ISS 0 6
VOLUME 50, No. 2 JUNE 2004
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden)
The Chinese in the Caribbean
Guest Editor Victor Chang
Victor L. Chang
Chinese Diasporas: An Overview 1
Walton Look Lai
The Settlement of the Chinese in Jamaica: 1854-c. 1970 15
An Afro-Chinese Caribbean: Cultural Cartographies of Contrariness in the Work
of Antonio Chuffat Latour, Margaret Cezair-Thompson, and Patricia Powell 26
Lisa Li-Shen Yun
Identity in Transition: Chinese Community Associations in Jamaica 44
Aaron Chang Bohr
They Never Looked Back :The Role of the Hakka women in Jamaica. 74
M. Alexandra Lee
BOOK REVIEWS 81
Books Launch -Eason Lee's "Encounters". I ver.tv )of : 91
Books Received 94
Notes on Contributors FEB 2 5 2105 96
Information for Contributors Latin Amercan Colectior 97
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Professor, the Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor, Editor
Professor H. Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor, Principal, Cave Hill Campus, UWI
Professor K. Hall, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, Mona Campus, UWI
Dr. B. Tewarie, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, St. Augustine Campus, UWI
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of History, Mona
Professor Neville McMorris, Dept. of Physics, Mona
Dr. V. Salter, C.S.I., Office of Vice Chancellor, Mona (Managing Editor)
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to: The Editor, Carib-
bean Quarterly, Cultural Studies Initiative, Office of Vice Chancellor,University
of the West Indies, PO Box 130, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
Tel. No. 876-970-3261, Tel Fax 876-977-6105
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they would
like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book reviews of
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are asked not to send international postal coupons for this purpose.
Exchanges: Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section, Li-
brary, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
Back Issues and Microfilm : Information for back volumes supplied on request.
Caribbean Quarterly is available on microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms
and in book form from Kraus-Thompson Reprint Ltd.
Abstract and Index : 1949-2001 Author Keyword and Subject Index available as
a hard copy.
The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
Let Us Celebrate 150 Years
The Chinese in Jamaica,
As if in celebration of Kamau Brathwaite's "the arrivants" the felici-
tous, if loaded, designation given to those who came after 1492 to the Caribbean
(and all of the Americas), this special issue of Caribbean Quarterly, Vol.50.,
No.2, June, 2004 entitled The Chinese in the Caribbean, commemorates the
150th Anniversary of the arrival of the Chinese to the Caribbean shores. As with
the Africans, some indentured European labourers and East Indians (who arrived
from the Decca Plateau approximately ten years before them), their presence was
dictated by the demand for labour made necessary by the abolition of slavery
which resulted in the flight of African labour from the sugar palntations. As the
Guest Editor, Victor Chang points out, few of the first arrivants would have
predicted that they would never return to their homeland but would remain in a
place like Jamaica to become the 'original' entrepreneurs in business and retail,
and also the island's bakers.
Their modest rise to success has been due partly to their willingness to
work long hours in their comer grocery shops scattered throughout the island and
their tradition of total family involvement, where it was expected that even the
children would serve in the family business. They also allowed their customers
credit facilities, thus increasing their popularity amongst the underclasses. The
Chinese today still control the retail grocery business. In Jamaica most of the
major supermarket chains came to be owned by Chinese families.
It has been argued that the Chinese have been ethnically exclusive (p.21)
however some Chinese festivals such as New Year are celebrated by Caribbean
peoples of all ethnicities. The Chinese cuisine is very much in demand and
imitated by many in the society.
The Chinese have also contributed significantly to the social, political
and economic life of the region, and with their thrust for education for their
children, have provided doctors, lawyers, bankers and political representatives for
the benefit of their adopted homelands.
Yet, despite this strong Chinese presence, there has been far too little
documentation on the Chinese in the Caribbean. Even this formal Caribbean
Quarterly, established in 1949, with the birth of the UCWI, has only one article
published in 1982 by Howard Johnson on "The Anti-Chinese Riots of 1918 in
Jamaica" (CQ, Vol.28, No.3. 1982). We are grateful to Dr. Victor Chang for
editing this excellent collection of five papers. It is hoped that this issue will
begin to help plug this gap in our knowledge of what is undoubtably a very
important thread in the tapestry of the region, and encourage other scholars to
research this far too long neglected set of arrivants.
I doubt that when the first set of Chinese landed in Kingston harbour in
July of 1854, they could foresee that they would be followed by hundreds of others
and that their descendants, far from going back to China would instead move away
from the canefields and the travail of agricultural indentureship. Instead, they
would become the bulwarks of the retail trade in Jamaica, identified with grocery
shops throughout the island and business in general, and inextricably a part of the
fabric of Jamaican life.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the coming of the Chinese to
Jamaica, an event worthy of note because in that time, the Chinese have continued
on that evolutionary path that led them away from the canefields and into all areas
of life in Jamaica in the 20th century. In the intervening years, they have under-
gone a process of assimilation into Jamaican society so that now they can be found
in all careers and professions in the island, whether it be service in the Church, in
education, in banking, in law, in politics, as well as in traditional business.
This issue of CQ seeks to examine and celebrate something of their
history and achievement in Jamaica while at the same time it places the phenome-
non of Chinese immigration to Jamaica in a pan-Caribbean context, and I have felt
free to include material that expands the scope of inquiry to the neighboring
island of Cuba.
With this in mind, Walton Look Lai's article provides us with an over-
view of Chinese Diasporas and Immigration in general in a comprehensive time
frame. His essay details the four phases of Chinese emigration, beginning from
the first century down through the centuries and carefully details and discusses the
relationship between destination and provincial origins as well as the socio-eco-
nomic and historical factors that gave rise to emigration from China. He discusses
the occupational push-pull factors and shows how these can provide us with a
more nuanced insight into the varying kinds of impulses that drove the Chinese to
seek another life overseas, first on an intra-Asian level and then in a wider global
There are two articles which focus specifically on the historical aspects of
the Chinese in Jamaica. Patrick Bryan does a rapid yet comprehensive survey of
the settlement of the Chinese in Jamaica from 1854 to about 1970, providing us
with an overview of the general experience of the Chinese in the island, and
touching on the major topics of their relationship with the Creole society which
they entered, their role in retail trade, the difficulties they faced and the strategies
they adopted to survive and prosper in the island. He comments briefly on the role
of the Community Associations which they established and their importance.
It is these Associations that Aaron Chang Bohr chooses to look at in
greater detail. Indeed, his article seeks to establish that these Associations per-
formed a valuable task in maintaining ethnic solidarity for the Chinese even while
giving rise to, and sustaining, a cross-island network that was crucial to their
business interests. At the same time, these Associations paradoxically aided early
acculturation and assisted in the assimilation of the Chinese into their new home-
land by establishing links with the host societies.
In examining two contemporary Jamaican novels and a rare communal
biography by an Afro-Chinese Cuban, Lisa Yun's article breaks new ground. She
suggests that we need to re-examine the traditional views of the Chinese in
Jamaican society and come up with what she terms a "contrarian diasporic iden-
tity", one that is more complex and includes the notion of hybridity and Creole
identity and supplies a broader sense of what being Chinese means in an immi-
grant society. Even more valuable is her examination -the first of its kind-of the
biography of Afro-Chinese Cuban writer Antonio Chuffat Latour since she main-
tains that his work is a valuable document of the Chinese experience in the
Caribbean and startlingly suggests that we need to consider the inclusion of
Africanity, and blackness as part of a reconsideration of what constitutes a
Caribbean Chinese identity.
In the same way Lisa Yun gives voice to Chuffat Latour, so Alexandra
Lee, in her turn, gives voice to the Hakka Women in Jamaica who traditionally
have not had an opportunity of being heard. Her approach to this is highly
original since her article is based entirely on interviews she held with Hakka
women in Jamaica. By resorting to the oral tradition, she performs a critical role in
recording a part of history that is quickly lost and forgotten while at the same time
she reveals aspects of the Chinese settlement in Jamaican which have not been
To all these scholars, I give my warmest thanks for so willingly sharing
their work even while recognizing that a volume of this size cannot hope to
encompass all the areas of enquiry which still need to be explored. Further, I
would especially like to extend my gratitude to Jamaican photographer Ray Chen
for supplying the photograph and design on the cover of this special issue and to
Rory A. Chang for all his efforts in getting the page of calligraphy done for me.
VICTOR L. CHANG
Dudo que cuando el primer grupo de chinos lleg6 a la bahia de Kingston
en 1854, ellos pudieran predecir que les seguirian otros cientos y que sus
descendientes, lejos de regresar a China, lograrian librarse del trabajo en los
campos de cafia y del duro contrato (indentureship) agricola. Ignoraban que, por
el contrario, Ilegarian a convertirse en un baluarte del comercio minorista en
Jamaica, identificados con los mercados de comestibles y negocios comerciales a
lo largo de toda la isla en general, y que serian por ello una parte inseparable de la
Este afio marca el 150 aniversario de la llegada de los chinos a Jamaica,
un hito important debido a que, durante este lapso de tiempo, los chinos ban
continuado el paso evolucionario que les liber6 de los campos de cafia,
diversificando su participaci6n en todas las areas de la vida de Jamaica en el Siglo
XX. Durante estos afios, han sufrido un process de asimilaci6n en la sociedad
jamaiquina, de tal modo que en el present pueden encontrarse representando
todas las carreras y profesiones en la isla, bi6n sea al servicio de la Iglesia, la
educaci6n, los bancos, la ley, la political; o en los comercios tradicionales.
Este nuimero de CQ trata de analizar y celebrar una parte de su historic y
los logros en Jamaica, a la vez que ubica el fen6meno de la inmigraci6n china a
Jamaica en un context pancaribeflo. Me he torado ademas la libertad de incluir
un material que expand el campo de la investigaci6n hasta nuestra isla vecina de
Comando en cuenta lo anterior, el articulo de Walton Look Lai ofrece
una vision general de la Diaspora China y la Inmigraci6n en general dentro de un
marco de tiempo amplio. Este ensayo present en detalle las cuatro fases de la
emigraci6n china, partiendo del siglo primero y pasando a trav6s de los siglos; a la
vez que detalla y analiza cuidadosamente la relaci6n entire el destiny y los origenes
provincianos, asi como los factors socio-econ6micos e hist6ricos que causaron la
emigraci6n desde China. El autor valora los factors ocupacionales de altibajos y
muestra como los mismos pueden ofrecemos una vision interior mis matizada
dentro de los various tipos de estimulos que Ilevaron a los chinos a buscar una vida
en otros paises, primero a un nivel intra-asiitico y luego en un m6dulo global mis
Hemos incluido dos articulos que enfocan especificamente los aspects
hist6ricos de los chinos en Jamaica. Patrick Bryan present una ripida pero
exhaustive encuesta sobre el asentamiento de los chinos en Jamaica desde 1854
hasta apr6ximadamente 1970, ofreci6ndonos una vision de la experiencia general
de los chinos en la isla, y tratando temas importantes sobre su relaci6n con la
sociedad criolla a la que se incorporaron, su papel en el comercio minorista, las
dificultades que afrontaron y las estrategias que adoptaron para sobrevivir y
prosperar en la isla. Present ademis un breve comentario sobre el papel y la
importancia de las Asociaciones Comunitarias que establecieron.
Son estas Asociaciones sobre las que Aaron Chang Bohr realize un
studio detallado. De hecho, su articulo trata de determinar el valioso papel que
jugaron estas Asociaciones en la preservaci6n de la solidaridad 6tnica de los
chinos, a la vez que dieron origen y mantenian una red national que result crucial
para sus intereses comerciales. Al mismo tiempo, estas Asociaciones
parad6jicamente contribuyeron a la aculturaci6n temprana y asistieron en el
process de asimilaci6n de los chinos a su nueva tierra por medio del
establecimiento de vinculos con las sociedades anfitrionas.
Al analizar dos novelasjamaiquinas contemporineas y una rara biografia
comunal escrita por un afrochino cubano, el articulo de Lisa Yun explore un
terreno nuevo. La autora sugiere que es necesario reexaminar la vision traditional
de los chinos en la sociedad jamaicana y llegar a lo que ella consider una
"identidad diasp6rica contradictoria", una que es mis compleja e incluye la noci6n
de hibridez e identidad criolla y que aporta un sentido mis amplio al significado de
ser chino dentro de una sociedad inmigrante. Atin mis valioso es su studio el
primero de su tipo sobre la biografia del escritor afrochino cubano Antonio
Chuffat Latour donde asevera que su trabajo es un document valioso sobre la
experiencia china en el Caribe y sugiere desde el principio que necesitamos
considerar la inclusion de la Africanidad y la negrura como parte de la
reconsideraci6n de lo que constitute una identidad caribefta china.
De la misma forma Lisa Yun ofrece una voz a Chuffat Latour, asi como
Alexandra Lee, a su vez, ofrece una voz a las mujeres Hakka en Jamaica quienes
por tradici6n nunca habian tenido la oportunidad de ser escuchadas. Su enfoque a
este asunto es notablemente original dado que su articulo se basa totalmente en las
entrevistas que sostuvo con mujeres Hakka en Jamaica. Al recurrir a la tradici6n
oral, asume un papel critic en la documentaci6n de una parte de la historic que se
pierde y se olvida ripidamente; a la vez que revela aspects del asentamiento
chino en Jamaica que no habian sido documentados previamente.
A todos estos estudiosos les agradezco profundamente su gentileza de
compartir su obra, a la vez que reconocemos que un volume de esta extension no
puede cubrir todas las areas de investigaci6n que necesitan ser exploradas. Me
gustaria agradecer ademas al fot6grafo jamaicano Ray Chen por haber contribuido
la fotografia y el disefio de la portada de este nfimero especial; asi como a Rory A.
Chang por todos sus esfuerzos para conseguir que se me preparara la pigina de
VICTOR L. CHANG
Je doute que lorsque les premiers Chinois d6barquerent au port de
Kingston en Juillet 1854 ils pouvaient pr6voir qu'ils seraient suivis par des
centaines d'autres et que leurs descendants, au lieu de retourner en Chine, auraient
laiss6 les champs de canne et le travail de contrat6 (indentureship) agricole. Ils
deviendraient plut6t les maitres du commerce de detail a la Jamaique, identifies
avec les 6piceries a travers l'ile et le commerce en g6n6ral, et faisant
inextricablement parties de la vie Jamaicaine.
Cette ann6e marque le 1506me anniversaire de l'arriv6e des Chinois a la
Jamaique, un 6v6nement digne d'8tre remarque parce qu'en ce laps de temps, les
Chinois ont continue cette evolution qui les a conduits hors des champs de canne
dans toutes les spheres de la vie Jamaicaine du 20eme siecle. Au course des ans, ils
ont subi un processus d'assimilation dans la soci6t6 Jamaicaine tel, qu'aujourd'hui
on les retrouve dans toutes les carrimres et professions, que ce soit dans l'Eglise,
1'education, les banques, le droit, la politique, ainsi que le secteur traditionnel des
Ce numero de CQ cherche i examiner et c6lbrer leur histoire et leurs
accomplissements a la Jamaique. I1 essaie 6galement de placer le ph6nomene de
l'immigration chinoise a la Jamaique dans un context pan-Caraiboen, done je me
suis senti libre d'inclure du materiel qui tend 'aire de l'enquete pour inclure l'ile
avoisinante de Cuba.
Avec ceci a l'esprit, I'article de Walton Look Lai nous fournit une vue
generale de la Diaspora Chinoise et de l'immigration en general pour une vaste
periode. Son essai donne des details sur les quatre phases de l'emigration Chinoise,
en commengant avec le premier siecle et cheminant a travers les si6cles. Cet essai
d6taille et discute soigneusement aussi la relation entire la destinations et les
provinces d'origine ainsi que les facteurs socio-economiques et historiques qui
expliquent l'emigration a partir de la Chine. II discute les facteurs d'occupation i
tirette et montre comment ils peuvent nous donner une vue plus nuance des
diverse sortes d'impulsions qui porterent les Chinois a chercher une autre vie a
l'exterieur, au prime abord au niveau du meme Continent Asiatique puis au niveau
II y a deux articles qui se concentrent de fagon sp6cifique sur les aspects
historiques des Chinois a la Jamaique. Patrick Bryan fait une 6tude rapide mais
comprehensive de l'Ntablissement des Chinois a la Jamaique de 1854 aux environs
de 1970 nous fournissant ainsi une revue g6n6rale de 1'experience Chinoise dans
l'?ile, et touchant les sujets majeurs de leurs relations avec la soci6t6 Creole dans
laquelle ils entrerent, leur r6le dans le commerce de detail, les difficulties qu'ils
rencontrerent et les strategies qu'ils adopterent en vue de pouvoir survive et
prosperer dans 'ile. II comment brievement sur le r6le des Associations
Communautaires qu'ils ont 6tablies ainsi que leur importance.
C'est au sujet de ces Associations qu'Aaron Chang Bohr a d6cid6 d'6crire
avec force details. En toute v6rit6, son article cherche a 6tablir que ces
Associations ont fait oeuvre qui vaille en maintenant la solidarity ethnique entire
les Chinois et en encourageant un r6seau a travers 'ile qui 6tait de toute importance
pour leurs interrts commerciaux. En meme temps, ces Associations ont
paradoxalement facility une acculturation pr6coce ainsi que l'assimilation des
Chinois dans leur nouvelle terre d'asile en 6tablissant des liens avec la society
En examinant deux romans Jamaicains contemporains avec une rare
biographic publique par un Cubain Afro-Chinois, 'article de Lisa Yun explore un
terrain in6dit. Elle suggere que nous devons reexaminer les vues traditionnelles
des Chinois dans la soci6te Jamaicaine et venir avec ce qu'elle appelle une identity6
contraire de diaspora" identity qui est plus complex et inclut la notion
d'hybridit6 et d'identit6 Creole et done un sens plus large a ce que c'est qu'etre
Chinois dans une soci6t6 immigrant -. Mais encore plus valuable est son examen -
le premier en son genre de la biographic de 1'6crivain Cubain Afro-Chinois,
Antonio Chuffat Latour, car elle maintient que son oeuvre est un document valuable
de l'experience Chinoise dans la Caraibe et suggere d'une facon sensationnelle que
nous devons considerer I'inclusion de l'Africanit6, et de la negritude comme
faisant parties d'une re-consideration de ce qui constitute une identity Chinoise
De la meme facon que Lisa Yun fait parler Chuffat Latour, a son tour,
Alexandra Lee prete sa voix aux Femmes Hakka i la Jamaique qui n'ont
traditionnellement pas eu I'opportunit6 de se faire entendre. Son approche a ce
sujet est tout-a-fait original puisque son article est entierement bas6 sur des
interviews qu'elle a eues avec des des Femmes Hakka a la Jamaique. En faisant
appel a la tradition orale, elle joue un r6le capital en enregistrant une parties de
l'histoire qui se perd rapidement et est oubli6e tandis qu'en meme temps elle r6vile
certain aspects de l'Ftablissement des Chinois en Jamaique qui n'ont jamais 6te
A tous ces 6rudits, je present mes plus chaleureux remerciements pour
avoir partag6 leurs travaux avec tant d'empressement tout en reconnaissant qu'un
volume de cette taille ne peut esperer couvrir tous les domaines d'enquete qui ont
encore besoin d'etre explores. De plus, je voudrais specialement exprimer ma
gratitude au photograph Jamaicain Ray Chen pour avoir fourni la photo et le
design pour la couverture de ce numero special, ainsi qu'a Roy A. Chang pour tous
ses efforts en vue d'avoir cette page de calligraphie faite pour moi.
VICTOR L. CHANG
Chinese Diasporas: An Overview
WALTON LOOK LAI
In the late 1950's, migrants from Asian origins accounted for less
than 8 per cent of the migration to the US and around 3 per cent of the migration
to Canada and Australia. By the early 1990's, these proportions had increased to
about 48 per cent of the annual migration to Canada, 38 per cent to the US and 46
per cent of the migration to Australia. In 1990 alone, for example, 256,000
entered the US, 91,000 Canada and 56,000 Australia. In the early 1990's, the
overseas Chinese community would have approximated 30-35 million worldwide
- about 30 million in Southeast Asia and other parts of Asia, about 3.2 million in
the Americas, about 700,000 in Europe (including the former Soviet Union), some
370,000 in Oceania, and about 100,000 in Africa. Relaxed immigration laws in
the USA, Canada and Australia since the 1960's, combined with the impact of the
new globalisation and the rise of East Asia has resulted in an unprecedented
movement of peoples from this region of the world to these countries. The
implications of this new multicultural immigration, while unique to the circum-
stances of the current stage of global economic history, have to be seen in the light
of past history. The Chinese diaspora is quite old, and it is important to conceptu-
alise its current relationship to global society and economy in historical and
The term diaspora is being used here to mean simply migratory
dispersal, interchangeable with the term overseas Chinese communities, and is
not being used with the political-historical connotations often associated with the
original usage, although there may very well be some similarities in specific
societal situations.' Even so, it is necessary to define the term overseas Chinese.
The simplest definition would mean anyone of Chinese descent who personally or
whose ancestors migrated from China to a foreign country within or beyond Asia,
and who now considers himself/herself a citizen or permanent resident of the host
country. The recently published Encyclopedia Of The Overseas Chinese defines
this as someone whose non-Chinese citizenship and political allegiance "collapse
ancestral loyalties".2 This definition would technically exclude Chinese nationals
who are residing temporarily in a foreign country for purposes of study, business,
or other reasons, who continue to consider themselves nationals of China and have
the intention to return to their place of birth within the foreseeable future. It would
conceptually include people from this group who do have intentions of relocating
to the new society, and who may be making moves to effect such a transition. It
could also include people in all the different host countries who may be locally
born of mixed Chinese descent, but who may wish to define themselves or may
even be defined officially by their host societies as belonging to the Chinese
community. The Encyclopedia also includes in its definition of overseas Chinese
permanent residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong who have simultaneously acquired
foreign citizenship of one kind or another, even though they may continue to live
in these places.
Methods of Classification
There are several ways in which one can classify Chinese migrant
communities for the purposes of analysis. One can classify them according to
their chronological origins i.e. the historic period when the migrations originally
took place, and the first local communities were formed. One can classify them
according to the kinds of destinations or host societies in which they settled, with
the implication that the social and developmental challenges which they faced
were qualitatively different in each group of destinations. One can also classify
them according to the nature of the occupational push/pull factors which took
them to their new environments.
Applying the first method of classification, we can separate four
distinct phases in the history of Chinese migration. First, there was the phase
which can be described as the autonomous or traditional intra-Asian phase, when
their movements were the result of regional and/or national domestic factors,
unconnected to and indeed before the historic contact with Western powers.
Strictly speaking, the earliest overseas Chinese communities evolved during this
period, often dated between the seventh to sixteenth centuries (from the Tang to
the late Ming dynasties), but evidence suggests an even earlier tradition. Thus we
may be speaking about migrations to Japan of religious and political exile commu-
nities between the first century B.C. and the end of the Han dynasty in the third
century AD; migrations of trading communities along the route of the ancient Silk
Road towards the Middle East, for example in Armenia; periodic waves of politi-
cally inspired migrations to various countries in Southeast Asia during the violent
transitions from one dynasty to another. Or we may be talking about communities
formed in the wake of officially endorsed and sponsored commercial ventures
established with surrounding countries in South East Asia during the prosperity of
specific dynastic periods like the Tang (618-907), the Song ((960-1271) and the
Yuan (1271-1368). It is known that there were early bases in Formosa (Taiwan)
and nearby islands (Taiwan only became a part of China during the Ch'ing, in
1683), and that these emigrants established substantial trading links with the
Philippines, the future Dutch East Indies, and the Malay peninsula before the
arrival of the Europeans.3 One well-known seafaring venture during the early
fifteenth century was the seven overseas voyages conducted by the Ming Admiral
Cheng Ho between 1405 and 1433 to thirty countries between Southeast Asia and
east Africa. Records of these voyages have established that the seafarers found
large communities of several thousand families of Chinese settlers in places like
Java, originating from Guangdong and south Fujian. In fact, it is these communi-
ties which many of the early Europeans relied upon to act as intermediaries in their
initial commercial contacts with the region.
The second phase of Chinese migrations covers the sixteenth to the
nineteenth century, when migration continued to remain focused on intra-Asian
links, although an added stimulus to this movement came from the increasing
presence of the Western powers inside the intra-Asian trade nexus, and the grow-
ing importance of the links with the new Atlantic world economy. This period
saw increased numbers of merchants, artisans, miners and agricultural workers
going to the Philippines, Java, West Borneo, Sumatra, Thailand and the Malay
Peninsula. The migration largely resulted in the deepening of ethnic Chinese
business enclaves all over South East Asia, all of whom had varying degrees of
continuing cultural and economic contact with the mainland.
In the third, nineteenth century, period, Chinese migration ventured
beyond Asia for the first time in large numbers, while continuing to expand within
Asia itself. In many ways the nineteenth century migration was an extension, in
the age of the industrial revolution, of the Chinese involvement with the Atlantic
economy created with the arrival of the Europeans in the Asian region in the
sixteenth century. In this third phase, however, the paramount pull factor was the
expanding labour needs of a globalising and industrialising Atlantic world-system.
With the globalisation of the vital needs of the industrial revolution- raw materials,
markets, outlets for investment, cheap labour from any source- the global demand
for cheap and mobile manual labour predominated over the needs of the older
intra-Asian mercantile networks. This is the age which saw the global dispersal of
overseas Chinese to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific islands (Ha-
waii, Tahiti, New Guinea, Fiji, Western Samoa and Nauru), to Mauritius, Reunion,
the Seychelles and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, to South Africa and to the
Americas. Within the Americas, their movements covered the USA and Canada,
Spanish America (mainly Cuba and Peru, and later in the century, Mexico),
Portuguese Brazil, in addition to the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean planta-
tion societies. Much of the comparative discussion on the evolution of the over-
seas Chinese communities is focused on the fate of these nineteenth century
The fourth and current phase of Chinese migration, largely a post-
1960's phenomenon, is connected to a qualitatively new phase of globalisation.
Here the migration is directed mainly to the cities of the metropolis, the "centre",
rather than to the developing outer regions, the "periphery". Here moreover the
primary impetus seems to be the need for multi-class and multi-skilled labour
rather than just unskilled labour, more "brain and brawn" drain than pure "brawn"
drain. The historic context for this new migration would include among its main
demarcating factors the end of the age of European empire, the invigoration of
new core centers within the global world economy specifically the United States,
Canada and Australia and the rise of the Pacific region as an autonomous player
in this reconstituted world economy. Involved in this new migration also is a
much larger sweep of sending regions, provinces and countries within Asia, not to
mention a significant remigration of Chinese settled in old host countries to the
new host countries.
Another way of classifying the Chinese diaspora would be according
to the host countries to which they went over time. The historian Wang Gungwu
distinguishes between the developed "core" industrial countries with white major-
ity populations, the underdeveloped "periphery" of Pacific, Africa and the Latin
America/Caribbean region, with their non-white majority populations, and finally
countries within Asia itself. These group of countries are distinguished from one
another not only by virtue of the state of their economic development, their roles
in the global economic hierarchy, and the racial composition of their populations,
but also by the uniqueness of the overall combination of options, opportunities and
constraints confronting the immigrants in their arrival and adjustment experiences.
Thus racism, competition with white labour, restrictive social and immigration
laws could play a decisive role in shaping the mobility and job options open to
migrants to one group of countries, whereas local colour hierarchies or conflicts in
a largely non-white colonial society could play a quite different role in shaping the
nature of the spaces open to an ex-plantation Chinese labourer in another context.
Moreover, earlier established relations between migrants and native populations,
such as the pre-16th century Chinese business enclaves in Southeast Asia, could
lead to migrants being consciously favoured by new colonial elites and incorpo-
rated into the colonial dispensation as intermediaries and economic power bro-
Classification by occupational push/pull factors would distinguish
between trade diasporas, student diasporas, labour diasporas, family or district
chain migrations, modem professional migrants, as well as clandestine or illegal
immigration, a form of labour diaspora. While there was considerable overlap in
any given historic period, trade diasporas belonged largely to the preindustrial age,
and predominated in the Southeast Asian nexus; labour diasporas predominated in
the industrial age, went to all regions, and were themselves subdivided into
voluntary, semi-voluntary and forced migration, or seasonal vs long-term arrange-
ments; student diasporas belonged to all periods, but have come to prominence
with the current period, as has professional migration. Chain migrations of fami-
lies or district and village networks have belonged to all periods, while clandestine
migrations are perhaps the modem equivalent of the nineteenth century semi-vol-
untary labour diasporas in a new context.
