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79 On November 14, 1879, Moreno disembarked in the balmy port of Honolulu to a warm welcome. Nine and a half months later he departed hastily under threat of lynching. In less than a year, he became a central figure in the political crisis that culminated in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Unlike many episodes of his career that left no enduring mark on the historical record, Moreno has been immortalized as a “fascinating but baf- fling figure in Hawaiian history.”1 Ralph Kuykendall, the leading historian of Hawaii, devoted a chapter in his monumental history to the “Moreno Episode,” which he described as “one of the most curious and at the same time one of the most important incidents in Hawaiian history.”2 Moreno arrived on the steamship Ho-chung from China, where he had been “disgusted,” according to a source, because he realized that he would not be able to sell his island or carry out the transpacific telegraph. In Shanghai, he was well connected with new Chinese capitalists who, moving away from traditional markets in tea and silk, were turning to modern ventures. Some of them had cut their teeth in California and had traveled in Europe. They were buying Yangtze River steamships built by Americans c h a p t e r 5 The Enchanter of Hawaii 80 The Enchanter of Hawaii and German and English ships for coastal trade, and they wanted their ships, flying the banner of the dragon, to eventually reach the Golden Gate. Moreno “was selected as the agent of the Chinese capitalists,” who, though they were not yet ready to finance their cable project, told him that this enterprise would be possible with the Hawaiian government’s support.3 Most important, Moreno won the confidence of Li Hung-Chang, the most influential man in late nineteenth-century China. A celebrated general in the war against the Taiping rebels, Li rose within the Empire’s governing elite to the position of Governor General of the region of Chihli. He was also an accomplished diplomat who conducted China’s negotiations with Western powers. His most significant initiative was the policy of “Self-Strengthening,” a response to the threat of imperialism from those powers. China, he argued, had to modernize and acquire technology and scientific knowledge. To this end, Li sent young scholars to the United States and to other countries. He also constructed the first Chinese railway, telegraph line, and cotton mill. In 1872, he established the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company (CMSNC) to conduct coastal trade, which had been in foreign hands. Now, he was contemplating expanding the merchant fleet to carry Chinese laborers to Hawaii and South America.4 When Moreno set foot on Hawaiian soil, he presented himself as a special agent of the CMSNC. In his role as lobbyist, he came seeking, among other things, a subsidy from the Kingdom for his steamship line.5 With his customary grandiloquence, he declared that directly connecting Hawaii to China and the United States would make the Sandwich Islands “by manifest destiny . . . the Singapore, Java, and Sumatra of the western Pacific,” that is “a commercial depot of crucial importance between Asia, Australia, and America.”6 The primary cargo would be Chinese laborers. Moreno’s shipmates on the Ho-Chung were 451 coolies destined for the island’s sugar plantations. The Hawaii Moreno found was no paradise. Following its “discovery” in 1778 by the ill-fated Captain James Cook, the rapid incursion of Western influences, which Lawrence Fuchs has described as “the introduction of venereal disease, firearms, and the idea of trade for profit,”7 decimated the physical and cultural constitution of the Kanakas. Hawaii was not conquered by bloody battles. However, the scourge of smallpox, measles, leprosy , cholera, and syphilis (Hawaiians lacked immunity to all of them) killed thousands upon thousands. Between 1778 and 1878, their numbers decreased from 300,000 to 50,000. The Enchanter of Hawaii 81 Following initial colonization by the Polynesians and isolated from the rest of the world, a complex Hawaiian culture had evolved, adapted to the benign environment of volcanic soil and ocean. Though certainly not a Garden of Eden—cruelty and exploitation were also part of the Hawaiian way of life—it was a life lived according to established beliefs, traditions, and values. Kapus (taboos) as enforced by kahunas (shamans) dictated all aspects of life. This fragile cultural system crumbled under the onslaught of a...


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MARC Record
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