would it be gold-rich, though?

    It's fairly straightforward to arrange for an arrangement like OTL Brunei, that maintains institutions under a protectorate into the 20th century. After that, though, what would Brunei be without the oil? ...it wouldn't.
    Višeslav likes this.
  12. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    Well, that's a question for the 20th century, but as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia has shown, you can go some ways with an economy based on manufacturing and services.

    More laterally, Lanfang could also take a hand in cash crops, rubber plantations, and latex extraction, though I'm uncertain whether these would be successful as Malaya, Sarawak, and the D.E.I. already have a firm foothold in that economy. It definitely won't make the Dayaks happy, in any case.
    Remitonov, EmperorBuaya and Višeslav like this.
  13. Admiral Matt Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Those are pretty bad examples, aren't they? If Sarawak didn't make it through decolonization as a state, why would a smaller chunk of land with no oil?

    Singapore had the Straights right there, and is also an odd case in terms of defying the odds a bit (in the same sense that the US lucked out in much of its pre-Civil War history). As for Malaysia and Indonesia, I would argue that they're arguments against the likelihood of survival of a state on western Borneo, not for it. Both states depended on economies of scale and imposition of pre-state structures by colonizers to form and last. Lanfang and friends aren't really comparable in economy, scale, or demographics to Malaysia or Indonesia. Rather, they closely resemble the micro-states that those entities devoured.

    All of the above would be made more manageable and better for colonial management/income by annexing Lanfang, than by leaving it intact. That's why Brunei is such a special case in OTL.

    Getting to the 20th century is actually pretty easy. You just need a European protectorate over the region that keeps local institutions for convenience. But why would another relatively poor stretch of coast not be rolled into Indonesia or Malaysia when those states formed? Brunei had oil; this won't. Singapore had the geography; no help there. What about East Timor?

    East Timor exists today, despite all odds. Against Jakarta's best efforts. Basically the only reason is long-term Portuguese rule. Maybe the trick here is to have some power Britain isn't threatened by establish a protectorate over the spot. For a state that didn't have Malaya and Sarawak, or Sumatra and Java, or Indochina, or the Philippines, for that state a Lanfang protectorate could be viewed as a strategic asset. Not ideal, but not terribly expensive, either.

    Candidates for the benefactors of the Lanfang Republic's ruling class.... Portugal or Spain could, but it seems improbable given their retreat from colonial adventurism; by the time they were nonthreatening enough, they were short will and ability. Not Japan or Russia of course. What then? Germany probably is too threatening there, Vienna is probably out too, because Germany. Italy? Belgium (ugh)?

    France was fine in Indochina, so perhaps that's tolerable? Maybe a shoestring venture is attempted by some eccentric or some company, and it gets Paris' backing sometime after 1871? Then a token showing in support of a subordinate republic? Stranger things happened in that region in about the same period.

    A different US administration might be interested, and the precedent of Manila suggests no one would kick up a fuss at the country taking a role. That might be the best option for continuity between historical institutions and the modern day. Or not. On the one hand the US political culture likes constitutional consistency; on the other hand, that didn't stop them overthrowing Caribbean and Central American governments willy nilly in this period. But if the Chinese are viewed as local middlemen who are using the Republic to knock sense into "the natives," it's not hard to imagine America backing them. Seeing how the US operated in the Philippines especially, the intent could be for the place to "modernize" and then assume full independence. That trajectory matters.

    I skimmed, so maybe I'm not the first to mention it, but there's also a risk of the Israel effect. Malaysia and Indonesia are going to reach independence and see a Chinese ruling class lording over people they feel more connected to. That has complications for ethnic Chinese people throughout the region. If Singapore exists unchanged, the relationship between the two republics would be interesting.
  14. Meordal Well-Known Member

    Jul 9, 2017
    In 1848, Sir James Brooke does sign a treaty with Qing China in order to establish some basic principles that aimed to ease immigration restrictions (POD). He sees the Chinese migrants as an easy way to counter the Dayaks and to gain a workforce. Many of the temporary migrant workers illegally travel to Lanfang republic and inland after the end of their contracts. As a result, more kongsi are created inland than in OTL.

    ITTL Borneo is soon referred as Golden Island (金島/Jin dǎo) in China thanks to Brooke’s recruiters in Singapore, Malaya and Hong Kong.

