Lisa Smedman, Vancouver Courier
Published: Friday, June 26, 2009
During the First World War, thousands of Chinese labourers were secretly shipped from their homeland through Vancouver to Europe's western front to free up soldiers for front line duty
March 12, 1917. Four months after the close of the battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, Canadian Pacific Railway passenger agent A.L. Jolliffe, based in Montreal, ponders the contents of a letter. It's from W.D. Scott, Canada's superintendent of immigration. Marked "strictly confidential," the letter deals with a secret military operation that has just commenced.
The CPR steamship Empress of Russia is on its way to Canada, and is expected to arrive in Vancouver April 2. On board are 1,991 "coolies" from the Shandong and Chihli provinces of China. They're destined for France and Belgium, where they'll perform manual labour, freeing up soldiers for the trenches.
Thousands of other men from China--recruits to a workforce known as the Chinese Labour Corps--will soon follow this first contingent, Jolliffe is informed. Other ships will arrive in Vancouver every week or two. An estimated 6,000 to 20,000 Chinese are expected to pass through the city each month.
It's up to the CPR to move these men by train across Canada to Halifax, where they'll ship out for the western front.
And it all has to be done in secret, without alerting the Germans.
That same month, Canada's chief press censor fires off a letter to Malcolm R.J. Reid, the Dominion (federal) immigration inspector for B.C. who was based in Vancouver.
"I will be much obliged if you can find time to drop around to the newspaper offices and give them a personal caution with reference to this matter, and if you can do anything else to assist in drawing the necessary veil of secrecy about the anticipated movements of these coolies, in Vancouver, I will be much obliged," he tells Reid.
Additional instructions came from authorities in Military District No. 11 (British Columbia) on April 23, 1917. "Special care should be taken to prevent Coolies communicating in any way with Chinese Coolies resident in Canada," the confidential telegram warned. "Evidence has been obtained that certain Canadian Chinese are spreading absolutely false information to frighten these men from going over."
The warnings to the press worked. Local newspapers reported the arrival of the ships, but listed only the regular passengers. Vancouverites watched as thousands of CLC men in blue overalls and straw hats marched down the ship's gangplanks, entered the Immigration Building on Pier A, and later boarded special CPR trains bound for the east. Nobody breathed a word.
Fearful that they might try to jump train in Canada--this is the era in which Chinese immigrants paid a $500 head tax to enter the country, after all--the government of the day orders that the CLC men be transported across this country in locked trains under armed guard. The windows of each train car lavatory are sealed with stout wire screens, and soldiers patrol the station platforms each time the trains stop.
By the time the last contingent of CLC men arrives one year later, in March 1918, more than 84,000 Chinese labourers will have passed through Vancouver on their way to the western front.
Sept. 16, 1917. Capt. Harry Drummond Livingstone of the Canadian Army Medical Corps watches a contingent of 950 Chinese recruits preparing to set out from the base at Weihaiwei, China.
The men move forward in single file to be examined by a doctor. Any bundles they carry are examined for "gambling devices and matches," which are confiscated. They turn in their civilian clothes, submit to an "antiseptic bath," and are dried off as they move to the next station. There, they are issued their uniforms.
Each man gets underwear, a straw hat with a hatband marked "CLC," stockings and shoes. The uniform consists of a dark blue tunic with a broad white stripe across the midriff, and dark blue pants with a white stripe down either leg. A section number is pinned to the front of each man's tunic.
Each man also receives a kit bag containing blankets, a bedroll, drinking tin, and rice bowls.
The next stop is the pay clerk. Each man receives five Mexican dollar coins (the currency in use in Weihaiwei) and $5 in paper money. (Livingstone does not specify which currency it was.) Then the men march to the docks, where they'll board a lighter (small ship) that will take them to one of the CPR's Empress liners.
"While this is going on strings of firecrackers [are] set off, thousands in all, which noise brings safe journey, no storms or submarines," Livingstone wrote in his diary that day.
He went with the men out to the ship, and watched as they were "stowed away in the hold." Then he returned to his duties at Weihaiwei.
The 29-year-old Livingstone, a doctor and surgeon, had been recruited a month previously in Toronto to serve at the recruiting station at Weihaiwei. He arrived on Sept. 8, 1917, and immediately set to work screening the would-be recruits--examining anywhere from 100 to 250 men per day.
Livingstone examined them for diseases that could disqualify them, including tuberculosis, venereal disease and trachoma, a bacterial eye disease that can cause blindness.
Those accepted were fingerprinted, photographed and given bracelets bearing an identification number. They were inoculated, and received daily doses of eye drops--a solution of zinc sulphate and boric acid--to prevent the spread of trachoma.
When off duty, Livingstone hiked the hills near Weihaiwei, played tennis, snapped photographs, and organized tug-of-war matches between the Chinese recruits. He watched several boatloads of recruits leave, accompanied by their British and Canadian officers.
On Oct. 29, 1917, it was Livingstone's turn to go, as the fifth contingent of the CLC shipped out.
Livingstone boarded the Empress of Russia with 2,290 Chinese recruits. The CLC men were marched down to the hold and "stowed in their bunks." A military master at arms gave any of the men who didn't obey orders a "crack from a stick if he as much as stuck his head outside his bunk."
During the voyage, the CLC men were allowed to come up on deck, but were segregated from the other passengers. "We all have our revolvers and wear them at night when in hold," Livingstone wrote in his diary.
"In the evenings they would sit along the alleyway and sing or tell stories or lie in their bunks," he wrote in a later memoir. "Barbers were also busy shaving heads and cutting hair."
Livingstone shared a passenger cabin with another officer, and enjoyed the use of the ship's lounge and smoking rooms. One night, he danced on the saloon deck to the music of a Filippino orchestra.
During the 13-day voyage, Livingstone set up a hospital and dispensary. Together with six assistants, he tended those CLC men who fell ill on the voyage. A typical day would see about 50 men line up outside the makeshift hospital.
Livingstone treated several men who'd been scalded after water boiled for tea or cooking spilled on them during rough seas. He lanced boils, placed eight men who'd come down with mumps in an improvised isolation ward, and operated on one man's abscessed eyelid. Those who were too seasick to eat were given "beef tea" to keep up their strength. Livingstone also operated on the arm of a man suffering from cellulitis, a bacterial infection which today is treated with antibiotics.
"He is a typical young chink of 20 years and always has a broad smile except when pushing in gauze in wound," Livingstone wrote in his diary.
When the ship docked in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 2, one of the CLC men sent Livingstone a note, penned by an interpreter. It read, "I have the honour to inform you that I am not only seasick but also home sick..."
The Pacific crossing was a rough one. Livingstone recorded "mountainous seas" in his diary. "On Nov. 11 we ran into a bad gale and boat listed so far over that chairs and tables all slid to side," he wrote in his diary. "Dishes broken in dining room and couldn't walk on deck."
At last, on Nov. 12, the ship reached the William Head quarantine station near Victoria. The next day, the CLC men went by boat to Vancouver. There, the first 600 of them boarded a train for Halifax.
CPR memos detail how the men were transported. Fifty CLC men were assigned to each of the 12 "colonist" cars. These were train cars with rudimentary upper berths and wooden seats that folded down to make lower berths. The men slept two to a berth.
A special military unit--known as Railway Service Guards--guarded the men. Each train required an average of 50 guards. Four guards armed with Ross rifles were assigned to each colonist car--two standing guard by day, and two by night, one at either door.
Livingstone and the other military officers and train guards slept in "tourist" cars (second class coaches) and ate meals prepared by cooks and served to them by dining car stewards. The CLC men, in contrast, cooked their own meals on the stove in each car. Livingstone's diary records how seven CLC men from each train car would "line up in [the] grub car and one gets enough loaves of bread to last six hours, another a large fish (salmon trout), another pails & rice, beans, etc. Then they go to their respective cars where grub is cooked for them."
Partway through the eight-day trip, one of the colonist cars broke down. It was replaced by a first class coach with velvet-upholstered seats and a carpeted floor.
"The coolies... all examined the plush fittings and one coolie dropped some cigarette ashes on the carpet and got down and carefully swept it up with his hands," Livingstone wrote.
Despite the cooking stoves, it was bitterly cold on board the train. Men shoved their hands into sleeves to keep them warm by day, and at night slept fully dressed.
On the afternoon of Nov. 21, the train arrived in Halifax. The men boarded the Olympic, a vessel Livingstone described as "very large [with] several guns and searchlights and... coloured black and white in futurist design [camouflage] to help against subs."
Other trainloads of CLC men followed, and by the end of the day some 6,000 men were aboard the ship.
"Tonight they slept all over the place on shelves, rafters, stairs & radiators," Livingstone wrote.
The Olympic didn't leave Halifax until Dec. 1. Likely, it was waiting for a convoy to form up.
The men passed the time kicking a shuttlecock into the air (a game reminiscent of modern hackysack) or entertaining each other with circus-style gymnastics. Some sparred with a Canadian soldier in a boxing match on deck, while others organized concerts in the ship's hold with "fiddles, drums & fifes." The men were issued life belts and put through lifeboat drills--a grim reminder of what might lie ahead.
During the 10-day wait, one man died of a heart attack and was buried ashore. Another, a "madman," was deemed unfit for service and taken ashore. Twenty-six other men suffering various illnesses were also left behind in Halifax.
Five days after Livingstone's ship departed Halifax, the French cargo ship Mont-Blanc, loaded with military explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel Imo. The resulting explosion levelled the city, killing close to 2,000 people and injuring thousands more.
Livingstone only learned of the disaster when the Olympic reached Liverpool. "It occurred near the spot where our boat was anchored and no doubt would have seriously injured us," he wrote.
The Atlantic crossing took six days. As the ship neared England, it entered the "danger zone" where German submarines were lurking. Everyone on board heaved a sigh of relief when an escort of four American destroyers showed up.
Once ashore in England, the CLC men and their officers were quartered in tents at Shorncliffe. Livingstone wrote that the "mud is bad [and] we were covered to our knees." On Dec. 10, they marched to Folkestone and boarded fishing vessels for Boulogne, France. The next day they travelled by train to "coolie headquarters" at Noyelles.
Here, at last, they encountered the war. Livingstone's diary is filled with accounts of airplanes droning overhead, artillery troops riding past, trainloads of blue-uniformed French soldiers, Red Cross trains speeding wounded back from the front lines, YMCA volunteers, "dirty looking" German prisoners, and boot-clinging mud.
The CLC men received new uniforms--"same clothes as Tommie [British soldiers] get in the trenches, shirts, boots, socks, etc." They lined up in four rows to be re-examined. Doctors prodded the area over the liver, looking for tenderness, and looked for signs of mumps, scabies, edema, beriberi, venereal disease or the all-too-common trachoma.
"Then they are drafted next into different companies & under [second lieutenants] go out as working parties some to near front line," Livingstone wrote.
Each company consisted of 500 men--476 Chinese, plus 24 British (or colonial) officers and NCOs. The Chinese weren't given military rank, but each company included a "head ganger" (equivalent to a company sergeant-major), as well as "class one gangers" (sergeants), "class two gangers" (corporals) and "class three gangers" (lance corporals). Each company also included a Chinese interpreter who spoke English.
The job of conveying the CLC men to the front complete, Livingstone was assigned to a hospital. He bid farewell to Chong (or Chung), a man he'd befriended.
"[Chong] says he is very sorry that I am going away and I sure am sorry too to leave him as he is a nice kind boy and he wants to come with me to Canada after the war," Livingstone wrote.
Livingstone was no longer attached to the CLC, but he occasionally saw its men working behind the lines in the early months of 1918. He watched them laying railway tracks "20 coolies carrying one rail in the mud," and saw them loading ammunition and coal at the docks.
His last diary entry is in May 1918. By then, he was in England.
In France and Belgium, the CLC labourers do their work well, unloading ships and trains, building docks, roads, railways and airfields, staffing ammunition depots--even repairing tanks. When the Great War wraps up, they stay behind, performing the dangerous and unpleasant work of clearing the battlefields of unexploded artillery shells and barbed wire. They also recover and bury bodies.
They work seven days a week, for 10 hours a day, with time off for Chinese holidays. They're paid from one to three French francs per day, depending upon their skills. Those who serve as interpreter clerks receive the highest pay: five francs per day.
During their time overseas, about 1,600 CLC labourers die. Some are killed in German air or gas attacks, or when handling shells that accidentally explode, while others succumb to illness or injury. A handful are shot by military firing squads after being convicted of murder.
Others receive British military medals for acts of bravery.
All of the CLC men who died while serving in France and Belgium--even those who were executed--are buried under white military headstones engraved with the phrase "A good reputation endures for ever," or "A noble duty bravely done," or "Faithful unto death."
In September 1919, the CLC at last began making their way home again. The whole process is repeated in reverse--disembarking in Halifax, boarding guarded trains for Vancouver, then making a short journey by boat to the quarantine station at William Head, near Victoria. Here, they at last board larger vessels for China.
On April 4, 1920, the last of the CLC men who'd passed through Canada on their return from the western front board the SS Bessie Dollar at William Head. They sail for China, bring a close to a chapter of the Great War that remains as little known today as it was in 1917, back when it all began.
Research material used in the writing of this story, and the photographs that accompany it, was generously supplied by Vancouver historian Judy Lam Maxwell. She is the editor of the book A Good Reputation Endures Forever, a collection of essays on the Chinese Labour Corps, to be published by Blacksmith Books of Hong Kong in September 2009.
Introduction. Any discussion of the Hakka contribution to China's transformation must begin with the Taiping Rebellion of 1851-1864. This epic event was the most devastating uprising against Confucian China until the twentieth century. Its insurrectionary power emerged from a militant religion, which merged pre-Confucian utopianism, Hakka ideals, and Judeo-Christian monotheism. The religious whirlwind intersected with the twin crises of domestic decline and foreign encroachment to inspire a potent ideology, motivation, and organization that nearly toppled the old order and heralded China's Republican, Nationalist, and Communist Revolutions.
