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Chinese Cubans

A Transnational History

Kathleen M. López

Publication Year: 2013

Kathleen López is an assistant professor of history and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. From “coolies” to citizens In the mid-nineteenth century, Cuba's infamous "coolie" trade brought well over 100,000 Chinese indentured laborers to its shores. Though subjected to abominable conditions, they were followed during subsequent decades by smaller numbers of merchants, craftsmen, and free migrants searching for better lives far from home. In a comprehensive, vibrant history that draws deeply on Chinese- and Spanish-language sources in both China and Cuba, Kathleen López explores the transition of the Chinese from indentured to free migrants, the formation of transnational communities, and the eventual incorporation of the Chinese into the Cuban citizenry during the first half of the twentieth century. ###Chinese Cubans# shows how Chinese migration, intermarriage, and assimilation is central to Cuban history and national identity during a key period of transition from slave to wage labor and from colony to nation. On a broader level, López draws out implications for issues of race, national identity, and transnational migration, especially along the Pacific rim.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Envisioning Cuba


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

Note on Names and Terminology

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: A Transnational History

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pp. 1-12

In 1859, the fifteen-year-old Tung Kun Sen (Dong Gongcheng), a native of Dongguan County in Guangdong Province, China, was kidnapped and taken to the Spanish Caribbean colony of Cuba as part of the infamous coolie trade. He signed a contract of indenture that obligated him to work for eight years on a sugar estate in Cárdenas, Matanzas Province. ...

I. From Indentured to Free

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1. Coolies

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pp. 15-53

For centuries the economies of Europe’s Caribbean colonies had been fueled by African slave labor. The slave revolt in the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1791 and the creation of the black republic of Haiti in 1804 forever altered the Caribbean colonial landscape. In 1807 Great Britain ended the slave trade in its empire, interrupting the regular flow of Africans to Caribbean plantations. ...

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2. Free Laborers

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pp. 54-81

Like Pastor Pelayo, tens of thousands of Chinese who survived indenture and remained on the island during the 1870s and 1880s now had more physical, occupational, and even social mobility. They joined gangs of agricultural laborers, grew vegetables in the countryside, peddled goods, and worked as artisans or at unskilled jobs in town. ...

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3. Families and Communities

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pp. 82-114

Local histories in Cuba tend to focus on the most prominent Chinese, recognized for their service in the wars for independence (1868–98) and transnational businesses. According to a history of the sugar town of Placetas, for example, the best-known Chinese in the region by the 1880s were contractors, merchants, and owners of fondas, or small restaurants and inns ...

II. Migrants between Empires and Nations

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4. Freedom Fighters

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pp. 117-143

It is said that one of the men eligible to serve as president of the first Cuban republic in 1902 was José Bu Tak (Hu De), a celebrated Chinese mambí and veteran of all three wars for Cuban independence from Spain (1868–98). In 1869, José Bu and sixty other Chinese indentured laborers rose up to join the insurgents in Sagua la Grande. ...

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5. Yellow Peril

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pp. 144-162

In 1920, the Cuban fishing boat Remplazo was stopped off the coast of Tampa, Florida, on suspicion of transporting contraband alcohol. Inspectors discovered $50,000 worth of liquor hidden in a hold for fish below the deck. In addition, they apprehended seventeen Chinese who claimed they had paid a middleman to take them from Havana to Tampa. ...

III. Transnational and National Belonging

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6. Transnational Connections

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pp. 165-189

Former indentured laborers who remained in Cuba had laid the foundations for the development of Chinese communities across the island. The arrival of merchants and craftsmen from China and California and the establishment of Chinese consulates in Cuba further opened the way for the strengthening of ties between migrants and their homeland in the late nineteenth century. ...

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7. Chinese and Cubanidad

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pp. 190-220

On 12 April 1946 Chinese minister Li Dijun and Cuban president Ramón Grau San Martín presided over the official unveiling ceremony of a monument dedicated to the Chinese who had participated in the wars for independence from Spain (1868–98). The black granite column is inscribed in Spanish and Chinese with the famous words of Cuban statesman Gonzalo de Quesada in 1892: ...

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8. Revolution and Remigration

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pp. 221-236

Politics, warfare, and revolutions disrupt migration flows, dislocate people, and sever homeland ties, sometimes forever. Revolutions in China, 1949, and Cuba, 1959, transformed both societies and altered the fabric of transnational Chinese merchant communities. Ironically, exiles fleeing Communism in China were confronted with a similar political upheaval in Cuba just ten years later. ...

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pp. 237-252

In January 2012, members of the Chinese Cuban community gathered in Havana to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Asociación Nacional Min Chih Tang (Minzhidang; formerly Chee Kung Tong). As I entered the recently renovated building, I experienced an extreme sense of disorientation. ...

Chinese Character Glossary

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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-298


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pp. 299-316

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pp. 317-320

My journey tracing the history of the Chinese in Cuba began with my own migration from the field of East Asian to Latin American and Caribbean studies. Along the way, the generosity of scholars, archivists, and librarians and the willingness of Chinese Cubans to share their memories, letters, and photographs with me made this work possible. ...


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pp. 321-339

E-ISBN-13: 9781469607986
E-ISBN-10: 1469607980
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469607139
Print-ISBN-10: 1469607131

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Envisioning Cuba
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Louis A. Pérez Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 843861816
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chinese Cubans

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Chinese -- Cuba -- History.
  • Chinese -- Cuba -- Ethinic identity.
  • Contract labor -- Cuba -- History -- 19th century.
  • Community development -- Cuba -- History.
  • Cuba -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 19th century.
  • Cuba -- Ethnic relations.
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