The migration of Chinese laborers to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century essay


The migration of Chinese laborers to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19thcentury

Migration has been a prevalent human trait since time immemorial.Human beings have migrated from their homes for a number of reasons.Most of these reasons revolve around having a better life or escapinga catastrophe. However, a small portion of human beings migrates foradventure and then decides to settle in their new locality after theyrealize that it is habitable after all. Worth noting is the fact thatreasons of migration are plenty and that there is no blanket reasonthat can cover all the migrations. The different types of humanmigration that we know of today allude their existence to theintended destination of the migration, reasons for migration, and thenumber of people migrating. The existence of migration among humanbeings has led to numerous effects. Some are positive, while theothers are negative. This paper seeks to analyze the migration ofChinese laborers to the Hawaiian Islands during the 19thCentury. The paper addresses, their point of origin, reasons formigrating and the impact of their migration.

History of Chinese Migration to Hawaiian Islands

The earliest recorded migration of Chinese immigrants to the HawaiianIslands was in 17881.The immigrants were sailors with Captain Cook. Instead of going backhome after their ship left the Island of Hawaii, they decided to stayfor the prospects of a better life. Later that year, more Chinesesailors under captain Kaina immigrated into Hawaii after witnessingthe better living conditions of their counterparts who had set Campon the islands. It did not take long before another contingent ofChinese immigrants joined their brothers on the Hawaiian Islands. Thegroup of Chinese immigrants who arrived in Hawaii in 1789 was underthe leadership of an American Sailor whose identity is not disclosed.The new Chinese Immigrants to Hawaii settled in various places withinthe Island and they could not afford to live a segregated life owingto their negligible numbers.

Most of the early labor immigrants from China trace their origin toZhongshan in Guangdong. According to the Zhongshan.gov2,Zhongshan is a city that is located along the Pearl River Delta. Theancestors of the current inhabitants of the city were predominantlyanglers. The close proximity of the city to Pacific explains why mostof the sailors who settled in Hawaii were from the region. Their lovefor water, the sea and fishing saw them accompany numerous ships onpacific voyages. However, their bloodline in the Chinese immigrantsat the Hawaiian Islands decreased greatly after they intermarriedwith local Hawaiian women. This is primarily because they did nitmigrate with Chinese women to Hawaii. The later generations ofimmigrants from China were able to move to Hawaii with their womenand hence they account for the small percentage of pure Chinesedescendants currently living in Hawaii.

Significant inflows of Chinese immigrants to Hawaiian Islandsoccurred in the mid-19th Century. In 1840’s the handfulof Chinese Immigrants living in Honolulu saw opportunities infarming, trade and industry3.Since the Island did not have enough labor to exploit theopportunities effectively, the few Chinese immigrants decided toinvite their families to join them in Hawaii. The act of the BritishEmpire outsourcing labor for its plantations saw the government bringin its first official shipment of Chinese workers. The consequentyears saw an upsurge in the number of Chinese immigrants in theIsland of Hawaii. These second generation of Chinese immigrantsintermarried within themselves to create the current population ofcitizens of pure Chinese descent in Hawaii.

Reasons for the Chinese Migration to Hawaii

The primary reason why many Chinese immigrants decided to settle inHawaii was the demand for labor in the sugar plantations4.Polynesian settlers introduced sugarcane to the island. Before thearrival of the Chinese in Honolulu, the sugarcane grown on the islandwas for internal consumption only. However, as the Chinese arrivedand brought with them the technology of producing sugar in plenty,Hawaii became among the highest sugar exporters in the Pacific. Thesugar plantations grew by the day and the demand for more Chineselabor became eminent.

A particular instance in which the swelling sugar plantations neededmore Chinese labor was when the Royal Hawaiian agricultural societyasked Captain John Cass to bring in more Chinese workers5.The captain responded by bringing in over 170 Chinese farm workersand 28 domestic workers. Unlike their counterparts who arrivedearlier, this new contingency of Chinese immigrants was not allowedto work anywhere apart from the sugar plantations. The Chinesecoolies, as they were often referred to, could not join theircompatriots in doing business. Their contract bound them to the sugarfarms for five years. After the end of their contract, they decidedto remain in Hawaii where they engaged in many business ventures.They traded in liquor, sugar, and industrial supplies. They alsoensured that their childe received a descent education, hence thereason the current generation of Chinese descendants residing inHawaii are highly educated professionals.