A few of these migration patterns, like the trade or even labour diaspo-
ras, were often overseas extensions of domestic traditions of long distance move-
ments. Wang Gungwu mentions the merchants of Shanxi, Anhwei, Fujian and
Guangdong who dominated long distance trade within China for several centuries.
This merchant tradition was carried abroad most successfully by the Fujian (Hok-
kien) and Guangdongese merchants in Japan, the Philippines and South east Asia.
There is also the phenomenon of remigration from old host countries to new host
countries, which may involve simply relocating from one territory to another
within a given regional nexus e.g. among the different islands of the Caribbean,
Indian Ocean or Pacific regions, or within Southeast Asia proper, but more often
than not it involves relocating from these countries to one of the Western industrial
countries. This trend may embrace most of the occupational groups mentioned
above, and its motivations may be either socio-economic or political. It would
seem too that a significant amount of early remigration in the Americas involved
movements from the Caribbean and Latin America to the USA, mainly the East
Coast. A noticeable number of the early East Coast (as opposed to West Coast)
Chinese originated in other areas of the Americas, and US immigration records
would seem to confirm this fact.4
Issues for Comparative Enquiry
In terms of comparative enquiry, several fruitful areas of investiga-
tion suggest themselves. In the first place, where did these migrants come from, in
China? What was the relationship between destination and provincial origins in
any given context? Secondly, what can we say about the socio-economic and
historical contexts of each of these diasporal movements? Or about the compara-
tive conditions of migration within any specific historic period? Thirdly, what
comparative generalisations can we offer about the manner in which the pre-
1960's diasporas adjusted to their very different host societies over time? And
lastly, what implications will this have for current immigration adjustment chal-
lenges in the era of twenty-first century globalisation?
The issue of the origins of China's migratory streams brings us face to
face with the fact that, until the current or fourth period, the majority of China's
migrants have come from two southern coastal provinces, the province of Fujian
and that of Guangdong. This applies to all three historic periods, and even to a
large extent to the current period. Port cities like Xiamen (Amoy), Shantou
(Swatow) and to a lesser extent Guangzhou (Canton) had seafaring and overseas
traditions which predated the arrival of the Western traders, and the intensified
intrusions of the nineteenth century in the aftermath of the two Opium Wars of the
1840's and 1860's only served to heighten the activities and migratory movements
traditionally associated with these ports.
Interestingly, the ratios between these two sending regions have not been
the same in all destinations. Most Fujianese over time migrated mainly to South-
east Asia, whereas most American-bound and indeed nineteenth century migra-
tions originated from Guangdong. However, according to the Encyclopedia Of
Overseas Chinese, up to the 1950's Guangdongese constituted 68 per cent of the
world's overseas Chinese communities. The Guangdongese are themselves subdi-
vided into northeastern Teochiu speakers emigrating from the port city of Shan-
tou5 and southeastern Cantonese emigrating from Canton, Hong Kong and
Macao. Mingled among all these migrants were also the Hakka dialect group, who
lived dispersed in both provinces, but were especially concentrated in the border
regions separating Fujian from northeast Guangdong. They emigrated out of all
three sending ports. Migrants also came in smaller numbers from the island of
Hainan, and the province of Guangxi In the 1950's Fujianese constituted 50 per
cent of the Chinese population of Indonesia, 40 per cent of that of Malaysia, and
as many as 82 per cent of that of the Phillipines. By contrast, more than 90 per cent
of the pan-American and Hawaii Chinese before the 1970's were Cantonese.
Some overseas destinations were closely linked to specific regional or
dialect groups e.g. Hokkien or south Fujianese merchants in Japan, Taiwan, the
Phillipines and Java, the Hakkas in West Borneo, the Teochius in Thailand.
Certain villages or districts became known as major suppliers of migrants, e.g.
Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Jinjiang in south Fujian,, Siyi (Four Districts), Sanyi
(Three Districts) and Zhongshan (Chungshan) in southeastern Guangdong.
Some became closely (though not exclusively) linked to specific destinations:
Jinjiang to the Phillipines, Taishan in the Siyi nexus to the USA, Zhongshan to
Hawaii, the Hakka-speaking eastern Pearl River Delta districts (Fui Yung, Dong-
guan, and Baoan) to destinations like Surinam, Jamaica and Tahiti, the northeast
Guangdong Hakka district of Meixian to places like Mauritius. Some were closely.
linked to specific destinations e.g. Jinjiang to the Phillipines, Toishan to the USA.
Some destinations were temporary, and workers were returned to their homes of
origin after their projects were completed e.g. Shandong workers to Transvaal in
South Africa in the 1900's, and Zhejiang workers to Europe during World War
One.8 Some had special traits e.g. displaced Christians from southern Guangdong
relocated to British Guiana or Hawaii.
In so far as the migratory time periods discussed earlier are concerned,
we can say that the Fujianese predominated up to the nineteenth century, the
Guangdongese in the nineteenth, while twentieth century migration and remigra-
tion has been more multi-provincial and indeed multi-country in origin.
Conditions of Migration
The circumstances under which these varied overseas communities
were originally formed, the legal and physical conditions surrounding their move-
ments to specific territories or groups of territories, and the nature of the freedoms
and restrictions they encountered in the new countries, constitute a special discus-
sion. Moreover, there is the question of where the Chinese labour dispersals fit
into the larger picture of other nineteenth century immigration and labour recruit-
Subjective motivations for migration have ranged from external trade,
study or dissemination of knowledge, escaping from wars and political persecu-
tion, spirit of adventure, abduction, to seeking a living abroad. A 1934-5 domestic
Chinese analysis of 905 families in southern Fujian and eastern Guangdong with
overseas Chinese connections in about 10 countries listed the causes of their
exodus as follows:
Economic pressure 69.95 % or 633 families
Relatives in Southeast Asia 19.45% or 176 families
Natural disasters 3.43% or 31 families
Business development 2.87% or 26 families
Misbehaviour 1.88% or 17 families
Disturbances in the home area 0.77% or 7 families
Family disputes 0.77% or 7 families
Others 0.88% or 8 families
Although the line is a fine one to draw, distinctions can also be made between
those migrations which were overseas extensions of domestic internal migratory
traditions, and those which were caused by specifically targeted recruitment
drives, like the Western dominated indenture recruitment drives of the nineteenth
century. Moreover, some of these recruitment drives were controlled by Chinese,
some by Westerners. Did it make a substantial difference? Did the so-called credit
ticket arrangements to the USA, Canada and Australia, often contrasted with the
indenture arrangements, differ so substantially? Was the credit ticket arrangement
not another form of debt bondage system, and if so, should the question not be
addressed to asking how did it function on the micro-level, how did coercion and
enforcement of debt obligations express themselves at the community level, what
relationships did Chinese intermediaries have with the host country's employer
classes and how did that relationship impact on the individual labourers' freedoms
and options? Many of these overseas employers were actually Chinese, as in
Hawaii and parts of Southeast Asia. How did these debt bondage arrangements
differ, on the micro level, from the indenture contracts of the Western labour
recruiters, especially the milder versions of indenture like the British which often
had a semi voluntary aspect to them?
Moreover, not all indenture arrangements were similar. There were
vast differences in practice between the privately sponsored and operated schemes
like the Cuban and Peruvian indentured immigration and the state-sponsored and
state-supervised operations run by the British in their own colonies.10 Should
there not be a more nuanced comparative investigation into the precise degrees of
coercion and freedom involved in all these labour recruitment schemes, rather than
simply pointing to the starker aspects of experiments like the Cuban and Peruvian
immigration, and concluding that these experiences were integral to all indenture-
ship? How did plantation life differ in different legal jurisdictions, whether Peru
or Guyana, Hawaii or Fiji?
In most of the nineteenth century destinations, moreover, there are
further subtle differences in the cycles of migration. Some communities were
started by traders, before they were joined by communities of indentured labour-
ers. Some communities began as migrant labourer communities before they
evolved into trader communities. Many communities received migrants not di-
rectly from China, but via other regional or colonial connections e.g. Malaysia to
Reunion Java to Surinam, Australia to Fiji, Panama to Jamaica. Some labourer
communities actually started as early as the seventeenth century, before the mass
migrations of the nineteenth e.g. Mauritius under the Dutch (1638-1710).11 All
of them experienced chain or network migrations of one kind or another once the
original settlers had acclimatized themselves to the new environments.
Then there is the current period, where the phenomenon of clandestine
or illegal immigration of Chinese labour into the advanced Western countries,
including Europe, has become a large-scale undertaking. It has been claimed that
there is a specific provincial and regional component to this migration, that it is
overwhelmingly Fujianese, and from specific areas of northern Fujian, with Tai-
wanese intermediaries at the center of the operations. Quite apart from the
comparative issue of the nexus between origins and destinations, or that of the
formal and informal mechanisms of recruitment and transportation, what can a
study of the distribution and utilization of illegal migrant labour in the host
countries tell us about the phenomenon of coercion and debt obligation arrange-
ments in previous periods and destinations?
Adjustment and Assimilation
A comparative analysis of the processes of adjustment undergone by
overseas Chinese to their new environments will have to distinguish between
several elements in this process. First and foremost is the question of the formal
restraints against mobility in the new societies, the range of options allowable in
any given society. The levels and expressions of welcome for the Chinese migrant
may vary from society to society, and indeed from period to period within the life
of any given society. These may manifest themselves in the form of laws passed
by the local legislatures, laws which might be inspired either by elite policymaking
imperatives (ranging from racism to legitimate or illegitimate elite power con-
cerns) or by pressures emanating from below, from constituency sentiment. Local
sentiment itself may be influenced by quite different factors in different environ-
ments. The immigration exclusion laws of the USA in 1882 were concessions to
the fears of white trade union elements, resentful of job competition from the
Chinese in a period of economic contraction, as much as they were reflective of an
overall racism in the society towards non-white immigration. Laws passed in
northern Mexico expelling the Chinese in the early 20th century were designed to
address popular resentment against a successful entrepreneurial and trader class
perceived to be inimical to the interests of an incipient left nationalism.12 Re-
straints may exist not only in the laws, but in the form of informal pressures to
confine the Chinese immigrant to certain levels of advancement, certain physical
and social spaces acceptable to the local power elites and local public opinion.
Factors influencing the process may include not only native elite and
community sentiment, but also the range of options open to the migrant in the
given environment, the migrants' own attitudes to these options, and also the
nature of the difficulties (financial, competitive or otherwise) faced in transition-
ing from labourer to trader, in some societies. There are marked differences in
levels of wealth acquisition, social status and acceptability for the middlemen
minorities of Indonesia or Mauritius, Cuba or Trinidad. There are also marked
differences between the middleman minority experiences of these countries and
what has been called a ghetto-like minority experience in white majority societies
like the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe. As Edgar Wickberg and others like
Lynn Pan have pointed out, up to the 1960's at least, the Chinese in Southeast Asia
might feel culturally vulnerable, but they could take pride in a history of economic
success and local preeminence. North American and other metropolitan society
Chinese were conscious of being marginal in both areas. The tasks'faced, and the
options open to, these groups in overcoming their unique local restraints were thus
quite specific. In the metropolitan white majority societies, the struggle to change
official national self-definitions from a Eurocentric model to a multicultural model
constituted the basis of one kind of challenge. In Southeast Asia and the rest of the
Third World, the need to effect some form of modus vivendi with the forces of
anticolonial nationalism and independence constituted another form of challenge.
This has not always been met with the same response. Some communities have
chosen assimilation, some a form of plural integration into the local elite, many
have chosen flight and remigration to more receptive environments.
Viewing the communities from within, Edgar Wickberg has outlined
a three stage process of ethnic adjustment for the Chinese migrants which seem to
be a generalised truth in most environments.
If he moved to where Chinese were already present, his
initial needs after arrival (basic housing, employment, protec-
tion and support group needs) would all be met from within
local Chinese society. His social relationships would be en-
tirely Chinese. His external ties would be only to relatives left
behind in China, to whom he would send remittances. In a
second stage the new immigrant has become a resident. He is
established in business and has joined one or more ethnic Chi-
nese organizations. Although his meaningful relationships are
almost all with other Chinese, his business interests have forced
him to learn something of local non-Chinese languages and
customs. While continuing to send remittances to his relatives
in China, he may attempt to bring some or all of his family to
where he is. ... If his business does not prosper, he remains in
stage two, living in Chinatown, or, if outside, in his shop in
isolation from the non-Chinese around him. .... And if his
children did not attend school, the whole family might remain at
arm's length (from the non-Chinese) for two or more genera-
But if, instead, our immigrant's business flourished, he
would reach a third, or settler, stage. He may now be a leader in
Chinatown, which implies some responsibility to think about
what is 'true' Chinese culture, or at least the right kind of culture
for Chinatown and for China. More personally pressing, he has
become concerned about Chinese cultural maintenance for his
own children. His business may now have outgrown Chinatown
bounds and Chinese personal bonds. Like his children's Chine-
seness, his own has become complicated and different from his
memories of Chineseness in China. But his Chineseness is also
different from his children's.
If the family business continues to prosper and opportunities
for expansion are available, the family may, over the next two
generations, gradually separate itself from the core of the local
Chinese community. Residential separation may be part of it,
but there may be also a declining frequency of participation in
community rituals and other activities. The Chineseness of the
family may then become, more than ever, a purely family affair.
Written language skills in Chinese may be lost, though possibly
regainable with great effort. Spoken language may or may not
be retained. And the original values of family goals, discipline
and mutual support are likely to persist".13
Inside the community itself, one may also be able to discern several
levels of distinguishing markers, in addition to the wealth and success markers
mentioned above. There are those of district, provincial and tribal origins, there is
the difference between older settled migrants and newcomers, there is the genera-
tional divide between the China-bor and the local-born, there is also the relation-
ship between pure and "mixed" Chinese, products of unions between migrants and
local women, who may or may not regard themselves as part of the Chinese
One interesting question relates to the levels of continuing contact
with mainland China for the overseas communities. Here there is a clear distinc-
tion between those communities which are in the Asian region and those which are
not. This applies especially to the question of levels of remittance and return
investment in China over time. While most overseas communities up to the
1950's maintained some remittance relationship with their families in their home
districts, there is a clear distinction when it comes to actual traditions of return
investment, whether in property or commerce, or even in levels of charitable
activity. Distance, levels of affluence and speed of local assimilation constitute
the key factors here. It is well-known too that the rise of Maoist China effected an
abrupt break in these traditions, and that indeed many Chinese families with
overseas family connections suffered financially and often personally from the
socialist resentment of party and people in periods of high mobilisation, e.g.
during the land reforms of the 1950's, as well as during the Cultural Revolution.
Ironically, one of the things restored with the post-1979 reforms of Deng Xiao-
Ping was not just China-Western relations, but also relations and contacts between
families in China and their relatives in the diaspora.
In 1986 China's Association for the History of Overseas Chinese
sponsored a symposium on the theme of developments since World War II among
the Overseas Chinese and people of Chinese descent holding foreign nationality.
They acknowledged that since the 1950's, the process of citizenship integration of
overseas Chinese into their host societies had proceeded rapidly, especially since
the 1955 policy announcement by the People's Republic of China that it would no
longer recognize dual nationality. This impacted more heavily on Chinese in the
Southeast Asian region, since there is evidence that citizenship integration in other
regions of the world (the Americas, Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific colonies)
had been proceeding according to its own local dynamic. Many of these countries
were European colonies, and that really involved (at least initially) adopting some
form of Western European citizenship.
On the other issues and touchstones of the assimilatory process, the
symposium recognized important changes on several fronts. With its focus pri-
marily, but not exclusively, on Southeast Asia, the symposium concluded as
1. Changes in the Chinese community abroad.
It was pointed out that the Chinese community abroad has gradually
changed from a very closed, tightly-knit, faction-ridden community to a more
liberal, scattered one. The societies which used to be so important to local life
have either disbanded or changed radically. Certain clan organizations have
become less inbred and even international in nature. By their varied activities they
play important roles in holding the community together, providing assistance and
2. Changes in the Chinese family.
The old "broken" family where the father was abroad and the wife
and children remained at home has practically disappeared. Large families of
several generations living together have also given way to small nuclear ones. The
old custom of only marrying someone from the same locality in China has been
broken, and marriage between different races has become common. Families are
often made up of members carrying different nationality papers. New problems
3. Changes in education and culture.
Many places no longer have Chinese-language schools or publications.
The younger generations have accepted non-Chinese language education. Though
some can still speak Chinese, many can no longer read it. The influences of
traditional culture have weakened. Though some countries allow Chinese-lan-
guage schools, these face many difficulties.
4. Changes in employment and social status.
In the past, most Chinese in Southeast Asia worked in the middleman
commercial sector. Today, with the development of the host countries, a certain
number of Chinese have large interests in trade, industry, shipping, finance, real
estate and tourism. Those in developed capitalist countries are switching from
blue collar jobs to ones in enterprises, science, culture, education and politics.
5. Changes in values and ideas.
Most Chinese are gradually becoming assimilated, and are accepting the
values and ways of thinking of their host countries. They no longer think of
themselves as expatriates, but have sunk roots into their adopted countries. Old
traditions and values are being replaced by new ones.
6. Changes in immigration flows.
Since the 1950s, the governments of most Southeast Asian countries
have pursued a "closed door" policy in regard to immigration, so there have been
very few new settlers. In fact there has in some cases been a certain amount of
Chinese emigration as a result of hostile nationalist feelings in the host countries.
This has had a bad effect on the development and social stability of the region.
The reverse has occurred in certain developed capitalist countries which used to
have very strict immigration policies and which now have more "open" ones.
Though still selective, these policies now allow a small but steady stream of
Chinese nationals and Chinese holding foreign nationality to settle. The advan-
tage to them has been in terms of trained manpower and capital.4
Interestingly, the delegates were not all agreed on whether diaspora
Chinese were Chinese at all. There were some who argued that those Chinese who
had adopted other nationalities were no longer Chinese, regardless of race. Oth-
ers agreed that they were different from Chinese nationals living overseas, but that
since many of them still had relatives in China and many cultural and national
links with the mother country, they should not be considered the same as ordinary
foreign nationals. The issue seemed to center on citizenship, rather than on more
intimate assimilatory processes.
On assimilation itself, they agreed it was an inevitable process and
should be supported. But discussions on the precise micro-expressions of this
process were avoided. A distinction was made between the natural, voluntary
process of assimilation and the compulsory one. They agreed that a nationalistic
perspective enforcing assimilation on the Chinese was unacceptable. A multi-na-
tional, multi-cultural policy was said to be more in conformity with present day
world historical development and also helpful in promoting unity and social
progress within a country.
The New Migration
Finally, there is the question of the new migration, its impact on
existing communities and its own potential evolution in the current global village
(or more appropriately, global city) period of history. There are many aspects of
this current migration which necessitate a qualitatively different framework of
analysis. From the sheer numbers involved in the current migration movements,
the class content of the migration, the greater complexity of their origins (which
includes a significant amount of secondary or re-migration), the overwhelmingly
metropolitan destinations of the migrants, the constant contact and communica-
tion between new destinations and old, the interconnected nature of the global job
markets, to the ideological and historical context of the new immigration (age of
multiculturalism on the one end, industrial ascendancy of the Asian region on the
other), it is obvious that the past is a tenuous guide to the evolving future of this
More importantly, the question can be asked, how will this new migra-
tion impact on the earlier assimilation processes, not just in the receiving coun-
tries, but in terms of an understanding of the diasporal identity in an age of
globalisation? The direct infusions of the new immigrant culture, its self-view, its
preoccupations and its aspirations must play a role in revitalizing and reformulat-
ing issues of identity and ethnicity in many of the older communities. What
precisely this role has been so far, or might be in the future, and whether this will
complicate or enhance the meaning of citizenship and nationality in a new era,
especially in fragile developing nation-states, remains an issue beyond the scope
of our present investigation.
NOTES and REFERENCES
1. Robin Cohen, GlobalDiasporas: an Introduction. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.
2. Lynn Pan, (ed). The Encyclopedia ofthe Overseas Chinese. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre,
and Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 15.
3. Ta Chen, Chinese Migrations. With Special Reference to Labour Conditions. Washington,:Govt
Printing Office, 1923. Rept ed. Taipei, Taiwan: Ch'eng Wen Pub. Co., 1967. Lynn Pan, Sons
of the Yellow Emperor: a History ofthe Chinese Diaspora. New York: Kodansha America,
4. See United States, National Archives and Records Administration. Index to 'Chinese Exclusion'
Case Files of the New York District Office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service,
ca. 1882-1960. New York: National Archives and Records Administration-Northeast Region
5. Wang Gungwu mentions other smaller regional contributors: "many other provinces produced
[traders] for Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, even further west to India and a few to Europe.
They include provinces like Zhejiang, Anhwei, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hubei and Yunnan, and the
great port cities of Shanghai and Tianjin, even Beijing itself. What remains to be done is a
close examination of the different experiences of the [trader class] from the dominant prov-
inces and those from elsewhere in China. For example, [whether] there was one basic pattern
of [trader] migration. Also, if those from the southern provinces were more likely or less likely
to settle abroad than those from the north. And, if there was a significant difference between
north and south in the proportion of [traders] who returned to China, why was this so?" Wang
Gungwu, "Patterns of Chinese Migration in Historical Perspective." Ch. 1 of China and the
Chinese Overseas, p.15. Times Academic Press, 1991.
6. The Siyi (Four Districts) were Taishan, Xinhui, Kaiping and Enping. The Sanyi (Three Districts),
just south of Guangzhou (Canton), were Nanhai, Panyu and Shunde
7. Zeng Ling. 'Origins: Jingjiang.' In The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, edited by Lynn
Pan, p. 32. Zheng Dehua. 'Origins: Taishan'; 'Chaozhou-Shantu'. In The Encyclopedia of
the Chinese Overseas, edited by Lynn Pan, pp. 36-38. Singapore Chinese Heritage Centre,
and Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
8. Marlowe Hood. 'Origins: Emigrant Communities in Zhejiang.' In The Encyclopedia of the Chi-
nese Overseas, ibid., pp. 39-42.
9. See David Northrup, Indentured Labour In The Age Oflmperialism (London: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1995) and Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labour, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and In-
dian Migrants to the British West Indies 1838-1918 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
10. W. Look Lai, op. cit., p. 45, 70-71. See also Denise Helly, ed. The Cuba Commission Report: a
Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba. The Original English Language Text of 1876. Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
II1. Huguette Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo. 'Communities: Mauritius.' In The Encyclopedia of the Chinese
Overseas, edited by Lynn Pan, pp. 351-355.
12. Evelyn Hu-de Hart, "Immigrants to a Developing Society: the Chinese in Northern Mexico,
1875-1932;' Journal ofArizona History, 21 (1980), pp.49-86.
13. Edgar Wickbcrg. "Relations: Ethnicity." In The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, edited by
Lynn Pan, p.114.
14. Zheng Min, "Who Are The Overseas Chinese ? How Have They Changed?'. China Recon-
structs, February 1987, pp.54-6.
The Settlement of the Chinese in Jamaica: 1854 c.1970
The first, and smallest, wave, of Chinese migration occurred between
1854 and 1886when Chinese labourers were imported for plantation work. The
second wave, between 1900 and the 1940's, was primarily an immigration of
businessmen. The third wave consisted of Chinese immigrating to Jamaica since
the 1980's. It was, however, the second wave that was most important in terms of
numbers and impact. The second wave, which introduced a large number of
Chinese businessmen into Jamaica, reached its climax in the 1920's. The migra-
tion of Chinese was encouraged from the Chinese end by land hunger, high taxes,
civil war, warlordism, international war and intervention and particularly in
southern and south eastern China, whence came the Hakka, the primary ethnic
group that entered Jamaica.
In 1854 two groups of Chinese arrived in Jamaica. The first group arrived
from Hong Kong by the 'Epsom' on July 30. Of the 267 travellers, 224 made it to
Jamaica, and some 57 of the remainder were hospitalized The second group was
a remnant of an original contingent of 1,042 contracted for work on the Panama
Railroad. Some 197 arrived in Kingston Harbour on November 1, 1854 on the ship
the 'Vampire'. Ten years later a third group of 200 arrived in Jamaica from British
Guiana, Trinidad and Panama.
The last shipment of Chinese labourers arrived on the 'Prinz Alexander'
in July 1884 from Hong Kong via San Francisco and Panama. There were 694
passengers including 509 men, 109 women, 59 boys and 17 girls. The majority
were allotted to estates in St.Thomas and St. Mary; the others went to Portland, St.
Andrew, St. Catherine and Westmoreland.
Levy reports that contracts, which offered a $4.00 wage for a twelve hour
work day (excluding Sundays), food, clothing, accommodation, medical care and
a garden, were frequently violated. The Chinese protested violently, leading to the
introduction of military reinforcements and the death of one worker. By 1886, two
years after the shipment of nearly 700 Chinese on the Prinz Alexander, at least 179
Chinese had deserted the estates to which they had been assigned. By 1891 the
number of Chinese in Jamaica had dwindled to 481. The prejudiced response of
the Jamaican authorities to the determination of the Chinese to protect their
interests was that they were "recalcitrant" "turbulent", "vindictive in temper", and
Chinese migration for plantation labour was therefore not sustained,
abundant, or successful. Since the 'Prinz Alexander' had brought in 694 passen-
gers we can conclude, pessimistically, that qiute a few had died, though the low
death rate of the Chinese would debunk that idea. More optimistically, several
may have emigrated. A third possibility was that those were all the Chinese the
census takers could locate.
The substantial increase in the Chinese population from 481 in 1891 to
6,886 by the time of the 1943 census, was a consequence of the second wave of
migration this time of businessmen, and just as important the entry into
Jamaica of more Chinese women. Chinese migration became heavier in the 1920's
and 1930's. Immigrants who arrived on the 'Gorgistan' in 1921 were all business-
men (621 of them) who gave forwarding addresses of other Chinese businessmen
in the fourteen parishes of Jamaica. In 1922 there were 497 arrivals, and in 1933
there were another 559. The colonial authorities also favoured the immigration of
Chinese females in order to reduce the levels of concubinage between Chinese
males and 'native' Jamaican females that had produced 5,508 Chinese coloured by
1943 (2,928 of them female). "It is, I think, desirable that bona fide wives and
fianc6s should be allowed to join their husbands and prospective husbands in
Jamaica thereby reducing to a small extent cohabitation with native women"
pronounced a colonial official, in response to the level of racial intermixture. By
the 1920's the majority of Chinese entering Jamaica were the wives and fiances
of Chinese men on the island.3 The Chinese population also had a comparatively
good survival rate. Whereas the mortality figure for Indians was 2.66 per thousand
in 1887, the Chinese rate was 0.59 in 1888.
With a number of Chinese becoming shopkeepers before the end of the
19th century, Jamaica became known as a centre of economic opportunity. Suc-
cessful Chinese merchants invited their relatives to come to the island where, after
the necessary apprenticeship, they entered business on their own account.
The Chinese in Jamaica are understandably associated with the grocery
retail trade. Up to the time of the 1943 census nearly 64 percent of Chinese men
and 50.4 percent of Chinese women were involved in trade. After the middle of the
19th century, conditions were ripe for the expansion of the grocery retail trade.4
This expansion was related to the movement of the former slaves into previously
unsettled areas outside the ambit of the plantations. The former slaves and their
descendants were now wage earners and, despite deplorable wages and a limited
cash income, they had become part of the consuming classes.
The geographical distribution of the Chinese shows that between 1881
and 1921, there was a significant decline in the percentage of Chinese dwelling in
Kingston and an equally significant rise in the percentage living in parishes
outside Kingston and St. Andrew. In 1921, 58.1 percent of Chinese were in
parishes outside Kingston and St. Andrew.5 By 1943, with the rapid urbanization
of Kingston and St. Andrew, the numbers were beginning to be reversed, with 49.7
percent of Chinese living in parishes outside Kingston and St. Andrew, and an
increase from 1.9 percent in St. Andrew to 16.8 percent by 1943.6
Although the majority of Chinese became involved with trade there were
10.7 percent of men and 18.4 percent of women who were in clerical jobs, which
suggests a rapid improvement in literacy in English. In 1943 there were only 32
Chinese labourers in the entire island.7
Of the 6,405 Trade Licenses issued during the year ending March 1925,
the Chinese accounted for 1,8058. The Chinese did not, therefore, monopolize the
grocery retail trade but their volume of business was considerable. Their success
as businessmen was attributed to superior service, long working hours, and credit
facilities and accessibility.