China's Moral Crisis and the Development of Taiping Religion, 1837-1851. Taiping religion originated with Hong Xiuquan. He who was born on January 1, 1814 and grew up in a Hakka village in Hua county, Guangdong province, thirty miles north of Canton. As we all know, the Hakka, or "guest people," originated in north-central China but were pushed progressively southward by Central Asian invaders since the fourth century C.E. By the time they began settling pockets of rocky hillside land stretching from northeastern Guangdong to southeastern Guangxi in the early eighteenth century, the most fertile acreage was already owned by the original settlers, or Punti. A few Hakka, including Hong's own family, did own small plots, but most were tenants on the least productive upland fields of Punti landlords, who often attacked the Hakka over land and water rights. Usually, the Hakka had to supplement their income through handicraft-making and Punti-despised menial jobs, which often took them far from home. Poverty kept the Hakka monogamous. Nor did they take their women out of farm work and market activities by binding their feet. The Hakka were proud to have originated in the cradle of Chinese civilization and were devoted to Confucian ethics. Having long eked out a living along China's mountain slopes, they saw themselves as defined not by native place but -- as Senator Poy, Professor Fang, Shirley Hsieh Marsh, and Dr. S. L. Lee point out - - by a durable culture which valued Han identity, rule by Han emperors, interdependence, diligence, self-reliance, frugality, and courage in the face of what they considered, by the nineteenth century, to be Punti arrogance, materialism, and addiction to gambling and opium. In Punti eyes, however, the Hakka's distinctive dialect, poverty, separatism, pugnacity, and gender equality debased Confucian morality. Tensions between the two groups often flared into violence. A significant number of Hakka, including Hong's own ancestors, had moved up the socio-economic ladder by obtaining government posts. Hong himself was academically precocious and aspired to elevate his family's status through success in the civil service tests. But repeated examination failures and exposure to Protestant missionary writings inspired Hong's 1837 dream in which God denounced Confucius and commissioned Hong (identified as Christ's younger brother) to return China to monotheism, peace, and equality.
In his theological writings, Hong lamented the Hakka's worsening situation after the first Opium War of 1839-42, which he attributed to rising ethnic tensions, economic competition created by shifting trade routes, escalating population pressures, concentration of land in Punti hands, and Manchu corruption. He blamed these problems on China's rejection of the universal God revealed in the foreigners' Bible and in China's pre-Confucian books. The latter, he argued, proved that God was China's creator and emperor benevolently ruling an ancient commonwealth of "great peace and equality" (taiping). Tragically, Hong charged, Confucius omitted God from his compilation of the classics. Worse, the emperors usurped God's rule, jettisoned morality for "decadent" Daoism and Buddhism, and polarized Chinese society by abandoning God's "universal love" for Confucius' "partial love," which pitted Chinese against Chinese and resulted in Hakka victimization. Hong insisted that China could be saved only by restoring God's rule within the theocratic Kingdom of Heaven described in the missionary tracts. As "brothers" and "sisters," God's worshipful children shared equally in the fruits of creation, he insisted.
After studying with an American Baptist in Canton early in 1847, Hong denounced the "immoral" consequences of opium smuggling, rising Hakka unemployment, and Punti confiscation of Hakka land in neighboring Guangxi province. Among newly- created "God Worshipper" congregations -- made up of recent Hakka migrants without local ties or strong lineage connections but united by a common dialect and attracted by the Hakka's traditional openness to new ideas -- Hong launched a campaign for "moral revival" based on biblically- and Hakka-inspired notions of sin, baptism, worship of God as common ancestor, and property sharing.
Hong invoked the Ten Commandments to outlaw specific "sins" against God (idolatry and witchcraft), community (murder, banditry, and ethnic feuding), and self (promiscuity, materialism, gambling, and addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and opium), and he generated spiritual anxiety by promising Heaven or Hell. During 1848-50, God Worshipper ranks mushroomed as Hong linked Jesus' New Testament healing miracles with Hakka shamanism to combat drought and typhus. And he opened the Hakka-inspired "Sacred Treasury" (into which God Worshippers contributed their possessions) to all comers -- Hakka, Punti, and aborigines -- equals, he said, as "daughters" and "sons" of the same Heavenly Father. Through such Hakka mediums as Yang Xiuqing, an illiterate charcoal-burner, God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost daily appeared to inspire revivalist fervor through congregational faith healing, speaking in tongues, and eschatological speculation.
Martial Discipline and Dynastic Insurrection, 1851-1853. In the spring of 1850, the Manchu government, convinced that the God Worshippers' loyalty to God above emperor would catapult Hong's moral campaign into political insurrection, attacked his flock. Hong countered by announcing, on January 11, 1851, the inauguration of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" in which, he promised, the strong would "no more oppress the weak, the many overwhelm the few, the wise delude the simple, the bold annoy the fearful." He invited all Chinese subjects to unite with the 20,000 God Worshippers into an army of "Chosen People" whom God, now restored as China's rightful ruler, would deliver, Exodus-like, from "devil Manchu" oppression and lead the Hakka, after centuries of wandering, toward a homeland: the Promised Land.
God Himself would reach the individual believer through a religious-military- civilian theocracy capped on earth by Hong and his subordinate "brother kings." The Ten Commandments became a military code portraying God as a warrior-judge in whose name summary execution created disciplined soldiers of both sexes skilled in traditional Hakka guerrilla tactics, Hakka women fighters excelling. On the march the Taipings destroyed temples and ancestral shrines, sang hymns, and -- willing to endure any suffering -- exulted: "Our Heavenly Father helps us, and no one can fight with him." Before battle, they knelt and recited the Lord's Prayer, cleaving to its promise of "Thy kingdom come."
As the Taipings swept into the Yangzi River valley at Wuhan, promises of heavenly bliss and posthumous rank inspired a string of rebel victories. Thousands of China's poorest sought baptism as Taiping preachers unveiled Hong's "Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty." Claiming that the creator-God owned the world's land, Hong decreed that in Taiping China rents would be abolished and taxes reduced. Moreover, women would receive equal amounts of similarly-productive acreage as men. Claiming state power as the vehicle of God's love, Hong ordered its extension to the local "congregation" of 25 families. At this, the lowest level of administration ever proposed in China, a God-fearing "sergeant" would provide conscientious, ethical government by teaching and preaching, administering justice, providing social welfare, overseeing the equal distribution of the annual harvests, and supervising military training.
The Rise and Fall of Taiping Theocracy, 1853-1864. In March 1853, one million Taipings captured Nanjing, former Ming capital. Hong renamed the city "New Jerusalem" and revealed himself to be the reincarnated Melchizedek, messianic priest-king who anticipated David in the Old Testament and Christ in the New. Taiping officials delivered patriotic, anti-Manchu sermons, offered prayers for victory, and led mass recitations of the Ten Commandments.
Guided by the Hakka "old sisters" and "old brothers," the increasing number of non-Hakka Taipings obeyed edicts to promote gender equality and other reforms along Hakka and biblical lines. The Taiping government banned prostitution as well as practices long shunned by the Hakka: footbinding, concubinage, arranged marriage, wife purchase, and widow suicide, and it decreed women's equal access to schools, government, and military service. It mandated monogamy, nationalized private property and commerce into a vast Sacred Treasury, prohibited work on the Sabbath, and democratized education and literacy through Hakka-style language simplification. Hong's own writings and the Taiping Bible (which Hong edited and annotated) replaced the Confucian classics as China's doctrinal foundation.
In September 1856, thousands of Taipings endured an internecine bloodbath over who spoke for God; Hong, God's "Second Son," or Yang, the Hakka shaman. This fratricidal catastrophe and Hong's retreat into mysticism crippled military coordination at the very moment Qing forces were stretched thin fighting other rebels throughout China. Taiping commanders would never regain control of more than the lower Yangzi provinces for any length of time, no matter how courageous their troops. Unable to muster sufficient administrative resources to implement the communal Land System, the Taipings were forced to fall back on the old system of tax collection. And over time, moral discipline began to wane among the troops in the field.
In 1859, Hong approved proposals of his cousin Hong Rengan, a baptized Christian catechist much admired by missionaries in Hong Kong and Shanghai, to link Taiping China with the Christian West through adoption of institutional Christianity; Western-style participatory government, economic development, philanthropic institutions; and China's integration into the global community. But Taiping court factionalism doomed this effort. Nor was support forthcoming from Hong's "brother" missionaries, who condemned his religious synthesis as "abominable in the sight of God." In fact, Western governments, fearing that Hong's call for China's global equality would jeopardize the opium trade and their favorable trade arrangements with China, supplied Qing forces with mercenaries and materiél. In July 1864, well-trained Chinese troops of the loyalist Zeng Guofan breached Nanjing's wall and levelled "New Jerusalem." Mopping up operations stretched into 1866. Facing certain execution at home, Taiping survivors fled around the world, to places like the Caribbean, where they became active in the Cuban revolution.
The Taiping Rebellion in Perspective. Hong's millennial quest, which took between 20 and 40 million lives in 16 of China's 18 provinces, was the world's bloodiest civil war and the hinge of modern Chinese history. The Taipings held onto their New Jerusalem for 11 years, where they carried out unprecedented socio-economic experiments. To be sure, the Taiping Rebellion inherited much from Chinese secret society and sectarian activism since the late Ming. In ethnically-complex and anarchic areas like Guangdong and its Guangxi hinterland, where dynastic control was weakest and foreign influence strongest, charismatic leaders often reacted to economic disaster and moral decline by condemning the orthodox order and gathering marginalized converts into salvationist congregations along ethnic, religious, and economic fault-lines. These groups often flared into such insurrections as the White Lotus, Miao, Muslim, and Nian rebellions. But the Daoist and Buddhist eschatologies, which inspired many of these rebels, lacked a timetable and a plan for a new order. Nor did these rebels go beyond replacing one morally bankrupt dynasty with a virtuous new one. The Hakka-inspired Taipings far surpassed this rebel tradition. Hong's interpretation of the Bible connected with and energized Chinese elements to create an explosive religious force which envisioned something entirely new for China: a Heavenly Kingdom based on a view of patriotism which acknowledged Hakka equality with Han and non-Han alike. Hong's monotheism went beyond even the most heterodox sectarians to inspire an egalitarian vision, which attracted the dispossessed, rationalized the puritanism, which disciplined them, and shaped the theocratic organization which propelled them. Hong also preached Chinese equality with Western brothers and sisters, even inserting the line "bless brothers and sisters of all nations" in the Taiping version of the Lord's Prayer.
In the end, China's landowning elite denounced the Taipings' heresy and remained loyal to the alien Manchu’s and the Confucian orthodoxy for another half century. Even Hakka Christians -- the Hakka becoming Christian in far greater numbers than any other Chinese -- denounced what they saw as the Taipings' Christian heresy. Many contemporary scholars characterize the Taipings as traditional peasant rebels hampered by Hong's emperor fixation and theocratic despotism. At the same time, Hong's religiously-inspired insurrection initiated China's twentieth-century revolutions, albeit along strictly secular lines.
China After the Taipings: Legacy of the Hakka Vision. The Taiping vision inspired Sun Yatsen, who called himself "Hong Xiuquan the second" and in 1911 achieved Hong's goal of destroying the dynastic system. In place of a theocratic Heavenly Kingdom, Sun -- a baptized Christian -- envisioned China transformed through individual discipline and sacrifice from "loose sheet of sand" to modern republic based on the Three People's Principles of nationalism, democracy and the people's welfare. These principles were as inspired by Hakka tradition and Taiping aspirations as by Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, the failed urban revolutions of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek gave way to Mao Zedong's successful peasant revolution. Acknowledging the revolutionary contribution of his Taiping predecessors, Mao nevertheless replaced Taiping theocracy with Leninist party, and only his chiliastic Cultural Revolution came close to matching Hong's millennial intensity.
The Hakka played a significant role in creating People's China. Three of the 12 founding members of CCP were Hakka. As with the Taiping rising, Mao's reforms were well received by peasants, especially the land-hungry Hakka. According to Mary Erbaugh -- who attempts to shed light on the "secret" history of the Hakka under Communism -- six of Mao's nine base areas in southeast China intersected 33 pure and 150 partly Hakka districts. This was the same kind of hard-scrabble spawning ground that gave rise to Hong's God Worshippers a century earlier. In these Communist bases, highly mobile activists organized illiterate, language splintered peasants through the use of the uniform Hakka dialect, which also became a secret language critical in intelligence work.
The Communist revolutionaries "confiscated land outright and farmed it communally in patterns nearly identical to Taiping land policy in the same area," Erbaugh notes. They also mobilized peasants into mass women's, education, literacy, health, and military programs, employing such Taiping- sounding slogans as "abolish footbinding," "male-female equality," "freedom from marriage," "abolish concubinage," and "don't adopt a baby bride for your baby son." During the Long March of the mid-1930's, so reminiscent of the Taipings' own Exodus, a large number of foot soldiers were Hakka.
On October 1, 1949, Mao declared that China had finally stood up to the abuses of the old order and to foreign aggression. His reforms incorporated such Taiping ideals as gender equality and literacy promotion. As Professor Erbaugh points out, many Hakka enthusiastically endorsed Mao's revolution and cooperated in creating a new political order in which they wanted to have a place, even as Mao sought to downplayethnic distinctions and local characteristics. Although the Hakka make up only three percent of China's population, they were three times more likely to occupy high political positions than other Han Chinese. Under Deng Xiaoping, himself a Hakka, one- half of the Standing Committee of the Politburo were Hakka in 1984. By then, scholarship on the Hakka began to flower. Like Deng, many Hakka do not disclose their Hakka identity. Yet, today, the discipline of Hakkaology is in full force worldwide, as evidenced by this pioneering Toronto conference.
The story of China's transformation is the epic story of the Hakka. Perhaps their "secret" history is a tribute to the degree to which China has finally become a strong, unified state and to the extent the Hakka vision for China's transformation has been realized, at least in part. At the same time, the "privatization of Chinese socialism" -- as Professor Lazada points out -- and the profound changes in the world's economy are creating an ever-widening gap between have's and have-not's. In this regard, the Hakka message of equality and interdependence is more relevant than ever to China's and the world's future.
Bohr, P. Richard, "The Politics of Eschatology: Hung Hsiu-ch'üan and the Rise of the Taipings, 1837-1853" (Ph.D.dissertation, University of California, Davis, 1978).
"The Theologian as Revolutionary: Hung Hsiu-ch'üan's Religious Vision of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom," in Yen-p'ing Hao, ed., Between Tradition and Change: Studies in Modern Chinese History in Honor of Professor Kwang-Ching Liu's Seventy-fifth Birthday, Taipei: Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, 1998.
Spence, Jonathan D., God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan, New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Wagner, Rudolph G., Reenacting the Heavenly Vision: The Role of Religion in the
Taiping Rebellion, Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian
(See also Hong Xiuquan, Ethnic Conflict, Millenarianism, Religion, Chinese Late Ming Revolts, Chinese Sectarian and Secret Society Revolts, Sun Yat-sen, Chinese Nationalist Revolution, and Chinese Communist Revolution.)
It may be worthwhile to begin this description of the Chinese presence in West Indian society with a few introductory generalizations:
· The Chinese arrived in the West Indian region in two distinct historical periods: first, as indentured labourers for the sugar plantations of British Guiana, Trinidad and, marginally Jamaica, mainly (but not exclusively) in the 1850’s and 1860’s; second, as free voluntary migrants in individual and small group movements to the same three territories (but this time mainly to Jamaica and Trinidad) from the 1890’s to the 1940’s. Most of the modern West Indian Chinese are descended from this second group, but there are many Guyanese or Guyanese- derived Chinese families who can trace their origins to the first group, since British Guiana was their main destination in that period.
