Migration, Chinese diaspora, coolie trade, Chinese overseas, ethnic minority
For centuries, many Chinese migrations have been identified in South-East Asia. It was mostly the initiative of particular elites: economic, like wealthy merchants or political and military, with envoys like Zheng He.
The exchanged volume of merchandise traded steadily increased: pepper, clove, nutmeg, precious woods were the most common subject for trade. Altogether, seventy official missions were sent only during the first quarter of the 15th century. They aimed at protecting the trade and all its protagonists: indeed, many sailors and merchants had settled there. In the 17th century, many thousands of Chinese are present in future Indochina, Malaysia or Indonesia.
However, this migration remains a voluntary one whereas a diaspora is defined as a movement of dispersion of an ethnic group of people with strong features of identity, as a result of forced migration. The main aspect of a diaspora is that a moved population, in spite of distance and time, conserves cultural, affective and possibly political ties with the country of origin.
Therefore, why is the Chinese diaspora the consequence of a forced migration? How did the Chinese overseas manage to turn a weak disorganized migration into a powerful organized community? In other words, why are these fleeing people considered as a diaspora and not as normal migrants who assimilated to the society they moved to? The study of the early years of the diaspora is very important to understand its unchanged structuring.
[...] The first features on an institutional organisation In order to face the unknown, the Chinese diaspora provided with different kinds of organizations. The membership of one of those is essential to an individual's survival and welfare because it offers protection and help. What's more those organizations highly intertwine since one person is always member of different organizations at the same time. It enables the apparition of the so-called “Chinatown politics”, because the head of an organization usually controls different others. [...]
[...] Technically superior, the British, and then the French armies did not spend a long time fighting against the Chinese resistance, paralyzed by a heavy and old-fashioned bureaucracy. Because of this superiority, they imposed treaties to China, known in History as the “unequal treaties”. The most important were the treaty of Nanjing (1842) signed with the British Crown (the USA signed a similar treaty in 1844, through Ambassador Caleb Cushing and 1845 for France, through Ambassador Théodose de Lagrené), the treaty of Tianjin (written in 1858, but ratified with France and the United Kingdom in 1860 after two years of hostility; Russia and the USA also signed a similar treaty) and the treaty of Beijing (signed in 1860 by France and the British crown). [...]
[...] If they aim at replacing the slaves in South-East Asia, let's take the example of the one migrating to the USA. The study of their case is a good transition to understand the proper organization of this community. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 opened the way to an unrestricted immigration. Whereas we counted only 50 Chinese in the late 1840s were registered in 1852. They represented around 25% of the Californian labour force, for only 10% of the population of this State. However, several mines strikes pulled them to the hinterland. [...]
[...] How did the Chinese overseas manage to turn a weak disorganized migration into a powerful organized community? In other words, why are these fleeing people considered as a diaspora and not as normal migrants who assimilated to the society they moved to? The study of the early years of the diaspora is very important to understand its unchanged structuring. I. The causes of these migrations If the international Chinese migration becomes numerically significant in the middle of the 19th century, it is precisely because of two main kinds of factors: factors of departure and factors of appeal. [...]
[...] From the 1860s to the 1880s, many of the unemployed Chinese contributed to the building of the western section of the transcontinental railroad, rock falls, roads, water flumes and reservoirs. Another significant part was involved in agriculture: tenant farmers and commercial crops for instance. Their successes in various fields (celery, sugar beet or salmon fishing) are due to their imported skills. But it is also during that period, that tragic episodes of the diaspora occur. In France, from 1917 to coolies recruited in the British colonies were used in order to unload trains and ships, take care of horses, rebuild roads or even dig trenches. [...]
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