The following account hints at the relationship between Chinese busi-
nessmen and their urban clientele:
And if you at home now, and you say you want to cook and you
don't have any meat or fish, you just go down to the Chinaman
shop...You say to the Chinaman give me a piece of fish to cook,
him chap a big piece and give you to go home. Suppose you
want a little oil to put on it... or you want a piece of salt pork
that they used to have plenty, he would give you a piece a salt
pork to go home with, and you go back and you buy things.
Where I was living in Allman Town, the Chinese dem that have
shops we and them get along very much, and I see everybody
get along with Chinese and the Indian dem. Well the Chinese
dem keep shop but they were very nice persons to deal with9
The Chinese system of credit did not apply only to grocery retail, but in
the early years also to the sale of vegetables in the city:
For if they came here they used to walk with these baskets on
their heads and come to your gate. If it is a little bundle of
callaloo, you buy. If is a bundle of Pak Choi or so they sell you
little, and every day they came with it, and weekends they come
and collect their money.1
Chinese economic progress is demonstrated in the fact that by 1942, their
average earnings of 34.83 shillings per week fell just below 'Syrian' (54 shillings)
earnings, well ahead of Blacks (6.16), East Indians (10.08) and Coloured
(18.16).11 Or as Lucius Watson, the wharf-worker, expressed it:
The Chinese use' to live amongst de low class people, till dey
start to grow up. Chinese start to come up, and come up. De
Chinese use' to be shop owners. Hear what de Chinese use' to
do when dey come here. They use' to laundry, use' to do
cultivation, cash crop and laundry and open shop. Dat was dere
trade and dey build deyself right up and dey lef us same
Some members of the Chinese community were prominent bakers. A
Chinese baker in Kingston, of the first generation of immigrants, not only owned
his own bakery but also owned four properties in Kingston. Jimmy Lowe ran a
bottling factory in Port Antonio, and later went into selling life- insurance.13
The Chinese emerged as part of the ethnically differentiated Jamaican
middle class. In the economic sense they were integrated into the Jamaican
community, but resisted assimilation.14 The coloured community was far more
concerned with winning status-linked occupations within the civil service; while
Afro-Jamaicans did not completely ignore the retail business, they tended, like the
East Indians, to be more closely associated with agricultural pursuits.I In St.
Elizabeth, John Lodenquai was not only a retailer and wholesaler of dry goods; he
also sold petroleum, and was one of the largest landed proprietors in St. Eliza-
beth.16 Other combinations were ice-cream parlours and pastry shops; ice-cream
parlour and restaurant; grocery and ice cream parlour.
The settlement of the Chinese community in Jamaica had its difficult
side. Johnson has examined the Chinese situation in the context of their existence
as a trading minority, with a distinct ethnic identity.17 Their association with the
urban working class was plagued by ambivalence. We noted earlier the amicable
commercial relations between the urban working class and the Chinese. Yet the
following extract indicates that some hostile feelings were harboured by the urban
The bus was parked, waiting on the tram car and I behold about
fourteen men beating up one man pushing a bread cart. Dey
have something like a big rubba hose beating the man, telling
'im dat him mus' stop push bread cart fe Chinaman and mek de
Chinaman get mule or horse to do their work.18
During the 1938 upheaval some were forced to close their stores.
The Chinese constantly ran afoul of the weights and measures law, and in
China Town Barry Street and its environs they had to face regular raids by the
Jamaican constabulary in search of opium.19 At the same time non-Chinese
shopkeepers recognizing the competition that the Chinese presented with their
more generous credit facilities and "brawtas" were not friendly to the Chinese.
Not surprisingly, some merchants gave support to the Native Defenders'
Committee, which in its search for social justice for black Jamaicans blamed the
Chinese for loss of jobs. The Chinese were construed as competing against small
black shopkeepers as well. The NDC sought to encourage Jamaicans to make their
purchases from small or non-Chinese shopkeepers. The NDC, in part, represented
Jamaicans who had been forced out of Spanish America by the sugar crisis in Cuba
during the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.They were resentful of
what they perceived to be the liberal manner with which Chinese were allowed to
enter Jamaica, while they were being pushed out of Cuba and Central America.
The anti-Chinese stance of the NDC was part of a general protest against social
and economic conditions on the island, a protest that culminated in the 1930s
Adapting to a new environment poses inevitable problems including
language.One area of difficulty for the Chinese was learning the language. In
order to enter Jamaica thay had to prove some acquaintance with English, but that
knowledge was hardly sufficient for them to be functional in their everyday use of
English, and particularly Jamaican Creole. Moreover, in Jamaica, the laws in-
sisted, understandably, that accounts be kept in English.
In addition to such obvious difficulties, however, the Chinese became the
scapegoats for the moral decadence of Jamaica manifested in gambling and
alcohol consumption. The Jamaican elite were highly critical of Chinese gambling
practices in the island. However, Chinese Peaka Pow and Drop Pan continued to
attract the urban poor because it offered high returns for small investment or so it
thought. (Police reports indicated the presence of Drop Pan and Peaka Pow in at
least six venues in Kingston and five in Annotto Bay). The police, however, found
the suppression of gambling an impossible exercise because "the better classes of
the community" were also active "participants" in Chinese gambling. So desperate
had the Inspector General of Police become that he recommended the invocation
of Gambling Law 25, 1898, whereby Courts could order the demolition of suspect
They were also held responsible for the increase in alcohol consumption.
Mr. Wint, an Afro-Jamaican legislator, in taking the matter of spirit licenses before
the Legislative Council insisted that the "whole thing" was linked to the Chinese.
He proposed that no more licenses should be given to the Chinese, on the dubious
ground that they had caused "the great increase in the number of Spirit Licences."
Wint also suggested that the Chinese shopkeepers adulterated liquor: "They had
introduced all kinds of drugs into the liquors, and the effect was demoralizing on
the people.'21 They were also accused of violating the weights and measures
laws, and of course of using and trading in opium. The police found it difficult to
secure convictions for opium. There were also laws that directly affected the
Chinese- such as the Bankruptcy Law that public opinion believed to be abused by
We have noted that Chinese businessmen entering Jamaica had affili-
ations with other Chinese businessmen. This affinity ensured the strengthening of
their innate ethnic consciousness. That ethnic consciousness was also bolstered by
acts of hostility against the Chinese. The recognition of the need to assist other
Chinese to settle into the new environment led to the creation of Chinese associa-
tions that occasionally duplicated other institutions and organizations in the island.
The first generation of Chinese began to establish associations to facilitate settle-
ment. They quickly followed the pattern of setting up organizations to represent
their ethnic interests. Indians established the East Indian Progressive Society
(1940); Jews established the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Gemibut Hazadim
Society, the Jewish Ladies' Zionist Organization (1929) and the Jewish Circle, and
the Jewish Ladies' Charity Organization.
The Chinese also early developed a Chinese Benevolent Association
(CBA), which was registered under the Friendly Society Act of 1890. Its functions
were "to relieve wives, children, in illness or accident and to maintain the Chinese
Sanatorium, the Chinese Public School, Chinese Cemetery and Chinese Alms-
house." The Society also aimed "to protect and promote lawful trade and com-
merce carried on by members and to act as arbitrator in the settlement of disputes
arising out of commercial transactions."22 Chinese mutual aid reflected not only
the existence of a close-knit community but showed an awareness of the impor-
tance of the Chinese community as an adjunct of Jamaica's commercial world.
The CBA worked very closely with the Jamaican authorities on the question of
Chinese immigration, and acted as guarantor for new Chinese immigrants. The
CBA also published, twice weekly, the "Chinese Public News" (partly in Chi-
nese). The CBA virtually played the role of Embassy in Jamaica, in the absence of
any official representation from China. In a note to the Colonial Secretary in 1930,
the CBA suggested a more active role for itself in matters pertaining to the
immigration of Chinese or, in fact, any other matter of interest to the Chinese
community. The CBA sought to:
Bring about the concentration of Chinese matters in ourselves in
view of the complexities that will inevitably arise in our grow-
ing community, in efficiently facilitating the reciprocal relations
between the Government and our people here and in fostering a
healthier and happier commercial and civic attitude among our
people in accord with the constructive spirit that is abroad in the
island... to guide the energies of Chinese people here along a
consistent and progressive channel thereby to contribute more
definitely to the development of the Island
The CBA founded the Chinese Sanatorium, which offered free medical
care to those Chinese who could not afford high medical fees. Chinese business-
men gave financial support for these medical facilities. Another important Chinese
institution was the Chi Kung Tong, or Chinese Freemasonry Society. In some
respects there was rivalry between the CBA and the Chi Kung Tong. which had
been formed as early as 1887, and had an exclusively Chinese membership. The
Chi Kong Tong had an exclusively Chinese membership.
As the descendants of the first generation Chinese increased in number,
and the link with China declined, there was an acceleration of adaptation to the
norms of Jamaican life, an adaptation that did not eliminate a strong sense of
ethnic ethnicity between members of the Chinese community.
The Chinese formed the Catholic Action Association, the Chinese Ath-
letic Club, the Wholesalers' Association (1938), the Bakers' Association (1938),
the Retailers' Association (1942) and the Soda Fountain and Restaurants Associa-
tion (1953). The Chinese made use of the island's network of elementary schools,
but, in 1924, they also established their own school, at 48 Princess Street in
Kingston, through the Sin Min Association. The Sin Min were "mainly the literate
and educated people within the Chinese community, who aimed to promote
knowledge and education among the younger Chinese."
The curriculum, at first, reflected a strong connection with China and
Chinese culture, which supplemented the usual education in literacy and numer-
acy. Funds for the establishment of the school were raised from the proceeds of a
number of cultural events sponsored by the Chinese Benevolent Society. The
curriculum included History, English, Arithmetic, Painting, Music and the Chi-
nese Language, which was given special emphasis. Some of the first principals of
the Chinese school were imported from China 24
In 1928, the Sin Min school became the Chinese Public School. The
change of name signaled a slight change of emphasis. The new aim was to prepare
students for further studies in the secondary schools of Jamaica. The emphasis on
Chinese culture continued for some time, however, and it was not until 1961 that
the Chinese language was dropped from the curriculum. The explanation was that
it was too much to ask children to learn both English and Chinese. By 1961,
however, the Chinese had become quite a settled community in Jamaica, and there
was no need to emphasize the Chinese language. The Chinese school was closed
in 1965 through lack of funds. More probably, however, the school by 1961 had
lost its raison d'etre. Schools such as St. George's College (where at one time over
40 percent of the boys were Chinese), Immaculate Conception High School for
Girls, and Alpha Academy, had become preserves for a sound secondary educa-
tion for the Chinese community, most of whom could afford the fees. Once the
decision was made to stop the teaching of the Chinese language there was no
obvious need for the Sin Min School.
The establishment of these associations, which were ethnically exclu-
sive, provoked the rebuke of veteran journalist Evon Blake:
The Chinese take full advantage of all the facilities the commu-
nity offers, yet such facilities as they have as a group are
reserved for Chinese only. Examples: only Chinese are em-
ployed in Chinese businesses; only Chinese kids are accepted in
the Chinese Public School; only Chinese are admitted to mem-
bership in the Chinese Athletic Club 25
The links with China declined but remained for a long time. The first
generation of Chinese immigrants retained their connections with China in other
ways than by the teaching of a Chinese language, and importing Chinese wives.
Significant portions of the Chinese community maintained a strong interest in
political developments in China. Supporters of General Chiang Kai-Shek's
Kuomintang, for example, dedicated a volume The Chinese in The Caribbean in
1941 to the Chiang Kai Sheks.
Chinese citizens who could afford to do so sent their children to China to
be educated in the Chinese way of life. John Lodenquai, who had come to Jamaica
at age 14 years, sent "most" of his seven children, in their early years, to be
educated in China, to learn the language and the Chinese "customs and traditions."
The thirty-five year old Cecil Tie Ten Quee, a merchant operating from 135 Barry
Street, sent his first child to Nantong, China. Thomas Ho's (Ho Seung) three
children by his first wife were all resident in China. The two children by his second
wife remained in Jamaica.26 Philip Young a wholesaler and retailer in May Pen
had ten children, five of whom were at school in Hong Kong. He returned to China
in 1928, and carried on business in Hong Kong until 1936 when he returned to
Jamaica.27 Jimmy Lowe was sent to China by his father until age 11 years. With
the threat of Japanese aggression against south China, Lowe was sent back to
Jamaica where he completed his education. Some children, such as Lowe, were
sent to China at age one year; others at a later age, but essentially during their most
These few examples indicate that the link with China was unbroken;
even in terms of family, it was not unusual for Chinese men to have one family in
China and another in Jamaica. Some maintained businesses in both China and
Jamaica. For example, Shim Quee, who, in 1927 was 41 years old and had been
born at Pow On District in Canton, applied for Jamaica naturalization in 1927. By
then, his father, Shim Sam, had already returned to China to Kowloon and Hong
Kong, accompanied by his wife, Lue Shee. Shim Quee operated businesses in both
Jamaica and China, as the following chronology shows:
1911-23 51 Laws St., Kingston
1923-26 Kowloon & Hong Kong
1926-28 51 Laws St. Kingston
1931 120 Barry Street
1934 Connolley Avenue
A letter to the Colonial Secretary from the Treasury, dated December 11,
1936, noted that the Bank of Nova Scotia had sent "drafts to Hong Kong amount-
ing to 8,000, which it was assumed was to bring out more Chinese to Jamaica, to
support families in China or provide a 'nest egg' for those who were intending to
return to China."28 Apart from remittances that must have gone to support families
in China, sections of estates were reserved, by will, for despatch to China. Young
Mew Tong provided in his 1945 will that three sixths of his real estate sales were
to be remitted to "my said Trustees to China every four months, for the mainte-
nance of my sons..." Albert Chang, a merchant whose property of 470 acres was
bequeathed to the Board of Trustees of the Boys Scouts in Jamaica, also estab-
lished a memorial fund in 1946, in honour of his father, to be called the Wai Tai
Memorial Fund, "for the benefit, education and relief, of the inhabitants of the
village of Chang Ha in the district of Tam Sui, Kwangtung in China, and for the
improvement of buildings in the said village" and provided that, if adequate
arrangements could not be made to send remittances to China, the funds should be
used for local (Jamaican) charities. Johnson Lee Peow of St. James bequeathed all
his "real and personal property" to his father, Lee Fui Shung, in Kwangtung.
Finally, Philip Ho Lung (Hoo Leung Quee), merchant of Richmond St. Mary,
continued to own property in both China and Jamaica, specifically in Hong Kong
- "all that piece or parcel of land, premises hereditaments situate at No. 254 Hop
Leo St., and premises at #228 Chong Sa Wan Road, Hong Kong."29
It is improbable that the links between Jamaica and China are as close
now as they were with the first generation Chinese. However, where material
links have been broken, in the eyes of many Sino-Jamaicans, China remains a land
with which they are spiritually linked.
The Jamaican state committed itself to the cultural integration of the
Chinese, or perhaps more accurately, missionaries were keen to bring the Chinese
into the bosom of Christianity. In this respect, the Roman Catholics were most
Missionary work among the Chinese was initially directed at the chil-
dren. In 1939, Rev. Mrs. Helen Gallimore, who had spent many years in China as
a missionary, conducted religious work from the East Street Tabernacle in King-
ston. Away from the Chinese homeland, the Chinese community was more prone
to accept Christian teaching; this acceptance was perhaps all the more possible
because of the close link between religion and education in Jamaica.
The adoption of Christianity by the Chinese was a consequence of mis-
sionary proselytizing by Chinese and non-Chinese. Increasingly, however, it was
the Chinese community itself that determined the direction of Chinese religious
adherence. The prominent Leahong family, for example, pulled many Chinese into
the Anglican Church. Roman Catholics, however, were to make the biggest impact
on the Chinese community. By 1925 there were 3,000 Chinese Catholics. Father
Simon Tang who came to Jamaica from Canton in 1926 undertook Catholic
teaching. Following Tang's departure, William Pinchin who owned a business
at the corer of Barry Street and Matthew's Lane, acted as instructor to convey the
fundamentals of Christian doctrine to adult Chinese who knew little English."30
Attachment to the Catholic Church, insists one Chinese respondent, did not neces-
sarily arise from doctrinal conversion, but as much from the practical assistance
offered by the clergy. The new immigrants received advice, for example, on legal
matters in a society whose legal system was new to them, a difficulty compounded
by lack of knowledge of English. The priests and nuns won the trust of the
Chinese community who entrusted their children to the care of the Catholic
Church. In fact, many parents entered the Catholic Church through the influence
of their children. The Chinese sent their children to St. George's College for boys,
Immaculate Conception and Alpha for girls. The Chinese Community established
the Chinese Catholic Action Association (CCAA), which dedicated itself to com-
munity work, visiting hospitals, the alms-houses and the homes of the infirm. It
also educated those children who did not attend Catholic schools in the rudiments
of the Catholic catechism.
Contemporary Jamaican Chinese still celebrate the Festival of the Har-
vest Moon, the Chinese New Year, and Gah-San. The latter is essentially a
memorial service for parents and ancestors at the Chinese cemetery. Events such
as these still serve to weld the Chinese community together.
There were 11,710 Chinese living in Jamaica in 1970. Following massive
emigration during the 1970s, the population declined to 5,320. The emigration was
part of the movement out of Jamaica by businessmen who rejected the left-wing
rhetoric of the then Jamaican government.
After a hundred and fifty years, the Chinese community remains a ra-
cially distinct minority, and despite a significant adaptation to western culture in
Jamaica has not gone the path of full assimilation. Chinese occupations, still often
linked to business and business administration, have become far more varied
during the twentieth century.
I. Jacqueline Levy, "Chinese Indentured Immigration to Jamaica during the latter part of the Nine-
teenth Century" Paper presented to the Fourth Annual Conference of Caribbean Historians,
UWI, Mona April 9-14, 1972, 19.
2. Jamaica Departmental Reports (JDR) Protector of Immigrants, "Annual Report, 1883-84", 199
and 1885-6, 13.
3. Jamaica Archives (JA) Colonial Secretariat (CSO/ 1B/5/77/116. SS 388/25.
4. Jacqueline Levy, "The Economic Role of the Chinese in Jamaica. The Grocery Retail Trade," Ja-
maica Historical Review XV, 1986, 39.
5. George W. Roberts, The Population of Jamaica, London: Cambridge University Press, 1957, Table
7. Jamaica Census, 1943.
8. Jacqueline Levy, "The Economic Role" 41.
9. Patrick Bryan & Karl Watson, Not for Wages Alone: Eyewitness Summaries of the 1938 LabourRe-
bellion in Jamaica, Kingston: Department of History, p.16 and 19.
10. Ibid., 19.
11. Andrew Lind, "Adjustment Patterns among the Jamaican Chinese," Social and Economic Studies,
VII:2, June 1958, 155.
12. Bryan and Watson, Not for Wages Alone, 68.
13. Author's Interview with Mr. Jimmy Lowe, April 1992.
14. See Andrew Lind, op. cit.
15. Jacqueline Levy, "The Economic Role," 1986,40.
16. Chinese Community, The Chinese in the Caribbean, Kingston, 1941, 88.
17. Howard Johnson, "The Anti-Chinese Riots of 1918 in Jamaica, Immigrants and Minorities, II:1
18. Bryan and Watson, Not for Wages Alone, 68.
19. Patrick Bryan, "The Creolization of the Chinese Community in Jamaica," in Rhoda Reddock,
Ethnic Minorities in Caribbean Socety, Trinidad & Tobago St. Augustine, 1996, 216-219.
20. Ibid., 210-216.
21. JA CSO 1 B/5/284 7692/26.
22. HandbookofJamaica, 1936.
23 JA CSO IB/5/77/19 Chinese Benevolent Society.
24. Henry Lynch-Campbell, The Chinese in Jamaica Kingston: City Printery,1957, 33.
25. Quoted in Gail Bouknight," A Study of the Chinese Retail Grocery Trade and its Impact upon
Chinese Ethnicity and Sino-Jamaican Relations" M.A. Thesis (1991), Department of Anthro-
pology, Brown University, 44.
26. JA CSO 1927 IB/577 Naturalization of Cecil Tie Ten Quee (67/1858, 1927); Naturalization of
Philip Ho Lung (80/4373, 1927-30), Naturalization of Thomas Ho (Ho Seung) (61/2608, 1927-
27. Chinese Community, The Chinese in the Caribbean, 107.
28. Daniella Gentles, A Study of the Migratory Patterns of the Chinese in Jamaica between 1854
and 1945," Caribbean Studies Project, UWI, Mona, 1990,34, citing JA CSO 7194, 1934.
29. Island Record Office, Wills of the Supreme Court. Wills of Young Mew Tong (1945), Albert
Chang, 1946, Johnson Lee Peow, Feb. 2, 1944, Philip Ho Lung (Hoo Leung Quee).
30. Francis Osborne S.J., History of the Catholic Church in Jamaica, Chicago: Loyola University
Press, 1988, 341-2.
An Afro-Chinese Caribbean: Cultural Cartographies of
Contrariness in the Work of Antonio Chuffat Latour,
Margaret Cezair-Thompson, and Patricia Powell
LISA LI-SHEN YUN
"...when you visit Guyana or Trinidad, you see symbolically
inscribed in the faces of their peoples, the paradoxical 'truth' of
Christopher Columbus' mistake: you can find 'Asia' by sailing
west, if you know where to look!" -Stuart Hall1
Indeed, one could find "Asia" in the Caribbean. The globality of dias-
poric flows, peoples, ideas, and cultures has transformed how we think of national
cartographies and area histories. In the case of Asian diasporas to the Americas,
Asians founded a settlement in New Orleans in 1763. This first community was a
fishing village created by Filipinos who escaped their Spanish colonizers. The
following century brought Chinese and Indians in massive numbers to the Ameri-
cas and to the Caribbean. Historically, the Chinese are especially known in
migration studies as global diasporics who travelled to and remained in all parts of
the world, with longstanding histories in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Peru,
Hawaii, the Caribbean, and elsewhere- a mapping too expansive to be briefly
summarized. Chinese migrations also have multiple tracings, with cultural hy-
bridities crisscrossing the world, such as in the life-story of a Trinidadian who
travelled to China to support Sun Yat-Sen.
In 1944, Trinidadian-born Eugene Chen died while under house arrest in
Shanghai, after devoting decades to anti-imperialist activities and revolutionary
change in China. Chen was born Eugene Bernard Acham in Port-of-Spain in
1878. Yet he would leave Trinidadian life, travel to China, and assume an influen-
tial role in one of the twentieth century's most tumultuous and far-reaching
revolutions. The story of Chen, an intellectual of transoceanic and hybrid lineages,
underscores the globality of Chinese diasporic histories, wherein cultures and
politics are hybrid, local, and global at the same time. Obvious questions arise
regarding the notion of "Chinese-ness" in the story of Chen, questions that suggest
a configuration of diaspora outside of traditional paradigms of Asian ethnic
markers. Perhaps Chen could be representative of essential "Chinese-ness," as he
"returned" to China and devoted his life to its politics.
On the other hand, the romantic (and problematic) notions of "return"
and "origin" could be countered by querying: how much of his life work was the
result of his character and vision as formed in Trinidadian context? Biographical
details reveal that Eugene Bernard Acham was of Afro-Chinese descent and that
he married a creole Trinidadian with whom he had four children2 The cultural
capital of ethnic inheritance, of Acham being renamed "Chen," masks the equally
vital cultural capital of being a Trinidadian whose habits, passions, and views,
were shaped outside China.
An examination of the Chinese in the Caribbean begs the question of
who is Chinese and what is Chinese. The messiness of ethnic and national
identifications, and their manifestations in creole cultures, requires an inclusive
and broad sense of what being "Chinese" constitutes, along with a measured
skepticism toward homogeneity and essentialized authenticity. A questioning of
Chinese authenticity appears in several novels and histories of the Caribbean.
Some offer suggestive portrayals of what I call "contrarian diasporic identity." In
three instances, two contemporary novels and a rare communal biography, "con-
trary" portraits of Chinese identity are tied directly to the Chinese coolie, a subject
of labour history that is still largely absent from aesthetics, creative works, and
productions of national culture. The three works offer complex interpretations of
diasporic identity, its relation to national culture and nineteenth century subjuga-
Contrariness and Disloyalty: Margaret Cezair-Thompson and Patricia Pow-
Jamaican novelist Margaret Cezair-Thompson marks an instance of con-
trary Chinese-ness, when a character of her novel True History of Paradise is on
his deathbed. It is upon death that we anticipate the comforting tropes of return
and reconciliation, yet it is with death that Cezair-Thompson troubles these expec-
tations and rites of cultural and national belonging. In fact, her novel opens with
the death of Asian Jamaicans: Lana of East Indian descent, and Ho Sing of Chinese
descent. The enduring consequences of their lives are writ large as the rest of the
novel contends with the legacies left behind. "Mr. Ho Sing" arrived from China
aboard the Prince Alexander (an actual ship that arrived in Jamaica in 1884, with
the last recorded shipment of Chinese "indentured workers" to the Caribbean) and
survives a hellish journey among coolies under deck.4 Over the decades, he
creates a large family in Jamaica.
Upon his imminent death, Ho Sing speaks his last words. To the surprise
of onlookers, the Chinese translator relays his last words as: "Him say 'Gimme
one a dem Benson an' Hedges.'" The narration goes further to add: "A ripple went
through the room, the hilarity of it all, the old man begging a cigarette, not in
Chinese, but in the Jamaican patois that they all spoke."5 The laughter of the
characters surrounding Ho Sing is part of a mimetic narrative device, one of irony
and contrariness that suggests the reader's own ruptured expectations. The "Chi-
nese" character expresses his final wishes not in Chinese, but in patois, and any
desire to "return" to China or adhere to Chinese rites is nowhere in the picture. Of
the nine pages devoted to Mr. Ho Sing's monologue, only one paragraph refers to
his village in China. Cezair-Thompson noted in an interview that of all the
characters in this novel, "Mr. Ho Sing is the one that I write most purely in the
dialect,"6 that being Jamaican patois.
Like the novel's large cast of characters, Ho Sing is a Jamaican figure of
contrariness in a landscape of diasporics where the contrary diasporic is more the
rule than the exception. In this representation of multi-ethnic Jamaican history
over centuries, Ho Sing is deliberately and clearly identified as the ethnic Chinese
character, but a contrarian one. Jamaican patois is understood as "not Chinese,"
thus the surprise when the Chinese patriarch expresses final wishes in patois. Ho
Sing is designated the one "most purely in dialect," and most impurely Chinese.
While impurity is an element of long-drawn paradigms of Caribbean
cultural identity, one might argue that an implicit politics of assimilation is
assumed- perhaps one is considered more Jamaican the more one denies Chinese
"ethnic" practices. Cezair-Thompson's sleight-of-hand exposes the constructed-
ness of our cultural assumptions while enabling us to laugh at them. Ultimately,
her novel is not assimiliationist but rather, an inclusive narrative that challenges
such politics. In fact, not only Ho Sing but also the larger cast of African, East
Indian, Spanish, German, Scottish, and English characters are presented as trans-
planted descendants from Europe, Africa, and Asia. The question of national
belonging thus becomes a question of its imminent creative construction rather an
immutable received history.
The contrariness of Ho Sing does not negate his Chinese past. Instead, it
underscores the largeness and largesse of ethnic identity in diaspora. Neverthe-
less, nationalist platforms of race and nation pervade the novel's historically
driven backdrop, and nationalist platforms in the Americas and the Caribbean
traditionally have not included the Chinese. One interesting aspect about this work
is the inclusion of Chinese in the inquiry into Caribbean identity and nationalism,
whereas in the majority of literature from the Caribbean, the Chinese have been
marginal though there are important writers of Chinese descent who have
explored issues of Chinese identity to various degrees.7 The marginalization of
Chinese from national identity formations and cultural productions is part of a
broad and long history of Chinese diasporic exclusion worldwide. This peri-
odically has resulted in ethnic violence targeted against Chinese communities,
such as in the United States, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Jamaica,
among other countries. The estrangement of Chinese ethnic identity from national
projects has been furthered by stereotyped representations of Chinese as culturally
insular, politically homogeneous, and nationally extraneous.
