Asian Review

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This paper examines changes which occurred within the Penang western mercantile community during the early twentieth century through an examination of its official organ, the Penang Chamber of Commerce. Through the Chamber of Commerce's records, the history of this organization, its memberships and components, and most importantly, the western mercantile views on business and Penangs affairs, are delineated. The focus is on underlying conflicts between the local and metropolitan-based trading firms operating in Penang and whether or not the differences, if any, affected the Chamber of Commerce's performance as a pressure group. Our examination of the Penang Chamber of Commerce's records reveals significant changes which had occurred within the western mercantile community during the period under review. The slow but steady increase, both in number and in influence, of western enterprises with metropolitan affiliations determined the direction of Penangs developments during the early twentieth century. This explains why Penang's focus was usually determined within the framework of the Straits Settlements, from the metropolitan perspective rather than from Penang's own position. In this sense, Penang provides an example of the way in which western capitalism and colonialism, through its mercantile agents, could absorb a once relatively independent port and transform it into a trading link serving its own interests.



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