· The Chinese who arrived in the West Indies in the 1850’s and 1860’s were a small part of a much larger migration of free and indentured labourers from China to the Americas during the nineteenth century (just over half a million). The main destinations were in fact the United States (California), and Latin America (Cuba and Peru, marginally Central America and Brazil). Surinam and the French West Indies also received a small number of indentured sugar workers during this period, the former about the same number as went to Trinidad.
· About 96 per cent of the Chinese who migrated to the Americas in the nineteenth century came from a small region in southern Kwangtung (Guangdong) province, a 7,000 square mile cluster of districts (counties) within a semicircle around the triangle of cities on the Pearl River Delta: Macao, Canton and Hong Kong.
About 4 per cent came from Fukien (Fujian) province and from districts just across the Fukien-Kwangtung border: these migrated mainly out of Amoy and Swatow. This latter region was traditionally the main emigration region in China, but most of these emigrants generally went to various South East Asian destinations, even during the nineteenth century.
· Malayan island of Penang (Prince of Wales’ Island), in British hands since the 1780’s, proposed in 1802 that an experimental colony of Chinese be allowed to come to Trinidad. Similar proposals were also put forward a few years later by a prominent planter in Jamaica for that island. The result of these proposals was a solitary and unsuccessful experiment with Chinese labour importation in 1806. A vessel of the British East India Company, the Fortitude, left Calcutta in May 1806 with 200 Chinese who had been recruited in Portuguese Macao, Penang and Calcutta itself, where there was a small Chinese community. One hundred and ninety-two arrived in Trinidad on October 12. Under the terms of their contract, signed at Penang, the Chinese were to be paid $6 a month for one year, "and until such time as [they were] enabled to procure subsistence on their own account." Upon their arrival, many were distributed to sugar plantations. An estate two and a half miles west of Port of Spain, in Cocorite near Fort George, was also rented in order to house those of them who preferred to live as a community of artisans and peasant cultivators, growing food for the urban market. Many of these became fishermen, pork butchers, carpenters, shoemakers, in addition to growing food.
Under the terms of their contract, those who wanted to return to the East would be given a free return passage at any time they requested it, no time limit being stipulated. This is precisely what most of these Chinese eventually did, in fact. About 60 of them actually returned with the Fortitude itself, and by the end of the third year, there were hardly more than 30 still left on the island. E.L.Joseph’s History of Trinidad, published in 1838, has a brief account of the fortunes (or misfortunes) of this experimental colony. There are a few errors in his account worth pointing out. One of these stated that there was one woman among the Chinese who came on the Fortitude. Many later sources derived from Joseph’s initial account have repeated this error, but the records in the official colonial correspondence contradict this: this was an all-male emigration. Another inaccuracy concerns the number of Chinese who actually decided to return on the Fortitude in 1807: Joseph claims that all but 23 did, which was not quite true.
Nevertheless, this initial experiment in Chinese emigration was indeed a failure, and it was not repeated. It was noteworthy, however, for having been the first organized settlement of Chinese in the Americas in the nineteenth century, an earlier attempt by the East India Company on Vancouver Island off British Columbia having been disbanded by the Spanish in 1788-89. (We are not discussing the broader issue of individual and small group Chinese arrivals in the Americas before this period, since it is well known that there were Chinese in colonial Mexico City and Lima since the early seventeenth century, and, according some historians, on the California coast even before the Columbus era!)
After the 1806 experiment, only the Brazilians imported an experimental colony of tea growers in the 1810’s, but thereafter Chinese group immigration to the Americas ceased, not to be revived until the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, after the so-called Opium War of 1839-42 had begun the slow subjugation of the Chinese Empire to the Western powersled by Britain.
The issue of Chinese immigration to the British West Indies was studied by a Parliamentary Committee in 1811, but there was no follow-up. In 1843, licenses for the importation of 2,850 Chinese were actually granted (6 for British Guiana for 2,150; 1 for Trinidad for 300; 1 for Jamaica for 400).
But the project was never undertaken because at this point the importers were expected to bear the financial risks themselves, and also it was difficult to interest many Chinese in the project.
By the late 1840’s, an increased interest in Chinese immigrant labour was becoming apparent among labour importers in the Latin America/Caribbean region, and the first imports actually commenced to Cuba in 1847 from the Amoy region, and to Peru in 1849 from Cumsingmoon, an island off the Cantonese coast.
With the southern China coast becoming a bustling hub of emigration to various destinations in the late 1840’s (the California gold rush started in 1849), the British West Indian planters re-entered the picture in the 1853/54 seasons, lapsed again for a few years, then restarted from 1859 to 1866, during which years most of the Chinese arrived in the British West Indies, barring a handful of ships (4) in the 1870’s and 1880’s. In all, there were 51 voyages from China to the British West Indies bringing just over 18,000 between 1853 and 1884, the year the last ship arrived in Jamaica: 39 to British Guiana (13,539), 8 to Trinidad (2,645), 2 to Jamaica (1,152), 1 to British Honduras (474), and 1 to Antigua (100). (With the 1806 experiment, this would bring the number to 52, and the Trinidad total to 9). Of these vessels, 21 sailed out of Hong Kong, 20 out of Canton (Guangzhou), 2 out of Swatow (Shantou), and 8 out of Amoy (Xiamen) in Fukien (Fujian) province. In contrast with this West Indian picture, the more extensive traffic to Cuba and Peru between 1847 and 1874 saw 347 vessels bringing 125,000 Chinese alive to Cuba, and about 276 vessels bringing 100,000 to Peru. Surinam also received about 2,630 Chinese between 1853 and 1874 (130 from Java, the rest via Hong Kong), and 3 vessels also brought about 1,000 Chinese to the French West Indies in the 1860’s (some from the Shanghai, rather than the Canton, region).
A total of 2,474 females landed in the British West Indies among the 18,000 immigrants, the first group of 60 arriving in British Guiana on the Whirlwind from Hong Kong on March 11, 1860. Two thousand, two hundred and seven went to British Guiana, and 309 went to Trinidad. The first group to Trinidad, 125 in all, arrived from Hong society, their life on the plantations, their relations with the wider society during and after indenture, even the social circumstances within China itself which propelled over two million people to emigrate to a multitude of overseas destinations in Southeast Asia and the Americas during this century.
The Chinese in British Guiana were distributed over 116 plantations in nine districts, and those in Trinidad over as many as 70-75 plantations. Unlike the Indian indentured labourers imported during the same period, the Chinese were not entitled to a free return passage at the end of their 5- year contract period (5 plus 5 in the case of the Indians).
In fact, it was the attempt by the Chinese government to impose such a stipulation via a treaty signed with Britain and France in 1866 known as the Kung Convention that led to the discontinuance of the Chinese indenture scheme in the British West Indies, on the ground that a return passage would make the whole experiment too expensive for the planters and the colonial governments.
Despite the hardships of indenture, the Chinese labourers survived in their new environment, striking out on their own at the end of their contractual period. In Trinidad, the Chinese were living beyond the plantations by the early 1870’s. In British Guiana, where reindenture was a common practice up to the mid-1870’s, many remained on the plantations for up to 10 years and beyond. But the exploration of post-indenture options was multifaceted, a few hundred actually returning to China at their own expense, many choosing to relocate within the Caribbean region itself (many left British Guiana for Trinidad, Surinam, Cayenne, Jamaica, and Panama). The rest opted for various forms of small trader (or initially, small farming) activity in the rural and urban areas of their specific territories. One small farming community of Chinese in British Guiana in the 1860’s and 1870’s, the Hopetown Settlement, was the largest collective effort in this direction. By the late 1880’s, the Chinese had become identified as a largely small trader class within the interstices of the colonial class/colour hierarchy of Caribbean plantation society, jostling side by side with other ethnic groups in the same middleman occupations: the Portuguese in British Guiana, the Indians, many Creoles.
Intermarriage with locals (Black and coloured) or other immigrants (Portuguese or Indian, even Venezuelan mestizo/mestiza immigrants in Trinidad) led to the emergence of a mixed Chinese community with roots which were often more Creole than Chinese, but the intact China-born element continued to coexist side by side with their more Westernised kinfolk, both the mixed and the ethnically homogeneous. In the late nineteenth century, and especially between 1910 and 1940, a trickle of free immigrants, from the same districts as the earlier arrivals, developed into a virtual second migration, destined this time mainly for mercantile- related occupations, rather than agriculture. In this voluntary migration of some 7,000 newcomers from China, most went to Jamaica and Trinidad, with British Guiana taking third place, and indeed often acting as a transit point to other destinations. By the late 1930s Jamaica’s had become the largest Chinese community in the British West Indies, in the wider Caribbean second only to the Chinese community in Cuba, which had itself been replenished between 1917 and the early 1920s with about 16,000 agricultural labourers from China. By the 1946 Census (1943 in Jamaica), the Chinese numbered 12,394 in Jamaica: 2,818 China-born, 4,061 local born, 5,515 Chinese coloured (one Chinese parent).
In Trinidad, there were 9,314: 2,366 China-born, 2,926 local born, 349 born abroad (from other colonies), 3,673 Chinese coloured. In British Guiana, there were 548 China-born and 3,019 local born (a total of 3,567); there is no record of the number of Chinese coloureds, who were classified with all "Mixed".
The social evolution of these new immigrants and their West Indian-born descendants, and the important contributions made by many of their individual men and women of talent both to the Chinese community itself, and to West Indian social development during the colonial period and after, are subjects for a separate discussion.
Walton Look Lai
Edited version of article originally published in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO REVIEW Vol.15, Nos 8&9, September 1993: Enterprise of the Indies Special Issue and republished in UNESCO funded volume entitled ENTERPRISE OF THE INDIES, edited by George Lamming, after word by Lloyd Best 1999, pp.49-51. Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies, 24 Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Email: email@example.com
It was Marco Polo who upon returning to Europe revealed that on his trip to China (1275-1289), he witnessed an exotic, populous, civilized and rich country – richer by far than Marco’s Venice, which was then entering its height as the greatest commercial power in the Mediterranean World. Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked that China was but a sleeping giant. He might have been onto something, because by the 1840’s China had to face the hard reality that its perception of itself as the center of the world had passed. Why? Because of the complacent and corrupt policies of the Manchu Dynasty (1644-1911) domestically and its isolationist outlook internationally, China was beset with poverty, civil disorder, and foreign encroachment.
With its weakness exposed, colonial power of all stripes entered China seeking trade concessions, territory, war indemnities, and even the right of extraterritoriality (that is, foreign nationals on bad behavior while in China would be subject not to Chinese jurisdiction, but would answer only to the law of their respective countries). The first colonial power to fire its salvo was the British in the Opium War (1840-1842), when the Chinese government in 1839 tried to ban the import of opium from the country. With the signing of the Nanking Treaty in 1842 following the defeat of China in the Opium War, thereupon came the United States, then the French, the Russians, the Japanese, and finally the Germans. Whether through coercion or defeat in war, China was thus by the end of the 19th century one huge colony with many masters, who held sway by their superior firepower and the ability of their diplomats to press their advantage at the negotiating table with each treaty making session.
With her sovereignty and economy under siege, China put the world on notice in 1900 when a secret organization The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist – better known as the Boxers – staged a rebellion. Their grievances were directed not only against the colonials, but theirs sympathizers whether they were Christian missionaries or Chinese friends. But it was to no avail, as the martial arts or peasant manpower were no match against bullets. Eventually, an international force composed of Japanese, Americans, Russians, Germans, French, and the British crushed the boxers and china was compelled to sign yet another unequal treaty. Especially vexing was the demand in payment of $333 million as war indemnity, the right to station troops at each foreign legation, and the necessity of having to erect monuments to commemorate the foreign dead.What China needed was a strong leader who could unite the various factions in the country and someone with a liberal education to move it into the 20th century. After the Boxer uprising, Dr. Sun Yat-sen (who was born in the then Portuguese colony of Macao, but raised in Hawaii) returned from exile and in 1911 defeated the forces of the Manchu Dynasty, which he was unable to do in 1895, and was elected the provisional president of China in December of 1911.He resigned in 1912 to quell the right between the northern provinces and the southern provinces, which for the most part rallied on his behalf.
In his place stepped Yuan Shih-kai, who set out to suppress the revolutionaries, dissolved the national legislatures, and plotted to make himself emperor. To counter Yuan’s reactionary policies, Dr. Sun led an unsuccessful "second revolution". Finally in 1921, Dr. Sun became president of the Chinese Republic, which saw during the intervening years the death of Yuan and the clash of warlords fighting each other for control of the country.
Following Sun’s death in March of 1925, the reigns of power fell to his chief of staff Chiang Kai-shek. Like Sun, he wanted a China free from foreign domination, a stable China, and a China bent on modernization. But at gut-level, he was a dictator of the right. Opposed to him was Mao Tse-tung, a dictator of the left. Both had the best interest of China at heart, but being an army man and influenced by his Christian wife Soong Mei-ling (she graduated 1917 from Wellesley College in the U.S.), Chiang sought to change China from the top down, while Mao being of peasant origins sought to build China from the bottom up, with the aid of the vast majority of China’s people, the peasantry.
In 1931 under the pretext of protecting its citizens, Japan invaded China by way of Manchuria. Both Mao and Chiang perceived Japan as a dire threat to their country, but for the most part they were locked in a death struggle as to who would lead China, instead of focusing on the foreign invader. In what has become known as the LONG MARCH, Chiang’s Nationalist forces pursued the Communists for over 6,000 miles through swamps, over snowed-in mountain rangers, and across deserts. (In 1930 the Nationalists executed his wife, Yang Kaihui and even went so far as to desecrate his parents’ tomb) yet after a year, over two hundred battles, and with a force of only 5,000 soldiers remaining from the original 86,000 Mao would not go away.
In 1936, a Manchurian warlord named Chang Hseuh-liang had Chiang kidnapped, whereupon in meetings with Chou En-lai he was persuaded to declare a truce with Mao, so that both could join their forces to defeat the Japanese. But after giving his word to take on the Japanese, Chiang kept sitting on the fence. After all, his priority as generalissimo was "internal pacification" of anyone he deemed subversive and resistance to Japan second. Conversely, Mao considered the struggle for independence as paramount, leaving the settlement of internal disputes for another day. It was not until August 13 of 1937, when the Japanese assault reached Shanghai and thus threatened his power base that Chiang capitulated. As he told one of his aides: "Go tell Chou En-lai [the Communists] should send their troops at once. They need not wait anymore." Thus it came to pass that the Japanese were defeated, especially with the Russians and the North Koreans fighting as allies.
In October of 1944, 50,000 U.S. Marines began landing on the north coast of China supposedly to help disarm the Japanese. But more to serve notice on the Russians to be wary of their intentions towards china, especially in Manchuria. Fearing that the Marines might become involved in a civil war that had yet to be resolved, President Truman dispatched General George C. Marshall to replace the disgruntled General Patrick J. Hurley, who resigned upon learning that Congress had passed a resolution to have the Marines withdrawn.