In contrast, The True History of Paradise offers a contrary and inclusive
portrayal of Chinese heterogeneity and hybridity. In this fictionalized history of
generations, the Chinese are variously portrayed in a spectrum of culture and
colour. Ho Sing's Chinese Jamaican descendants appear in "varying shades of
white, yellow, and brown faces-the mixed-up progeny of the old man's oceanic
urges..."9 and take on a variety of social roles, suggesting a diasporic scope that
includes Chinese as active (rather than passive) makers of Caribbean culture and
politics. Ho Sing's descendant,Cherry Ho Sing, becomes a matriarch in the bakery
business, whom both men and women look to with admiration. Another Ho Sing
descendant named June is the novel's main character, the one "that could unques-
tionably be called black" and the one who revisits the history of Jamaica.10
The notion of a contrarian sensibility, in addition to considerations of
hybridity and creole identity, directly engages the discourses of Asian "diaspora"
paradigms and acknowledges the simultaneous rupture/suture of nation-based
identity and its subversion. The ontological state of diaspora includes wrestling
with notions of home. Theoretical frameworks of diaspora necessarily engage
material, historical, and metaphorical conceptions of home. Imbricated in these
conceptions, however, is the notion of dispersion that brings into relief the ques-
tion of cultural conservation. In the case of Ho Sing and his "dispersion" from the
origin of China, what kind of diasporic membership is revealed? What exactly
makes Ho Sing a "Chinese" character in Cezair-Thompson's novel?
In this story of Jamaica, Ho Sing emerges as a creole character who is
most defined by risk and the constancy of change, which is what he embraced in
his symbolic and quixotic dreams of a race horse "Marshal Bloom." One could
say, risk and change is Chinese, as it is Jamaican. In creative re-makings of his life,
Ho Sing continually renegotiates cultural identity. Calling Ho Sing "Chinese," as
a maker of Chinese diasporic and Jamaican history, calls upon Chinese diaspora in
ways that are not conventionally understood as "Chinese."
The contrarian nature of Ho Sing's Chinese identity is one of tenuous
relationship with China and all things Chinese, and furthermore, his Chinese
legacy is a black legacy as well. Challenging questions arise in the Caribbean
context. What would happen to the mapping of Chinese diaspora if we were to say,
hybridity, creolite, "mixed up," are also Chinese? His "mixed-up progeny" and
"oceanic urges" are also "Chinese"? His last wishes in patois-are also "Chinese"?
Whereas birth, family, language, and death are the mainstays of cultural practice
and diasporic identification, Ho Sing's familial and linguistic practices are "dis-
persed," contrary to hallmark signifiers of diasporic reconfirmation. Yet a second
approach would be to consider these dispersed, contrary relations as also "Chi-
nese. A contrarian sensibility could signal the making of Chinese diaspora as
expansive and even contrary to the narrative of Chinese cultural conservation. The
Chinese diaspora would be re-imagined as people, ideas, cultural flows, and
creative sensibilities, characterized by hybridization and creolization, as much as
(or more than) any diasporic formation.
In The Pagoda, Jamaican novelist Patricia Powell constructs a contrarian
protagonist named Lowe. Social schemas of class, gender, sexuality, and as well,
ethnic conflict become the maze that must be negotiated. Lowe is explicitly
identified as a Chinese girl who journeys as a stowaway upon a coolie ship in the
1860's and lives the remainder of her life in rural Jamaica. Like Ho Sing of The
True History ofParadise, Lowe rejects the notion of"return" and instead, dreams
of staying in Jamaica and building a school. When leaving Jamaica is suggested,
Lowe exclaims, "Jesus Christ, where? We belong here, this where we live...,,"
Lowe's commitment to Jamaica becomes a claim to Jamaican identity, yet Lowe
is utterly marginalized by every segment of the social structure.
In Jamaica, Lowe is a lesbian woman disguised as a man, scraping by as
an isolated shopkeeper while being indebted to her rapist, a former slave and
coolie trader. The imaginative creation of Lowe's history manifests the relations of
power and oppression, colonial legacies and ethnic conflict. On two fronts, Lowe
thus becomes an outlaw figure who lives as if "through some kind of veil" in
colonial politics of normativity and colour, and in discourses of Chinese diasporic
community. As a Chinese lesbian who assumes the role of a man and husband in
Jamaica, the character Lowe commits crimes against a colonial state wherein
survival is contingent upon reified cultural, gendered, and sexual norms. As well,
Lowe's history and actions are in direct contradiction with notions of Chinese
Lowe presents a challenge to assumptions of Chinese diasporic commu-
nity wherein communal representations have been traditionally dominated by
patriarchal narratives of male immigration, shopkeepers, merchants, en-
trepreneurial "middle men," scholars, and heterosexual familial institutions. The
violation, exploitation, and continued marginalization of Lowe constitute a
counter-narrative of disloyalty to traditional diasporic kinship and cultural capital.
"Coolie," "woman," and queernesss" are brought together as an example of the
collusion of racial, gendered, sexual, and cultural regulations. In a critical engage-
ment with both creole culture and the changing paradigms of Chinese diasporic
identity,12 the creation of Lowe can be read as a contrarian and creative interven-
tion in diasporic conceptions that skirt areas of identity formation, such as sexual-
ity and class. Lowe's closest companion is not another Chinese, but instead, a
black lesbian woman who is passing as white, a fellow trespasser engaged in taboo
acts, disloyal to the social structure that houses them. In the case of Powell's
portrayal of Lowe, diaspora is another kind of association, memory, and cultural
production. In the story of Lowe, diasporic formation arises via affiliation, margi-
nalities, and sexualities.
As contrary Chinese diasporic figures created by Jamaican writers, the
creations of Ho Sing and Lowe also take on significance as creative interpretations
of Chinese identity embedded in contexts of coloniality and slavery/post-slavery.
After all, these are novels set in Jamaica with historical backdrops of colonialism.
But both novels venture into the territory of coolie trade and suggest the psychic
and material importance of a Chinese coolie passage marked by unfreedom and
inhumanity, rather than a passage promising "a better life," a principal explanatory
lens for analyzing Asian immigrant mobilization to the Caribbean.
The coolie functions as historical predecessor yet also as contrary figure
of marginality and subversiveness. Both Cezair-Thompson and Powell present the
Chinese coolie passage as one of deception and brutality, comparable to that of the
slave trade. Cezair-Thompson's recreation of the coolie passage appears in Ho
Sing's monologue and emphasizes the coolie story as "too much story," a story
that exceeds the limits of believable Chinese experience:
Indentured Chinese is jus' like African slave, I hear. Me no
believe it... Almos' seven hundred Chinese 'pon de boat goin'
Jamaica. Right away I see is true: I sign meself ina slavery. We
down in de ship and we don't see daylight...Too much people.
Too much story. (Cezair-Thompson, 78)
As well, Powell's recreation also contests the limits of the Chinese
diasporic mythology of a journey to supposed better lives:
These were not the stupendous journeys his father had outlined.
How had his people been swayed like this, fired up by this,
when in truth the Chinese he had seen below, during his noctur-
nal stalkings, were there dying, were there starving and ill with
disease, were there chained to one another, chained to iron
railings? Chained. An iron gang. (Powell, 48)
In both novels, the mythological "stupendous journeys" of immigration
are incommensurate with the journey of entrapped coolies. As a colonial precedent
that forms the basis of a diasporic history, the coolie passage experience is
depicted as forming a contrary and critical memory of racialized exploitation that
contextualizes arrival and identity in the Caribbean.
In the instance of Powell's work, the portrayal of coolie experience
provokes further questions with the considerations of gender, sexuality, and cul-
tural "disloyalty," being inseparable from the experience of colonial subjugation
and labour exploitation. Creative excavations of Chinese coolie history expand
visions of diasporic identity to include coolie experience and coloniality as part of
Chinese cultural genealogy, and as well, would include Africanity and slavery as
its context. The understanding of Chinese diasporic identity as being tied to
colonial Caribbean labour is even more apparent in a rare communal biography by
a black author named Antonio Chuffat Latour. What follows is the first critical
analysis ever written regarding this author and his work.
Cuba and the "chino esclavo": Antonio Chuffat Latour and a Communal
In The True History of Paradise, Cuba hovers in the backdrop of Ja-
maica's political turmoil and aspirations of the 1970's. Ho Sing reveals his
experience upon a coolie ship that arrives in Jamaica, but he indicates that origi-
nally he was trying to get to Cuba. Cuba occupies a particularly fabled yet
notorious place in the mapping of Chinese diasporic history. In the 19th century,
European and American coolie traffickers were regarded as (and were) notorious
kidnappers of thousands of Chinese into bondage, eventually shipping a quarter
million Chinese to Cuba and Peru alone. The coolie traffic set off public demon-
strations in China, and complicit Chinese coolie brokers were beheaded by the
Chinese authorities. The British and Americans finally withdrew from the trade in
the 1860's (though for multiple reasons). Still, other national interests continued
buying and selling coolies, the most profitable of China trades, until China forc-
ibly banned the traffic in 1874.
Decades after the Chinese coolie trade ended, Cuba continued to occupy
a singular place in the diasporic imagination. Cuba's Havana Chinatown became a
magnet for Chinese immigrants, as it conjured possibilities that replaced the
former hostility of Chinese subjugation. The Havana barrio chino grew to capture
the dreams of Chinese diasporics around the world, including San Francisco and
New York merchants who arrived with investment capital. By the 1920's-30's, the
barrio chino was booming and legendary, though today only vestiges of its heyday
Antonio Chuffat Latour, a self-described patriotic Cuban, undertook the
task of writing a history of the Chinese of Cuba and published it in 1927.13 He
was the first to publish a wide-scoped and detailed account of the Chinese of Cuba.
His project, which covered the 1840's-1920's, took years to complete. Full of
critical data, his text is valuable, though only evident by perfunctory footnotes
briefly mentioning Chuffat in twentieth century scholarship. Until now, Chuffat
has been a repeated footnote of history when in fact, he was one of the key
interpreters of history.
His publication Apunte historic de los chinos en cuba was underwritten
by merchant sponsors, and yet his veiled sarcasm, humour, and irony regarding
class and colour seep out the margins. African and Chinese slaves, "chinos
esclavos, fill Chuffat's landscape of slavery and insurrection. The son of a
Chinese father and African mother, Chuffat praised refined figures of Chinese
capital but continually returned to the nineteenth century Chinese coolie, hand in
hand with the slave and colonial subjugation of "el negro." In his book, the
Chinese coolie and African slave constituted an interlocked social class, spoken of
in joint terms. Chuffat's consistent conjoinment (rather than adjoinment) of coolie
and slave sociopolitics is a departure from descriptive analyses of coolie history as
a political economy of transition and post-slavery. Contrary to understandings of
the coolie as occupying an intermediate social group between black and white,
Chuffat went so far as to state that in Cuban colonial system, the black slave was
regarded as nothing but the Chinese was less: "Para los ranchadores un negro era
nadie; un chino menos."14
An educated and privileged man from a family of merchants and bankers,
Chuffat declared that his contemporaries owed their present to the coolie and slave
past. He dedicated his book to the coolies and ended his narration by admonishing
his contemporaries to know the past of the coolie: "Sirva de gloria a los chinos de
la actualidad residents en Cuba, el sabio ejemplo dado por sus antepasados."15
Chuffat's linking of seemingly elite history to subjugated labour offers an alterna-
tive view into the makings of diasporic class. By unpacking a coolie narrative as
the diasporic precedent, Chuffat suggests a contrary genealogy and narrative of
Chinese immigrant. Ultimately, his book offers an understanding of nation and
transnationalism as necessarily (and not incidentally) linked to a heterogeneous
group of people who were marginalized from narrations of national, regional, and
Chuffat's assertions about the forgotten coolies appear with passionate
explication, which could be taken as veiled criticism of a merchant class that rose
only after the onset of the coolie system in Cuba and secondly as criticism of a
national history that overlooked the saga of the Chinese coolies who were maxi-
mally exploited in the building of nation. Chuffat openly expressed his indignation
at the easy forgetting of coolie labour and their pivotal role in Cuban independence
In this alternative telling, the Chinese coolie emerges as a contrary figure
compared to Chinese diasporic images of immigrant culture predicated upon
business, education, and family. Characterized as supposedly predisposed to sub-
mission and humility, large numbers of coolies constituted the ranks of criminals,
suicidals, runaways, and insurrectionaries. Rather than the resistant coolie as body
politic, the model of the merchant and the educated transnational, along with
diasporic capital of business and intellectual acumen, appeals more to the needs
(and anxieties) of the nation-state and its narratives of immigrant participation.
Indeed, coolie stories of subversion and resistance are decidedly incompatible
with narratives of institutional power and capital. By offering a diverse coolie
history as a counter-narrative of historical precedence, Chuffat's text deviates
from the customary centering of a commercial and/or educated diasporic class in
the making of "History."
Born in 1860, a young Chuffat would have witnessed the burgeoning
Cuban sugar economy and its reliance on coolies and slaves. Apparently he did, as
he made plain the exploitation that flourished before and after independence. On
the other hand, Chuffat's admonishments are part of strained dichotomies regard-
ing diaspora, race and nation. Alongside his views regarding the Chinese coolies,
rebels, and runaways, Chuffat presented a history of the merchant class in a
manner that seems disconnected from the coolie history, at first glance.
In fact, the communal biography is dominated by appreciative descrip-
tions of the merchant class, education, businesses and families. Moreover, the
appendix contains dozens of photographs of upstanding Chinese merchants in
Cuba and finally, a letter from the Chamber of Commerce of the Chinese of Cuba
("Camara de Comercio China de Cuba"). Chuffat stated in his prologue that his
ostensible purpose was to present only the good examples so as to leave the past
behind: "Me propongo por sola finalidad, los buenos ejemplos, borrando de le
mente todo el pasado...16 Frequently, the text reads as a banner of positive
stereotypes regarding Chinese: passive, hardworking, loyal (though so-called
positive stereotypes also function as socially and politically repressive). Coupled
with this are Chuffat's comments regarding civilization, education, and refine-
ment; the spectre of European humanism hovers near. Thus, Chuffat's communal
biography could be easily dismissed as a contradictory work, peppered with
declarations and reversals. Lengthy and jumbled, Chuffat's inconsistencies could
be taken as arbitrary. At one point, Chuffat declared that the Chinese were
considered white. At other points, Chuffat asserted that the Chinese were regarded
like blacks, violently oppressed by white colonials.
What to make of this odd text? The contradictory terrain of Chuffat's
narration seems to either foreclose a fruitful reading or suggest productive rup-
tures. The latter approach leads to a unique construction of Chinese diasporic
history and politics. Chuffat did not "leave the past behind," but resurrected it on
multi-levels of explicit and implied narration. The seeming unevenness of his text
offers valuable insight if read in the context of strategy. If his work is taken as a
narrative of political consequence, written by a man employing language that
reflects education and awareness of literature and social history, Chuffat's text
would call for an accounting for the tactics of contradiction and the formation of
The mediating politics of sponsorship and authorship, and the subtext of
irony and sarcasm reveal themselves with an accounting of a narrative craft.
Secondly, Chuffat's seeming contradictions point to a revealing heterogeneity of
perspectives. Chuffat's fieldwork included interviews with dozens of individuals,
and the printed interpretation of those interviews likely involved a triple negotia-
tion of the biographical subjects, the author, and the sponsors. Thirdly, his narra-
tive revealed that "the Chinese diaspora" was and is a richly heterogeneous social
and racial formation of peoples that dissembles along lines of language, culture,
class, and gender. Finally, the politics of race and coloniality must be considered,
and with this a consideration for Chuffat as a black author. Chuffat's text, as a
mediated site of Chinese diaspora history, is also a mediated site for reconsidering
Chinese, Cuban and Caribbean identity formation. An examination of the narra-
tive and contextual politics, and the seeming unevenness of Chuffat's narration,
prompts a remarkable opening up of the text and its epistemic possibilities.
For the moment, a preliminary consideration of three interlaced aspects
- narration, coloniality, and heterogeneity initiate a glimpse into the politics
of diasporic identity during the demise of slavery and the emergence to inde-
pendence in a Caribbean nation. The cultural authority and authorship by Chuffat
is itself a literary and historical occurrence that points to the relative unacknowl-
edgement of an Afro-Chinese. In creative representations and productions about
Chinese diaspora formations, conceptions of Chinese identity rarely have ex-
tended to an inclusion of Africanity and blackness as Chinese.
As a result, Chinese diaspora representations in literary and artistic works
have been diversified but most remain circumscribed along the colour line. As a
dark-skinned Cuban, Chuffat appeared as both an insider and outsider to the
Chinese community. Tellingly, Chuffat never referred to himself as "chino,"
though he liberally applied the descriptive to the scores of Chinese individuals he
historicized in his work. Chuffat situated himself among "j6venes de color" and
"negros." At the age of twelve, Chuffat worked by delivering mail for a Chinese
company and had come from Jovellanos to attend a school in Havana "Los
Desamparados" under "la direcci6n del ilustre educador de los negros, el
inolvidable Don Antonio Medina."17 Chuffat was tutored under the direction of
an illustrious educator of black people at a school named "The Defenseless."
At other times, Chuffat included himself in the work as a patriotic Cuban
and reserved his use of the inclusive "we" and "us" to refer to those who belonged
to the Cuban nation, in his view. The Cubans included himself, the slaves, the
coolies, revolutionary soldiers, and those who worked in favour of ending slavery
and advancing Cuban independence. Chinese intellectuals, poets and journalists
who were anti-slavery supporters in Cuba were included in Chuffat's ideas of
"we" and the nation. Particular merchants who contributed capital or otherwise
supported the "cause," were also included in Chuffat's vision of Cuban belonging.
Race, labour, and national belonging were inseparable in Chuffat's Cuban vision,
as he pointedly talked of colonial society and anti-colonial struggle, and further-
more, included the Chinese squarely in the midst of the struggle for independence.
A keen awareness of textuality and authorial position is evident in Chuf-
fat's referrals to himself in third person as Cuban, as person of colour, and as
"Antonio Chuffat," "eljoven," "el autor," "el autor de este libro" (young man,
author, author of this book). Coupled with this awareness is the contributing factor
of Chuffat having been a translator, thereby doubling his role as language transla-
tor and as biographical translator. Chuffat referred to himself in the context of
black Cubans, yet also referred to his membership in the Chinese community. As
it turns out, he held a roster of official positions in the Chinese community over a
span of time, including translator and teacher in the Havana Chinese community,
secretary of the Chinese consulate for Col6n and Jovellanos, secretary of the
Chinese commercial union (or business association) of Cienfuegos, inspector of
sanitation of Cienfuegos, and secretary/translator of the Kuo Min Tang party of
Cienfuegos (a transnational political party that was partisan to the Nationalist
Party of Chiang Kai Shek in China).
More importantly, the author's activity and membership demonstrate the
extent of his involvement in local Chinese endeavours. Chuffat had a foothold in
three realms of cultural identity that overlap in his recollection: as a man of colour,
as a Cuban, as a participant in local and national Chinese politics. As an aspect of
Chuffat's personal biography, the figuring of translator and translation becomes a
larger trope for engaging his authorship and his overlapping social identities. He
was comparatively privileged in terms of social status and also in terms of his
unique position as a biographer for the Chinese of Cuba.
As a translator and representative for the Chinese community, Chuffat
occasionally referred to his visits with the President of Cuba, the Chinese Consu-
late, and to travels abroad. His intimate knowledge of the Chinese merchant
community was exposed in detailed accounts ranging from a recounting of their
capital investments and travels, to anecdotes of internal conflicts, to the particular
dress and cut of suit that prominent individuals wore for certain occasions. More
so, these revelations unfold in a text that consistently includes cultural, political,
and economic contexts of both the local and global. As translator and communal
historian for the Chinese of Cuba, Chuffat assumed cultural authority and access
to a diasporic community that otherwise was dominated by Chinese who did not
consider themselves black or coloured, or at least, they did not represent them-
selves in this manner.
Given the transnational politics of cultural capital, local politics of racial
discrimination, and the discourse of "overseas" Chinese, the avenue of diasporic
identity for the Chinese merchants was a self-identification with transnational
culture as Chinese, rather than as racially black or coloured. An official letter from
the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Cuba and the Association of Chinese of
Cuba, addressed to the President of Cuba, illustrates the connection of identity
politics and law. The merchants appealed to the president regarding the passage of
a restrictive law directed against the Chinese in 1926, and they appealed for
consideration as foreign residents and foreign merchants, reflecting how they were
interpellated by the state, in addition to their self-representation.
Chuffat's position as an Afro-Chinese Cubano who officially represented
the Chinese merchant community on local and national levels, is a unique historic
occasion for the early 19th century and perhaps this could still be said of today.
While this causes some reflection on Chuffat's role and his importance histori-
cally, it equally causes reflection on the Chinese community that endorsed his role,
participated in his biographical project, and sponsored its publication. Contrary to
politics of Chinese diasporas, it is a rare occasion that a black man has been
appointed a representative role for the Chinese people, though it is also one
contextualized by Cuba's social history of interraciality.
Issues of credibility are ones to be examined for any biographical text,
ones often linked to authorial authority. In this instance, the politics of authority
are accentuated by Chuffat's unusual status. Moreover, Chuffat constructed a
unique narrative genre that defies conventional categorizations. I call this a "com-
munal biography" that includes the recording of a communal and chronological
history, the rendering of a national history, and also the assertion of the author's
own opinions, biography, and commentaries. All aspects form a dialogic narrative.
His "communal biography" includes excerpts from articles, treaties, laws, publish-
ed poems, interviews, as well as portraits and quotations. While the inclusion of
these materials creates a corroborative historicity of the text, their inclusion also
serves to amplify the polyvocal nature of a cultural history.
Traces of irony and the subtext of intertexuality form the most intriguing
undercurrents of political possibilities for Chuffat's work, besides providing a
wealth of multivalent sources. Alongside the language of Chuffat are the "official"
discourses of the law and diplomacy, "verified" newspaper accounts, "published"
views and counterpoints of invested Chinese and Cubans, and "photographs" of
community leaders. Each written and visual form comprises a discourse of repre-
sentation that connotes some sort of epistemic validity. They legitimate, confirm,
contrast, embellish, or subvert what Chuffat is saying or appears to be saying. The
choice and inclusion of these materials naturally impinge upon the presentation of
Chuffat's opinions and heighten the interpretative possibilities, including a cri-
tique of nation, race, and class. Behind the veil of diasporic promotion, Chuffat's
narration contains a double-edged sword of critique.
Such possibilities are evident in the strategic placement of material.
Amid Chuffat's descriptions of merchants and wealthy investors are newspaper
articles, public announcements, and government decrees that addressed a contrary
story. One such decree reveals the preponderance of unfree or criminal(ized)
Chinese, and communicates the effort to regulate the Chinese via a special census.
The decree mandated registration and data for all Chinese who existed on the
island, and it divided the Chinese population into four classes or "cuarto classes :
Primera: Colonos que se hallan cumpliendo contratos o recontratos
Segunda: Colonos profugos
Tercera: Colonos existentes en las Cdrceles y Presidios
Cuarta: Asidticos (chinos) domiciliados y naturalizados18
The first three classes concerned the indentured Chinese, the runaway
Chinese, and the imprisoned Chinese. In language connoting colonial subjects, the
unfree Chinese and the insubordinate Chinese make up the first three classes,
while domestic and naturalized Chinese make up the last. The decree especially
specified the urgency of accounting for the first three classes. The effort to
register and categorize the Chinese reflects a Foucaultian attempt to control a
minority formation by means of data and surveillance. In particular, the unfree and
noncompliant Chinese appeared as the topmost concern. This document is pre-
ceded by a newspaper article describing the establishment of Chinese consulates in
Cuba, with an emphasis on the education and cosmopolitan sophistication of a
new class of diasporic officials to work in Cuba.
This article is further preceded by a reprint of a significant treaty that
overhauled Chinese immigration and halted coolie traffic, and was ratified in
1878. The treaty included specificities for escaped and detained deserters, crimi-
nals, undocumented passengers, female orphans, and Chinese denied rights in
courts. The inclusion of these materials and others was an authorial or editorial
decision, at the least. The chosen material expands Chuffat's running commentary
on merchants and coolies on several fronts.
The material discloses a diverse population with varied relations to the
nation-state, complicated by hierarchies of class, capital, and gender. "Chinese"
persons ranged from elite cosmopolitans to deserters to female orphans. Other
than the treaty's acknowledgement of female orphans, Chinese women mostly
appear in Chuffat's text as social capital for the merchant male community.
Repeatedly, successful merchants were described as being heads of family, as
being married to either white "cubana" or "china" women, and as having produced
and educated their children. When the women were of significance in this context,
particularly when the women were Cuban, their names were mentioned.
Chinese and Cuban women were acknowledged primarily as wives and
symbols of class privilege, via the institution of heterosexual marriage, familial
lineage, and property. The wide range of the small female population, from
orphans to merchant wives, and their respective social containment, is present,
though only barely. Moreover, the diverse experience of civil society becomes
clear in the contrasting depictions of marriage. Chuffat mentioned merchant mar-
riages in the context of opportunities for social ascendancy but mentioned coolie
marriages in the context of relative restriction, wherein coolie marriages (often to
black slaves) required permission of their masters or patrons, along with conver-
sion to Christianity.
The heterogeneity of the Chinese emerges in the heterogeneity of Chuf-
fat's narrative. Interestingly, Chuffat's own parentage of Chinese and African is a
visible exception to the marriage patterns of the merchant families appearing in
Chuffat's narrative. The differentiation of diaspora along lines of social and racial
status becomes evident in a multi-textual narrative with different perspectives
from official documents, newspaper articles, photographs, and authorial recollec-
The use of anecdotes as a narrative device for highlighting social differ-
ences and social subversion is evident in Chuffat's narrative sequencing. For
example, in one anecdote, he recalled a wealthy woman of Cuban aristocracy who
knew the idiosyncratic value of porcelains from China. In Chuffat's recollections,
she managed to buy a priceless piece of chinaware at little cost from under the
noses of Chinese clerks who were ignorant of the value of their own goods. The
seemingly harmless charm of aristocratic pastimes becomes tarnished with the
subtext of coloniality and the hierarchic construction of "value."
In other instances, the use of placement as a narrative device also serves
as a method of critique. At some moments, Chuffat pointed out wealth and leisure
of particular people and events, and then followed with seemingly disconnected
observations ofdisempowerment and oppression, observations made more cutting
by the contrast with elite culture. Thus irony and in some cases, veiled sarcasm,
emerge from narrative placement.
The mapping of a social history, however, is ill-served by a binary
dissection of diaspora. The merchant/coolie dichotomy is only a narrative struc-
ture that becomes more complex and differentiated by the end of the book. The
merchant segment was a highly differentiated one, just as the coolie population
was extremely diverse (contrary to popular assumptions that coolies were gener-
ally an uneducated, agrarian lot). Merchant society was made up of several
intra-ethnic and pan-ethnic societies. Chuffat described, at length, the ethnic
differences between several Chinese groups in Cuba, which resulted in separate
societies and sometimes competing interests. Their kinship lines, cultural prac-
tices, and occupations often differed. The merchants formed associations and
commercial institutions that drew upon distinct lines of clan and kinship, and that
created relations (or animosities) with other merchants along lines of cultural and
On several occasions, Chuffat also made certain to note the influence of
another diasporic influence, the Chinese North American presence. Through the
clout of considerable capital and with cultural precedents developed before arriv-
ing to Cuba, these transplants created yet another dimension to hybridity and
transculturation in an already diverse ethnic group. Furthermore, there also ap-
peared small entrepreneurs and the coolies who managed to move on asfruteros
and vendadores (fruit sellers and vendors), and the working Chinese who were not
investors or property owners, but were skilled and unskilled labourers who were
indentured in the cities, such as bakers, cooks, or servants in private homes.
Diaspora is presented as a social structure that is materialized but also continually
in flux, and diasporic "community" emerges as actually a large, dispersed, and
In Chuffat's chronicle of diasporic politics, language appears as means of
coalescence and means of resistance. Through several anecdotes, Chuffat illus-
trated the politics of language and identity and the subversive use of pidgin. In the
context of Cuban society, the Chinese employed a pidgin Spanish as an obstruc-
tive and stonewalling tactic. When "convenient" for business, merchants would
exclaim "me no speak Spanish" (a rough translation of Spanish pidgin to English
pidgin), as Chuffat indicated "Era ocurrentes; cuando les convenia hablaban
espafol, y cuando el negocio no les convenia, exclamaban:' Mi no sabe jabla
espanol.' De ahi no los sacaba nadie."
