the illegal "pig" trade -- 6/7/17

Today's selection -- from Sun Yat-sen by Harold Z. Schiffrin. Sun Yat-Sen was one of China's most important revolutionaries and the founding father of the Republic of China. Because of poverty, a number of his relatives made the dangerous journey to work in America. They were among the hua-ch'iao, (the overseas Chinese, referred to in other countries by the derogatory term "coolie"), some of whom spent thirty years working abroad to provide for their families before returning to live the last few years of their lives with their families:

"[Sun Yat-sen's father] Ta-ch'eng's meager holdings -- no more than half an acre -- were not enough to support his family, and after the fifth child, Wen (Sun Yat-sen's original given name), was born he took on extra work as the village watchman. He also engaged in petty trading and in various odd jobs. The rest of the family helped; and it was only when Wen was eight that his father could let him go to the village school. This was a sign that the family had risen to what in recent years would be called 'middle peasant' status.

Chinese and white miners sluicing for gold at Auburn Ravine in Northern California's Placer County in 1852.

"The household also included the widows of two younger brothers of Ta-ch'eng who had not been heard from after setting out to join the California Gold Rush. One, it later turned out, had drowned in the sea off Shanghai, while the other apparently met an early death in California. This was a common Cantonese tragedy. Though the only alternative to an impoverished exis­tence at home, emigration was extremely risky.

"During this period -- the latter half of the nineteenth century -- about 120,000 Cantonese, mostly from the delta region, left each year to work as 'coolies' in Southeast Asia and the Americas. Sun Yat-sen would later recall with bitterness the illegal 'pig' trade, for which Macao was one of the more notorious centers. Young Chinese, lured by promises of wealth or forcibly entrapped, were locked into 'pigpens' and smuggled out in boats. If they sur­vived the trip -- one ship arrived in San Francisco in 1854 with one hundred out of five hundred Chinese passengers dead -- they were auctioned off for work in the sugarcane plantations of Louisiana and Cuba, the guano islands of Peru, or wherever cheap indentured labor was sought as an alternative to the African slave trade, which was hardly more vicious or inhuman.

"Sun, who came to know the hua-ch'iao of several con­tinents intimately, would speak admiringly of their ca­pacity to endure hardships. 'Temporary' work abroad in order to get established at home could often mean long years of drudgery in a hostile, humiliating environment. According to Sun, an average emigrant, arriving in America at the age of twenty-five, could save enough after ten years to return to his village for marriage; he would labor overseas another ten years before being able to build a house in his native village; and it was only after a final ten years that he would have sufficient savings to buy some land at home and rejoin his family for the remain­ing few years of his life."



Harold Z Schiffrin


Sun Yat-sen: Reluctant Revolutionary


Little, Brown & Co.


Copyright 1980 by Harold Z. Schiffrin


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