ordered the killings of ethnic Chinese
During the early years of the Dutch colonisation of the East Indies (modern-day Indonesia), many people of Chinese descent were contracted as skilled artisans in the
construction of Batavia on the northwestern coast of
Java; they also served as traders, sugar mill workers, and shopkeepers. The economic boom, precipitated by trade between the East Indies and China via the port of Batavia, increased Chinese immigration to Java. The number of ethnic Chinese in Batavia grew rapidly, reaching a total of 10,000 by 1740. Thousands more lived outside the city walls. The Dutch colonials required them to carry registration papers, and deported those who did not comply to China.
The deportation policy was tightened during the 1730s, after an outbreak of
malaria killed thousands, including the
Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies,
Dirck van Cloon. According to Indonesian historian
Benny G. Setiono, the outbreak was followed by increased suspicion and resentment in native Indonesians and the Dutch toward the ethnic Chinese, who were growing in number and whose wealth was increasingly visible. As a result, Commissioner of Native Affairs Roy Ferdinand, under orders of Governor-General
Adriaan Valckenier, decreed on 25 July 1740 that Chinese considered suspicious would be deported to
Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and forced to harvest cinnamon. Wealthy Chinese were extorted by corrupt Dutch officials who threatened them with deportation;
Stamford Raffles, a British explorer and historian of Java, noted in 1830 that in some
Javanese accounts, the Dutch were told by the Dutch-appointed
Chinese headman of Batavia,
Nie Hoe Kong, Kapitein der Chinezen, to deport all Chinese wearing black or blue because these were thought to be poor. There were also rumours that deportees were not taken to their destinations but were thrown overboard once out of sight of Java, and in some accounts, they died when rioting on the ships. The deportation of ethnic Chinese caused unrest among the remaining Chinese, leading many Chinese workers to desert their jobs.
At the same time native occupants of Batavia, including the ethnic
Betawi servants, became increasingly distrustful of the Chinese. Economic factors played a role: most natives were poor, and perceived the Chinese as occupying some of the most prosperous neighbourhoods in the city. Although the Dutch historian A.N. Paasman notes that at the time the Chinese were the "Jews of Asia", the actual situation was more complicated. Many poor Chinese living in the area around Batavia were sugar mill workers who felt exploited by the Dutch and Chinese elites equally. Rich Chinese owned the mills and were involved in
revenue farming and shipping; they drew income from milling and the distillation of
arak, a molasses and rice-based alcoholic beverage. However, the Dutch overlords set the price for sugar, which itself caused unrest. Because of the decline of worldwide sugar prices that began in the 1720s caused by an increase in exports to Europe and competition from the
West Indies, the sugar industry in the East Indies had suffered considerably. By 1740, worldwide sugar prices had dropped to half the price in 1720. As sugar was a major export, this caused considerable financial difficulties for the colony.
Initially some members of the Council of the Indies (Raad van Indië) believed that the Chinese would never attack Batavia, and stronger measures to control the Chinese were blocked by a faction led by Valckenier's political opponent, the former governor of Zeylan
Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, who returned to Batavia in 1738. Large numbers of Chinese arrived outside Batavia from nearby settlements, however, and on 26 September Valckenier called an emergency meeting of the council, during which he gave orders to respond to any ethnic Chinese uprisings with deadly force. This policy continued to be opposed by van Imhoff's faction; Vermeulen (1938)
[a] suggested that the tension between the two colonial factions played a role in the ensuing massacre.
On the evening of 1 October Valckenier received reports that a crowd of a thousand Chinese had gathered outside the gate, angered by his statements at the emergency meeting five days earlier. This report was received incredulously by Valckenier and the council. However, after the murder of a
Balinese sergeant by the Chinese outside the walls, the council decided to take extraordinary measures and reinforce the guard. Two groups of 50 Europeans and some native porters were sent to outposts on the south and east sides of the city, and a plan of attack was formulated.