In another anecdote, Chuffat accentuated the subversive power of lan-
guage in terms of racial resistance. In his recollection, Chinese coal workers used
fluent Spanish to assist Cuban rebel soldiers. Yet when Spanish troops interro-
gated the same Chinese, the Chinese feigned ignorance with pidgin and denied
knowledge of any rebel activities: "No seno Capitdn, pa me no senti gente pasa."
Frustrated, the Spanish commander moved on, calling the Chinese stupid, "este
chino es un estupido." Chuffat lauded this exchange in racialized terms. It was
gaining the upper hand over the white man in plain day, so to speak: "Esta vez, le
toco al chino engaiar al blanco en pleno dia, 'como sifuese chino."' 20 This was
doing it like a Chinese, declared Chuffat. Such anecdotes imply the politic use of
language by a cultural group that was disempowered by exclusion from a Spanish
and European language system. The rendering of a Spanish-Chinese pidgin indi-
cates the malleability language and the importance of its representation in contexts
of power. In examples such as these, Chuffat illustrated the hybridity of Chinese
diasporic language as a subversive force, more than a cultural curiosity of Chinese
Most intriguing are Chuffat's indications that the Chinese fell on all sides
of the charter of emerging nationhood, and furthermore, that they employed a
range of strategies that were both resistant and participatory. In a lexical analysis
of Chuffat's narrative, markers of cultural and political diversity emerge. A
remarkable heterogeneity is revealed in a partial list from his terms for the
acusados, albahiles, ancianos, asidticos, autor, banquero, ca-
ballero, capitdn, carboneros, carpinteros, carretilleros, una
china, chinitas, el chino, los chinos, chino esclavo, chinos li-
bres, chinos patriots, chinos ricos, cimarrones, colonos,
colonos en las cdrceles y presidios, colonos pr6fugos, colonos
que se hall cumpliendo contratos o recontratos, comandante,
comerciantes, cdmicos, contratados, contratistas, criminals,
cuadrillas, cuadrilleros, cubanos, dama, desertores, doctor,
emigrantes, esclavos, escultor, estadistico, estibadores, finan-
ciero, hermanos, herreros, hudrfanas, insurgentes, insurrectos,
marchantes, mecdnicos, millonarios, olvidados, paisanos,
pasajero indocumentado, residents, sefiora, soldados, subdi-
tos, trabajadores, vendedores
The terminology implies Chinese diasporic identity in Cuba that was
explicitly political as well as cultural; that is, contingent upon cultural relations but
also highly politicized relations with the nation-state. The accused, slaves, free,
patriots, runaways, colonial subjects, incarcerated, deserters, insurgent, undocu-
mented passengers, and soldiers are all identifications primarily predicated upon
relations with the state. To various degrees, they reflect the political positions of
the Chinese in the schema of colonialism and independence. Among these are also
authors, carpenters, actors, sculptors, masons, mechanics, doctors, merchants,
financiers, statisticians. The journey from colonial oppression to national inde-
pendence forms the narrative chronology for Chuffat's text, and in that chronol-
ogy, the Chinese were a dynamic force in all areas of Cuban cultural politics and
economy. The cultural and political lexicon demonstrates a range of history that
often escapes generalized representations of "minority" populations, and implies
an extraordinary multiplicity in diasporic formation that was both free and unfree.
The term "the forgotten" points to Chuffat's self-proclaimed mission, which was
to make known the history and story of the Chinese coolie.
By the end of his book, Chuffat many times decried the exploitation of
the coolies. In the introduction and conclusion of his book, he reminded the reader
that his effort was in memory of the coolies. However, a crucial lexical detail
points to Chuffat's politics. Chuffat never referred to the coolies as culies, but
rather, called them eclavos (slaves). At other points, he called them contratados,
though in the clear context of forced bondage and in the same breath as "slaves,"
and later referred to them as insurgents, insurrectos, when narrating their signifi-
cant participation in the struggle for independence.
Mainly, the term chinos eclavos is one that serves Chuffat's view that the
coolies were indeed slaves who were violently exploited under the regime of a
slave system. Consistent with Chuffat's beliefs is the body of literature, witness
accounts, testimonies, and historical papers that chronicled the kidnapping, buy-
ing, selling, imprisonment, transport of coolies, as well as the practice of shack-
ling, whipping, and torturing coolies.
"Exquisite forms of torture" were utilized to force Chinese to submit,
including tying up by thumbs, near-drowning, whipping and chaining. Not only
destined to Cuba and Peru, these unwilling men were also brought to the West
Indies, such as those brought by a representative of the West India Committee who
"recruited" his cargo from the barracoons.21 The corporal punishments and tor-
tures were implemented by a multinational trafficking system and Cuban colonial
system that offered "contracts" and "papers" to the Chinese but transformed the
paper system into a weapon of far greater exploitation under the logic of planter
and colonial collusion, a corrupt police system, the practice of unending "recon-
tracting" and the capturing of "runaways" for re-sale or public works.
A consideration of such diverse diasporic narratives requires the willing-
ness to transgress racial/ethnic categorizations and cultural assumptions. Histori-
cally, the "transatlantic" and the "transpacific," often perceived of as discrete
epistemological geographies, meet in the history of the slave and coolie. In fact,
"transpacific" is actually a misnomer for essentializing Asian migration, since
many Asians (including coolies) also came via transatlantic routes and were
situated within transatlantic colonial and maritime systems. Transatlantic studies
traditionally focus upon Caribbean, West Africa, North and South America, and
Yet the dichotomy of "Atlantic-Europe-Africa-America" and "Pacific-
Asia" needs to be reconsidered. Asian experiences of migration included slavery
and independence, as claimed by the Chinese coolies of Cuba, along with polycul-
tural processes of transculturation and creolization, broad concepts proposed by
Cuban ethnographer Fernando Ortiz and Barbadian writer Kamau Brathwaite. But
these are epistemes most often identified with the black Atlantic and hybridized
African diasporic nationalisms and the Chinese are barely mentioned, if at all, in
either of these conceptualizations.22 In relation to C6saire and Senghor's meta-
phors, Stuart Hall suggested an examination of the Caribbean based upon "at least
three presencees': Pr6sence Africaine, Pr6sence Europ6enne, Pr6sence Ameri-
caine. He noted that "I am collapsing, for the moment, the many other cultural
presencee' which constitute the complexity of Caribbean identity (Indian, Chi-
nese, Lebanese, etc.)." 23
In profound Caribbean models of cultural formation, the subject of the
Chinese of the Caribbean falls into the awkward position of presence that still
needs to be theoretically engaged. The Chinese are "collapsed" into various
models of cultural formation, labour economy, and migration histories that often
elide the material histories of Chinese subjects. With greater engagement of the
Chinese in mind, these models could become further enriched yet complicated.
NOTES and REFERENCES
1. Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory,
eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (NY: Columbia UPress, 1994), 395.
2. Lim Bee Leng, "Eugene Chen," in The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan (Sin-
gapore: Archipelago Press 1998), 253.
3. This article includes research material from Lisa Yun's forthcoming book COOLIE: From Under
the Hatches into the GlobalAge. Also see Lisa Yun, "Under the Hatches: Coolie Ships and
Nineteenth Century Narratives of the Pacific Passage," Amerasia Journal, 28:2 (Fall 2002);
Lisa Yun, "Linking African and Asian in Passing and Passage: The Pagoda and The True His-
tory of Paradise," SOULS: Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 3:3 (Winter
2001); Lisa Yun and Ricardo Laremont,"Chinese Coolies and African Slaves in Nineteenth
Century Cuba," The Journal ofAsian American Studies 4:2 (June 2001): 99-122.
4. Numerous historians have produced scholarship that includes Chinese indenture in the West In-
dies. Contemporary historians such as Walton Look Lai, Marlene Kwok Crawford, Trev Sue-A-
Quan, have produced the most recent work. Others have produced family histories, such as
Helen and Philip Atteck.
5. Margaret Cezair-Thompson, True History of Paradise (N Y: Plume, 2000, rep. 1999).
6. Randall Kenan's interview, "Margaret Cezair-Thompson," BOMB (Fall 1999): 55-59.
7. It is important to note writers of Chinese descent who have addressed Chinese identity in essays,
memoirs, short stories, novels, poems, such as Victor Chang, Easton Lee, Jan Lo Shinebourne,
Meiling Jin, Willi Chen, among others.
8. A large body of work exists on the historical exclusion of Chinese, with most studies centering on
exclusion in United States, Canada, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Also, East
Indian migration and cultural formation in the Caribbean offer some comparison to that of the
Chinese, though obviously there are distinctions and clear differences. Among many studies on
the role of East Indians in the Caribbean, Virajini Munasinghe examines the East Indian ethnic
"estrangement from the state" in her book Callaloo or Tossed Salad? (Ithaca: Corell UPress,
9. Cezair-Thompson, 9
10. Cezair-Thompson, 9.
11. Patricia Powell, The Pagoda (NY: Knopf, 1998), 142
12. See Wang Gungwu and Wang Ling-chi, eds., The Chinese Diaspora (Singapore: Times Aca-
demic Press, 1998), which includes a revisiting of global Chinese diaspora paradigms such as
"sojourning," "settling," "planting roots." Also see Aihwa Ong's Flexible Citizenship (Dur-
ham: Duke UPress, 1999), in which she examines "cultural citizenship" and Chinese diaspora.
13. Antonio Chuffat Latour, Apunte historic de los chinos en cuba (Habana: Molina, 1927). Thanks
to Kathleen Lopez, doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, for our productive dia-
logues on the Chinese of Cuba and for helping me locate another copy of Chuffat's text. My
thanks to Gabriela Veronelli, graduate student of PIC (Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture)
at SUNY Binghamton, for her fine and nuanced translation work, thus refining my original
readings of Chuffat's text Thanks to Professor Donette Francis, scholar of Caribbean studies at
SUNY Binghamton, for her insightful suggestions for revising and strengthening this article.
14. For the ranchmen, a negro was nothing, a chinese even less.
15. Chuffat, 124.
19. Chuffat, 31,61.
20. Chuffat, 98-101.
21. The mention of Thomas Gerard's recruiting from the barracoons appears in Laura Hall, "The Arri-
val and Settlement of the Chinese in 19th Century British Guiana," in The Chinese Diaspora
Volume 1, eds. Wang Gungwu and Wang Ling-chi (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1998),
96. For further details on Chinese coolie trade to the West Indies, see Persia Campbell, Chinese
Coolie Emigration to Countries within the British Empire (NY: Negro Universities Press,
1922); Walton Look Lai The Chinese in the West Indies (Jamaica: UWI Press, 1998). See more
sources, including labour and maritime histories, and coolie traffic to Cuba, listed in Lisa Yun
and Ricardo Laremont, "Chinese Coolies and African Slaves in Nineteenth Century Cuba," The
Journal ofAsian American Studies 4:2 (June 2001): 99-122; Lisa Yun, "Linking African and
Asian in Passing and Passage: The Pagoda and The True History of Paradise," SOULS: Criti-
cal Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Sodety 3:3 (Winter 2001); Lisa Yun, "Under the
Hatches: Coolie Ships and Nineteenth Century Narratives of the Pacific Passage," Amerasia
Journal, 28:2 (Fall 2002).
22. Ortiz's explication of this concept actually contains negative language regarding Chinese. He
briefly referred to the Chinese in the context of other immigrants to Cuba (including Jewish,
French, and North Americans) but chose a pejorative term for the Chinese- as "yellow Mon-
goloids" from Macao and Canton. See Fernando Ortiz, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and
Sugar (Durham: Duke U Press, 1947), 113.
23. Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory, eds.
Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (NY: Columbia U Press, 1994), 398.
Identity in Transition: Chinese Community Associations in
AARON CHANG BOHR
One cannot separate the Chinese Jamaicans and their Associations from
the context of their unique role in Jamaica and their place among other overseas
Chinese in general because they exhibit many of the same characteristics of
migration and creolization common to other overseas Chinese groups. Like them,
the Jamaican Chinese were a minority trading element, and occupied a unique
middleman position in the economy and society. After achieving economic suc-
cess, the Chinese were able to advance socially while at the same time they
became creolized and adjusted to their new society. As they consolidated as a
group in Jamaica, their organizations helped to maintain that ethnic solidarity as
well as networks across the island. Such Associations based on both Chinese
and Western models encouraged the maintenance of Chinese traditions and
ethnic solidarity while paradoxically at the same time they aided acculturation to
Jamaican creole culture and society.
Chinese Ethnicity and Creolization
According to Edgar Wickberg, one can understand Chinese ethnicity on
two levels. The first is the ethnic culture that the immigrant brings with him or
her as the cultural baggage of a "lived Chineseness." The second level, that of
ethnic identity, is a conscious cultural definition of the self as Chinese and
includes an affiliation with ethnically defined groups. Indeed, this is a process of
constant definition and re-definition of the self and the group in contrast to the
wider, non-Chinese society. There is therefore a need for an "expressed or
asserted Chineseness," since for migrant Chinese, ethnicity was constantly in
flux. Orlando Patterson argues that the Chinese were "a group which is among
the most culturally bound, intensely ethnic, and exclusive in the world."2 This
means that when considering the overseas Chinese experience, there is a tempta-
tion to lump the experiences of the overseas Chinese into "one continuous phe-
nomenon." According to Wickberg: "The image of a powerful and continuous
tradition in China may encourage us to think that Chinese everywhere carry with
them some irreducible core of an eternal Chineseness, but the variations that are
visible make that proposition difficult to defend." Even though Chinese are often
viewed as a homogenous group, their overseas experiences demonstrate a great
deal of variation.
Ethnicity and its derivations are important aspects to consider when
studying Chinese Associations which served to preserve ethnic solidarity. Ac-
cording to Patterson, to belong to an ethnic group is to believe sincerely that one
belongs for deep personal reasons which transcend socio-economic interests."4
For this reason, the Chinese worldwide have created their own unique versions of
what can be termed "Chineseness." Wherever they have gone, "Chinese have
proved themselves to be among the most adaptable peoples and that very adapt-
ability has now created a great many varieties of Chineseness throughout the
world."5 In Jamaica, for example, because of the high rates of intermarriage and
interracial liaisons, 'pure Chinese' had to take on a cultural rather than a racial
meaning "6 and the large number of racially-mixed Chinese influenced the Chi-
nese to "assume 'ethnicity' rather than 'race' as the basis of their collectiviza-
There are common processes of adjustment and acculturation that emerge
among Chinese migrants worldwide and three dichotomies have been noted. The
first is the importance of dialect or family organizations (Bang in Chinese). The
bang were "an intermediate identity focus" that served as organizations of sup-
port. Such organizations in Jamaica were based mostly upon home districts in
China and trade groups. Because the majority of overseas Chinese were minori-
ties in their host societies, they very often began to adapt to native traditions. As
new migrants settled in their host societies, there emerged the second dichotomy,
that of the newcomer versus the old-timer. As Wickberg writes, "to an old-timer,
a new immigrant did not yet know how to act. The latter's Chineseness was not
the right kind for local conditions. He needed tutoring by the old-timer." The
newcomers for their part brought with them a renewed sense of Chineseness, or
sinicization. This was the case in Jamaica, where Chinese immigration helped to
preserve ethnic solidarity. The third dichotomy is that between the newer elements
and the creolized Chinese of the host societies, and "as each migratory wave
receded it left behind a residue of creolized Chinese. These were a locally
adapted group, eventually numerous enough to form a unique society that was
intermediate between the Chinese and the indigenous societies."
The Chinese in Jamaica are a people between two worlds: their home
societies in China and the Jamaican society of both colonial rule and independence
and it is difficult to classify where such migrant Chinese fit within a global
network. Indeed, McKeown notes that there is a "difficulty in producing formu-
lations of identity and history that are not centred in nation-states or some other
territorially-based sociocultural grouping. We have little means by which to
describe lives and social organization that straddle those units," but analyzing the
Chinese diaspora in a global framework will greatly facilitate an understanding of
what is unique to overseas Chinese culture:
we must also understand how transnational activities articu-
lated with more locally defined activities and identities. How
did concerns particular to villages in South China, to overseas
Chinese communities in non-Chinese nations, and to busi-
nesses, families, and networks that stretched across oceans
come together as a single phenomenon? How were these con-
cerns entangled with economic and ideological shifts on a
global scale? 9
In order to understand the ethnically-defined network of the Chinese in
Jamaica is important to grasp many of the social and economic factors involved in
Ethnicity defined the Chinese in Jamaica, and, as Patrick Bryan notes,
"the Chinese entered creole Jamaica as a group with a highly developed ethnic
consciousness." 10 With this highly developed ethnic consciousness, they faced
the question of assimilation which is a major force to consider when studying
immigrant groups. As McKeown notes:
The idea of assimilation is a powerful one because its biases are
often cloaked in the garb of universal transformation. In its
weakest form, this garb is merely the assertion that the process
of dropping one culture in favour of another is natural and
predictable. A stronger form is the way that many theorists
viewed integration into modern American cities not merely as
assimilation into a dominant culture but as emancipation into a
modern society organized on rational and individualistic princi-
The idea of assimilation in the Chinese Jamaican community emerged in
the context of a strong interplay between Jamaican creole elements (including
British and African influences) and Chinese culture. Through their advocacy of
the Chinese community and also through facilitating cultural and social ex-
changes, Chinese Jamaican Associations were instrumental in this transition.
The migrant Chinese progressed from being sojourners, to immigrants, to
citizens. In the case of the West Indian Chinese, this occurred along with the
process of creolization "even as the host societies themselves were being gradu-
ally transformed from colonies to sovereign states." 12 Creolization can be seen
as the acculturation of immigrant groups to new societies and Patterson and Shaw
define it as a process in which groups develop a way of life peculiar to a new
locality distinct from their home culture. 13
Patterson maintains that there are two types of creolization, segmentaryy
creolization" and "synthetic creolization." Segmentary creolization involves each
group in a region creating "its own peculiar version of local culture." In the West
Indies, this creolization manifests itself in the re-creation of European institutions,
architecture, and recreation. Synthetic creolization on the other hand seeks to
create "a local culture with elements from all the available cultural resources."
Chinese immigrants to Jamaica were thus thrown into a creole society made up
of European-derived and African-derived local cultures, and two forms of creoli-
zation. On the institutional level, Chinese Jamaican Associations followed pat-
terns common to overseas Chinese organizations worldwide but they also under-
went a degree of segmentary creolization.
In the Jamaican context, creole society has been characterized as:
the social and cultural interactions between the numerically
dominant Afro-Jamaican population and the Euro-Jamaican mi-
nority whose culture had become the yardstick for social and
political behaviour, thus making African, or Afro-Jamaican folk
culture, an officially submerged minority culture (Bryan,173)
In the 1920's, a Chinese journalist in the West Indies, praised the new
generation of Chinese West Indians: "Brought up in Western schools, they seek
freedom from their hemmed-in lives and aspire to callings superior to those of
shopkeeping and planting." The Chinese entered the professions and commerce,
and took advantage of educational opportunities in the United Kingdom and North
America to further diversify their career choices.14
Three main factors that contributed to the acculturation of the Chinese
community. The first was a gradual loss of language; the second the growing
frequency of interracial marriages and liaisons, and finally, the emergence of a
sizeable mixed-race community. Indeed, Look Lai notes that the "Chinese assimi-
lation patterns in West Indian plantation society evolved against the background of
the society's uniqueness its colonial historical context, its Euro-African-Ameri-
can heterogeneity, its New World social environment." The process of creolization
and acculturation did not mean a wholesale adoption of West Indian culture, but
was a much more subtle blending of old and new worlds.15
Consequently, the process of Chinese creolization included three cul-
tural strains: the African creole society of the West Indies, the British culture of the
colonial West Indies, and the Chinese culture of the West Indian Chinese. These
were described as enthusiastic British citizens, taking advantage of British colo-
nial society and institutions: "They were Britishers under yellow skin....With each
succeeding generation, the picture of the land of Confucius grew more blurred and
finally disappeared all together." First, Chinese customs gave way to local ones,
then the Chinese language was dropped in favour of English. Some Chinese
families even dropped their Chinese surnames for English ones such as Williams,
Chance, and McLean. "Chinese by blood, they were as English as Britishers.
They knew as much of China as Indians. They had never heard of Li Po. The
great arts of the Sung dynasty were unknown to them. Chinese music grated on
their ears. Chinese speech was anathema." 16
Despite this, however, Chinese ethnicity remained an important fixture in
their lives. Even when the local-born second and third generations moved away
from Chinese as a primary medium of communication among themselves, adopt-
ing the English language and Western style of dress and values, Chinese ethnicity
(i.e., an identification of the self as Chinese) remained a binding factor, making the
members of the community a distinctive marginal element within the larger
melting pot tradition.17
Yet creolization was inevitable for the Jamaican Chinese: "However
much they may have tried to preserve the old culture, the Chinese were living in a
host society to which they had to make some adjustments. They were totally
dependent on this society for their livelihood; they were at its political mercy, and
they depended on it for biological support." (Patterson, 30-131). In fact, the
creolization of the Jamaican Chinese has been attributed to commercial neces-
The Chinese who came to Jamaica consolidated themselves ethnically.
Patterson attributes this to a process that began in the nineteenth century during
which the Chinese "chose to use their shared social and cultural traits as the bases
for establishing an ethnic group because it was in their best socio-economic
interest to do so." He maintains that the Chinese who came to the Caribbean:
did have some rudimentary bases of group affiliation: their
shared experience of crossing the ocean and the experience of
being physically and culturally different in an alien land. These
traits offered the opportunity for group allegiance, but there is
no compelling nor "primordial" reason why they had to accept
this opportunity.(Patterson, 126)
But the Chinese in Jamaica did choose to accept these shared experiences
and to consolidate their presence in Jamaica as an ethnic group. Ethnicity and
ethnic consolidation are intimately tied with economic well-being: "There will be
a tendency to choose that set of allegiance which maximizes material and social
gains in the society at large and minimizes survival risks," Patterson writes
(p.115), and Shaw agrees that: "Ethnic consolidation was the cause or the neces-
sary condition for achieving optimization of economic interest. (p.90) It is clear,
then, that ethnic consolidation and economic advancement were closely connected
and that cultural adaptation was tied to ethnic consolidation.
This ethnic consolidation was made easier by their homogeneity. They all traced
their ancestry back to three neighboring districts in Guangdong province (Dong-
guan, Bao 'an, and Huiyang counties) and to the Hakka people, a group of ethnic
Chinese with a history of migration that has continued within China in the past two
centuries to the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Pacific, and Asia. Nicole Constable
The term Hakka, which literally means "guest people" or
"strangers," is the name of a Chinese ethnic group whose ances-
tors, like those of all Han Chinese, are believed to have origi-
nated in north central China ...but the Hakka diaspora extends
to virtually every continent in the world. (p.3)
The Hakka were seen by most other southern Chinese as outsiders and
very often there were clashes between them. Events such as the Taiping Rebellion
(1850-1864) and the Hakka-Punti conflicts of the mid-nineteenth century high-
light these tensions, and a perception that Hakka Chinese were somehow removed
from the mainstream created in them a strong sense of ethnic pride and identifica-
tion with Han Chinese culture and history.
The Hakka tradition of migration was has been an important factor in
shaping the identity of overseas Hakka Chinese. Their descendants might "speak
different languages, eat different foods, and belong to different economic classes
and political parties, yet they may retain the name Hakka and identify themselves
as such." 19A significant dynamic in Hakka relations with other Chinese is the
stigma attached to the Hakka identity because it has been associated with social
ostracism, backwardness, and poverty. As Pan observes:
Hakkas at home are noticeably more reticent about being Hakka
than their cousins abroad, but the renewal of contacts with the
outside world with thousands of Hakka coming to China to
look for their roots has reawakened their need to assert their
Unlike those living in China, overseas Hakka have a powerful pride in
their migratory history, as well as a strong identification with Chinese culture.
This migratory tradition has had a strong impact on the Chinese in Jamaica since
many of them also identify with, and take great pride in, their history.
Ethnicity played a major role in the Chinese retail trade in Jamaica. As
an ethnic minority trading element, the Jamaican Chinese established a network of
shops, wholesale suppliers, and credit. This was not surprising as, industrious and
hardworking, the Chinese had dominated the retail trade in Southeast Asia. Lynn
Pan describes these Chinese merchants:
All over Southeast Asia, it was a Chinese who sold you a drink,
a chicken, a needle, a lamp, a catty of rice, a length of cloth, a
bag of spices a quantity of anything, in fact, that was essential
to everyday living. The Chinese were good at marrying surplus
to scarcity, and vast numbers of them were involved in distribu-
tion.(Yellow Emperor, 129)
Pan further notes, "a quality they were frequently credited with was
cleverness, and if they were detested for their fondness of profit, they were often
admired for their quickness and dexterity." They were people who "reached the
right place at the right time." (p.133)
Such was the case in Jamaica. The first Chinese in Jamaica arrived as
indentured labourers in 1854 but they did not remain long on the plantations. In
the mid-to late-nineteenth century, they were able to transition into the retail trade
from indentured agricultural labour because they arrived in Jamaica during a time
of great change:
The Chinese entry into the Caribbean in the nineteenth century
took place on the cusp of change. These changes launched the
region, in particular, into a state of flux politically, economi-
cally, and socially.21
This arrival in Jamaica also coincided with an expansion of the Jamaican retail
It has not been possible to determine how many of the small
retail traders were Chinese, but it is significant that their incur-
sions into the grocery trade coincided in point of time with a
period of accelerated activity in this field. This increase in the
number of retail traders was accompanied by the breaking down
of merchant control over the import trade. The closing years of
the nineteenth century were therefore a particularly opportune
period for investment in the provisioning trades. 22
Along with the increase in retail traders was an increased demand for imported
goods. Indeed, the strengthening of their position throughout Jamaica as traders
reinforced the Chinese position of being a "minority trading element." According
to Look Lai:
By the late 1880's, the Chinese had become identified as a
largely small trader class within the interstices of the col-
our/class social hierarchy of Caribbean plantation society, jos-
tling side by side with other ethnic groups in the same
middleman occupations: the Portuguese in British Guiana,
many Indians and Creoles. (Chinese in the West Indies, 16)
In the 20th century, there was a larger influx of Chinese migrants to the
island, and Jamaica's "tiny Chinese community escalated from virtual insignifi-
cance in the nineteenth century to the position of being the largest and most vibrant
in the twentieth" in the British West Indies.23
They were able to take advantage of the economic opportunities in
Jamaica and their success in the retail trade quickly created the impression of a
Chinese monopoly in Jamaica's retail sector. They began to enter Jamaica as an
ethnic trading group, and "most of the Chinese immigrants to Jamaica, in the
post-indenture period, came to the island for the express purpose of engaging in
the retail trade."(Levy,37) One contemporary Chinese journalist wrote: "the
stigma that China is a nation of shopkeepers is almost true, if applied to the West
Indies, for the retail trade, especially in the towns and villages of the West Indies,
are predominantly a Chinese monopoly. Black, white, mulatto trade with their
yellow brother without any trace of racial awareness." 24
Lind notes the suitability of the Chinese for the Jamaican retail trade:
As one of the extraneous elements in the midst of a large peasant
and only partially industrialized community, the Chinese were
ideally situated to play the role of the impersonal, but none-the-
less useful tradesman. Unlike the black or coloured populations
of Jamaica, who were handicapped as tradesmen by the personal
claims of relatives and friends, the immigrant Chinese and Syri-
ans found in trade the one field of economic endeavour in which
their alienism was an asset rather than a liability.(p.154)
The Chinese in Jamaica therefore fulfilled the classic role of the ethnic
minority trading element. They belonged to a group "of racially distinct trading
communities around the world which have been variously called 'middleman
minorities,' 'marginal trading people' and 'trading minorities,'25and the most
important link between Jamaican society and Chinese shopkeepers was an imper-
sonal economic relationship.
Patterson maintains that the retail trade was perfectly suited for the
Chinese, as it did not force them to assimilate completely into Jamaican society:
Like all immigrant groups, they could more easily forego the
social activities requiring capital and time that full membership
in a society demands. No questionable notions about greater
initiative or resourcefulness are needed to explain their success.
The Chinese were successful economically while maintaining ethnic cohesion.