    In 1857, Sarawak is annexed by the British Empire after the Chinese rebellion and the burning of Kuching by Liu Shan Bang. Learning about Brooke’s death, many of the insurgents choose to flee to Lanfang republic and a collective decision is taken to improve its defense : recruiting/training militiamen and getting more migrants.

    The British Empire later faces Iban and Malay rebellions, similar to the ones that Brooke faced in OTL. Chinese leaders’ influence is used to quell local/indigenous rebels and Chinese immigration is officially sponsored by the British in Sarawak.

    During 1870’s, fearing a British retaliation and knowing about the Pontianak Sultanate projects to ally with the Dutch, the leaders of Lanfang Republic and inland kongsi reluctantly decide to put themselves under the informal protection of Great Britain.

    Chinese local troops, the "Rag-tag army", are trained by British officers in Sarawak and sent to take control of the Pontiniak Sultanate in 1880.

    The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is signed in USA and the British Empire decides to sign a treaty of emigration with Qing China in order to balance the local populations in all their Borneo territories and in the Straits settlements.

    In 1884, Britain and the Netherlands sign an agreement establishing a joint commission to delimit their borders in Borneo (OTL). The agreement on disputed areas is based on ethnicities, the British Empire gain control over territories mainly populated by Chinese migrants and the Dutch focus on indigenous populations.

    In 1888, Lanfang republic (OTL West Kalimantan), and the territories formally controlled by the Pontianak Sultan, becomes the British protectorate of Lanfang. Two-third of Borneo island is by then controlled by the British with the four protectorates of Lanfang, Brunei, North Borneo Federation (Sabah and North Kalimantan) and the Crown colony Sarawak.

    Winter Dress uniform of the Royal (Borneo) Hakka Rifles (1918 - France)


    Battledress uniform of the Chinese regiments of the British Army (1927-2019)


    Some documents you can read about Borneo history :

    - British Borneo Federation Act of 1920
    - Tigers left behind : The British Chinese troops in Borneo after the evacuation of Singapore and their guerrila against the Japanese.
    - The treason of the Dutch Southern Borneo during Indonesian independence of 1949 (written by Soekarno)
    - On the South Kalimantan National Army and Indonesian foreign politics (1963-?)
    - Singapore and Borneo protectorates Defense Act of 1963
    - Southern Borneo Conflict : the Dutch and British victorious "Vietnam War"
    - Divided, but united : Borneo island from chaos to confederacy
    - Modern history of Borneo Vol 1. Chinese are coming : Borneo demographics and Indonesian sinophobic policies (and massacres)
    - Modern history of Borneo Vol 2. More Chinese are coming : Borneo-Singapore-China triangular trade
    - From Petrol, Gold, Diamonds to tourism and technology : Borneo economic modernization between rare earth materials and nature preservation

    Flag of Borneo Confederacy (found on Reddit).


    Lanfang republic flag

    North Borneo Federation


    Sarawak Crown Colony
    Last edited: May 16, 2019 at 3:47 AM
  15. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    Actually, you're right. In fact, your response actually made me walk around a bit and realize that I don't know much about economics as I should have. So, thank you.
    HJ Tulp, Admiral Matt and Višeslav like this.
  16. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    Not particularly. There is some gold but the amounts are pretty insignificant compared to the rest of the region. The former Kongsi area's main resources are rubber, coconuts, and rice, with some minor gold mining from what I have read.
    Al-numbers and Admiral Matt like this.
  17. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

    Jul 17, 2016
    Speaking of odd states in this part of the world at this point in time, could the Kingdom of Sarawak somehow play a role in helping the republic survive?
    Višeslav likes this.
  18. Višeslav Well-Known Member

    Dec 29, 2018
    I'm glad you asked. Someone actually brought it up in their reply.

    Surprisingly though, not the website's resident Sarawak expert Al-numbers
  19. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    Well, looks like I must now maintain my resident cred. :p

    Sarawak's view on Lanfang and the kongsi societies were... nuanced, but mostly veer to the negative. As a backgrounder, the Kingdom of Sarawak during that time didn't encompass the territory of today; back in the 1850's it only stretched from Tanjung Datu to the Batang Lupar basin, and the land was still unruly with many Dayak tribes and Bruneian lords doing their own thing regardless of Kuching's wishes. The region has several good mining seams of antinomy, gold, and mercury, particularly around Bau and the surrounding mountains near the Dutch border. But James Brooke had no intention of putting locals to work, considering that local rebellions from mining abuses partly led to Sarawak becoming a thing from Brunei in the first place.