Like Hurley before him, Marshall attempted to have Mao and Chiang make peace and decide on a political settlement. But a meeting of minds was out of the question even though Mao had at one time broached the idea of a coalition government and even had signed a ceasefire agreement on January 10, 1946 as both by backgrounds and worldviews were antithetical to each other.
In June both their forces were at each other; by July the fighting encompassed all of central and northern china. In the months alone leading up to his flight to Taiwan, Chiang lost 1.5 million troops. With the civil war winding down, china at long last could turn its attention to economic reconstruction. After all, from the Opium War, to the Second Opium War during which the British and French razed the splendorous 870 acre Old Summer Palace of the Emperors in 1860; to the Taiping Rebellion of 1849-1864 which left in its wake a staggering 20 million dead; the war with Japan over Korea in 1894; the Boxer Rebellion; the overthrow of the emperor; the Japanese invasion; and the civil war, China had never known peace in over a hundred years.
On October 1, 1949, on Tiananmen Sqaure in the Forbidden City, the Peoples’ Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Tse-Tung. "We, the 475 million Chinese people, have stood up…", he declared. In essence, Mao meant that not only did China throw out its foreign oppressors, but never again would it allow itself to sink to the level of weakness whereby anyone could humiliate it. Furthermore, political power when not exercised in the best interest of the people by necessity breeds discontent, leading to revolution when the people have no more patience to give. Finally, being one of the oldest civilizations in history, Mao was also making a statement that China’s greatness will once again flourish, if not a superpower, at least a major player on the world stage.
Hakka - A group of North Chinese who migrated to South China, especially Kwangtung, Fukien, and Kwangsi provinces, during the fall of the Southern Sung dynasty in the 1270s.
Their origins remain obscure, but the people who became the Hakka are thought to have lived originally in Honan and Shansi provinces in the Huang Ho (Yellow River) valley. They moved southward in two large migrations, one in the early 4th century and another in the late 9th century, perhaps to escape warfare or the domination of Inner Asian tribesmen. Their final migration in the 13th century took them farther south to their present areas of concentration. The name Hakka is a Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin word k'o-chia ("guest people"), which the northerners were called to distinguish them from the pen- ti, or natives.
Having settled in South China in their own communities, the Hakka never became fully assimilated into the native population. Unlike most other Chinese before the 20th century, they never allowed their women to bind their feet, and they speak a language that has affinities with both Cantonese, the language of the people of Kwangtung province, and Mandarin, the language of much of northern and central China; many of the Hakka tongue's initial sounds are a bridge between the two dialects.
An extremely industrious, shrewd people, the Hakka tend to be very clannish. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when conditions in South China became very bad and land quite scarce, the Hakka often were involved in land feuds with the pen-ti. The Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), which is said to have resulted in the death of more than 20,000,000 people and completely shattered South China, initially grew out of these local conflicts. Although the pen-ti eventually joined the revolt, Taiping leadership was mainly of Hakka origin.
After the rebellion, the Hakka continued to be involved in little skirmishes with their neighbors, as a result of which many migrated to other areas. Today many Hakka live in such widely scattered locations as Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Sabah, Sarawak, and even Jamaica. In South China they continue to dwell mainly in the less fertile upland areas and in Hong Kong.
Information about this topic in other articles: Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
The story of the Chinese in Jamaica is linked to Panama and railways. In the mid-19th century, many Chinese looked west: to California, answering the call of the gold rush, and to Panama, where labourers were required for the building of a railroad from Panama City to Colon. Both options promised improvement in their lives and those of their children and led many Chinese to break the law and leave China prior to 1891, the year the Chinese Government officially allowed emigration. The first large group of 267 Chinese immigrants came from Hong Kong on July 30, 1854, just months before those from Panama, on a ship called Epsom. They were destined for indentureship. Later that year, 205 Chinese workers demanded to leave Panama fearing yellow fever. They arrived in Jamaica on November 1 and 18, on ships called the Vampire (195 people) and the Theresa Jane (10 people) respectively. Panamanian authorities sent them to nearby Jamaica solely due to its proximity and in exchange for Jamaican labourers. Many were already ill on arrival and were sent to hospital in Kingston where they eventually died. Less than 50 immigrants survived. Of these, one, Robert Jackson Chin (Chin Pa-kung), opened a wholesale house on downtown Kingston's Pechon Street (where the Desnoes and Geddes building now stands). In doing so he unknowingly paved the way for many of his countrymen. Two others, Chang Si-Pah and Lyn Sam opened grocery stores nearby. All three men provided guidance to successive batches of immigrants.
INDENTURESHIPS AND THE RISE OF THE CHINESE GROCERY
A decade later in the 1860s another set of Chinese arrived from Trinidad and British Guiana. There they had worked as indentured labourers in the cane fields until hurricane and insects threatened their job security. Some 200 Chinese workers answered a call for three-year contract labourers in Jamaica to tend to the American-led large scale planting of coconuts, bananas and sugar. When their three-year contracts were up, some continued in the fields even though they were not welcomed with open arms by the newly emancipated slaves who saw them as competition. Others started small shops of their own where total weekly sales tended to amount to less than £8 on average. By this time, Chinese grocers were becoming known for extending credit to favoured customers, selling by barter, providing round-the-clock service and selling goods in small, affordable quantities. It is as a result of their importation activities that items such as rice, saltfish, saltmeats, flour and cornmeal became staples of the Jamaican diet.
A COMMUNITY GROWS
In the 1860s, a close-knit Jamaican-Chinese community began to emerge with many living above, behind or somewhere near to their shops. Downtown, a retail area became known as Chinatown. Two decades later, in the 1880s, another group of 680 immigrants arrived this time directly from China. They had been recruited as farm labourers. There were 501 men, 105 women, 54 boys and 17 girls who docked in Kingston Harbour in 1884 after having survived a typhoon aboard the 67 day voyage. Upon arrival, they were claimed by the plantation owners who held their contracts and scattered across the island. Among this group was Chin Tung-Kao, who in 1891 would found the Chinese Benevolent Society to offer humanitarian and social aid as well as protect Chinese customs and preserve their ethnic identity, at 131 Barry Street in downtown Kingston. Following 1885 large-scale immigration of Chinese labourers occurred in an attempt to satisfy the demand for field labour created by the departure of African-Jamaican and East Indian labourers from the plantations. This fourth wave of immigrants totalled close to 700. Some came without contracts and were thus able to choose their occupation, which was generally divided between farming and the retail grocery trade. These immigrants, like many of those who had come before, were not generally well-received by Jamaicans, and so they tended to stick together. There were continual racial slurs, some were held in Spanish town on arrival under armed guard until they were shipped out in mule carts to the various plantations.
In 1888, more than 800 additional Chinese arrived and the Jamaican business community began to get nervous. Fearful that they would lose control of the retail grocery trade, they lobbied the Jamaican Government to impose the first in a set of immigration laws that would make it more difficult for Chinese immigrants to come to the island. The new restrictions went into effect in 1905. Immigrants were now required to register with the authorities and provide a guarantee from a reliable person as to the soundness of their characters. In 1910, new and even harsher conditions were added. Chinese immigrants arriving subsequent to that date had to pay a £30 deposit upon landing and also pass a physical and a test showing that they could write and speak 50 words in 3 different languages. This law made it more difficult but not impossible for already settled Chinese-Jamaicans to send for their relatives. By the mid-1920s the total number of Chinese who emigrated to Jamaica numbered close to 4,000. By 1930, an additional 2,000 Chinese had arrived. In 1931, however, the Jamaican Government issued a decree that no passport was to be issued to Chinese coming to Jamaica excepting to those under 14 years old who were allowed student permits. This was largely a result of ill-will towards the Chinese who had by this time branched out into laundries, restaurants and bakeries in addition to retail groceries. They were doing well on the island, contributing to national development while providing for the families. In the 1930s, during the labour riots, not surprisingly, many Chinese groceries were looted and robbed, and in some cases, their owners murdered. This decree stood until 1947 when the Chinese consulate (established in the 1920s and largely supported by the Jamaican- Chinese community) in Kingston succeeded in persuading the Jamaican Government to relax these restrictions, remove the quota system that had been placed on wives and children and parents and allow Chinese immigrants to send for their family members.
By this time, in the 1940s, many of the second-generation, those who were truly Jamaican-Chinese, began to rebel against their parents' desires to remain wedded to Chinese culture. They left the family business, went into other professions and embraced aspects of Jamaican culture. Many also converted to Roman Catholicism. Resentment from African-Jamaicans waned as tolerance of aspects of Chinese culture grew and some amalgamations occurred. One of the most notable examples is the numbers game "drop pan." Drop Pan in Cantonese "Jih Fah" and Hakka "Sue Fah," is named for the fact that tickets numbered 1 to 36 are dropped in a pan to see who wins. Many players play based on dreams and portents, although some play by odds based on a study of the pattern of play. Drop Pan is said to have arrived in Jamaica with the earliest Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. It was restricted by the government as early as 1898. This law was amended in the 1920s due to the game's substantial popularity.
Today, drop pan's meanings are most likely both Chinese and Afro-Jamaican in origin. According to Barry Chevannes in a Jamaica Journal article on Drop Pan, "the number 7 means married woman and hog. In Chinese custom a son-in-law makes a gift of a pig or pork to his mother-in-law every New Year. The number 11 means baby boy and dog. Among the Chinese, the dog is a blessing as are newborn males" (p. 46). The number 8 stands for belly, belly (pregnant) woman, hole or ring, all of which could be related to Rastafarian belief that "a woman has no lineage. A woman is only a vessel" (p. 47). Despite some "Jamaicanization," the Chinese have also worked hard to maintain links to their culture. Writers like Anglican priest Easton Lee, explore their Chinese Jamaican roots in poetry and prose. Restaurants continue to offer Dim Sum, the traditional Chinese Sunday brunch, and many supermarkets sell traditional Chinese cooking ingredients. The Chinese Benevolent Society has 5 subsidiary organizations: the Chinese Public School, the Chinese Sanitariam, the Chinese Alms House, the Chinese Public News and the Chinese cemetery on Heart's East Ashley Road.
The Miss Jamaica Chinese Beauty Pagaent is no longer held, but many Jamaican beauties of Chinese descent have entered and done well in the Miss Jamaica beauty contests. Winners include Sheila Chung and Patsy Yuen. Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year, and the Moon and Boat Festivals as well as the anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, are still celebrated in style if less extravagantly than earlier in the 20th century when they often included dinners and fireworks. Chinese Jamaicans have also made their mark in the political arena with MPs such as Rose Leon, Ferdinand Yap-Sam and Delroy Chuck. Similarly, Chinese Jamaican impact on the business world is far reaching with families and individuals controlling substantial restaurant, bakery and supermarket chains such as Island Grille, Purity and SuperPlus, as well as banks such as NCB. Next year, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Chinese arrival in Jamaica, Patrick Lee is publishing his new book "Jamaican Chinese Worldwide - One Family" which will include families from Jamaica, USA, Canada and Britain.
In 1888, more than 800 additional Chinese arrived and the Jamaican business community began to get nervous. Fearful that they would lose control of the retail grocery trade, they lobbied the Jamaican Government to impose the first in a set of immigration laws that would make it more difficult for Chinese immigrants to come to the island. The new restrictions went into effect in 1905. Immigrants were now required to register with the authorities and provide a guarantee from a reliable person as to the soundness of their characters. In 1910, new and even harsher conditions were added. Chinese immigrants arriving subsequent to that date had to pay a £30 deposit upon landing and also pass a physical and a test showing that they could write and speak 50 words in 3 different languages. This law made it more difficult but not impossible for already settled Chinese-Jamaicans to send for their relatives.
By the mid-1920s the total number of Chinese who emigrated to Jamaica numbered close to 4,000. By 1930, an additional 2,000 Chinese had arrived. In 1931, however, the Jamaican Govern-ment issued a decree that no passport was to be issued to Chinese coming to Jamaica excepting to those under 14 years old who were allowed student permits. This was largely a result of ill-will towards the Chinese who had by this time branched out into laundries, restaurants and bakeries in addition to retail groceries. They were doing well on the island, contributing to national development while providing for the families. In the 1930s, during the labour riots, not surprisingly, many Chinese groceries were looted and robbed, and in some cases, their owners murdered. This decree stood until 1947 when the Chinese consulate (established in the 1920s and largely supported by the Jamaican-Chinese community) in Kingston succeeded in persuading the Jamaican Government to relax these restrictions, remove the quota system that had been placed on wives and children and parents and allow Chinese immigrants to send for their family members.
1953, Mr. Samuel Kong with his wife, Wong Fong Yin, and their eight children. Courtesy of the Kong family.
By this time, in the 1940s, many of the second-generation, those who were truly Jamaican-Chinese, began to rebel against their parents' desires to remain wedded to Chinese culture. They left the family business, went into other professions and embraced aspects of Jamaican culture. Many also converted to Roman Catholicism. Resentment from African-Jamaicans waned as tolerance of aspects of Chinese culture grew and some amalgamations occurred. One of the most notable examples is the numbers game "drop pan." Drop Pan in Cantonese "Jih Fah" and Hakka "Sue Fah," is named for the fact that tickets numbered 1 to 36 are dropped in a pan to see who wins. Many players play based on dreams and portents, although some play by odds based on a study of the pattern of play. Drop Pan is said to have arrived in Jamaica with the earliest Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. It was restricted by the government as early as 1898. This law was amended in the 1920s due to the game's substantial popularity. Today, drop pan's meanings are most likely both Chinese and Afro-Jamaican in origin. According to Barry Chevannes in a Jamaica Journal article on Drop Pan, "the number 7 means married woman and hog. In Chinese custom a son-in-law makes a gift of a pig or pork to his mother-in-law every New Year. The number 11 means baby boy and dog. Among the Chinese, the dog is a blessing as are newborn males" (p. 46). The number 8 stands for belly, belly (pregnant) woman, hole or ring, all of which could be related to Rastafarian belief that "a woman has no lineage. A woman is only a vessel" (p. 47).
Despite some "Jamaicanization," the Chinese have also worked hard to maintain links to their culture. Writers like Anglican priest Easton Lee, explore their Chinese Jamaican roots in poetry and prose. Restaurants continue to offer Dim Sum, the traditional Chinese Sunday brunch, and many supermarkets sell traditional Chinese cooking ingredients. The Chinese Benevolent Society has 5 subsidiary organizations: the Chinese Public School, the Chinese Sanitariam, the Chinese Alms House, the Chinese Public News and the Chinese cemetery on Heart's East Ashley Road. The Miss Jamaica Chinese Beauty Pagaent is no longer held, but many Jamaican beauties of Chinese descent have entered and done well in the Miss Jamaica beauty contests. Winners include Sheila Chung and Patsy Yuen. Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year, and the Moon and Boat Festivals as well as the anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, are still celebrated in style if less extravagantly than earlier in the 20th century when they often included dinners and fireworks.