Patterson argues: "Only after an economic base was secured did they begin to
consolidate as an ethnic group." Indeed, "prosperity made ethnic consolidation
possible." (pp.127,129) This was due to the relationship between the nature of the
retail trade and prosperity which allowed Chinese Jamaicans to isolate them-
selves within their own ethnic identity. "Of all occupations, retail trading offers
the best opportunity for such a group to maximize earnings while minimizing
The Jamaican Chinese community's roots as an ethnic trading group lay
in China, and "Chinese participation in commercial pursuits is seen to be a
natural development when considered against the background of employment
opportunities in South-east China, and in conjunction with the economic role of
the overseas Chinese in general," (Levy, 33) since the Chinese in Southeast China
were both farmers and traders:
It appears, therefore, that some familiarity with the processes of
trade was provided by the environment of the Chinese who
migrated from south-east China to Jamaica, and that their deci-
sive rejection of agricultural occupations in favour of retail
trading may not have been as innovatory as it first appears.
Firm precedents for this same combination of migration fol-
lowed by occupational change had long been established in their
native land (Levy, 34).
With their Hakka roots and their economic experiences in southeast China, the
Jamaican Chinese readily found an ready economic niche in Jamaica's retail
Lee Tom Yin has chronicled the arrival of Chinese business merchants
and traders in Jamaica:
Each year, an increasing number of Chinese landed in Kingston.
In very little time, most Chinese started businesses of their
own...From very small retail groceries, they grew into sizeable
stores, and hence further grew into wholesale houses. From that
period on, the Chinese migrants stood shoulder to shoulder with
the other races in our common task of building up Jamaica's
The Chinese shop soon became a fixture in Jamaican towns and villages,
and the "'Chinaman's Shop' was a social institution which spread from the heart
of Kingston to the farthest covers of the island.27 An Englishman living in
Jamaica wrote that the Chinese shop brought a welcome change to previous
conditions on the island: "the Chinese incursion, judged by its net results, must be
admitted to have been of very great benefit to this island. It has certainly proved
that the old Victorian habits of hard work, and of sticking to it...together with the
thrifty habits which stop the little leaks, will still, as they have always done, lift
people from indigence to affluence and from little things to big. This is the great
object lesson which the Chinese have shown Jamaicans..." 28
This was not accomplished without great difficulty, for the life of the
Chinese Jamaican grocer was one of sacrifice and hardship:
The pioneers in this field were the early settlers, who started a
small grocery of their own upon the completion of three years'
contract as labourers. Such grocery stores made their headway
solely by hardwork [sic] and extreme thrift. Business hours
started from before day break to midnight, working seven days
per week. As to thrift, it was almost a rule for those early shop
keepers to clothe in flour-bag suits and live on saltfish fritters.
It is by virtue of such hard-working and hard-saving spirits that
eventually the grocery trade, whether in towns or villages, be-
came gathered into Chinese hands.(Lee Tom Yin, 50)
A major factor in the success of the Jamaican Chinese merchants was
their capacity for networking. Pan writes:
[T]here was no network like the network of Chinese connec-
tions, which joined market to market through clan or family,
and assured the Chinese middleman that, wherever he happened
to be, whether at home in China or abroad in Southeast Asia,
there would always be plenty of cooperation to tap.(quoted in
Yellow Emperor, 132)
Indeed, it was such a network that brought the Chinese to Jamaica. This network
included family and friends left behind in China, who in the Chinese emigrant
tradition often joined their relations in overseas communities.(Pan,132) Both
ethnicity and economics played a role in the Chinese network in Jamaica: "Many
of the trading linkages were first and foremost kinship ties...Credit was often
extended to newcomer-relatives, in terms of merchandise, and this explains why a
patron, in the Tung-ka or patron-newcomer relationship, may have obtained credit
himself and then transferred goods to his kinsmen."29
The Chinese network consisted of shops, credit, and goods, and this
ethnically defined network accounted for much of their success in Jamaica: "The
dispersion of Chinese shopkeepers into the countryside ...was the result of an
expanding network of Chinese retail wholesale provision firms, whose nucleus
was in Kingston." (Lee, 115) This network of small shops catered "almost exclu-
sively to the needs of the peasantry and the small wage-earners in the
towns."(Johnson, 23) These economic factors contributed to the success and
growth of Chinese retail shops in Jamaica and greatly facilitated the rise of the
Chinese network and Chinese ethnic consolidation. As Patterson observes:
"What, after all, is retail and wholesale trading but a network of people among
whom there is a flow of goods and credit in one direction and a flow of profit in
the other?"(Patterson, 130)
As has been observed, a major aspect of the Chinese Jamaican business
network was the homogenous nature of their community and thus the internal
fragmentation common to other overseas Chinese communities did not occur:
Unlike other overseas Chinese communities which fragmented
internally along differences in locality and dialect, the Chinese
in Jamaica reinforced their economic relationships with the
loyalties of kinship and common ethnicity. Since outsiders
were not subject to these loyalties, the Chinese preferred to
conduct business transactions with fellow Chinese.(Lee, 120)
The network was a closed system which looked with suspicion upon
those who did not share kinship or community ties: "The concern with reliability
and trust permeated the organization of Chinese business. Access to employment
in Chinese-owned businesses required the acknowledgement of kinship ties or the
recommendation of someone trusted." Indeed, this network was a major reason
for further Chinese migration to Jamaica since "by the turn of the century, Chinese
immigration to Jamaica was largely structured by the expansion of Chinese busi-
nesses. Immigrants did not randomly choose Jamaica as a destination, but were
inducted into a business network through pre-established contacts."(Lee, 120)
The structure of the Chinese community allowed for a great deal of
solidarity. Single male immigrants were free of dependent families, and thus were
able to accumulate savings and establish economic stability before their families
arrived from China. Credit was also readily available, as the network included
members from the same lineage groups.(Levy, 44) The ethnic solidarity of the
Jamaican Chinese was therefore intimately tied to the social and economic net-
work of the retail trade.
One of the major networking institutions among the Chinese in Jamaica
were the hui (kui in Hakka). These were rotating credit Associations in which the
various members would pool their resources and loan money to one another,
drawing from the pool in turns. These Associations had their roots in China,
where members of a lineage group would organize hui to pay for various ritual
obligations.(Lee, 122) These hui initially helped to maintain social and financial
ties among the Chinese.
However, as the Chinese community developed and grew more complex,
the hui declined. The second generation of Chinese in Jamaica was increasingly
creole and, through education in Jamaican schools and abroad, had different
cultural experiences from those of their parents: "As education, occupation and
residential desertion differentiated members of the Chinese community, the
strong sense of social solidarity which was considered a characteristic of the
Chinese immigrants eroded." Lee observes:
Social solidarity was a critical element in the Chinese monopoly
of the retail grocery. Social ties among the Chinese coincided
with economic ties. The hui served to cement both so long as
the members of the Chinese community were all dependent
upon the control of the retail grocery trade. As the occupational
pursuits of the Chinese diverged and some Chinese attained
status outside of the ethnic community, the supporting elements
of social solidarity weakened.(Lee, 129)
As occupations changed, rapid and "near complete dismantlement of
their culture was accompanied by radical intersocial and intrasocial changes. The
Chinese chose to move into the middle and upper-middle classes."3 The strong
ethnic solidarity of the Jamaican Chinese was in transition. Much of this had to do
with the greater levels of education within the community, which meant more
opportunities for social and economic advancement.
Also, the 1940's heralded the beginnings of the movement towards independence
from Great Britain, which was granted on August 6, 1962. Jamaica was a society
in transition, and with the independence movement came a renewed interest in
creole and African Jamaica as opposed to British Jamaica. Chinese social ad-
vancement came with greater interest in creole culture, and they had to come to
terms with their traditional position as a minority trading element within Jamaican
society.31With a network of shopkeepers across the island, the Chinese in Jamaica
were an important minority trading element in the midst of creole society, and
"[t]he Chinese grocery retail store [or] "Chinese shop" became an integral part of
Jamaican life, and as such a Jamaican institution.(Levy, 49)
Not only did they make contributions to the Jamaican retail sector, the Chinese had
accomplishments in Jamaica's professional and scholarly life, and they can mus-
ter among them University graduates, solicitors, barristers, doctors, accountants,
and the end is not yet."32 Such social advancement heralded a more diverse
Chinese community in Jamaica, which included both traditional and acculturated
Look Lai maintains that it is important to consider not only the role of the
Chinese as a "minority trading element" within Jamaican society, but also the
internal group dynamics of the Chinese community, with both traditionalist and
creolized elements.(Chinese in the WI., 17) As succeeding generations of Chinese
in Jamaica began to choose careers outside of shopkeeping, the Chinese had to
choose between what was "continued prosperity or continued ethnic solidarity on
the basis of cultural exclusiveness."(Patterson, 132) Family and institutions played
major roles in this choice.
The Chinese family was the centre of Chinese culture, customs, and
ambitions, in any setting is the family. Levy attributes their success in retail trade
to their urge to succeed and to traditional Chinese family and social structure, in
which the family is given priority over the individual. These gave the Chinese "a
certain psychological advantage over their creole competitors" in the Jamaican
When a business was founded, all members of the family were
under obligation to expend labour in it, without the payment of
a formal wage. It was labour for subsistence, but had the advan-
tage of keeping overhead expenditure low and eliminating la-
bour problems.(Levy, 49,44)
The Chinese brought with them the values of family discipline, mutual support,
and a strong emphasis on education. The family also served as a model for the
Chinese in a wider setting, as they established personal relationships and networks
of social reciprocity with other Chinese in their host societies.33
The family was an important agent for the preservation of Chinese
ethnicity and culture. Family life extended to include other institutions, such as
schools and Chinese Associations. Children were sent to either to full-time or
supplementary Chinese schools but, as Wickberg notes, "more children meant
more demands for education overseas that would be suitable to Chinese economic
goals and cultural maintenance." (Relations with Non-Chinese, 117) It is impor-
tant to note that traditionally overseas Chinese sent some of their children back to
China or Hong Kong to receive an education and to grow up in the culture. While
this was common in Jamaica, it was simply not feasible for all Chinese children to
travel to China. To pass on their heritage, they therefore founded organizations
that would help maintain Chinese culture and traditions.
Chinese Jamaican Associations
Li Minghuan argues that Associations, along with schools and newspa-
pers, form one of three pillars of overseas Chinese life, and that they help to forge
a sense of ethnic solidarity among overseas Chinese:
Ethnic migrants in alien surroundings often forge a sense of
collectivity. Despite individual differences in training and ex-
periences before and after their arrival, they have identified
themselves, and are always identified by non-Chinese people by
their shared ethnic background. To ensure a better future in
their receiving country, the immigrants organize themselves
through visible and invisible links. The emergence of Associa-
tions is recognized as an important collective symbol 34
Overseas Chinese Associations produce and maintain ethnic solidarity.
Because much of the leadership of these organizations is interlocking, they also
contribute to Chinese networks, both domestic and international. More impor-
tantly, Li also argues that overseas Chinese organizations act as both bridges and
barriers between overseas Chinese and their host societies.(p.3)
Wickberg agrees that "organizations have been and continue to be impor-
tant to Chinese abroad"since they provided
social services, rituals of cultural expression and retention, ne-
gotiation and protection against competing or threatening forces
from the outside, and -for their leaders- opportunities for
participation in the local Chinese political and business sys-
tems.(Overseas Chinese Organizations, 83-84)
Indeed, these organizations allowed for a great deal of cultural continuity as they
often worked alongside trade Associations, or tongye gonghui. There were also
secret societies, some of which were political in orientation, whether they sympa-
thized with the Nationalists or the Chinese Communist Party, and also important
"umbrella" organizations such as the Zhonghua Huiguan (Chinese Benevolent
Association/Society). These types of Associations were founded in Chinese com-
munities the world over:
Besides their mediating and negotiating functions, they were
responsible for promoting economic welfare, providing social
services and encouraging cultural maintenance, especially in the
form of Chinese schools, whose work they supervised (Over-
seas Chinese Organizations, 84)
In a similar manner, the Jamaican Chinese founded several cultural institutions to
maintain their heritage, and "it is logical to infer that the function of the average
association was 'to work for the cultural, social, educational and economic uplift'
of its members."Chinese Associations therefore sought to "keep the Chinese
Chinese Associations "tell the story of a community that is part, al-
though not entirely, of the society." These organizations duplicated other national
Associations, including those which focused on education, sports, and leisure.
(Bryan, 244-245) For example, there was a Chinese Jamaican Boy Scout Troop.
As more Chinese became Catholic, they founded the Chinese Catholic Action
Association, which was involved in social and religious activities. In fact, the
Roman Catholic Church was a major force that helped to preserve Chinese
exclusiveness in Jamaica. The widespread conversion of Chinese in Jamaica to
Catholicism "involved a cultural compromise but it maintained the social exclu-
siveness of the group, an exclusiveness the church was willing to respect." (Patter-
son, 131) But such exclusiveness helped to prevent assimilation:
The continued existence of these organizations and Associa-
tions indicate a level of creolization and adjustment to Jamai-
can conditions; but suggest that assimilation of the Chinese
community, in the fullest sense, is not likely to occur in the near
While these organizations served as important conveyors of tradition, at the same
time, in their decisions to base their Associations on Jamaican/Western models,
Chinese Associations in Jamaica also served as agents of acculturation (but not
As can be seen by the above examples, Chinese Associations in Jamaica
include both those that are based on traditional Chinese models, such as the
Chinese Benevolent Association/Society, and those based on Jamaican or Western
models, such as the Chinese Athletic Club. Thus, one can classify overseas
Chinese Associations as "two broad types of organization: those based on experi-
ence in China and those drawing upon non-Chinese models." 36 Despite the fact
that the latter type of organization incorporated both Chinese and Jamaican ele-
ments, ethnicity remained the defining factor in the membership of Associations
based upon this model and the "first generation Chinese established separate
organizations that technically duplicated the functions of comparable 'native'
institutions, but which were designed specifically to serve the Chinese commu-
The role which such Chinese Associations played in the he community
life of Trinidad's Chinese community was similar to that of the Associations of
the Chinese in Jamaica:.
...it is hardly possible to overemphasise their past importance in
the social and economic life of the Chinese community. From
the very outset, the Associations had a very key role to play in
the lives and affairs of individual Chinese who became domi-
ciled in Trinidad.(Millett, 61)
Indeed, they helped to maintain a collective identity. As Shaw observes: "The
initial basis for immigrant Associations is a shared 'past' and a common interest
in survival in an alien world." (p.89) In Jamaica, the Chinese Benevolent
Association/Society was the major bridge between the Chinese community and
their interests and Jamaican society and government. But Chinese Associations
also helped the Chinese community to maintain its own autonomy. According to
[T]he Associations claimed the right of nations to be free from
outside interference in their internal affairs: Chinese affairs
would be looked after and decided upon by Chinese whose
allegiance at that point in time was due only to their Associa-
tions and their beloved, ancestral homeland.(Millett, 63)
Jamaica's Chinese Associations served the same function and the Chinese Be-
nevolent Association acted for many years as the unofficial representative of
China in Jamaica.
Even when they had the opportunity to be integrated into traditionally
white Jamaican institutions, the Chinese preferred to maintain their own and rather
than "attempting to 'democratize' sports institutions on the basis of the equality of
all citizens, the Chinese founded their own." (Bryan, 177) They were becoming
creolized, but on the level of what Patterson terms segmentaryy creolization," in
which they created their own version of Jamaican culture. The founding of the
Chinese Athletic Club, founded in 1937, illustrates this phenomenon:
Certain leisure pursuits were the province of white Jamaica, but
the Chinese Athletic Club ensured, with the assistance of Chi-
nese capital, that the community had access to the necessary
facilities for the development of Chinese sport.(Bryan, 176-
Lee Tom Yin described the facilities, which included a Chinese pagoda
and a clubhouse, and activities such as dancing, hockey, basketball, tennis, track,
and activities for children:
The club nowadays has assumed its position as headquarters for
the Chinese community where all ceremonial functions such as
weddings and annual balls are being held. Every year a sub-
scription drive sponsored by the Club gives fascinating enter-
tainments [sic] to the youth, and moreover, the Beauty Contest
is welcome to all. (Lee Tom Yin, 36)
Patterson observes that this trend in the Chinese Jamaican community was an
attempt to maintain Chinese ethnic identity while at the same time taking the first
steps in acculturation: "What emerged was an attempt at building a segmentary
Sino-Creole society strongly Jamaican in emphasis with many of its institutional
forms borrowed from the host society but directed exclusively at the Chinese
community." (Patterson, 133) The claim that the Associations were important in
maintaining Chinese traditions in Trinidad since "many who emigrated from
China in recent years have clung to their habits and customs, chiefly through their
connections with the various Associations which cater for their physical and
material welfare."37 was also true of the Chinese Associations in Jamaica. The
Chinese Benevolent Association/Society was and continues to be a major bridge
between the Chinese community and the Jamaican government and institutions.
The Chinese Benevolent Association/Society
Jamaica's Chinese Benevolent Association/Society (Chung Fah Fuicon
in Hakka) is indicative of an "umbrella organization" which encompasses various
functions and subsidiary organizations:
Besides their mediating and negotiating functions, [umbrella
organizations] were responsible for promoting economic wel-
fare, providing social services and encouraging cultural mainte-
nance, especially in the form of Chinese schools, whose work
they supervised. Umbrella organizations were usually headed
by executive committees, whose members, chosen from the
leaders of the most important Associations under the umbrella,
were the political 61ite of Chinatown. (Wickberg, Overseas Chi-
nese Organizations, 84)
Founded in the 1890s, during a time of adjustment for Chinese immi-
grants to Jamaica, it was "an organization designed to amicably settle all disputes
among members of the Chinese community, and to lend support to individual
members in the event of pressure from outside."
During that period of time, the Chinese settlers in Jamaica were
mostly from the poorer classes. Life was hard for them, and
once upon their arrival in Jamaica, they found that they were
totally without protection from the Chinese Government, and
they were not always well received by native Jamaicans. These
common plights caused the Chinese settlers to cling closely to
one another. (Lee Tom Yin, 27)
The Association's goal, therefore, was "to protect and promote lawful trade and
commerce...and to act as an arbitrator in the settlement of disputes arising out of
commercial transactions." (Bryan, 249) Still vibrant today, the CBA/S not only
fulfilled a commercial function, but a charitable one as well.
It is important to note that Jamaica's Chinese Benevolent Associa-
tion/Society did not spring up completely in the context of an alien Jamaican
environment, but had its roots in China:
The Chinese Benevolent Association's formation was not a
simple response to the need of the Chinese society and commu-
nity to defend itself against the hostility of a new environment.
One can assume that such functions were vital, by way of
helping the new immigrants to adjust to the host community.
However, the formation of the CBA had its roots in Chinese
tradition, and was a continuation of patterns of conduct trans-
ferred from China itself... (Bryan, 251)
Lynn Pan emphasizes the importance of understanding the Chinese roots of
overseas Chinese institutions.
Learning how an overseas Chinese community fits together as a
whole is a key to understanding how it works. This entails
grasping the forms and bases of its togetherness and division.
The forms and bases are changeable, and more or less adaptable
to new circumstances. Indeed, even at their most pristine over-
seas Chinese Associations were a reconstruction on new soil of
older patterns. For they did not spring out of thin air, but were
adumbrated in the Chinese homeland.
Indeed, benevolent Associations (huiguan) in China played an important role for
migrants throughout China.
In China huiguan were concentrated in urban areas. They provided
lodging and other resources to Chinese travelling outside of their home provinces:
They were independent of lineages but still drew upon kin
networks for recruitment and maintained close links to particu-
lar lineages or villages. They also drew upon the model of
kinship as a legitimizing principle as well as upon a variety of
less orthodox shared resources, such as native place, ritual
oaths, common worship, and the search for material profit.
These Associations, which included merchant and trade organizations,
"were one of the most widespread forms of migrant association in China. The
earliest huiguan were hostels for scholars residing temporarily in Beijing." The
huiguans eventually took on other roles, such as mediation and protecting group
These Associations were mediums through which merchants
could collaborate to stabilize prices, regulate trade, limit compe-
tition, mediate disputes, and deal with officialdom. In doing so,
the huiguan became closely linked to networks and institutions
at home, and their services often expanded beyond a focus on
commercial activities to a more general assortment of native
Migration within China, including resettlement in other provinces,
helped to account for the growth of huiguan. Upon their arrival in other parts of
the world, it was therefore natural for the Chinese to found these benevolent
Associations. They maintained their role as mediators. Millet writes of the
Chinese Associations in Trinidad: "[a]ll the evidence suggests that the Chinese do
have an alternative legal system. Their legal affairs are settled privately among
themselves without them having to approach the established courts as litigants."
In Jamaica, the Chinese Benevolent Association/Society acted as the
unofficial representative of China before the establishment of a consulate. It
sought to work closely with the Jamaican government, especially on issues related
to immigration. In a letter to the British Colonial Secretary, the CBA/S set forth
its desired goals. These were to:
...bring about the concentration of Chinese matters in ourselves
in view of the complexities that will inevitably arise in our
growing community, in efficiently facilitating the reciprocal
relations between the Government and our people here and in
fostering a healthier and happier commercial and civic attitude
among our people in accord with the constructive spirit that is
abroad in the island...to guide the energies of Chinese people
here along a consistent and progressive channel thereby to con-
tribute more definitely to the development of the Island. 40
The Chinese Benevolent Association therefore sought a more active role to advo-
cate on behalf of the Chinese community in Jamaica. Such was the case in 1926,
when it welcomed British Governor Stubbs to his appointment in Jamaica.
On September 21st, Governor Stubbs was feted at the audito-
rium of the Chinese Benevolent Society. In his after-dinner
speech, the Governor emphasized Jamaica's friendliness to-
wards the Chinese community, and promised assistance to Chi-
nese immigrants coming into Jamaica. In subsequent years, the
Governor did give great help to Chinese immigrants who came
to Jamaica. This was a great success on the part of the Chinese
community in building up a friendly relationship with the Gov-
ernment of Jamaica.(Lee Tom Yin, 28)
The Association's request that the Chinese government establish a Chinese consu-
late in Jamaica demonstrated an awareness of the need for it to advocate on a
political and diplomatic level for the rights of Jamaica's Chinese community.
In 1924 and 1925, the Association petitioned the Chinese ambassador in
London to establish consular representation in the island. Along with petitions, it
cabled news of murders of Chinese shopkeepers, acts of discrimination against
the Chinese, and restriction of business hours.According to the petition:
We Chinese in Jamaica have long suffered discrimination from
native Jamaicans. There are many discriminatory laws, diffi-
culties imposed on our business activities, as well as many cases
of Chinese residents being murdered or robbed. In spite of the
fact that this Association has done its best to take up such
matters, we are compelled to stoop upon other people's roof.
Whatever the case may be, the Chinese is always the loser in the
end. (Lee Tom Yin, 14-15)
The embassy responded stating that "these matters will be taken up with
the Jamaican Governor upon his arrival in London." (quoted in Lee Tom Yin, 15)
Not only did Associations like the Chinese Benevolent Association advo-
cate on behalf of the Chinese community, but they also aided in their adjustment
to a new society:
Organizations have been and continue to be important to Chi-
nese abroad. They provide assistance to new immigrants, and
social life, companionship and emergency aid to members.
They are conduits and reference points for business connections
as well as avenues of communication with local governments
and with China.(Wickberg, Overseas Chinese Organizations,
There are two important aspects of overseas Chinese organizations that
are applicable to the Chinese organizations in Jamaica. The first is the fact that the
Chinese in Jamaica are an ethnic minority. As can be seen in the CBA's activities
lobbying the Jamaican government on behalf of the Chinese community in Ja-
maica, Chinese Associations had to advocate on behalf of ethnic minority rights.
The second aspect is that most overseas Chinese lived in cities, and although in
Jamaica there were many living in rural areas, the main concentration of Chinese
life was Kingston's Chinatown. The Chinese Benevolent Association maintained
its headquarters here, and was one of the centres of Chinese social life in
Other Associations that fell under the CBA's organizational umbrella
include the Chinese Sanitorium and the Chinese Old Folks' Home. The Chinese
Sanitorium provided lodging and medicine for patients who travelled to Kingston
for medical care. Similarly, the Chinese Old Folks' Home, founded in 1877,
provided care for elderly Chinese. Finally, the Chinese Cemetery was (and still is)
managed by the CBA. It is a community cemetery for the Chinese, and the CBA
has traditionally organized ceremonies for Chongyang and Qingming, the two
traditional dates in the Chinese calendar for remembering ancestors. One of the
most important organizations run by the CBA was the Chinese Public School.
The Chinese Public School
The purpose of the Chinese Public School was to hand down "to future
generations the vast heritage of the Chinese culture."( Lee Tom Yin, 30) These
schools in overseas Chinese communities helped to pass on Chinese traditions and
heritage: "Chinese communities schools were important because they helped to
pass on Chinese tradition and were a major part of Chinese life from 1900 onward.
Sometimes they were established and operated by the community as a whole.
Often, however, they were funded and operated by individual huiguan..."42This
was the case in Jamaica.
In 1924, members of the Chinese community opened the Sin Min School,
which later became the Chinese Public School. Funds came from the Sin Min
Association, an association which sought to "exchange knowledge and to promote
the educational level of the Chinese community as a whole." (Lee Tom Yin, 37)
Later, the Chinese Benevolent Association took over operation of the School
whose curriculum sought to preserve the Chinese heritage through history and
language, but also had classes in arithmetic, painting, music, and English. It was
the only educational institution in Jamaica that was responsible for passing down
China's culture and traditional value system.(Lee Tom Yin, 124) The school was
originally modelled on China's system of education, emphasizing Chinese lan-
guage and writing, and English only secondarily.
However, in 1952 the Chinese Public School was reorganized so as to
comply with the requirements of Jamaica's Ministry of Education, and empha-
sized English and other subjects instead of Chinese.(Lee Tom Yin, 30) Not all
Chinese children attended the Chinese Public School, and the schools of the
Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches were major sources of education and
creolization for Chinese Jamaicans. Teachers came from China, Jamaica, and
England but the school closed in 1965, due to lack of funds.
The Chee Kong Tong (Chinese Freemasons)
As in other overseas Chinese communities, the Chinese Associations in
Jamaica had an overlapping membership. Many members of the Chinese Be-
nevolent Association/Society were also members of the Chinese Freemasons, or
the Chee Kong Tong (Zhigong Tang in Mandarin), which maintained a branch in
Jamaica. Bryan notes: "The process of the emergence of Chinese Freemasonry in
Jamaica is rather unclear. One theory is that the Freemasonry Society has links
with the Chinese from the Fung Munn Movement."(Bryan, 252) The Fung Munn,
or Hongmen movement, was a Chinese secret society that "became notorious
throughout southeast China as carrying the taint of rebellion, disciplined organiza-
tion, and subversive society." (McKeown, 112) The Hongmen Hui later travelled
with Chinese migrants to the countries in which they settled. Many of the early
immigrants to Jamaica in 1854 were members of the Hongmen Hui. They are
described as "patriots" opposed to Qing in China. (Lee Tom Yin, 144)
The Chee Kong Tong has its roots in traditional Chinese sworn brother-
hoods and overseas these served to create new ties between migrants. These
brotherhoods "were primarily a means by which previously unrelated people
could institutionalize newly formed relationships. As such, they often expanded
to create links between different migrant communities."43 The preamble of the
Zhigongtang branch in western Canada reads as follows:
It is said that a well-organized society is ruled by reason and that
the security and harmony of society depend on the cultivation of
harmonious sentiments. The nation treats peace and prosperity
as matters of paramount importance: the cangue is moistened by
rain. In a hostel a friendly relationship among the lodgers is of
paramount importance: the gentle breeze is important on a sea
voyage. If everything is carefully planned at the beginning,
there will be no regrettable results at the end. One must
straighten out one's own life before one can straighten out the
lives of others...The purpose of forming the Chi-k'ung T'ang is
to maintain a friendly relationship among our countrymen and
to accumulate wealth through proper business meth-
ods...Among travelers there is no distinction between host and
guest. When there is a common purpose we should work to-
gether; we arrive at the principle by being aware of the basic
situation; we shall not be confused or shaken by slander; we act
in the name of justice. In this way our organization shall enjoy
a flourishing future; peace shall reign permanently within our
hostel; members who are disciplined shall enjoy living together.
There is a method in the making of money; one also enjoys the
profit which is inherent in the rare items one has for sale.
