Kongsi (Chinese: 公司; pinyin: gōngsī; Wade–Giles: kung-ssu; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kong-si) is a Hokkien transcription term meaning "company", especially businesses which has been incorporated. However, the word has other meanings under different historical contexts. Kongsi were most commonly known as Chinese social organizations or partnerships, but the term was also used for various Chinese institutions. Amongst overseas Chinese, the word kongsi was applied to reference both clan organizations, whose members shared a common descent, and social clubs, for Chinese immigrants originating from the same province. After the 19th century, these organizations came to be known as hui guan or hwee kuan (會館, literally meaning "meeting hall").
In Southeast Asia, the kongsi republics were made up of Hakka Chinese mining communities that united into political entities that functioned as self-governing states. By the mid-nineteenth century, the kongsi republics controlled most of western Borneo. The three largest kongsi republics were the Lanfang Republic, the Heshun Republic (Fosjoen), and the Santiaogou Federation (Samtiaokioe).
Functions of the Kongsi system
The system of kongsi was utilized by Cantonese throughout the diaspora to overcome economic difficulty, social ostracism, and oppression. In today's Cantonese communities throughout the world, this approach has been adapted to the modern environment, including political and legal factors. The kongsi is similar to modern business partnerships, but also draws on a deeper spirit of cooperation and consideration of mutual welfare. It is believed by some that the development and thriving of Cantonese communities worldwide are the direct result of the kongsi concept. A vast number of Cantonese-run firms and businesses that were born as kongsi ended up as multinational conglomerates.
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