The pioneer Chinese had become shopkeepers in Kingston and in small villages around rural Jamaica upon the expiration of their labour contracts with sugar plantation owners, which had brought them to Jamaica in the first case one hundred and fifty years ago. Through their hard work, sacrifices and commitment for a better life for their families, many descendants of those overseas Chinese were fortunate to obtain formal education and training and so were able to enter their chosen field of work, whether in the professions or in whatever career areas for which they were naturally talented.
The literary arts is one such area that many Chinese Jamaicans have chosen as a writer, publisher, or editor. This feature focuses on four recent publications by Chinese Jamaicans:
"The Shopkeepers – Commemorating 150 years of the Chinese in Jamaica 1854-2004" by Ray Chen – a compilation of short stories by ordinary Chinese Jamaicans, telling of their personal life experiences.
"The Entrepreneurial Journey in Jamaica – When Policies Derail" by Dr. Paul Chen-Young – an autobiography of sort and about his challenges and achievements in a non-traditional career.
"Jamaican Chinese Worldwide – One Family" by Patrick & Loraine Lee – a pictorial history spanning up to 5 generations.
"Heritage Call – Ballad for the Children of the Dragon" by Easton Lee – a book of poems that speak to this cultural heritage from both the East and the West.
Previously, there was no easily available published material from which to gain knowledge of this ethnic group. Yet, research for academic studies indirectly related to this subject has revealed much material worthy of publication.
The stories and photos of the Chinese Jamaicans that are recorded in these publications give an account of their history, the acculturation of the overseas Chinese and their descendants, and their journeys into non-traditional career areas and the challenges they continue to face.
Phyllis Kong - Coordinator
Veteran Jamaican photographer Ray Chen, who gained widespread recognition for successfully capturing the essence of Jamaica through its people and its land, recently published The Shopkeepers: Commemorating 150 years of the Chinese in Jamaica 1854-2004.
Chen was inspired to compile this book with future generations in mind. He wanted to create a record outlining the story of the Chinese living on the island. It was to be a souvenir that could be passed down to his grandchildren and future descendants. Chen achieved his goal. He gathered the stories, the photos and created a valuable and lasting treasure. But it was more than that. Chen successfully captured the essence of the Chinese-Jamaican community.
There is great pride in this book, not only in the presentation and content - every page features the emotions, the ideas and detailed experiences of the contributing writers - but also in the way The Shopkeepers evokes a sense of pride and belonging.
At the launch of the book in Toronto, approximately 200 people, mostly Jamaicans, joined Chen in celebrating, not only the launch of his book, but a unique and often indefinable Chinese-Jamaican culture.
The story of the Chinese in Jamaica and the culture that has grown out of being a "fish out of water" starts with the Chinese who first arrived in Jamaica as indentured workers. Slavery had been abolished and labourers were needed to work on the sugar plantations. When the contracts ended, instead of returning to China, as most promised, many remained on the island and went into business for themselves.
In the beginning, the majority of these businesses were grocery shops, opened across the island, in the cities and in the small towns. Life revolved around the shop, as families lived on top or behind the store. Children assisted their parents, learning to pack sugar and take credit.
The concept of credit was introduced by the Chinese. It was based on a system of trust, co-operation and collectivism. At the launch in Toronto, keynote speaker, The Honourable Alvin Curling, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, said The Shopkeepers is also part of his story. As a Jamaican, not of Chinese descent, he interacted with the Chinese shopkeepers and was introduced to the idea of credit. He recounted how his mother would send him to the store with a list of items to buy – cornmeal, flour, sugar and salt fish – all without any money. The transaction was written in a book, one red and one blue, but how the items were paid for, he had no idea.
In addition to stories about life in the shop, other writers detailed their accounts of going to school, playing games and lessons learned while growing up. For example, Chen`s brother, Roger, wrote about going to Bognor`s Prep School in Allman Town and being distracted in class. "During mango season we could hardly concentrate on our lessons because, with each rush of wind, we would hear the ripe mangoes rustling as they fell through the leaves, ending with a ‘buff’ on the ground…"
I read these lines and I felt the cool breeze. I smelled the sweet mangoes and I imagined what it would have been like if I had lived in Jamaica at that time.
Excerpt – Sunday Gleaner feature supplement – July 24, 2005 The Hakka Chinese History-books
I have always been struck with the truthfulness of the saying that Jamaicans who have wide experience in the business, professional and in Government, do not write, to the detriment of future generations. In the 1970’s I had a go at writing about economics and public policy through a monthly publication, Economic Report: Jamaica. I also spent a couple years assisting the late Theodore Sealy develop a Financial Section for the Sunday Gleaner. Both experiences had a lasting effect on me and I had always hoped to write a book about economic affairs in Jamaica.
After the collapse of the Eagle Group in 1997 and, later, the law suits that followed in 1998, which imposed injunctions against my assets and allegations that effectively crippled my professional life, the only resource that I had to fall back on was my professionalism. Drawing on my earlier experience, I decided that it would be timely to write a book that would be somewhat autobiographical but intertwined with my business and professional experience and views, especially as it related to the downfall of Eagle and the domestic financial sector in the context of the economic climate.
As soon as the trial ended in February 2004, I set about writing with the hope of completing the book by my 66th birthday, which had no special significance, but with the trial over I just set a tight timetable so as to force myself to focus on writing. As I started writing, the experience had a cathartic effect on me as I responded to the challenge of pulling together the complex set of varied material. It was not intended to be a technical book but I had to weave technical analysis into the material, which eventually led me to the conclusion that ill-conceived and wrong financial policies were largely responsible for the destruction of the domestic financial sector.
I was always aware that blaming managerial incompetence and inadequate supervision of the financial institutions was a superficial excuse that was being bandied about by various commentators and Government officials, notably Finance Minister Davies, the architect of those policies. In an earlier monograph, With All Good Intentions: the Collapse of Jamaica’s Domestic Financial Sector, I raised this issue of policies that create an adverse climate for the sector and many businesses to succeed as a result of which many collapsed. But it was only when I started researching the material for the book that I became quite convinced that the over-whelming cause for the collapse was "bad" financial policies, including the massive buildup in national debt and fiscal deficit. In my book I have shown that when the domestic banks and life insurance industry collapsed, the cost of the intervention was about 20% of the national debt.Given that the sector collapsed, an important question was whether there was any pragmatic strategy to rehabilitate the sector. What took place showed that those responsible for devising strategy for the financial sector had no vision – and, I might add, no practical experience – of what to do. That is why what could be described as the crown jewels of the Jamaican economy were virtually given on a platter to overseas investors, a decision that will be costly – in financial and real economic terms – to the country for this and many future generations. That decision is a sad ending to the entrepreneurial drive and work of so many talented and committed Jamaicans at the managerial and support level, who built a fine financial infrastructure.
Towards the end of my book, I publish what are public documents regarding the law suits against me and my response as well as those by my attorneys so that matters are now in the public domain. I express no views about the merits of that case; the matter is sub judice. In publishing the material, the public can now have easy access to the issues and the legal responses to them. I believe that they also raise some very interesting legal points regarding corporate law that are not frequently addressed and could be of some interest to the public.
In closing, I would like to congratulate the Gleaner for this special Feature regarding the four recent books written by Chinese Jamaicans. I am proud to be among this group and, by writing, we have subconsciously drawn on our predominantly Chinese background and told about our experiences that will contribute to the literary heritage of Jamaica for the benefit of this and future generations.
Excerpt – Sunday Gleaner feature supplement – July 24, 2005
In 1954, the Centenary of the Chinese arrival in Jamaica passed unnoticed and uncelebrated. Until recently, there was hardly any written history of the early Chinese migration to Jamaica and, caught up in our busy lives, many of us were unaware of our early history in Jamaica.
Even the books, Chinese in Jamaica, written by my father, Lee Tom Yin, were not published until 1957 and 1963. However, in recent years a desire to know more about the Chinese experience in Jamaica and the West Indies continues to grow. Publications like The Chinese in the West Indies 1806-1995 by Walton Look Lai contribute to the overall picture, helping us all to understand the full story.
Our first publication, Canadian Jamaican Chinese 2000, sought to satisfy this quest for knowledge and awareness of our past. It was well received and one of the many comments was: "...But most important, you have given your readers beautiful memories of the past and a secure feeling of their roots..." (Cecile & Alan Tonks). We were encouraged to take on the task of publishing yet another that would add to the story, even though the thought of such a project was extremely daunting. Nevertheless, we undertook the challenge and were pleased to present your story. Our motivation to celebrate and commemorate the sesquicentenary in 2004 had kept us in focus.
This book records the lives of our people who, although now citizens of different countries, share a common ancestry and experiences. It records where they came from, who they are and their accomplishments. This will be of benefit to future generations, our children who are now spreading their wings far and wide, not only into different countries, but also among many different cultures and races. It is for our descendants, yet unborn - 50, 100, or 150 years hence that we compile this book.
This book is also a practical tool when researching your roots. The names of the villages in China where our ancestors were born and raised are shown (see Hakka Villages Map), as well as a list of the most common surnames found in Jamaica, including the Hakka and Mandarin pronunciation and written characters. With the help of the maps, you will be able to locate the birthplace of your ancestors. In many instances, people with the same surname originated from the same village.
The Timeline of events will add to your understanding as you follow the events that influenced our ancestors' struggles, adventures and achievements - as in football (A History of Jamaican Chinese in Football), only one of the many areas where Jamaican Chinese were able to show off their prowess.
Revisit the past through the old photos and continue on to see recent activities through the years, including the first Hakka conference held in Toronto in Dec. 2000. Many of our mothers will relate to Annie's Story, an inspiring tale of the journey taken by one mother and a lesson of sacrifice and love.
Most of all, this book unites and re-connects "in spirit" the families and friends who have been separated by time and space. Some time ago, I delivered a copy of Canadian Jamaican Chinese 2000 to Fr. Ryan, a retired Teacher of St. George's College. He said, "I already know about this book, and I just love it, because it brings people together, and anything that brings people together is good."
We sincerely hope that you will find this collection an invaluable source of information, of many happy hours of browsing, and a treasure for our future generations and... let us take the time now, to celebrate the first one hundred and fifty years.
Excerpt – Sunday Gleaner feature supplement – July 24, 2005
Easton Lee explores his Chinese Jamaican roots in poetry and prose.
The poems are largely anecdotal, in an effort to preserve some of the stories and feelings and experiences that came out of the meeting between his family in China and in Jamaica and, by extension, the Caribbean – between East and West. The ones which relate to China are out of the stories his father told about his childhood and his life in China, as well as stories from his cousins who were born in the village in China, or who lived there – among them, Lee Mook Yan, Noel Ho Tom and his sisters Gladys and Dorothy.
The culture of China was very strongly present in Easton’s daily life in Jamaica during childhood and made a great impact on him and his siblings. The Chinese parents, whether there was one or both in a family, consciously and consistently taught their children Chinese values and ethics. The Chinese way was the dominant feature of their upbringing, and Christian values and worship were encouraged by Easton’s father because he recognized similarities in the Chinese way: honour for parents and elders, honesty, love of children, kindness to others, respect for the honoured dead, love of God – among others.
On the other hand, as was expected, Easton’s Jamaican mother of mixed racial heritage – Scottish, East Indian, African, possibly Taino – also influenced their upbringing, as did the lifestyle of the immediate and wider communities in which they lived. The children who had both Chinese parents from China felt, too, the impact of school, church and community. Those of whatever parental combination, born and bred in the rural areas, experienced the heavier influence, as Chinese families were isolated by distance and communication, and were forced by these and other circumstances to seek the society of those around them – those with whom they interacted daily in the village shop.
Easton recalls that many evenings during his elementary schooldays were spent under the counter of his parents’ shop so he could be near his mother as she attended to customers and helped him with his homework. Customers unaware of his presence often discussed the village happenings and their private business in the most intimate details, giving him insight and information not otherwise available.
His mother who was born at the turn of the century fed him the stories and legends she had gleaned from her older relatives. An avid reader and a great storyteller, she often entertained her children and their friends with fascinating tales she had read or had heard in her childhood.
Easton’s attention later turned to his Chinese heritage with his father and other Chinese relatives providing the link to that source. He found to his amazement that those teachings were not at all that different from those of other sources and, in some instances, were identical.
Easton believes it is a matter of urgent necessity for all of us, in whatever way we can, in whatever country we find ourselves, to ensure that we preserve our history and lore for the benefit of posterity, either by the teaching of our children, by writing, painting, carving, singing, dancing, whatever the God given facility.
There are many books and other artistic efforts appearing now which do just that, he says. All over the world, persons of Chinese origin are claiming their heritage and telling their story. It is his hope that the offering such as he is able to make will help in the process that at least they will touch the emotions of people of like ancestry. It is his hope, too, that these stories will help others outside of the Chinese experience, to understand and know them better for mutual respect and benefit.
The recognition of this base from which the Chinese sprang is extremely important to their well being and their future. It is well to remember, too, that life is dynamic, changing, progressing, and while they acknowledge their past and embrace their ancestral heritage, they must be mindful of the inheritance from their adoptive country. Inasmuch as they owe a loyalty to China, they owe much also to the country where they have made their home, he concludes.
Excerpt – Sunday Gleaner feature supplement – July 24, 2005
Dr. Trev Sue-A-Quan has been gathering and publishing his findings on the Guyanese experience, the first being the Cane Reapers: Chinese Indentured Immigrants in Guyana, which came out in 1999, and now Cane Ripples: The Chinese in Guyana. Sue-A-Quan was born in Guyana in 1943, but his career as a petroleum engineer took him abroad, and he now resides in Vancouver. However, he never abandoned his Guyanese roots, delving into the circumstances of his ancestors’ immigration, as well as that of other Chinese. Working in Beijing two decades ago further whetted his appetite for genealogical research.
Cane Ripples illuminates another Guyana, through oral histories, recollections, photographs, and family archival material. Featuring several contributors, what is warm about this book are accounts where individual passion relays the ups and downs of family life.
By the turn of the 20th century, the opening up of Chinese shops, trading houses, emporiums, and small restaurants completed Georgetown’s cosmopolitan and commercial atmosphere. Already the children of these indentured immigrants were moving into professions, and making their mark on Guyanese society. Racial intermarriage was also beginning, as there was a shortage of Chinese women among the early arrivals.
The titles of each account give a flavour of the whole gamut of family experience. So you have headings like "Down by the Riverside", "Wheeling Along", "Path to Education", Hand Laundry", "Dental Practice", "Baker’s Man", and "Best Little Whorehouse" among the 39 stories.
Chinese Lessons by Irene Akai is quite gripping. Her father Sue Ping, had emigrated from his ancestral village in 1900 and settled in Berbice where he made a small fortune and with his second wife, had six children. Suddenly, in 1930, he decided that he wanted his family to be thoroughly immersed in Chinese culture, so he sold everything and took his family to China, and where he embraced his first wife. With two mothers now in the household, there was an attempt to recapture all things Chinese, except that the war with the Japanese blew all plans apart, and an ensuing harrowing escape to Hong Kong, then Vancouver, and back to Berbice, where the new extended family re-assumed its prominent position.