Thus the goal of the Zhigongtang was clear: to bring about solidarity among the
In Jamaica, the Chee Kong Tong's official name was the China Hongmen
Minzhidang, Jamaica Branch. Many of its earliest members were in fact doctors
and intellectuals and members pledged loyalty, promised to share times of pros-
perity as well as hardship and to help one another through life's difficul-
ties(p. 144) The activities of the Chee Kong Tong included two general meetings,
one in the spring and one in the fall, a banquet, and elections for the following
year's leadership. (Lee Tom Yin, 146)
In 1931, in the midst of the beginnings of the Sino-Japanese War, the
Chee Kong Tong raised money for the war effort (1,000). It also had a strong
commitment to education, and sponsored classes in Chinese for the locally-born
Chinese, was involved in music, and had its own band (all played Western
instruments). Aside from charity, education, and music, the Chee Kong Tong also
had an award-winning basketball team (Lee Tom Yin, 48)
There was a great deal of overlapping leadership among Chinese Asso-
ciations and institutions in Jamaica. The Chee Kong Tong worked in cooperation
with the Chinese Benevolent Association and the leadership of both were active
in the two organizations. Bryan notes: "Freemasonry, primarily a lodge of men, is
also guided by charitable impulses. As such, Chee Kong Tong and Chung Far
Fuicon experience overlapping executives and overlapping functions. They are
the two most important umbrella organizations of the Chinese in Jamaica. (Bryan,
The Trade Associations
Trade Associations were major advocates for the Chinese business com-
munity in Jamaica and. were the strongest organizations within the Jamaican
Now that they were spread out over the country, it was to their
economic advantage to consolidate into an ethnic group with
excellent intragroup communications. The structure of the so-
cial network became one with the structure of the trading net-
work. The strongest community organizations were also trade
Associations for example, the Wholesaler's Association, the
Chinese Retailer's Association, and the Baker's Association.
Indeed, the prosperity of the Chinese community depended upon these trade
Associations that advocated for the rights of Chinese business people and also
acted as intermediaries with the Jamaican government. For example, the Jamaica
Wholesalers Association, incorporated on November 15th, 1938, sought to pro-
mote business, protect its members' rights, and provide information to its mem-
bers.(Lee Tom Yin, 38)
The Second World War and the rationing imposed on British Jamaica
were major factors in the founding of Chinese Trade Associations. The Chinese
Retailers Association was founded to meet the need of Chinese merchants to keep
informed, and to advocate on their behalf. In 1942, most Chinese retailers "real-
ized the uncertainties of the future they faced. To safeguard their survival and
possibly to develop their business, a general meeting of all retail merchants was
called at 12 p.m. on June 7th." The purpose of the Association was "to protect
the interests of retailers, and to promote unity and co-operation among the mem-
bers." Membership was open to all Chinese merchants, both men and women.
The Association worked on a variety of issues. Among these were attempts to ask
for higher profit margins, the removal of certain restrictions (including those on
business hours), providing credit information to members, and also work on the
murder case of a former member. (Lee Tom Yin, 39, 40) The Association was
extremely active immediately after the Second World War...During that time,
there was [sic] severe shortages of all kinds of goods. The Association fought for
the suppression of black market [sic], and higher legitimate profits."(Lee Tom
The Chinese Retailer's Association was also deeply involved in negotia-
tions with the government of Jamaica over certain laws that affected business.
When the Shop Assistants' Law was passed in 1955, the Association informed
members of the details of the law, and also negotiated with the government over
certain aspects of the law. On September 18, 1955, the Association wrote to the
Honourable Wills O. Isaacs, then Minister of Trade and Industry, requesting a
revision of these laws. It argued that the law imposed too much of a burden on
small businesses, inconvenienced the poorer classes as the shops would have to
close before they left work, and "reduces the employees' opportunity of making
any overtime pay, it will also hamper tourist trade and indirectly reduces Jamaica's
dollar income." (Lee Tom Yin, 45) Other Associations, including the Soda
Fountain and Restaurant's Association and the Baker's Association fulfilled simi-
lar functions. For example, the Baker's Association sought to "voice objections
and request amelioration when the Government imposes laws that are too harsh on
the bakers."(Lee Tom Yin, 48)
In her book 'We Need Two Worlds:' Chinese Immigrant Associations in
a Western Society, Li Minghuan writes of the interest overseas Chinese maintain
in China's affairs:"among the Chinese overseas, one striking characteristic is that
they often take an active interest in the political fate of their motherland."(p.63)
This was the case among the Chinese in Jamaica. At the same time that they were
able to advance in creole society, the West Indian Chinese also exhibited a great
interest in China. Young described how the West Indian Chinese of his day, loyal
British citizens, also became increasingly proud of China and their Chinese heri-
tage: "When China made its attempt to cut itself from the old monarchical form of
government in 1910, a latent patriotism in the hearts of West Indian Chinese came
to the surface. They were in sympathy with the movement, and contributed their
financial bit to its support." Indeed, this interest also led them to begin social clubs
that met to discuss Chinese culture, politics, and language.45
The China-oriented Associations in Jamaica were heavily political.
Among these were the Jamaica Branch of the Chinese Aviation Construction
Association, which raised funds for the Chinese air force, particularly during
World War II.
The Association received enthusiastic supports [sic] throughout
the length and breadth of the Chinese community in Jamaica. It
was realized that to help fight the Japanese was the duty of every
Chinese. Hence, when the Association was formed, members
of the Chinese community regarded serving as an officer in the
Association a great honour, and vied with each in giving the
biggest donation possible. The Association had a vast organiza-
tion, which was carefully knit together, and function [sic]
smoothly. (Lee Tom Yin, 22)
The Chinese community in Jamaica also formed a branch of the Guomindang, or
the Chinese Nationalist Party which had units n several Jamaican towns. It was
heavily involved in youth activities and held classes in Mandarin language and
overseas Chinese civics as well as sports competitions. The Nationalists even
sponsored the Zhongshan Amusement Park, which included a swimming pool,
gymnasium, and meeting hall.
Li maintains Chinese publications are one of three pillars of overseas
Chinese community life. Similarly, Patterson observes that the Chinese press was
instrumental in maintaining ethnic networks and solidarity. "The press became an
important instrument of community formation, keeping the scattered community
informed not only of news abroad, but of other members in Jamaica," he writes.
There were four Chinese publications in Jamaica: the Chinese Public News, the
Min Chee Weekly, the Chung San News, and the Pagoda Magazine.
One of the leaders of the Chinese community in Jamaica, Albert Chang,
first started a Chinese newspaper in Jamaica in 1930. He did so in order to answer
a need for Chinese publications on the island. The Chinese Commercial News,
which later became the Chinese Public News, was the first of these four publica-
tions produced by the Chinese in Jamaica. However, maintaining the newspapers
was difficult financially. During the 1950s, the Chinese Public News became a
forum for heated debates between supporters of the Nationalists and the Commu-
nists and consequently had to stop publication in 1956. The Min Chee Weekly,
which was affiliated with the Chee Kong Tong, met a similar fate the same year.
The Jamaican Branch of the Guomindang sponsored the publication of
the Chung San News, a publication intensely interested in developments in main-
land China. The editorial board published the following statement of purpose:
Personal freedom, democratic government, and an independent
nation are three things desired by the average man. When we
look at today's China proper, can we say the country is politi-
cally independent? Can we say that our brethren there enjoy
personal freedom, or have a democratic government? The pre-
sent moment, we dare say, is a most critical period in the [sic]
history and so is the existence of China and the Chinese race.
We must fight with our very lives for freedom, democracy and
independence. The Chung San News was born under this urge,
and will continue to fight for this cause.
The editors of the Chung San News believed that the fight to "liberate" China
from the Communist regime was intimately tied to democratic access to informa-
tion. Newspapers "have the responsibility of exerting constructive leadership [of]
the community in general, by making unbiased reports and adopting a fair stand.
This is another reason for the Chung San New's [sic] re-publication."(Lee Tom
Unlike the above more political Chinese publications, the Pagoda Magazine was
published in English. Publication began in 1940, and continued for decades. The
Pagoda acted as a forum for the second-generation Chinese Jamaicans to express
their views and maintain their unique West Indian and Chinese heritage.(Lee Tom
Yin, 35, 36)
As with other Associations, Chinese organizations were coloured by
lively characters and politics, which scholars have called "Chinatown politics."
Internal divisions and factions plagued the early Chinese community in Jamaica.
Patterson observes: "Early attempts at ethnic consolidation during the first decades
of the twentieth century were marred by bitter feuds and disputes among the more
prominent Chinese. The Chinese Benevolent Society collapsed in 1916, although
its services were desperately needed, given the extremely high dependence ratio of
the population."(Patterson, 128)
In the 1950's, Lee Tom Yin bemoaned this lack of unity within the
Chinese Jamaican community.
It is regretable [sic] but, nevertheless, true that most Chinese
traders in Jamaica are short-sighted people. Furthermore, it is
extremely lamentable that the Chinese people lacked unity.
They never think of the fact that unity is strength, and that the
Chinese community as a whole should look for co-existence and
As in other overseas Chinese communities, the Jamaican Chinese Associations
had an interlocking leadership, and the leaders of these Associations therefore
represented the diverse interests of the Chinese Jamaican community. Millette
observes of the Chinese in Trinidad: "The men who were elected as leaders of the
Associations automatically became influential figures in the internal politics of the
community and acted as spokesmen on behalf of their constituents." (Millett,
65) However, not all spokesmen acted on behalf of their community and Lin
Biang has become a notorious figure within the Chinese Jamaican community and
the period of Lin Biang's "dictatorship" of the Chinese Benevolent Society has
been described as "the darkest period in the history of Chinese settlement in
Jamaica." Lee Tom Yin provides a colourful description of Lin Biang's regime:
From 1904, to 1916, the Benevolent Society was under the
dictatorship of Lin Biang. It reaped a good income during that
period, because under Lin Biang, the Benevolent Society took
on gambling. Lin was an illiterate, and quite a bully. In the
event of any disputes among members of the Chinese commu-
nity, the man who reported to Lin first was regarded as the man
in the right, and the party which reported afterwards was auto-
matically regarded as the person in the wrong. Any settlement
to the dispute suggested by Lin must be observed. Deviation
from his preferred suggestion was punishment [sic] by a good
beating-up. At that time, Lin Biang had a considerable amount
of money (obtained from the revenues of gambling) and power
(he kept quite a gang of strong-fisted men). As a result, the
members of the Chinese community were not able to do much to
resist him.(Lee Tom Yin 27-28)
In order to escape Lin Biang's "tyranny," a group of Chinese leaders
formed the Yi Yee Tong (Ruyi Tang in Mandarin) to counteract Lin Biang and the
Chinese Benevolent Society and during that period, "the Chinese community was,
in fact divided into two factions. There was much friction, bickering, as well as
gang fights." (Lee Tom Yin, 28)
Lin not only dominated the Chinese Benevolent Association, but also the Chee
Kong Tong. So great was the ill-feeling towards him, that the leadership of the
Chee Kong Tong actively opposed Lin, contacted the Yi Yee Tong, and with their
help, ultimately forced his expulsion from the organization.(Lee Tom Yin, 144)
After Lin's death, the new leadership of the Chinese Benevolent Association
adopted a new form of governing in which a board would ensure a more demo-
cratic sharing of power.
The Chinese in Jamaica cannot be separated from both their roots in
China and the role they played in overseas Chinese history as a whole. Scholar
Wang Gungwu observes that it is not sufficient to merely attribute the success of
Chinese to the fact that they are "industrious, practise thrift and make sacrifices for
their families, value education and social mobility, and organize themselves for
effective defence and action. Many others do the same. How the Chinese have
sustained what they do, however, does reflect their cultural origins and their
uniquely structured history.46 Indeed, the Chinese in Jamaica share much in
common with the Chinese in other overseas locations.
As Look Lai observes:
The fact of being an upwardly mobile ethnic minority, as op-
posed to a restricted or ghettoized working-class community,
has encouraged the process [of creolization]. The most famous
people produced by Caribbean Chinese have demonstrated this
eclectic mingling of Western, Chinese and Caribbean tradi-
As their community grew increasingly diverse, the Jamaican Chinese came to
identify with their island homeland. Proud of both their Chinese and Jamaican
heritage, they have blended elements of both. In Rupert Chinsee's words:
It would not be boastful to say that the Chinese migrants played
a significant role in the developments of many countries, par-
ticularly the Americas. A lot of the more unpleasant pioneering
work, such as mining, road building, felling of virgin forests,
etc., fell on the shoulders of the Chinese. The Chinese in Ja-
maica are no exception. With their traditional hard-working
spirit, diligence, public spiritedness, and thriftiness, Jamaican
Chinese have been instrumental in promoting Jamaica's com-
mercial and industrial activities.48
As Chinsee suggests, the Chinese viewed themselves as integral mem-
bers of Jamaican society. As part of this segmentary creolization, the Chinese
founded Associations that mirrored those of Jamaica, but maintained a level of
ethnic consolidation so as to have a Chinese membership and remain a people
who did not wholly assimilate into the larger creole Jamaican culture. While they
advocated on behalf of the Chinese community in Jamaica and aided in the
transition to Jamaican life, they were important agents of preservation of Chinese
identity they and also bridges to creole Jamaican culture and society.
Austin, Heather Hope. "But They Were Coming Back Right? Recovering the Lost Voices in a Chi-
nese Jamaican Family Story. MA Thesis, University of Maryland, 2000.
Bryan, Patrick. "The Creolization of the Chinese Community in Jamaica." in Rhoda Reddock, ed.,
Ethnic Minorities in Caribbean Socety, Saint Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: The University
of the West Indies Press, 1996.
Chang, Ching Chieh. The Chinese in Latin America: A Preliminary Geographical Survey with Spe-
cial Reference to Cuba and Jamaica. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Maryland, 1956.
Constable, Nicole, ed. Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad. Seattle: Uof Washing-
ton Press, 1996.
Fried, Morton H. "The Chinese in the British Caribbean." in Morton H. Fried, ed., Colloquium on
Overseas Chinese, NY: Institute of Pacific Relations, 1958.
Ho, Christine. "'Hold the Chow Mein, Gimme Soca:' Creolization of the Chinese in Guyana, Trini-
dad and Jamaica." Amerasia, 15.2, (1989), 3-25.
Johnson, Howard. "The Anti-Chinese Riots of 1918 in Jamaica." Caribbean Quarterly 28.3,
Lee, Russell. "The Chinese Grocery Retail Trade in Jamaica." In Wang Ling-chi and Wang
Gungwu, eds. The Chinese Diaspora: Selected Essays. vol. II, Singapore: Times Academic
Lee, Tom Yin. The Chinese in Jamaica, 1957. Kingston, Jamaica: Get For Co., 1957.
Levy, Jacqueline. "The Economic Role of the Chinese in Jamaica: The Grocery Retail Trade." The
Jamaican Historical Review, 15, (1986), 31-49.
Li, Minghuan. 'We Need Two Worlds:' Chinese Immigrant Associations in a Western Society. Am-
sterdam: Amsterdam U Press, 1999.
Lind, Andrew. "Adjustment Patterns Among the Jamaican Chinese." Social and Economic Studies,
7.2, (1958), 144-164.
Look Lai, Walton. Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British
West Indies, 1838-1918. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U Press, 1993.
-. The Chinese in the West Indies, 1806-1995:A Documentary History. Kingston, Jamaica: The
Press University of the West Indies, 1998.
McKeown, Adam. Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago,Hawaii, 1900-
1936. Chicago: Chicago U Press, 2001.
Millet, Trevor M. The Chinese in Trinidad. Port of Spain, Trinidad: Imprint Caribbean Ltd., 1993.
Pan, Lynn. "Regional Origins." In The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas. Cambridge: Harvard U
-. Sons of the Yellow Emperor: A History of the Chinese Diaspora. Boston: Little, Brown and
Patterson, Orlando. Ethnic Chauvinism: The Reactionary Impulse. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and
Shaw, Thomas A. "To be or not to be Chinese: Differential expressions of Chinese culture and soli-
darity in the British West Indies." in Stephen Glazier, ed. Caribbean Ethnicity Revisited. NY:
Gordon and Breach, 1985.
Wang Gungwu. "Introduction.", in Lynn Pan, ed. The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas, Cam-
bridge: Harvard U Press, 1999.
Wickberg, Edgar. "Overseas Chinese Organizations." in Lynn Pan, ed. The Encyclopedia of Chinese
Overseas, Cambridge: Harvard U Press, 1999.
-. "Relations with non-Chinese." in Lynn Pan, ed. The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas, Cam-
bridge: Harvard U Press, 1999.
I. Edgar Wickberg, "Overseas Chinese Organizations." In The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas,
p. 114, 115
2 Orlando Patterson, Ethnic Chauvinism: The Reactionary Impulse. (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and
Day, 1977), 114.
3. Wickberg, 114.
4. Patterson, Ethnic Chauvinism, 113.
5. Wickberg, 115.
6. Patterson, 128.
7. Thomas A. Shaw, "To be or not to be Chinese: Differential expressions of Chinese culture and
solidarity in the British West Indies." In Stephen Glazier, ed. Caribbean Ethnicity Revisited,
(NY: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1985), 86.
8. Wickberg, 116.
9. Adam McKeown, Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900-
1936. (Chicago: Uof Chicago Press, 2001), 1, 4.
10. Patrick Bryan, "The Creolization of the Chinese Community in Jamaica." In Rhoda Reddock, ed.
Ethnic Minorities in Caribbean Society, (Saint Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: The UWI
Press, 1996), 176.
11. McKeown, 9.
12. Mintz, introduction to Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and In-
dian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-198 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UPress,
13. Patterson, 119 and Shaw, "To be or not to be Chinese," 75.
14. Andrew Young. In The Chinese in the West Indies,1806-1995: A Documentary History, com-
piled by Walton Look Lai. (Kingston, Jamaica: The UWI Press, 1998), 236.
15. LookLai, 202,204,211
16. Young in Look Lai, The Chinese in the West Indies, 235, 237.
17. Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar, 211.
18. Howard Johnson, "The Anti-Chinese Riots of 1918 in Jamaica." Caribbean Quarterly 28.3,
(Sept., 1982), 26.
19. Nicole Constable, Introduction to Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad, (Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1996), 3, 5.
20. Lynn Pan, "Origins," The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas, 26.
21. Heather Hope Austin, "But They Were Coming Back, Right?" Recovering the Lost Voices in a
Chinese Jamaican Family Story. (MA Thesis, University of Maryland, 2000), 13.
22. Jacqueline Levy, "The Economic Role of the Chinese in Jamaica: The Grocery Retail Trade,"
The Jamaican Historical Review, 15 (1986), 39.
23. Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar, 202
24. Young in Look Lai, The Chinese in the West Indies, 236.
25. Johnson, 25,26
26. Lee Tom Yin, The Chinese in Jamaica, 1957. (Kingston, Jamaica: Get For Co., 1957), 10.
27. Russell Lee, "The Chinese Grocery Retail Grocery Trade in Jamaica." In The Chinese Dias-
pora: Selected Essays Volume II, edited by Wang Ling-chi and Wang Gungwu. (Singapore:
Times Academic Press, 1998), 112.
28. Major B.F. Caws, quoted in Look Lai, Chinese in the West Indies, 246.
29. Shaw, "To be or not to be Chinese," 86.
30. Patterson, 134.
31. For a detailed analysis of Chinese identity during the period leading up to the Jamaican inde-
pendence movement, see Patterson, Ethnic Chauvinism, 132.
32. Major B.F. Caws, quoted in Look Lai, The Chinese in the West Indies, 245.
33. Wickberg, "Relations with non-Chinese," 114.
34. Li Minghuan,' We Need Two Worlds': Chinese Immigrant Associations in a Western Society'.
(Amsterdam: Amsterdam UPress, 1999), 1.
35. Trevor M. Millet, The Chinese in Trinidad. (Port of Spain, Trinidad: Imprint Caribbean Ltd.,
1993), p. 78..
36. Wickberg, "Overseas Chinese Organizations," 83.
37. Chen Wei-Hong, quoted in Millet, The Chinese in Trinidad, 79.
38. Lynn Pan, "Institutions," 76.
39. McKeown, 110.
40. Letter quoted in Patrick Bryan, 251.
41. Wickberg, "Overseas Chinese Organizations," 83.
42. Wickbrg, "Overseas Chinese Organizations," 84.
43. McKeown, 112.
44. Quoted in McKeown, 113.
45. Young in Look Lai, The Chinese in the West Indies, 237.
46. Wang Gungwu, Introduction to The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, 11.
47. Walton Look Lai, "The Caribbean," in The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, 253.
48. Rupert Chinsee in Lee Tom Yin, 2.
They Never Looked Back :The role of the Hakka women in
M. ALEXANDRA LEE
The notion that Hakka women played a pivotal role in the establishment
of the Chinese in Jamaica during that group's first wave of immigration from
China to the island between the mid 1800's and early 1900's, perhaps often quietly
acknowledged but rarely publicly declared, stands up to scrutiny. The Hakka
woman's reputation of being hard-working is unshaken within the Chinese Jamai-
can community, and is a truth that brings solemn acknowledgement to the faces
and tongues of their descendants.
It is a known historical fact that the Hakka women in China did not bind
their feet, as was the tradition for China's women up to the early 1900's. This has
been taken as a sign of their strong sense of independence though the exception
was made for practical reasons. As members of a sub-class, Hakka women were
expected to work in the fields. But hard work was merely one thread in the fabric
these women wove to protect, nurture and hold together their young families in
Jamaica. Indeed, the survival and success enjoyed by Chinese Jamaicans today
can be linked directly to the personal sacrifices made by these Hakka daughters,
wives and mothers.
Their sacrifices had little to do with superficial luxuries. Theirs was the
sacrifice of self. Simply put, these women rendered invisible their personal
dreams, hopes, even personalities the very things one is now taught to cherish
and value as fundamental to one's personal happiness. They buried these as if
knowing that indulgence in such things would rob them of the energy they needed
to raise happy children with better futures. Even their former life in China would
also become an unspoken memory. Indeed, it is ironic that the survival and
prosperity of their descendants rested on the foundations of a past these women
never spoke of, but which bestowed on them a culture of unconditional commit-
For the purpose of this paper, over a dozen descendants were inter-
viewed. Each was asked a set of standard questions, but allowed to deviate in the
direction to which their memories took them.
In order to collect as much undiluted information as possible, interview
subjects were restricted to the first generation children of immigrant Hakka
women. The only exception was a granddaughter who had spent much of her life
with her Hakka grandmother. Discussions were held both in person and on the
telephone, and all were conducted in 2000. The following excerpts have been
selected to demonstrate the spirit of these women, and to show the general content
of these interviews from which the summary was compiled. For the sake of
privacy, pseudonyms have been used. On a note of interest, each subject was
asked what his or her mother's favourite colour was. "Favourite colour?," ex-
claimed one interviewee. "You don't understand, there was no time for such
luxuries." Indeed, not one of the interviewees could answer this question.
Lily was a spirited 16 year-old when she married and began her family of
six in the 1930's. Her husband set up their tiny family shop and home in
downtown Kingston. Literally a corner shop with the living quarters at the back,
the operation was so small, it had no name.
Her son, Clayton, describes his mother as "formidable". "She never
indulged in self pity," he insisted. "Not when she went deaf after delivering her
third child, not when my father disappeared for days on end, not even when he
brought his girlfriend to the house for breakfast. Nothing seemed to bother her."
Unable to read or write English, and unable to rely on her largely absent
husband, Lily would at first rely on her housekeeper to write out the wholesale
orders they needed to restock the narrow shelves. Eventually she taught herself to
write by carefully drawing the letters she saw on the labels of those items she
While there were few physical signs of her affection for her children -
even many birthdays forgotten amid the day's work- she focused on bigger
issues like equal opportunity: "Everyone must turn doctor even the girls," she
would command. Her sons would also share in the housework duties. Her focus
was forever on her children, with little or no attention paid to her own interests.
Son Clayton remembers seeing his mother in lipstick and a pretty dress once a year
for Chinese New Year.
From the start Lily worked every day while her husband gambled.
Sometime later during Jamaica's pre-independence period, the economy briefly
turned sour, making many businesses and families down and out. Determined not
to fall, Lily began to notice the wharf workers making their trek to work at 4:30
every morning. She immediately began to rise at 4:00a.m.each day to sell them a
breakfast of codfish fritters with coffee or tea. Her breakfast campaign turned the
tide for her family, and soon the business became more profitable than it had ever
been. To this day son Clayton rises at 4:00a.m.
Yvonne worked quietly in her family's 500 sq. ft. shop and home in
Kingston, packing shelves, making funnels, making change, raising chickens.
When her eldest son left home at 14 determined to make his own mark, she
secretly sent him food and money to keep him safe and out of harm's way. Today
that son and his brother own over 73,000 sq feet of supermarket and pharmacy,
and rank as one of the island's largest in the business. Now over 80 years old,
Yvonne still goes to work with her sons and grandchildren, and cooks lunch for
them every day.
Dorothy lived on the island's north coast in a fishing port with her
husband and eleven children. Working long hours to establish their bakery busi-
ness, the young couple used boxes as dining table chairs in their home above the
bakery, while a corridor leading to the stairs served as an extra room. Dorothy
who was sick for almost the entire duration of each pregnancy, had all eleven
children in the home, and still worked in the bakery nonetheless. Today she can
still be found at the bakery, now a much larger establishment.
Lola was the grandmother whom I never met my father's mother. To
this day, her eight children, now grandparents themselves, still speak with awe and
sadness about the near servitude with which she cared for their home in rural
Jamaica, their amenities, health, education and childhood happiness. There exists
only a handful of photographs of her, one of which is a portrait. In this photo-
graph, her eyes stare forward. There is no promise of a smile, no concern with the
camera, no fleeting joy in a moment of self-indulgence. No glamour shot. In-
stead, she offers only a hint of mild impatience with the knowledge that there was
much still to do in the shop and home.
It is said that grandmother was prolific in the kitchen. Her children recall
fondly her still unmatched treats of rice puddings, ice cream, and codfish fritters,
among many others. She tended to the animals, cultivated the small plot of land
on the steep hillside, cooked for the shop and family, and worked in the shop
cutting and wrapping salted fish.
At nights she sewed clothes for her children and curtains and bedding,
but not before she crept quietly up the stairs to wash the feet of those children that
were black with dirt. In the mornings she would see that each child ate breakfast,
looked presentable for school and had his/her homework ready.
Grandmother's passing came early too early for her children, especially
for her firstborn left behind to attend school in China. He was fifteen when she left
to start her new life in Jamaica. She had always hoped to see him again, but never
did. She would also never see the successes of her children something they each
acknowledge as their greatest regret.
What follows is the summary of those firsthand and very personal
Fewer Chinese-born women came to Jamaica than did men.
Many Chinese immigrant men, it was told, could not afford the passage
for their wives, this being a luxury of the wealthy. And while some Jamaican-born
Chinese did manage to go to China in search of a wife, the majority of men, both
Chinese and Jamaican-born, would take Jamaican-born wives of Chinese descent
or otherwise. The result there were fewer Chinese-bor women in Jamaican than
The Hakka women viewed their husband's progeny as their priority.
Here we speak of survival of the bloodline. This was evident in the
number of children the majority of these women had, with several reaching
double-digit levels in rapid time. Said one interviewee, "there was always a new
baby being born at the back of the shop ...". In fact, most gave birth to their babies
in this very way at home with the help of a midwife. Only one interviewee
remembered her mother's last baby being born in a hospital. Resourcefulness was
not reserved only for matters of the purse. Another mother remembered being
forced to cut her newbom's umbilical cord herself, as the midwife arrived much
too late and much too intoxicated to perform the task.
Hakka women also tolerated polygamous marriages. It was, in fact, not
uncommon for a Chinese man to have two legal wives, with wife number one
remaining faithful to him in China. Nor was it uncommon for each wife to raise
the other's children. During this period, it was customary for Jamaican-Chinese
children to return to China for school. If available, wife number one was expected
to raise and care for her husband's new children. Wife number two had little say
in this arrangement. Jealousy and other emotions, justifiable or otherwise, were
not usually given audience, if they even existed. So obedient a wife was the Hakka
woman, that resentment was hardly ever displayed or detected.
Arranged marriages were also still prevalent in this generation. Of the
fifteen interviews conducted, only two reflected any origins of love. One even
featured a woman who had always wanted to be a nun, not a wife. In general,
those interviewed felt that communication between husband and wife in a Hakka
home, while usually cordial, was typically limited to matters of the home and
business. Again, only one reported witnessing signs of love or emotion, while the
rest comfortably labelled these unions as "partnerships in the business of life".
