Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A note on the coolie trade

Yesterday's post on my history blog, The Chinese in Australia - introducing Francis Darby Syme, started to fill in a small gap in my history of New England. Syme was a major agent in the coolie trade, the transmission of Chinese workers to a variety of overseas destinations including Australia.

While I have always been aware of the large number of Chinese in particular countries, it is only now that I have really begun to look at the reasons for and pattern of migration. This 1853 report to the House of Commons provides an interesting snapshot of Chinese emigration.

I notice that the Wikipedia article on Singapore attributes the growth of Chinese migration to Singapore to "the economic hardship in southern China due to the Opium Wars." To my mind, that seems to be a myth. Chinese emigration began once new sea routes were established early in the eighteenth century, well before the Opium wars, and was directly linked to economic conditions in Southern China. 

The Chinese authorities did not like Chinese leaving the country. In 1712, Emperor Kang Xi ordered all foreign rulers to return Chinese living in their countries to China so that they could be beheaded!    

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