What will sound familiar to the modern reader is the Chinese principle of "a fast penny is better than a slow dollar." This was part of the secret to their financial success. Even when the great fire of 1913 destroyed a large part of Georgetown, the Chinese merchants, who took the brunt of financial loss, bounced back in a few years.
But it’s more than commerce. The community embraced Guyana as their home, and made contributions in the arts, professions and ultimately politics. And yet this population dwindled, Canada being the main beneficiary of a second migration. Small as they are, their presence is still there, and so are the vestiges of their input. It is a pity that politics of the past forty years destroyed what could have been an even greater input. You get this feeling reading "Cane Ripples", as you hear the voices of new loyalty being dashed again and again in spite of personal success.
Cane Reapers (352 pgs) and Cane Ripples (352 pgs) are available at CDN$25 each + postage.
Published by Cane Press, 240 Woodstock Avenue E., Vancouver BC V5W 1N1, Canada
Website: www.rootsweb.com/~guycigtr E-mail: Canereapers@Lycos.com Tel: (604) 325-4989
Cane Rovers: Stories of the Chinese-Guyanese Diaspora is a collection of 24 stories of various Guyanese of Chinese ancestry who have migrated to countries all over the world . . . from Australia to Zimbabwe. Among the stories are the experiences of:
* James L. Ewing-Chow, Shanghai-based translator of The Civil Code of the Republic of China published in 1930;
* Philip Hoalim, lawyer who became Chairman of the Malayan Democratic Union which activated for independence from Britain;
* Phyllis Hall, neé Lee, catering to needs of folks in Iraq and Sierra Leone;
* Ivy Gee, neé Ho-Yen, who married the chancellor of the consulate of the Republic of China in Georgetown and later immigrated to the USA;
* Sally Bors, neé Evan-Wong, now resident in Israel for more than 40 years;
* Dr. Cary Lam medical practitioner in Canada’s frozen north (in Churchill, Manitoba) and then in Zaire (renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo);
* Louis Chung, a pioneer in tropical fish transportation and founder of the world-famous turtle rearing facilities in the Cayman Islands;
* Joe Pierre, whose practical accounting methods uncovered several illegal or unprofitable business practices in Guyana, Barbados and Canada;
* Cheryl Stinson, neé Yhap, with experiences in Singapore, Switzerland, Zimbabwe and India that are truly educational;
* Rosaliene Bacchus, neé Fung, who “escaped” to Brazil and needed to adapt to a different work environment, language, culture and habits;
* Ray Luck, accomplished pianist who has performed and taught in several countries;
* Vivian Lee, who gave up his advertising business in Guyana and applied his entrepreneurial skills in France and Canada;
* Colin Ying, a lawyer practicing in Singapore and later settling in Australia;
* Barbara Sohan, neé Hing, who moved to the New York area and whose world came crashing down when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001;
* Paula Stehling, neé Sue-A-Quan, a survivor of the ravages of Hurricane Ivan in 2004;
* Andy Lee, neé Lam, who taught English in China and gained a deeper understanding of the rapidly changing country through her travels by car.
Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador of Guyana to the State of Kuwait and formerly Ambassador to the USA, the OAS and Venezuela, writes:
Anyone following Trev Sue-a-Quan’s research into the history of his Chinese ancestors and compatriots as they migrated from China to Guyana and later to other lands will be profoundly astounded by the voluminous facts he has accumulated and woven together to produce the most invaluable accounts that have enriched our knowledge and culture. At the same time, they and have instilled in us a spirit of determination that anyone can succeed in any enterprise or challenge that may arise in life.
Contact Trev at Trevsaq@hotmail.com to obtain copies of his books.
SUMMER AND Christmas are the most popular homecoming periods for Jamaicans living abroad. But the summer period has developed a special significance for some Jamaicans who are particularly interested in discussing the diaspora, that is, the forced dispersal of Africans from their homeland for enslavement abroad. These discussions are awakening both interest and response among Jamaicans, who are residents in the island and abroad.
Of special interest at this time is the 200th anniversary of the cessation of the slave trade by enactment of the British parliament in 1807. Plans are being made locally to commemorate this historic event. The abolition of the slave trade began the eventual downfall of the sugar industry and, as a consequence, slavery, in 1838, freeing all slaves.
Dealing here only with emigration, which is the settlement of Jamaicans abroad, a pattern of waves has been evident over the last 125 years. Since Emancipation, Jamaicans have travelled wide and far, establishing a claim to being one of the most travelled people. These travels have been to seek greener pastures elsewhere in response to the failure of the Jamaican economy over the decades to provide sufficient jobs for Jamaicans at home.
MOVEMENT TO NEARBY LANDS
At first, the migration pattern involved movement to nearby countries in the region, particularly Panama, Costa Rica and Cuba.
One of the most monumental engineering projects in world history was undertaken in 1880 to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, then a state in New Granada, as Colombia was known. The canal would allow access to ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa, considerably shortening the long, rough journey around the tip of South America, a nightmare to mariners. The Panama Canal, as it would come to be known, was of special interest to the United States since it would link its Pacific and Atlantic coasts by a much shorter, easier and more economic route.
But it was not the United States of America that was building the canal, at least not at the beginning. The project was undertaken by a French company which began operations in 1881. The company soon had to give up because of conditions of hardship which were proving either impossible or too expensive to overcome. The plight of workers who died by the thousands, largely from yellow fever, was among the chief reasons. A French syndicate replaced the failing company and tried, on a lesser scale, to complete the project. By 1904, the United States Government bought out the project. With greater financing and effort, the project then proceeded to completion in 1914.
My mother's father was one of the thousands of Jamaicans who worked on the Panama Canal. George Henry Maxwell, Jamaican-born son of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, was a railroad engineer who with his brother Frank had built the Kendal leg of the Jamaican railway. In Panama, he lived in the Canal Zone established by the Americans as a special territory, working as an engineer and there my mother Erna Aleta Maxwell was born in 1912.
J'CANS FLOCKED TO PANAMA
Despite the jungle and its deadly hazards to health, the primitive conditions of life, discrimination in pay and other degrading and destitute conditions, thousands of Jamaicans flocked to Panama for work beginning in 1881, 125 years ago, although there was some earlier migration from 1850 to Central America, including Panama and Costa Rica. Many could not tolerate the hazardous and debilitating conditions in Panama and returned home, but in the end, 24,000 Jamaicans remained to create a thriving Jamaican community in Panama.
Jamaicans were the most numerous of the Caribbean people. Some did well enough to be able to return home from time to time, decked out in the outlandish fashion and mannerism of Colón: dangling a long brass chain from belt to pocket, consulting frequently, for show, a fob pocket watch, patting a revolver indiscreetly stuck in the waist, and dressed in white with a Panama hat. This was the 'Colón man' who became a folk hero in Jamaica, immortalised in folk song:
Colón man da come, Colón man da come,
Brass chain da lick him belly bam, bam, bam;
But if you ask him fe de time
Him look upon de sun!
After 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed, work opportunities ended. So too did the work on the banana plantations of Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua which had been in progress since the 1870s, employing 60,000 field workers from Jamaica. We do not know how many remained after Panama Disease nearly wiped out these plantations, but there exists today thriving and sizeable Jamaican communities at Port Limón in Costa Rica and Bluefields in Nicaragua.
MIGRATION TO CUBA
This led to the next phase of migration, to Cuba, to reap cane. Eighty thousand Jamaicans made the short trip to Cuba. Although many returned, the majority remained to work in the cane fields. In fact, more than some 25,000 Jamaican women joined the men, working mostly as domestic helpers. After the work on sugar plantations virtually ended in 1921, because of a collapse of the sugar price, thousands decided to stay on in Cuba rather than return home, despite the development of hostile relations with Cubans. In 1930, 60,000 Jamaicans were estimated to be living in Cuba, establishing a vibrant Jamaican-Cuban community.
America, land of dreams to be fulfilled, was the next venue for intrepid Jamaicans ceaselessly seeking employment. From 1913, Jamaicans refocused their migration to America. Many thousands immigrated to the north eastern states. This wave was discontinued by the Immigration Law of 1924, which prohibited further non-white immigrants to the United States. The onset of the Great Depression in America, beginning in 1929, and its consequential severe downturn on world trade together with the closure of the migration outlet in America and Cuba laid the foundation for the labour upheavals of 1938 when riots broke out across Jamaica.By the 1940s Jamaicans were on the go again, responding to the need to release domestic pressures in the U.S.A. and United Kingdom. Many were recruited to replace American men in fields and factories during World War II. Later it was the U.K., the 'mother land', recovering from the loss of men in the war. The resultant labour shortage created a need for unskilled workers who would accept the lower pay offered by lower level jobs which were undesirable to the British people.
Jamaicans responded with the first batch of emigrants on board the Empire Windrush in 1947. The mass movement began in 1955. For a decade they travelled to a land of inhospitable climate and, to a certain extent, inhospitable people who needed them but did not want them. But they continued to go.
My father, Phillip Seaga, through his travel agency, chartered two Italian ships which became prime movers in the Jamaican migrant flow to Britain.
Between 1952-1962 165,000 Jamaicans migrated to the United Kingdom. Once again, they became the dominant ethnic migrant group from the Caribbean, so much so that black persons in some parts of England were generically referred to as Jamaicans, regardless of their island of origin. The massive Jamaican community in Britain has become one of the largest overseas settlements of Jamaicans. Many success stories surround their lives in Britain, notwithstanding the adversities and failures which they faced.
The U.K. trek of migration was suddenly curtailed in 1962 leaving thousands of unemployed at home who could no longer be accommodated with jobs. Again, Jamaicans were not prepared to sit and wait for better opportunities at home. There was a re-focus of plans for migration in the 1960s to the U.S.A. and Canada. This wave commenced slowly, and then picked up steam into the next decade, the 1970s, which became the most eventful decade of all.
The attempt to transform the Jamaican society and economy by radical political means between 1972-80 precipitated economic chaos and social disruption which played out in mounting stress and anxiety among the people and a collapsing economic framework. By the second half of the 1970s, the population was seeking a way out by the usual means, the emigration of thousands. But, this time there was a great difference. The exodus was not of working class people only, but professional and management personnel, as well as skilled and technical people. The outcome was devastating to the economy.
Some 175,000 persons migrated to the U.S. between 1970-1980, about 50,000 of them dependants. This figure speaks to quantity. But the quality of the emigration was equally astonishing. Between professionals, technical, managerial, skilled and semi-skilled members of the labour force, 16,100 migrated between 1977-1980. This was the equivalent of an estimated 60 per cent of the output of the university and other institutions of higher learning and those trained in various skills in 1979, the high point.
The pattern of the 1980s and 1990s have shown a consistency with the annual figures of recent decades, averaging 21,222 per annum, except 1997 to the present when the average dipped to 15,370 due to stricter immigration policies. Thus, the migration valve continues to remain open.
This 125-year chronicle of migration establishes:
1. that Jamaica has failed to provide enough employment for its labour force, and as a result;
2. waves of migration occurring almost back-to-back, provided employment outlets overseas for many, many thousands of Jamaicans, and; 3. without a substantial migration outlet as occurred between 1921-1940, the stage would be set for a social and economic explosion, as in fact was the case in 1938.
These findings should be borne in mind by Jamaican authorities as the government of the United States prepares to enact new legislation to curb immigration.
Sources:-The Jamaican Economy: 1830-1930 by Gisele Eisner;
-Regional Footprints edited by Annette Insanally, Mark Clifford and Sean Sheriff;
-PIOJ, Economic and Social Survey (various issues)
See related stories on pages B12, 13 and 15
Edward Seaga is a former Prime Minister. He is now a Distinguished Fellow at the University of the West Indies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first Chinese arrived in Jamaica as indentured laborers for British sugar plantations in the 1850s and 1860s, and continued to immigrate voluntarily in small groups right up until the 1940s. Originating mostly from Guangdong and Fujian, Chinese immigrants in the Caribbean did exactly what they do elsewhere in the world: they opened small businesses, got rich and sent their kids to good schools.
But maybe Chinese doctors started using some of the local herbs in their remedies because something different happened in Jamaica: Kingston’s Chinese population was involved from the earliest days with the down and dirty ghetto music that became reggae.
Pioneering Jamaican Chinese record producer Leslie Kong
The first Chinese Jamaican music pioneer was Kingston hardware merchant, Thomas Wong, better known as "Tom The Great Sebastien". He is generally credited with developing the first real dancehall sound system in the early 1950s. At that time, urban Jamaicans liked to dance to American soul and blues music, but local bands were not very professional and it was much cheaper to have a DJ selecting records than to hire an entire band. Jamaican sound systems were the world’s first dance clubs in the contemporary sense of the word, and Jamaican selectors were the first DJs to start “toasting” or talking over the musical tracks, a style that later led to ragga and dancehall. Many music historians trace the roots of hip-hop to Jamaican sound system DJs, via DJ Kool Herc who went to New York 1967 and started rapping over records.
But in the 1950s, hip-hop was a long way off and Jamaican music was only beginning to define itself as a national style. One of the key figures in making reggae music Jamaica’s national sound was Byron Lee. Lee sang rock and roll and rhythm and blues in the 1950s, and together with his band the Dragonnaires, played a leading role as bandleader and promoter in transforming ska from a west Kingston sound into a national and later internationally renowned musical form. Ska grew out of a fusion of American soul and local Caribbean rhythms. It’s fast pace and steady beat made it really popular as dance music, and it later morphed into reggae as well as gaining a strong following in the UK with -- strangely enough -- punks and skinheads.
One of the most prolific and successful reggae producers was Leslie Kong (pictured above). Kong owned a combination ice cream parlor and record shop called Beverly's. He got interested in the music business after selling records, and started producing records with a recording studio upstairs from the ice cream parlor. Kong was the first producer to spot Bob Marley’s potential. In 1962 Kong released Marley’s first two recorded songs: “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Judge Not”. Although neither of these songs ever became hits, Marley’s went on to become reggae’s most celebrated musician and the most famous Jamaican of the 20th century.
Kong’s major contribution to reggae was probably his longer-lasting association with Jimmy Cliff who was also Kong’s first artist. In 1961, Cliff was hoping to get sponsorship to record a song he had written called “Dearest Beverly.” The young singer stood outside Beverly’s Ice Cream parlor singing the song. Kong was enchanted, and agreed to fund the recording. Beverly’s record label was born, and Cliff’s recording career was launched. Kong also produced Desmond Dekker’s “Poor Me Israelite” the first record made in Jamaica to hit the top ten in Britain and America. The song topped the British Charts in April 1969 and went to number nine on the American charts in July 1969, eventually selling over two million copies. This was Jamaica’s first real international hit.
Singles from Beverley's Records:
Kong himself died of a heart attack, aged 37, in August 1971. A Rastafarian legend says that Bunny Wailer (of Bob Marley and the Wailers fame) put a curse on Kong when Kong released a sub-standard collection of hits called “Best of the Wailers”. The story goes that just after Kong’s accountant told him how much money he would make from the record, Kong went home and died.