The Hakka woman was the epitome of the patient and tolerant wife.
A female elder in the community, "Jeanne", insists that the secret to the
Hakka woman is the insight that comes with their deep patience. "They under-
stand human nature," she said. "They understand men".
From preliminary research it would indeed appear that the Hakka man
was a walking philandering phenomenon. Jeanne recounted a story told to her by
a cheating husband who had confessed his infidelity to his wife after one of his
many business trips. While it was by no means his first episode, it was necessary
to discuss it this time because he had caught a venereal disease. He sat her down
to give her the dreaded news:
"Amoy," he said. "Darling, I'm afraid I caught a disease while I was
away from you, so you must please go to the doctor to get your medicine right
His petite wife of 20 years roared at him with an angry fist. "Soy dung
see! You foolish man! Don't you know you have someone at home waiting for
you, someone who cares for you? How could you do such a thing to your body,
how could you do such a thing to me? And what time is my appointment
"Jeanne" also spoke about another friend whose husband was particularly
promiscuous, even by Hakka standards. One day she came to visit Jeanne,
frustrated and upset with all the gossip being circulated about her husband.
"Look," she argued, "everyone has a hobby, right? Your husband likes golf, you
like mahjong. My husband likes women. So what's the problem?"
And still another interviewee spoke of his father who occasionally
brought his girlfriends to the family home for breakfast, his mother serving the
"guest" as if she were exactly that.
Gambling was another weakness of the Hakka man, one also met by his
wife's dutiful silence. One interviewee spoke of her mother who would cry
silently as her father lost shop after shop in one unlucky game of mahjong after
another. Of course, this meant losing the home too as the home and shop were one
and the same. Many years later, her eldest son, by then a successful businessman
and head of the household since his father's death, would present his mother with
the keys and the title to her own home, and the promise that no one could take it
away from her for as long as she lived. (She remains there at the time of the writing
of this paper).
They shouldered their responsibilities at a very early age.
They were, by moder-day standards, mere girls. Some as young as
fifteen or sixteen, these child brides travelled with their new husbands to a new life
in a strange land, sight unseen, with a strange language, without family, without
support. They managed to do all of this while successfully carrying the responsi-
bility of their own young families, under more than humbling circumstances.
Clearly those days were different, and a woman's world has changed greatly since.
However, it still leaves one wondering how such girls became instant women.
They persevered despite communication hurdles.
With only a few exceptions, none interviewed had gone to school in
China, although the consensus is that they all possessed some knowledge of
written Chinese. Once in Jamaica, they would, at best, achieve functional com-
mand of written and spoken English. This often rendered a Chinese-born wife
socially isolated. The only person she could easily communicate with was her
husband, who was often travelled for days at a time on business, usually purchas-
ing goods for the store.
Even with her children, communication for the Hakka woman was done
on a need-to basis. Speech was usually truncated, partly gesticulated. Western
names were grossly mispronounced. Sometimes the job of naming their children
was left to the housekeeper. But while this gap left much unsaid between a mother
and her children, maternal instincts never failed to surface when necessary. How-
ever, most interviewed did cite the language barrier as one of the biggest regrets of
their childhood, as many questions remain unasked and, therefore, unanswered to
While the woman's role as co-family business owner was partially under-
mined by the Chinese culture, it was hindered by her lack of education. Research
shows that while it was usually the wife who ran the shop and brought in the actual
income, it was the husband who purchased the stock, handled the books and
determined how the money was spent. But they held their tongues and persevered.
Indeed, many improved on their financial situations once their husband had passed
on, when they could begin to save and make their own decisions. Usually,
however, this would come much later in life.
The Hakka women were ahead of their time.
From all the observations made thus far, it could be argued that the Hakka
women were merely following tradition, living the only life they knew. It is
conceivable, however, indeed strongly possible, that these women had much more
insight than they have been previously credited with, that they were, in fact, biding
their time, a strategy that proved them to be ahead of their time. Indeed, the
tradition of lack of choice and lack of voice began to turn with that migrant
The daughters of these women were sent to school, encouraged to reach
for professions once reserved for sons, and were no longer forced to marry. Many
sons, in turn, were taught to clean house like their sisters, do needle work and sew.
In effect, these women forged a new way of thinking for their first generation-born
children, representing perhaps the most significant, if not only break they made
from their culture.
Their lives were never to be their own.
Their collective life was one of labour and of love. This final observation
speaks to the very essence of their existence and, it can be argued, is one of the
reasons why that generation was given a chance to edge its way out of the poverty
it first endured.
When Jeanne reported that her mother often said to her, "In a Hakka
woman's life, you have time to die, but no time to get sick," it struck a personal
chord. In my own family it is the consensus that my grandmother worked up to the
very day of her death, never taking a moment to rest, not even to fight the chronic
diabetes that took her from her husband and eight young children.
My grandmother and her peers were usually the first in the house-
hold to rise, the last to close their eyes. They filled their days with caring for the
children, working in the shop, in the house, sewing clothes, curtains and bed
sheets, tending to the chickens, pigs or crops, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks
Add to this the isolation of life in the rural areas no electricity, running
water, entertainment, family support or companionship from others in the Chinese
community. Those in the city of Kingston were only slightly better off, but still,
they had little time for the luxury of companionship and camaraderie. Few
choices were left to them and yet so much depended on them.
Were it not for the commitment and forbearance of the Hakka women,
ours would have merely been a story of immigration. Instead, the Chinese, as a
Jamaican minority today, represent financial success, familial reverence and firm
These women looked beyond their own situations, and patiently and
silently practised the culture in which they were raised. They did this knowing
that their children stood a chance to have the kind of life that they themselves
would never be able to claim. As they embraced their life of labour, suppressed
their untold dreams and quietly guided their young ones, these women shaped a
foundation of inner strength and a source of empowerment from which many
families grew and thrived.
Paulette Ramsay. Aunt Jen. Oxford: Heinemann, 2002. Pb.105 pages.
Paulette Ramsay's deceptive novella tells the story of Sunshine, a
young girl growing up in rural Jamaica in the 1960s to 70s.
'Deceptive'-because the simple prose of Ramsay's child narrator (Sun-
shine herself, writing her story in the form of letters to a mother in England who
never answers) masks and reveals several layers of reality that make for a com-
plex, finely nuanced story. Aunt Jen is a sophisticated exploration of the issues of
migration, exile and diaspora from a point of intersection between Caribbean
migration in the early days and the present. Ramsay's narrative specifically ex-
plores the effect of these issues on children, a group given scant if any attention
both in our traditional readings of the Caribbean bildungsroman, and in the current
preoccupation with adult gender and cross border identity in diaspora studies.
Aunt Jen is an important work, as it is children who suffer the greatest fallout from
new migration trends between the Caribbean and the North American and Euro-
Ramsay's careful modulation of the child narrator's voice exploits the
familiar strengths of the bildungsroman. On the one hand, there is the irony created
in the interplay between the child's naive response to inconsistent adult behaviour
and the evidential detail that allows the reader to assess and judge that behaviour.
On the other hand, there is the searing critique that is generated as the child grows
older and is able to make her own appropriate judgements. In Ramsay's treatment
the circumstances of the child's loss of innocence infuse the narrative with a
heartbreaking poignancy that barely skirts the edges of tragedy. In the end,
Sunshine's resilience, nurtured by family and community support, rescues her
from a tragic fate and speaks of the refusal of tragedy that is pointed in the
Caribbean mode of carnival.
One haunting example is seen where Sunshine begins to apprehend that
her mother, 'Aunt Jen', is probably never going to answer her letters, and does not
in fact care much for her. The child's grief, anger and sense of violation express
themselves in a series of rewritings of the same letter. The rewrites show her
struggle between these emotions, a kind of despairing hope that she may yet be
wrong, and the good manners that she has been taught and which dictate that one's
elders should be respected. Here 'respect' in Jamaican/Caribbean cultural terms
means keeping silent about one's true feelings where their expression might not
show the adult in a good light. Much later we learn that Sunshine has not in fact
sent the letters, and they remain primarily an index of her growth into the
experience of loss that accomplishes maturity.
Sunshine's withholding of several letters links to ideas of vocality and
silence, which are the basis on the young girl's maturation takes place. The
progression of the novel as a series of unanswered letters in which she tells of her
upbringing nurtured by the taciturn but strong and supportive presence of her
grandfather, and the voices of church, community and grandmother (Ma), creates
Sunshine as the product of a liminal space between these opposites: silence and
vocality -and between absence, presence, exile and community. If her struggle to
come to terms with her mother's silence forces her to discover a strength she had
not known herself capable of, it is the community that gives her the sure founda-
tion from which that strength springs. The interplay is marked by her increasingly
frequent quotation of Ma's pithy (biblical and proverbial) sayings as a way of
battling the enigma of Jen, side by side with increasing assertions of her inde-
pendence of Ma's worldview as she grows towards adulthood. It is marked too in
the inversion of power by which she keeps Aunt Jen on tenterhooks when the
latter (it seems) finally writes back: she makes Jen wait upon her own silence,
while she decides whether she will accept the invitation to come to England after
Ma's death. Finally, she refuses, and explains why: '...when... I got up out of that
bed [of silence]...I felt strong and I kept hearing Ma's voice... "Sunshine you will
be awright..."' (97).
The supreme irony of Aunt Jen is that Jen's silence in answer to Sun-
shine's appeal causes the young girl to incorporate aspects of her mother into
herself. The last letters shift from being a hope of meeting to being a form of
indictment, punishment and self vindication. Her final missive, ending coldly and
politely: 'Thank you for the photograph. You do not look like...me or anybody I
know' (98) thus acquires a double edge-'justly' punishing Jen while revealing her
own growth into a fine taste for cruelty. Ramsay's text is realistic, not idealistic:
Sunshine is scarred as well as liberated.
The intersection of speech and silence is also the space where Sunshine
discovers the paradoxical significance of letter writing: both a space of self
expression and a space of being-alone-in the world; more importantly, the space
of her own development as an artist ('...writing is [now] in my bones and when
anything strange happens, the first thing I think of doing is to write about it so I'm
writing to you' ). Being-alone-in-the-world then appears as the artist's neces-
sary crucible in which she is protected by the organic relation to community which
Caribbean writers have seen as indispensable to authentic representation.
Aunt Jen strikes us as authentic. The life of the community is rendered in
vivid scenes that might strike us as sometimes extravagant, but this very extrava-
gance is Ramsay's understanding of the fine line between tragedy and comedy,
pain and laughter, which is the Caribbean carnivalesque. One example is the
hilarious episode in which Miss Clara's daughter's coffin disgraces her churchgo-
ing mother by falling open to reveal 'baby nappy, baby pin, olive oil' and other
paraphernalia of superstitious burial, causing Major Rankine to lose her false teeth
and flee crying 'Lord Jesus, thave me, thave me!' The comedy of the episode
masks and makes bearable the fact that this funeral is one of many that move
towards a painful climax from the middle of the book: Uncle Johnny's after he is
mown down by a tractor; Gramps' from a stroke in his yam field, alone with
nobody to 'give [him] a little water or rub him head or him back'; and Ma's from
grief over the loss of her son and husband.
That the novella escapes melodrama despite being packed so full of
tragic episodes in so short a space is due to Ramsay's skill as a storyteller: she
manipulates her plot with dexterity to achieve suspense, surprise, acceptance,
catharsis, even. We are completely unaware until the fifth letter that Aunt Jen is
Sunshine's mother and not some possibly mythical aunt or aunt-figure. Yet once
the revelation is made we recall subtle clues that prepared us for the revelation.
The epistolary mode allows not only for a nuanced movement between history and
autobiography, memory and immediate moment, but also for ellipses that moder-
ate our reception of the tragic episodes. Sunshine's letter to Aunt Jen on 5 March
1971 ends: 'Good news. When you come you will be able to talk to Uncle Johnny.
Ma and Aunt Sue just came from the hospital and they say he woke up after I left.
We are all so happy. We will go to see him tomorrow' (26).
The ellipsis between this and the next letter is marked by the date '16
March 1971' and the dumb silence of the opening sentences 'Dear Aunt Jen, we
buried Uncle Johnny yesterday in the pouring rain.' The poignancy is emphasized
by the fact that the 'good news' of the earlier letter is rendered as a 'PS.'
Throughout, Ramsay balances pain in deft gradations ranging from the speech-
lessness of 'Yesterday we buried Uncle Johnny' to naked outbursts such as 'Dear
Aunt Jen, So you tek we fe poppyshow. You do not have any respect for us and
you seem to think we have no feelings so you can keep disappointing us over and
over again...You have become like a poison in our blood. Right now I hate you...I
hate you for bringing shame on us' (77).
Silence is the liminal space in which Jen herself is drawn. The final
letter, written after a gap of many years by Sunshine's daughter to Aunt Jen,
indicates that the latter finally showed her hand in an unbelievably cruel way-suc-
cessfully contesting Gramps' will and robbing Sunshine of her inheritance. Yet the
revelation does nothing to dispel the sense of mystery that surrounds this figure
who never appears except in Sunshine's dreams and in things she is supposed to
have done and has not done or has done badly: her failure to turn up at the airport
after she has promised to come following Gramps' funeral; her failure to send her
photograph; her coming when Sunshine is in a coma and therefore unable to see
her; her ghostly presence behind the father who suddenly appears and behaves in
ways that possibly mimic Jen herself. Those letters that suggest that Jen finally
wrote, complicate the picture as we are never sure whether she actually wrote or
Sunshine fantasized her replies, first as a way of inventing Jen, and later as a
means of exorcising her by simulated punishment.
Jen is a portrait of questions as complex as identity itself. Her portrait
inverts the customary direction of the gaze in migration fictions, in which it is the
migrant who looks back at those at home through the lenses of imagination and
memory. If the judgement of this deserting mother is harsh, the harshness is
mediated by the field of open questions and by Sunshine's dreams which raise the
possibility among others that Jen suffers from an inability to negotiate the alien,
patriarchal migratory space. The dreams are in themselves a major source of
mystery and paradox as they combine subconscious longing with surreal intima-
tion and revelatory truth, and as they invent Sunshine as much as they invent Aunt
Caribbean literature, theory and criticism valorize speech and denigrate
silence in traditional discourses of identity and counter-colonial politics. In Aunt
Jen, Ramsay joins Marlene Nourbese Phillip (Looking for Livingstone) in a
provocative reflection on the paradoxes of silence in ways that allow silence to be
a site of positive enabling. Ramsay's treatment brings to the fore other muted
aspects of Caribbean experience: that mothers as well as fathers are sometimes
willfully silent and absent; and conversely, that the rural Caribbean experience is
full of examples of father figures (Gramps, Uncle Roy, Uncle Johnny) who are
positively involved in children's lives.
Aunt Jen finds resonance with other recent West Indian women's fictions
(cf Brodber, Senior, Collins) that traverse the Caribbean language continuum,
consummately blending English with Creoles and vernaculars. Language maps
and celebrates the multiple voices of the community and charts Sunshine's matu-
ration as she moves from a proper toeing of the English line in the early letters (no
doubt she has been taught letter writing in school), to an increasing use of the
Creole as she grows older and finds her own voice as person and as writer.
Aunt Jen is a delightful read.
Beyond The Front Page A Caribbean Journalist Remembers by George
In the words of Professor of history at the UWI's St Augustine campus,
Bridget Brereton, this book is at once autobiography, memoir and social history.
George John was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1920 and, starting from the age
of 16 as sports reporter at the Trinidad Guardian, pursued a lifetime in print
journalism in Trinidad, Jamaica and Dominica, with stints at newspaper houses in
some other Caribbean territories. His career has, however, extended to public
relations including being Press Secretary to Trinidad's Eric Williams the
training of journalists at the Mona and St Augustine campuses of the UWI,
consultancies in India, Africa and the United Kingdom, and to his own amazement
the heading of a radio station in Dominica.
"All my life...words have fascinated me: their sounds, their
rhythms, the responses they generate among hearers, readers..." That fascination
with words makes it possible for him to display a deftness with description quite
his own in such passages as: "...an errant whirlwind in the person of Lady Molly
Huggins...advanced with full force... and a verbal Kaiteur cascaded from her
lips", to which Eric Williams' aside was, "Yackety, yackety, yak!". Or again,
disdaining to introduce outright reference to rooting animals and mud, he yet
manages their sly suggestion in "... Panday, groomed in the politics of confronta-
tion as Opposition party leader in Parliament, and as a militant trade union leader
in industrial relations, wallowed in his element".
Over his long career, George John has rubbed shoulders with the
most important people in the places where he lived and worked and unobtrusively
exchanged with them some words so cleverly crafted that, beneath a veneer of the
most proper respect, his amusing and at times irreverent and even snide remarks
go almost unnoticed in glimpses of his meetings with such historical figures as the
Caribbean's Bustamante, the Manleys, Eric Williams, Eugenia Charles, Burnham
and Panday, and Britain's Prince Philip.
"Basically," he confides, "I am a mild-mannered individual but
given to bouts of irritation when confronted with bureaucratic bungling, exploita-
tion of the disadvantaged by authority, ignorance and arrogance, intellectual
snobbery and discrimination in any form. My strong hope was (that) the achieve-
ment of national independence in 1962 would encourage our leaders to abandon
imperialistic baubles (and) colonial left-overs and...chart new directions for our
future. Yet here we were eight years after hoisting the red, white and black and
singing the God Bless Our Nation anthem still handing out on Independence Day,
mark you, British knighthoods and awards such as Member of the Order of the
British Empire. I thought it a scandal."
From his editorial vantage point, John could wage campaigns
against irritations such as the blatant racism he perceived in Carnival Queen
contests. "The show is colonial in concept; totally out of tune with our glorious
new age of independence. A show that makes a mockery of our motto, 'Together
we aspire, together we achieve'." He is, therefore, happy to report progress finally
made, for Penny Commissiong in the sixties, Wendy Fitzwilliam and Giselle
LaRonde at the end of the 20th century, would not have won a place in the fifties.
In the chapter that chronicles his entry into academia, titled tongue
in cheek 'The Pedagogue', George John seizes the occasion to expose the sorry
fate of journalism and journalism training in the region where, despite the appro-
priate noises made when politically expedient by the powers that be, few textbooks
exist specifically for reference in the tutoring of Caribbean journalists, funding is
woefully lacking and salaries to graduates entering the profession remain outra-
geously poor. "Nothing happened", he remarks tersely, "...(t)wo years later the
resolution remains in limbo." On quite another note, his popularity as a teacher,
especially among women students, who did then and continue to outnumber their
brothers in the region's university lecture-rooms, amused, flattered and perhaps
bemused the completely by then white-headed grandfather-figure.
More than 30 photographs record high points in his career, his
meetings with presidents, premiers and calypso monarchs and other milestones in
his journalistic journey.
George John's contribution to the body of literature on history-
making events in the region in the second half of the 20th century, among them the
25-year reign of Eric Williams and his strange death in 1981, the disastrous end of
the Bishop regime in Grenada in 1983 and the Muslimeen "uprising" in Trinidad
in 1990, all seen from and beyond the front pages of newspapers will, if it does
nothing else, stand, as too will his CARIMAC colleague, Alma MockYen's
recently published "Rewind", her history of radio broadcasting in Jamaica, as a
welcome beginning to the addition of material offered for the training of Carib-
bean journalists. The language of his commentary, as well as that of snatches of his
articles, will be invaluable as lessons in how to and how not to, and the writer may
be justifiably pleased with his self-effacing contribution to the emergence of a
better breed ofjournalist in his comer of the world.
Kean Gibson. The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana, Maryland, University
Press of America, 2003, 97 pages, ISBN 0-7618-2469-3
Kean Gibson's book The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana is
fairly short and so it can be read in a single afternoon. But make no mistake, the
contents of the book are thought provoking to say the least. The crux of the book
is that Africans in Guyana have been oppressed by East Indians particularly after
1992 under Guyana's East Indian People's Progressive Party (PPP) government.
Gibson claims that this attitude was brought from India under the racial rubric of
Hinduism, which has a resemblance to European racism. In Guyana, "there has
been a similarity between European racism and East Indian racism as practiced
since 1992"... and that "Hinduism a religion that sanctifies racism" is responsi-
ble for this "neo-ethno-supremacists" behavior (1-2).The rest of the opening
chapter of the book sketches the definition of race and tries to connect race and
politics to the Guyana's political history. The argument, however, is strained. The
author also gives us a history of international oppression in regard to the "power
of language" beginning with colonialism in Third World and ending with contem-
porary international terrorism. Name calling, it was argued, is a technique of those
in the position of power to dehumanize the other. While these views are welcom-
ing they add nothing new to the literature of world oppression in terms of theory.
The author just reiterates a list of world problems. But the chapter set the tone as
to what will follow. Gibson writes "African-dominated People's National Con-
gress (PNC) was only the political party with an economic development plan and
a vision for Guyana" in the 2003 general election. There is something sinister
about this statement. Mind you, much the same was said when Guyana achieved
its independence from Britain 1966. The PNC embraced the policy of cooperative
socialism, but the record shows that Guyana was transformed from a bread basket
to a begging bowl of the region.
The second chapter examines the history of Guyanese people in regards
to labor. Gibson correctly states that European attempts to enslave the Amerindi-
ans were not successful and so the Europeans not only traded with the Amerindi-
ans but they shifted their colonial enterprise from the interior region to coastal
lands. Then the Europeans Dutch and British engaged in plantation agriculture.
African slaves were subsequently brought to provide the bulk of the labor. In this
process, the Amerindians and Africans were enslaved in which their languages,
among other things, experienced enormous pidignization and creolization or what
Gibson calls "linguistic dehumanization" (9). Gibson also summarizes Guyana's
post-emancipation experience. After the gradual withdrawal of Africans from
plantation labor there was a labor shortage which the planters supplanted with
immigrants from Europe, Portugal, Africa and Asia. Like everywhere else in the
Caribbean that brought in indentured laborers soon after emancipation, Guyana
was also subsequently transformed into a multi-ethnic or plural society. Each
group developed or settled in its own enclave and interacted with each other when
necessary. The planters played one ethnic group against the other to secure their
safety. The end result was that various stereotypes emerged, which the author
highlights (17-21), that hampered race relations in Guyana forever. One common
theme that emerged, in layman term, was that light skin was good and dark skin
was bad. This view was the jurisprudence of not only Guyana's post-emancipation
society but the entire New World experience following European exploration and
expansion in the fifteenth century. This section adds nothing new to the scholar-
ship on Guyana's post-emancipation experience. It is essentially a review of
previous works, mainly that of Professors Alvin Thompson and Brian Moore.
Gibson informs us in the third chapter about the formation of the PPP in
the late 1940s and the subsequent political- ideological split between Cheddie
Jagan and Forbes Burnham. The former a communist and the latter a socialist, but
because of the Cold War, Burnham was favored by Britain and the United States
to "defend democracy." Burnham was seen by the imperialists as a lesser of the
two evils. As a result, Jagan was kept out of power while Burnham rigged the
general elections to stay in power with little criticism and interference from the
United States and CARICOM nations.
Kean Gibson also provides a detail description of the caste system (racial
elements based on color, pure and impure and the concept of good and evil) in
India and claims that the caste system was successfully transferred and maintained
in Guyana by East Indians, including Jagan and his followers. The author states
further that all the negatives aspects of the caste system and Hinduism have been
placed on Africans since they seem to fit the criteria of the caste system. "But the
implication in the application of caste to Guyana lies in the definitions and
restrictions placed on the Shudra caste who are black..." (26).These views, how-
ever, are misleading. The East Indian indentured servants who were brought to
Guyana and the Caribbean came predominantly from the low caste. Their incen-
tives to maintain the caste system would be inconsistent with Gibson's argument.
Indeed, the low caste indentured servants resisted the reformulation of the caste
system in Guyana, particularly during the indenture period (1838-1917) because it
was an impediment to personal advancement. If dark skinned is considered evil, as
Gibson argues, then how come there are so many dark skinned Indians and
Africans in important positions in Guyana. The fact that there was and still is
intermarrying between dark skinned and light skinned Indians as well as Africans
shows that the caste system was not successfully transferred to Guyana. Instead,
the caste system diluted at a rapid rate despite the influx of fresh Indian immi-
grants during the indenture period. By a decade after indenture emancipation, the
caste system and other East Indian customs (language, fire walking, hook-swing-
ing, for example), had become a thing of the past. Furthermore, plantation and
contemporary work routines (western work standards) undermined any attempts to
re-construct the caste system in Guyana. A majority of East Indians in the Carib-
bean do not even know what caste means.
The idea that the current PPP administration is a Hindu government and
adheres to the scriptures of Hinduism, including the caste system as known in
India, is too far-fetched, if not a wild allegation. The Guyanese constitution,
drafted/modified under the leadership of Burnham, is a secular one. Most of
Guyana's parliament members are not Hindus. In fact, they are diverse in religion
and race. So Gibson's argument of pure and impure, good and bad, dark and light
skin disfavoring Africans is not borne out with evidence.
The rest of the chapter provides a litany of Guyana's political problems
mainly between the PNC and PPP (35-53). There is quite a bit of finger pointing
towards the current PPP administration while sentiments have been given to the
ousted PNC regime. While it is good to know what has been going in Guyana, the
author offers no solution to these problems, and thus, tends to marry the tradition
of providing problems without giving any remote suggestions. Some of the prob-
lems listed in this section and other areas of the book were substantiated by
sources drawn from letter writers to local newspapers, call-in talk show hosts, etc.
This is a major shortcoming of the entire book. It appears that little scientific
method was used and so the book can be easily placed in the category of a
pamphlet of" they say."
The final chapter evaluates the PPP administration and other East Indian
organizations in Guyana since 1992. A few evaluations on the PNC and some
African organizations were also made. The fundamental message, which it appears
to be, in this chapter is that while Africans ruled Guyana for twenty-eight years
through a dictatorship and African groups look out for African interests, they
never sought to destroy East Indians like the current PPP administration is doing.
"Bumham's tenure was based on oppression due to his desire to retain power
which he knew he would not have retained if he held free and fair elections. Thus,
as a group, East Indians were sent into the political wilderness from 1968-1992. In
spite of his shortcomings Burnham worked for the nation and his ultimate aim was
to create equality" (55). This excuse for Burnham's oppression in Guyana is
ludicrous and absurd. Furthermore, Burnham chanted cooperative socialism for
Guyanese but in reality most Guyanese were excluded from his aims unless one
acquiesced and succumbed to his party's demands. On the same page, Gibson
writes "Desmond Hoyte also worked for the nation and he seemed to have felt that
it would have been in the best interest of the nation to have free and fair elections"
(55). Actually, Hoyte was pressured by various political groups in Guyana and the
United States to hold free elections because Guyana was no longer an important
actor in the East-West confrontation due to the collapse of the former communist
Soviet Union. In fact, it was like pulling teeth trying to have Hoyte hold free
elections, which he eventually did in 1992 and lost.
This chapter is riddled with statements that are difficult to justify. Let me
list a few.
(a)"The fundamental difference between ADCA (African Cultural De-
velopment Organization) and GIFT (Guyana Indian Foundation Trust) is that the
former sees their function as looking after the interests of their own group and
living well with those of whom they share the same space, the latter sees itself as
looking after the interests of their own group but also with the ultimate aim of
destroying the Africans with whom they share the same space" (58-59). How can
someone come to such conclusion without thorough research?
(b)"A caller to a television Talk Show was against the disbanding of the
TSS (Target Special Squad is alleged to have carried out extra-judicial killings, my
emphasis) because it will prevent crime against East Indians" (60). Isn't this the
very thing we try to avoid when doing sound research? Anyone familiar with
Guyana will tell you that the press has moved from muzzled to kangaroo. The talk
show programs are a league of their own unreliable.
(c)"During the oppressive regimes people from one's own ethnic group
often suffers. During the PNC'S regime, especially during Bunham's tenure, it
was Africans who suffered the most for opposing him, and it was Africans who
were the major players in fighting dictatorship" (66). There are numerous contra-
dictions in this statement. If one's own ethnic group suffers more under oppression
as Gibson claims, then this would mean that Africans were marginalized under the
PNC not the PPP. The PPP has been entrusted the responsibility of de-marginaliz-
ing Africans and other ethnic groups, which many critics believe they are doing.
Additionally, if the current PPP administration is oppressive then this would mean
that East Indians are currently being marginalized under the PPP not Africans. For
the record, all ethnic groups opposed Burnham dictatorship in Guyana using overt
and covert actions.