    So because of this, Chinese labour was imported. As a whole, the state was in two minds about them; 1) They were hardworking, economic-minded, and could take the burden off from local Malays and Dayaks, and 2) They were rabble-rousers whom thumbed their noses at the state and imported dangerous opium - though that didn't stop the government from putting a tax on it and getting money. Sarawak and the British in general had a wishy-washy view on the local kongsis (whose meaning down here is both "clan organization" and "social club"), permitting them in some times and then banning them in others, though such attitudes began to change to being more positive in the late 19th century.

    Sarawak particularly saw them more negatively than most as time wore on, and this was because of the "Hue" rebellion of 1857, when around 600 Chinese miners belonging to a secret society staged an uprising with aims to capture Kuching and kill the White Rajah. Why they rebelled is still unknown and sources are murky, but the most astounding was that they very nearly succeeded. James Brooke had to swim across the river to safely as his bungalow burned, and the few surviving Europeans in the town were quickly rounded up - well, those whom the Chinese didn't manage to kill in the initial attack. I dimly remember reading somewhere that James was even considering to pawn Sarawak off as he fled on a boat!

    But news of the attack traveled fast and in just 48 hours, James' nephew Charles Brooke arrived to Kuching from the Sakarran river basin on the head of a nearly 10,000 strong expeditionary force of armed Malays and Dayaks. One source noted how only 60 of the 600 Chinese miners managed to escape to Dutch Sambas once the fighting is over - presumably to the more established kongsi societies and Lanfang. After this, Sarawak had a really negative view of secret societies and tried to uproot them throughout the 19th century.Though again, that didn't stop them from taxing opium imports that flowed to the mining regions, which indicated some sort of social organization was still afoot.

    From this, we can extrapolate that local Sarawak miners did know of Lanfang and Co., and there's a reasonable assumption to be made that the 1857 uprising was - among other factors - the miners' own attempt to follow in their neighbors' footsteps. However, that very uprising probably sealed their fate as it forced the more numerous Malays and Dayaks to band together against the threat under the Brooke Sarawak banner. In their view, Lanfang and Co. were loose cannons that should be tamed at best and opposed at worst, as it would displace them from governing. If Lanfang survives, I can't see the Brooke family being warm to it for at least the 19th century, and I can't see the local Malay headmen and Dayak chieftains they're supported on being similarly warm either.

    EDIT: I've made some digging and found out that the ringleaders of the 1857 uprising were part of the Sam-Tiau-Kiau Hueh Kongsi, which bears a similar name to the San-Tia'o-Kou Kongsi in the above map. The writer also explains that the society was formed from disparate remnants of societies that fled the Dutch in their crackdowns. So these people (and hence Sarawak) have definitely heard of Lanfang and Co. And from the looks of it, Sarawak did not see them nicely.
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  20. Meordal Well-Known Member

    Jul 9, 2017
    This thesis on Sarawak and Brooke’s economic policies can be interesting as it speaks about the relations with both the Chinese workers and the kongsi.

    - https://core.ac.uk/reader/2731572

    From my own understanding of the 1857 revolt and after reading https://www.jstor.org/stable/20070246?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents , I think that the revolt was provoked by Brooke’s decision to tax the de facto autonomous mining town of Mau San.

    Mau San was controlled by the "Twelve Kongsi", an alliance created by former members of the Lanfang Republic, after it accepted the Dutch suzerainity.

    Brooke also decided to gain control of the Upper Sarawak with the construction of Bilida fort, breaking his 10 years-old agreement with the numerous local kongsi. He also blocked their activities in Kuching, forbidding them to directly trade with foreigners and declaring their ceremonies illegal.

    More than 4000 Chinese died in reprisals of the attack on Kuching, including women and children. This defeat of one of the biggest groups of Kongsi and the subsequent massacres broke the will of resistance of the other kongsi against the Brookes and the Dutch.

    The Chinese Wikipedia is awesome and sadly unknown, I am glad I am learning this language.

    - https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/刘善邦
    - https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/十二公司
    - https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/石隆门华工起义
    Last edited: May 16, 2019 at 7:56 AM