Jamaica’s Chinese community is still very much involved in music. Reggae record liner notes are still full of names like Chan, Chung, Lee, Hookim and Chin. In addition to musicians and producers, Chinese Jamaicans have been active on all musical fronts: Old-timer Byron Lee promotes a new Jamaican popular style called Soca (a kind of carnival music) while Karl Young (Yang) runs IRIE FM, Jamaica’s all-reggae radio station. In fact, if you want to know more about this strange corner of history, one of the finest histories of reggae music was written by two Chinese Jamaicans named Kevin Chang and Wayne Chen.
Emancipation Lecture Series 2008
|Presented By Rev. Fr. Easton Lee, Author and Theologian
Guest Presenter at 15th Emancipation Service Lecture and Cultural Presentation under the theme “Emancipation: The Lesson and the Legacy – The Chinese Jamaicans in the Emancipation Process” held Sunday, July 27, 2008, at the Bethel Baptist Church, Kingston.
I would like to thank the Churches’ Emancipation committee for their kind invitation to me to address you on this occasion. I must also thank Mrs. Eppie Edwards, Ms. Lola Shakes and Dr. Hopeton Dunn for their very kind and efficient and invaluable help.
In considering the subject “Chinese Jamaicans in the Emancipation Process”, I will start by pointing out that much of what I have to say is based on personal experience. So you will pardon the references and the use of the personal pronouns from time to time.
There have been a number of persons who have written on this subject, in my view, some lacking the insight that only personal involvement can give. This is not to belittle the scholarly work that has been done, but perhaps to help to point the way for that which is yet to be done. It is my hope that some organization or person able to do so, will cause a definitive study to be made of the subject.
The Chinese migration to the Caribbean began in 1806, with 192 indentured labourers to Trinidad, then to Guyana 1845, Cuba 1847, and Panama 1850. By 1970 with 11,700 Chinese, Jamaica had the second largest Chinese population in the Caribbean, next to Cuba which by then had about 12,000. They were all Hakka people descendants of the Han, all from Southern China.
Early Chinese Presence in Jamaica
The Chinese presence in Jamaica began some twenty years after slavery and a few years after the Indian arrival. In fact, the abolition of slavery was the reason why these two sets of people came to Jamaica.
There is some disagreement among historians as to the actual date and source of arrival of the first group of Chinese. One respected researcher however has them arriving directly from China in July 1854, and the second group coming in October of that year via Panama (“Chinese in the West Indies”: W. Look Lai).
The first group were labourers recruited as such, the second was a group of labourers recruited to work on the Panama Canal and railroad who found the conditions in Panama unhealthy and intolerable and asked to be sent to a healthier place.
Before their arrival in the Caribbean, they were migrating to other countries, for example, the United States of America where they helped to build their railroad and agricultural systems, to Australia, New Zealand and India among other places.
In the early 1800s, Southern China, particularly *Guangdong Province, suffered severe natural disasters, harsh and prolonged drought followed by devastating floods, totally destroying all the food crops, leaving millions without food. And so a major outward trek of the Chinese people began with tens of thousands seeking survival and a better life in other countries, as well as in other parts of China.
The first group to arrive from China to Jamaica were farm labourers recruited from the affected region. Taking the relatively new city of Lung Kong (Dragon City) in Guangdong Province as the center, the majority of these and subsequent migrant labourers and relatives were all from within a radius of sixty miles, with climatic conditions similar to Jamaica.
They were all trying to escape the unbearable conditions created by natural disasters as well as the political unrest, and the struggles against foreign oppression at that time. These foreign countries were trying to divide and rule China as they did to Africa, another ancient continent. There were the Opium Wars. The movement (Boxer and Taiping rebellions) of that time subsequently led to the liberation of China some 100 years later.
But back here in the Caribbean, groups of Chinese arrived between 1864 and 1884. The period 1920 to 1933, saw the greatest numbers arriving, mostly sponsored by relatives. My own father and his two brothers came in 1920. By 1943, the census recorded over 12 thousand Chinese in Jamaica, mostly in the cities of Kingston and St Andrew, Spanish Town, Montego Bay , and in the Capital Towns and deep rural districts and villages. These were mainly from the Hakka group. Some Cantonese, part of the 56 national groupings which make up the Chinese nation all distinguishable by language custom and culture, and sometimes physical features.
The Hakka and Cantonese are known for their hard work, industry, adaptability and for their nomadic tendencies. The Hakka, more so. When things don’t suit them, they move on. A fact to bear in mind.
The conditions under which they were recruited, and worked, were hardly better than those of the African slaves they were meant to replace. They had to agree to repay to the plantation owners the full cost of their passage to Jamaica. They were paid very poor wages and many ended their 3 or 5 year indentureship period owing money to their employers. They were required to work seven days a week, sun up to sundown ,doing exactly what the slaves did, looking after animals, planting, weeding, cutting canes, working in the factories making sugar, rum and molasses, as sugar boilers, coopers, firemen (as distinct from fire fighters though that too when necessary.)
Among other things, they were promised Chinese groceries and houses with concrete floors. However, in most instances they got windowless, one room huts with mud floors, inadequate sanitary facilities and little or no Chinese food .
These harsh conditions led to illness and disease, and were the cause of perhaps the first recorded strike of paid workers in Jamaica. This took place at Duckenfield estates in St Thomas (1855) where a group of Chinese workers staged a sit down strike. The Estate owners employed the help of some African and Indian workers to force the Chinese back to work. There was a fight in which several persons were injured and one man killed. The result was an improvement in some of the conditions including a six day work week, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with Sundays left as the day to work in their plots of vegetables, a very substantial part of their diet (“The Chinese in Jamaica”: Lee Tam Yin , 1957)
Chinese Indentured workers were sent to estates all over Jamaica, in every parish where there was a sugar plantation or factory. For example, the first arrivals were sent to Duckenfield, Albion, Lyssons and Trinity in St. Thomas, Spring Garden in Portland, Blue Castle in Westmoreland, Lanrummy in St Mary. (“The Shopkeepers”: Ray Chen, page 13-23)
These estates in the colonies were then a vital part, if not the main source of European wealth. This wealth was the driving force of the British economy for example, and to a great extent funded their industrial revolution. But this wealth was literally drying up after abolition, which the British were forced to grant as the slaves made slavery untenable. The Africans albeit aided by some good European people of conscience, and in rebellion after rebellion had fought long and hard for their own freedom. Added to that, as Eric Williams reminds us slavery was becoming unprofitable , so Queen Victoria did not grant them freedom out of the goodness of her heart . She had no choice. (“Capitalism and Slavery”: Eric Williams)
Not all the Africans who were sold into slavery were labourers uneducated and unskilled. There were many highly skilled craftsmen, educated persons and some professionals among them, as there were with the later Chinese arrivals. There were bankers, businessmen, teachers, doctors and manufacturers, not all were poor. Also among the Indians were educated skilled persons. But it was essential for the plantation owners and their supporting Colonial Government, as part of their control mechanism, to portray the Africans, Chinese and Indians as inferior to them in every way.
When the majority of the freed Africans quite rightly refused to work for the pittance being offered, the estates had to find a source of other workers in order to save their source of wealth, power and prestige. India and China were their preferred sources as the workforce from their own country Britain proved ineffective.
By the time the Indians and the Chinese arrived in Jamaica, the Creole Culture was being formed with the newly liberated population still in the struggle to establish themselves as truly free from the remnants of plantation and Colonial domination, control and oppression. And it was in this atmosphere that the Chinese found themselves. So for example, it was that language, the Creole language, that they learnt to speak. And it was in that society that they would learn to live, survive, work and prosper.
In China there was a tradition of manufacturing and exporting many products. Items like crockery dishes, teacups, plates made in China were familiar to Jamaica as were cheap fabric, canvas shoes (crepe sole) cotton vests (merino) and chalk toys. This gave some prestige to local Chinese and no doubt this culture, influenced their activities after estate employment.
Early Chinese Businesses
At the end of their indentureship, very few Chinese remained on the land. The relatively few who did went into market gardening growing mostly vegetables, sweet potatoes, and dasheen known to them in their native country. Many took advantage of the promised passage and returned to China. (Patrick & Loraine Lee and interview with Henry Lee 1950)
Scattered as they were all over the island in the villages, they were able to observe at first hand the needs of the people around them, and set out to supply these needs through nascent businesses. During slavery the slave owners were responsible for providing their necessities of food and clothing to the slaves. This ended with abolition. The villagers had grown accustomed to items such as pickled fish and meat, flour, cooking oil, rice, cornmeal, basics to supplement their daily diet.
It was in response to this continuing need, the Chinese village shop came into being. This was consistent with Chinese practices in the United States. Chinese laundries came into being in the US, because the Americans were always asking the Chinese workers to wash their clothes, sometimes paying for the service. Out of this necessity, Chinese laundries became a thriving business in the US, as did Chinese village shops in Jamaica.
Patterns of Chinese assimilation into Jamaican life
On my first visit to our ancestral village in China in June 1980, I saw little village shops in the exact design as built here by my father and others, and so common in Jamaica. I wonder whether the design was brought to Jamaica, or sent back to China from Jamaica.
Sometimes these shops were no bigger than twenty feet by ten feet. The size of a small bedroom. Some even smaller, with one or more rooms at the back which served as living quarters. All had a serving counter running the length of the building some L or U shaped. This counter was the meeting place of two distinct cultures, mutually dependent and where the integration really began. In some larger shops, the living quarters were located upstairs. Many were rented from villagers, some from the estates which recognized the convenience of having them located nearby. This form of shop keeping was to be the main occupation of the Chinese for decades.
It is difficult for those outside the experience of shop life to understand what it was like. First of all they sold the basics mentioned, but also everything from common pins and safety pins to hairclips, cutlasses and forks and hoes, shovels, face and body powder, salt, bread, crackers, black pepper, water boots, pens and pen knibs, lead pencils, exercise books, pencil-rubbers. Pots pans, plates dishes cups and saucers. Any thing you can think of that might be wanted or needed. Arrow root pill, salt physic, and aspirin. Not to mention shirts, belts, shoes, cloth, needles thread, buttons, hooks and eyes and press studs. Aerated waters, “Rum Brandy Gin, and other distilled spirits”, as the required spirit license read.
There was a research system in place. If items not in stock were requested, they would be written down in a special pocket note book and ticks placed for each request. Any item with three or more ticks would be brought in. Because of the language problem, a long stick was often used to point out what the customers need.
Items were sold in the minutest quantities as could be afforded by the customers. Cash was scarce and, for many, came at irregular intervals. For those employed by Government, (railway, roads) or on estates, pay-bill was fortnightly or monthly, at best, weekly. The other source of villagers income was from crops they planted, or animals they reared .The majority were self employed.
Most persons were poor yet dignified independent minded people, persons of great faith, sometimes barely able to eke out a living from the hillside lands they were given at abolition. They were only able to purchase small quantities of their requirements each time, a farthing worth of salt, penny bread, quattie salt fish. ½ a pound of flour, half-penny sugar, penny salt butter, penny salt pork. Fip worth of corn pork. (If you don’t know what a quattie or a fip is, you can ask me later.) A few shillings a week was all that some families afforded for their supplies.
The shops were opened at the crack of dawn, six days a week and closed only after the last customer left. On Sundays, after church, sale would take place from an open window or backdoor for a part of the day to facilitate customers whose money came after closing time the night before.
After closing time on a Saturday the shop had to be thoroughly cleaned, the floor scrubbed from end to end, shelves tided and made ready for Monday. Work was also done on Sunday, after church, wrapping and packaging. But on Thursday and Friday nights, the wrapping and the packaging and the funnelling went well into the wee hours of morning.
A few hours sleep and it was back behind the counter serving customers to and from their Saturday market. This was sheer drudgery. Done without complaint and always with a smile, always courteous and friendly to the customers. That was a rule not ever to be broken.
Because of the scarcity of cash, credit was given to trustworthy customers. In fact, the term used was “trust”. This was so from the earliest times continuing well into the fifties and sixties . There were two types of credit customers.
Book customers, for whom a pair of pocket note books kept their accounts. One held by the customer, one by the shop. These were the regular, bigger customers who had ongoing credit and whose weekly bill amounted to twenty to thirty shillings.
Then there were the paper customers who occasionally needed credit during the week. Their accounts were kept on slips of paper, set on a wire hook and destroyed once they were paid.
Not only goods were credited, sometimes small loans of cash to special customers were necessary for family emergencies, for doctor, medicines, train-fares, examination fees, court fines and loans were made till payday.
So the shop operated also as a bank. Sometimes their cash and valuable papers, eg., land titles, were kept in the iron chest for safe keeping.
Payment was often accepted in kind, coffee, pimento, annatto, chickens, eggs - whatever the customers produced and then resold.
Many times there was a debit balance, when a customer owing thirty shillings could only afford on a particular week to pay twenty-five, the balance would be brought forward. At other times when it was afforded, customers may pay a little more than was due, leaving a credit balance for later needs .
In our experience we never had a bad debtor, people always paid their bills.
The shop then was the centre of village life , serving as trading post, bank, a gathering place. A place to hear or give the latest news. Get first aid. A place where you could get a letter read , written or a form filled out.
The vast majority of these were owned by Chinese families, staffed by relatives some sent for when it could be afforded or when necessary. As soon as was possible and feasible, relatives were set up in businesses of their own. Help to relatives was always given, sometimes at great sacrifice and was one of the reasons for their success.
The Chinese from the earliest times operated a system almost identical to the Partner system. That community partnership helped tremendously and was the source of capital to start or expand businesses which were rapidly growing in size and numbers.
BSC Degree- Behind the Shop counter.
The life education which we gained behind the counter is second to none and proved invaluable. We were able to observe life in all its reality and complexity .We gained insights which no university could provide.
A very successful businessman who came out of that experience, jokingly says, “We earned our degrees at a very early age – a BSC no less – a behind the shop counter degree.” But the truth is, we would not be who we are without that learning, and Jamaica would not be the same without the village shops and that service.
The success and prosperity that was being seen by early shopkeepers did not sit well with some sectors, who lobbied and pressured a very receptive Colonial Government. They were seen as a threat by a very short-sighted merchant class who up to then were the only importers of the very commodities the Chinese were making available in their retail outlets. In response, the Chinese went into the importing and wholesale business with much success.
Soon all sorts of restrictions were being placed on Chinese migrants and business. One of the restrictions required those arriving to be proficient in either French or English. A quota system was imposed limiting the number of migrants. Each new-comer had to pay a security fee of One hundred pounds sterling. That particular restriction obtained up to Independence 1962.