The sandalwood trade between China and Hawaii was a secondary reasonfor the migration of Chinese laborers to Hawaii5. Theperiod between 1792 and 1840’s was characterized by the rigorousharvesting of sandalwood from the forests of Hawaii. Some of theChinese immigrants who came in to load the sandalwood onto the shipsdecided to remain in Hawaii. They resorted to harvesting the wood andloading it onto the awaiting ships. When the sandalwood forests werefinally depleted due to overexploitation, The Chinese laborersdecided to stay in Hawaii and find another trade. They becamemerchants in different commodities including sugar, alcohol, food,and clothing. They provided a special link between the merchants ofChina and the market in Hawaii.

Effects of Chinese Immigration to Hawaii

The most prevalent effect of Chinese immigration into Hawaii isintermarriage. The earlier populations of Chinese immigrants were ahandful hence the reason they got assimilated by the Hawaiianlocals6.In addition, the earliest Chinese immigrants were mostly bachelorsand young men who did not move to Hawaii with their wives. Owing tothe long duration of their stay in Hawaii, they began to intermarrywith the native Hawaiian women. The resultant offspring was a halfChinese and half Hawaiian. The current population of Chineseimmigrants in Hawaii is mostly products of interracial marriage. TheChinese laborers intermarried with white women mostly of Portugueseand Spanish descent. The result of the assimilation led to creationof generic names that were a mixture of Chinese and Hawaiian. Namessuch as Akina are a result of Chinese assimilation to the Hawaiianculture and language.

The Chinese immigrants in Hawaii pioneered the development of thesugar industry in Hawaii. Before their arrival, the residents ofHawaii consumed local sugar in limited amounts. However, theentrepreneurial nature of the Chinese elevated the sugar industry ofHawaii to that of a top international exporter7.

In 1802, a Chinese entrepreneur by the name Wong Tze-chun brought amill and boilers to Hawaii on a sandalwood ship. He set the precedentfor other Chinese millers to arrive in Hawaii and roll out theirsugar manufacturing machines. The Chinese millers set up factories innumerous towns of Hawaii Island. As expected, the supply of sugarwent up and the Kingdom of Hawaii started to export it todestinations along the Pacific. Consequently, the sugarcaneplantations on the island swelled because of the newfound demand forthe product. The Chinese merchants put Hawaii on the map as one ofthe leading exporters of sugar during the 19th Century.


Inconclusion, human migration is a necessity in some instances. It isusually motivated by the need for greener pastures and adventure. Theeffects of migration can be positive or negative to the immigrantsand the newfound hosts. Official records indicate that the earliestChinese immigrants to Hawaii arrived in 1787. The mid-19thCentury saw an acute upsurge of Chinese immigrants in Hawaii owing tothe demand for labor in sugarcane plantations. The primary motivatorfor Chinese immigrants to move to Hawaii was the demand for labor inthe sugar industry. Sandalwood trade also brought many Chineseimmigrants to Hawaii. The major effect of Chinese immigration toHawaii was assimilation into the local community.

Bibliography List

1. McKeown, Adam. Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change:Peru, Chicago, and Hawaii 1900-1936. University of Chicago Press,2001.

2. Zhongshan China. 2016. Retrieved from&lt

3. McKeown, Adam. &quotConceptualizing Chinese diasporas, 1842 to1949.&quot The Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 02 (1999):306-337.

4. Lydon, Edward C. The anti-Chinese movement in the HawaiianKingdom, 1852-1886. R and E Research Associates, 1975.

5. Eleanor Nordyke C, and Lee K. Richard. The Chinese in Hawaii. Ahistorical and demographic perspective. The Hawaiian Journal ofHistory 1999.

6. Chen, Ta. Chinese migrations, with special reference to laborconditions. No. 340. Ch`eng-wen Publishing Company, 1923.

7. Skeleton, Ronald. &quotThe Chinese diaspora or the migration ofChinese peoples?.&quot The Chinese diaspora: Space, place,mobility, and identity 51 (2003).

1McKeown, Adam. Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, and Hawaii 1900-1936. University of Chicago Press, 2001.

2 Zhongshan China. 2016. Retrieved from &lt &gt

3McKeown, Adam. &quotConceptualizing Chinese diasporas, 1842 to 1949.&quot The Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 02 (1999): 306-337.

4Lydon, Edward C. The anti-Chinese movement in the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1852-1886. R and E Research Associates, 1975.

5 Eleanor NordykeC, and Lee K. Richard. The Chinese in Hawaii. A historical and demographic perspective. The Hawaiian Journal of History 1999.

6Chen, Ta. Chinese migrations, with special reference to labor conditions. No. 340. Ch`eng-wen Publishing Company, 1923.

7Skeleton, Ronald. &quotThe Chinese diaspora or the migration of Chinese peoples?.&quot The Chinese diaspora: Space, place, mobility, and identity 51 (2003).