From their first arrival, the Chinese migrant was portrayed and labelled as it suited the Colonial Powers and the ruling class according to the image they wished to create to suit their own purposes. Heathen Chinee, the Crafty Oriental, The yellow peril, the hard working money-grabbers who were in Jamaica, to take away the people’s jobs and wealth and send it back to China .They were portrayed as morally and physically inferior to the Whites and the Blacks, deceitful and entirely incapable of assimilation into civilized society. They were deemed a threat to the moral economic and physical well-being of the west, dominated by white culture and values.
They were at one time portrayed as the saviours of the ailing sugar industry which the “lazy negro” had abandoned, and whose work was superior to that of the “Negro”. This was an attempt to put the Chinese labourer as a buffer, a control mechanism between them and the growing free society.
According to Dr. Lee Loy, “To preserve White control, colonial society required a docile people to act as a buffer zone between Black and White elements of society. Representations of Chinese migrants were consistently moulded to ensure they were perceived as fitting into this role.” (“Reading Mr. Chin”: page 38 Dr. Anne- Marie Lee-Loy 2006)
Philip Sherlock also saw the Chinese as “ separate racial group , which serves as a cushion between blacks and whites.” (“The story of the Jamaican people”: Phillip Sherlock/Hazel Bennett)
When this ploy seemed to fail, the portrayal shifted to the negatives and sadly a small portion of the Creole population joined in much of the stereotyping ridiculing and branding, resulting no doubt in some of the hostilities against the Chinese and which led to a number of lootings, burnings and other violence possibly even murder, though some of these hostilities had their origin in very personal matters.
Challenges to integration
Some of what was being said about the Chinese was quite ridiculous and not worthy of repetition but perhaps to a small measure delayed inevitable integration and acceptance, which came when the people discovered that much of this was fabricated. But it took years.
Despite all of this, the hard work, dedication and commitment to family, their resilience , the consistence and tenacity with which they clung to the ancient teachings of their ancestors, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and later of Christianity, have made them succeed and prosper.
Chinese are often admired by others for their industry, thrift and for helping out each other. They are also known to value the last cent or penny and wasted little. They avoided ostentation and were seen as hardworking with little time to socialize or “idle”. These attitudes and behaviour were drilled into their offspring. In this short poem I have tried to recall this teaching. (Poem: “Today”)
Yes me buy book
My buy any book you want
Clothes and shoes no matter.
Eat good food yes
Study you book – dat’s better.
One day you glad.
Today dem laugh.
One day you kick backside
And pay with pocket change
Still have plenty money aside –
I tell you nobody laugh you
That time you laugh sweet.
- “From behind the Counter” by Easton Lee (1998) page 7
From the humble beginnings of these tiny shops, they have risen to the heights of the Jamaican economy and life, second to none and, for the greater part, are fine examples of responsible citizens. The humble shops have all but disappeared, giving rise to large supermarkets and shopping centers.
There is one very important factor that was vital to integration. Very few women came. The majority of the early arrivals were young men, unmarried or newly married. Their life of interaction with Jamaican Society, inevitably led to intermarriage.
Through the years, the Jamaican women have stood and worked side by side with their chosen Chinese husbands and partners and were a key element in their integration, prosperity and success. Now after a hundred and fifty years, many of us with Chinese ancestry and Chinese names are of many colours, all part of the great Jamaican melting pot, wonderful and beautiful people and “Su wi good lookin, su wi smart and bright”.
The Chinese in the beginning looked to China as home, but as integration and acceptance progressed, this changed accordingly. But no matter what their economic circumstances, one thing was common and constant as with many other Jamaicans, the importance of education.
Insistence on Educating the Children
Chinese parents placed great emphasis on education and learning, insisting that their children acquire as much as they could. We were always to be thrifty, not craving the unnecessary luxuries. This teaching was identical to the Biblical instruction on the vanity of material things. Many were sent to England and the US to collages and a few also to Chinese Universities as there was as yet none in Jamaica.
Life revolved around Shop, School, Church and, in the rural areas, around community as well.
Being Tong Knin (Chinese), knowing your roots was paramount. My father came to Jamaica, well educated in China to the equivalent of a Masters degree, possibly a doctorate.
He married a Jamaican woman of mixed racial heritage from a poor rural family, with an elementary school education. They found that there were many similarities in the teachings of China and Jamaica, and we were raised on both. Because of the similarities in the teachings, my father was very supportive of our Christian activities. (Poem: “Sunday”)
Yes man go church
You madda carry you go
Church good thing me know
Teach you love God
Love mother, love father
Love alla somebody…
Teach respect old people…yes
Church good thing
But you no stay too long
Church over, people come home
Good thing, serve God
Serve customer, too.
- “From Behind the Counter” by Easton Lee (1988) page 5
He saw to it that we knew something of Africa, of India, Scotland and of England - my mother’s ancestry and, of course, China. We, like many of our peers, had the best of both worlds.
He tried to teach us to speak Hakka but due to the ridiculing and the teasing we encountered, we ended up knowing very little, just basic everyday usage, and as it applied to the shop. We learnt however to write our given Chinese names and my mother learned much more Hakka than we did.
We grew up on the strictest discipline. Proper respect for our teachers and older people was key. The oldest person present at any given time was in charge. This included our helpers. Strict table manners were always observed. Both those of Chinese and real Jamaican “country” origin.
We were taught the Chinese way and the Jamaican way and were reprimanded by both parents for any breach of either .We celebrated the major Chinese festivals sometimes simply, sometimes elaborately.
In Chinese culture, boys were preferred to girls, as they carried on the family name. When a girl marries she takes her husband’s name and becomes part of his family. The boy however remains in the family forever and had first claim to education, inheritance and other privileges. Family and the family name were revered, and nothing was to be done to cause shame or embarrassment to your family, to “lose face”. On the contrary, everything must be done to bring them honour .
We were taught to ignore the ridiculing we often got from others. We could afford to, we knew who we were. We were reminded that China has a proud history giving to the world many important inventions. That Rome fell, the Byzantine Empire, Greece, the Incas the Aztecs all but disappeared but China remains, and will one day again be the envy of other lands. This we have lived to see happen.
My Father also knew much of African History, of their early institutions of higher learning, of Timbuktu, of their art. Africa was the only country he would consider as old as, or older than China. Chinese University students he said studied Africa. He spoke of the Historic connection, of China’s friendly trading visits to Africa (1405-1433) predating Vasco Da Gama, and Christopher Columbus by almost a century. (“1421”: Gavin Menzies).
He spoke of cultural similarities between the two countries. Was very upset at some of the degrading fallacies that were being passed off as African. He had great respect for people of African descent. He was a great admirer of Norman Manley for his work towards Jamaican self Government and independence which he felt was the key to Jamaica’s future prosperity.
The Chinese from very early, set up institutions of their own to take care of their affairs. Among them The Benevolent Association, to help new migrants settle and to provide translations and legal advice, The Athletic Club as they were not allowed membership in any other, Retailers, Wholesalers, and Bakers Associations since they were barred from those already in existence. The Soda Fountain and Restaurants Association.
The Chinese Public School with several rural branches to teach their children Chinese culture. A branch of Chee Kung Tung, a powerful lodge-like international association. The Chinese Catholic Youth Association, a Sanitarium, a Cemetery, the Home for the Aged and a Taoist Temple .They published their own newspapers and magazine .All these have now been rendered unnecessary by integration and assimilation, except for the CBA, which is still in existence but with a mandate more in keeping with the times and needs and which still operates the Home for the Aged and the Cemetery. The temple can still be seen on Barry Street. There is also the Chinese Cultural Association and the Jamaica China Friendship Association – open to all Jamaicans – of later vintage.
Impact of Mao and the Revolution
The changes in China in the late 1940s divided the Chinese Community. Many did not support Mao’s Government – indeed, very anti. For some it did not matter .It made my father and father-in-law both very happy. Others migrated to USA and Canada. Jamaican Independence was also greeted with mixed feelings. Ironically, some had grown accustomed to the protection of Britain. Many were among the other Jamaicans who migrated.
Their fear of Socialism and rumours of Communism in the 70s scared many, and these nomadic people again migrated. True to their Hakka heritage ,they moved on.
Some have since returned, and there have been in recent years some new Chinese arrivals mostly from Hong Kong, because of its change of status. These are mainly young people seeking a start. What will happen with these is yet to be seen.
It is fair to say that from the foundations laid by the early migrants, and subsequent arrivals, in the Jamaica of today, there are persons of Chinese ancestry in every walk of life who have and continue to contribute to the Jamaican development in immeasurable ways.
The scorn, derision and abuse have all but disappeared, the degrading stereotyping labels have given way to acceptance and respect resulting in a sense of belonging.
Today they are to be found at the summit of Commerce and Banking, in manufacturing of which they were among the pioneers. In the hotel and tourism industry, they are dominant operators, as in the supermarket, baking and fast food industries.
They are teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, engineers, contractors, architects. In religious orders, politics, the arts, Jamaican music industry and in academia . They are also the majority of restaurant owners. They are in the civil service and the security forces, ground transportation, sports and airlines. They are the pioneers in the recording of Jamaican music and now one company is among the world’s top six in the recording of Jamaican music. In their every chosen field of endeavour, the Chinese Jamaicans continue to excel and are a credit to the country.
A study in progress estimates that some 25,000 Jamaicans are employed by the various establishments owned and run by Chinese nationals, with some 100,000 family members directly benefiting.
Mandarin is now being taught at the University of the West Indies, a number of Jamaican students have gone to Universities in China most on scholarships. China has been giving assistance to some vital Jamaican projects and their expanded Embassy continues to cement the Chinese and Jamaica’s Historical association. We have had many important Government Officials visiting us. We hear of imminent Chinese investments in Jamaica.
Thousands of Chinese Jamaicans all over the world are proud of their Jamaican origin and icons and make their contribution like any other Jamaican living abroad.
There is no doubt that the Chinese are now well and truly integrated as a vital part of Jamaica and to a certain extent “Creoleized”. A version of the numbers game they introduced (Drop Pan) is now legal, though some see that as a negative. However the Chinese Jamaicans are contributing in positive ways and fully participating in the process of Nation building and are acknowledged and appreciated by the vast majority of other Jamaicans as true and loyal citizens.
I would bet that there are not many Jamaicans or Jamaican families without a Chinese connection, or at least a friend. The celebrations of the two Chinese festivals each year (New Year or Spring and National Day Festivals) are very well supported by other Jamaicans.
Chinese cuisine is now a popular and important part of Jamaican fare and has captured the support of Jamaica. Among the many spices are a few innovative Jamaican additions. Jerk sauce is sometimes added to stir fry and fried rice .The combination of Soy Sauce and Scotch bonnet pepper is now standard fare in the many restaurants to choose from. These offer the food with the robust flavours peculiar to Southern China and well liked by most Jamaicans. So are stew-peas and “rundung” favourites among Chinese Jamaicans.
Though they are proud of the recent achievements of China, they no longer wish to return except for business or visits to ancestral sites. Jamaica is home. This feeling grows with each succeeding generation, despite the fact that their place of origin is now considered the richest province in all China. Many non- Chinese Jamaican businessmen, in recent years, have visited this part of China and some have established profitable links with companies there.
The census figures of 2001 say there are 5,153 Chinese persons in Jamaica with few of the first generation group. Most are Jamaican born and there are 161,234 persons of Mixed races. I suggest that a great many of these are part Chinese.
Perhaps the greatest of the Chinese Jamaicans’ achievement is that by their consistent hard work and discipline, have earned their own emancipation from the false portrayals, names and branding of the Colonial masters and ruling classes and others of their early days in Jamaica. They have earned the respect and recognition as worthy citizens even from their strongest detractors.
The struggle was not an easy one to this emancipation, but the Chinese held on to the ancient teachings of their ancestors which instilled the principle of respect for all people. “Better than none, inferior to none, but equal to all” was a guiding philosophy.
Though it was tried to hold them in this vicious psychological bondage of inferiority in Jamaica as well as in China, their minds were not distorted or corrupted by foreign ideology and bigotry. They were mentally free. This foreign domination tried all over the world has been the trademark of many nations, who thought themselves better than others has been a failure in Chinese terms.
One of the essential elements in fashioning a viable society is a strong economic system of commerce, trading and distributing goods and services, making accessible the needs of all the people of that society, and producing and marketing their products in a sustained way. Part of the Chinese contribution was to provide a vital link in that essential chain.
However, their contribution is not only in economic terms. With the little shop as their main base , they have moved out into all our other vital sectors and professions, further enriching the life of the fledgling nation.
In my view there is another vital contribution, still in progress, to be acknowledged. Nettleford reminds us that “The freedom (re)gained is still to be fully realized. The persistence of the mentality after the fact of physical (and legal) freedom is indeed not the least of the barriers stifling that sense of self and of civil society that must come eventually to all aggregations of self-possessed and self-directed human beings.” (“Emancipation – The lessons and the legacy”: H. Dunn. A challenge to the Church, page 6)
The Chinese arrived in Jamaica after slavery was legally abolished. They entered a country where the freed slaves were beginning to establish their own society. Their freedom was hard won, and the scars were deep. People were robbed of their dignity and personhood, overtly and covertly, by people themselves migrant, operating an oppressive system, leaving many with a distorted view of self and worth.
The migrant Chinese in their own struggle for survival were joined with these other migrant peoples struggling and working for their emancipation, as aliens in white man’s country being used for his purposes.
The Chinese as a group have overcome this and have demonstrated that no matter what the odds and obstacles, the human spirit is indomitable, and that people of worth can rise above anything, prosper and create a viable civil society, with the freedom and the right to be.
Though this is not unique to the Chinese, their own triumph over attempts to enslave them mentally has made the Chinese Jamaicans an important and essential part of Jamaica’s struggle to true emancipation, which is not only physical/legal, but as Marcus Garvey consistently advocated and in his words echoed by that brilliant Bob Marley, song, emancipation “from mental slavery”.
It has taken time for all the migrant people to trust and respect each other and come to a point where they can begin to think of a nationhood that embraces the oppressed and the oppressor, a nation truly “Out of many one people”. In Hakka we say “Chee gaa kngin” meaning we are one family .The Chinese proudly embrace this ideal knowing that in the harmony of this diversity lies their well being, and that of Jamaica the country in which they have found a home.
Sidebar Para. 1 Page 2
Now China’s richest province and most vibrant economically GDP 2007, US $422 billion, contributes 12.5% to National output. Most populous province, 110 million, 30 million of which have migrated to the province in the past 20 years. China’s showpiece of economic growth, since designated Special Economic Zone in1979, its city Shen Zhen -formerly Bao Onn County - is the fastest growing city in the world.
Recommended for further reading:
The Chinese in Jamaica
By Lee Tom Yin (1957)
Jamaican Chinese Worldwide - One Family
Patrick & Loraine Lee
Reading Mr. Chin
Dr. Anne-Marie Lee Loy
Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage
The Chinese in the West Indies
Dr. Walton Look Lai
Jamaica in Independence
Edited by Rex Nettleford
Caribbean Quarterly - June 2004
Page 15: Patrick Bryan