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Chinese Immigration in Peru

In the mid 19th century, sugar and cotton were in great international demand. Landowners from the coast of Peru saw their opportunity to make millionaire profits by growing and exporting these products. The landowners, however, had a great problem, lack of manpower to work in the fields because President Ramon Castilla had abolished slavery in 1854.



In order to overcome this, the President issued a law promoting the immigration of Asian workers, giving financial rewards to investors who brought Chinese coolies, or unskilled peasants, to Peru. Immediately, foreign and Peruvian investors began trafficking with Chinese peasants. Between 1849 and 1874, about 90 thousand extremely poor Chinese coolies arrived in Peru, devoting themselves to various activities that ranged from working in farms and plantations to working in the guano islands off the coast of Chincha, in the Pacific Ocean. Guano, the remains of sea gulls and other sea birds, was an excellent fertilizer and exporting it became a great source of income for the Peruvian economy.

Working in sugarcane and cotton plantations

Chinese workers huts in the guano islands of Chincha

Why did the Chinese peasants leave their homeland? During the first half of the 1800s, the Chinese Empire had begun to fall. The economy was in crisis. The government, formed by corrupt elite, stripped the peasants of their property and left them living in extreme poverty and ignorance. There werent enough crops to feed an ever increasing population. Therefore, migrating to Peru (among other countries) was an opportunity to get jobs, have a better way of life, and change and improve their status and that of their families. They left China from the ports of Hong Kong (British colony) and Macao (Portuguese colony). This is why the term macacos began to be used to refer to Chinese people.

From 1850 to 1853, the coolies signed an 8-year contract in China by which the cost of the trip, their clothing and their food was subtracted from their salaries, which were already very low. They were considered 'indentured servants' who could even be sold to other people. After the eighth year, they were given a document proving they were "Free Asians."
Working contract signed in China

Due to the extremely bad conditions of the 120-day trip from China to Peru, many coolies died on the way; sometimes, more than half died or committed suicide. Once in Peru, they were treated as slaves, working in the coastal plantations, in the guano islands and, later on, building the Central Railway across the Andes Mountains. They worked ten or twelve hours a day, seven days a week, were not paid for extra hours and were very poorly fed. Furthermore, they were physically punished in the stocks, the bar, by

whipping, imprisonment and daily confinement in sheds, for any violation they committed. In extreme cases, they were executed. Although in general they worked in a state of semi-slavery, the worst working conditions were those in the guano islands, where many coolies died or committed suicide on a daily basis.

Sugarcane plantation: Chinese coolie with stocks on his feet

Wherever Chinese coolies worked, there was an increase in production, so export of sugar, cotton and guano also increased. In other words, Chinese work greatly contributed to improve the Peruvian economy. In 1873, England protested against the mistreatment of Chinese peasants, forbidding Chinese to leave from Hong Kong to go to Peru. In 1874 the Portuguese did the same, forbidding ships with coolies from leaving the port of Macao to go to Peru. On June 26, 1874, the Treaty of Tientsin between China and Peru was signed. It stated that Chinese workers had to receive the same treatment as Peruvian ones, with the right to rest on Sundays, to receive additional pay for working extra hours and to get proper food. It also forbade physical punishment. Nevertheless, many plantation owners continued mistreating their Chinese workers.
Location of Tientsin (Tianjin) in China

The Treaty of Tientsin also forbade migration of Chinese coolies to Peru, something that greatly worried the landowners. However, they soon found a way out, the re-contract or enganche. This meant that Chinese coolies already working in Peru received the amount that had previously been paid to the middle man, who was no longer needed. Many Chinese continued working in the fields after the eighth year because this increase in their salary allowed them to save money to open small businesses in nearby towns once their contracts were over. From 1904 to 1909, Chinese immigration in Peru increased due to political unrest in China. Western countries, especially Great Britain and the United States, had practically colonized China. The ruling Empress Dowager CiXi opposed western domination at first, supporting Chinese anti-foreign movements such as the Boxer Rebellion.

The Boxer Rebellion

Empress Dowager CiXi

Later on, after the Chinese rebels were defeated, she supported the western countries because she wanted to continue ruling China. This caused great fear among Chinese educated people, for they didn't know what to expect.

Many prosperous and educated Chinese families, especially from Guangzhou, looked for other places to settle down. They sent family members to other countries, among them Peru, where they could escape to in case the situation worsened. Because there were already Chinese people in Peru, it was considered one of the key countries to migrate to.

This new wave of Chinese immigrants led to new anti-Chinese feelings in some sectors of the Peruvian population because: a) Many were afraid of Asian diseases b) The new immigrants didn't go to plantations in the countryside. They settled in cities and engaged in trade and commerce; they opened shops and restaurants, so they were in full view of the city people. Many sociologists believe that the real cause for these anti Chinese feelings was intolerance and fear of different customs. In May 1909, the Peruvian Workers Party accused the government of bringing Chinese people to take away their jobs. They beat the Chinese they found on their way and destroyed Chinese businesses.

Protest movements against Chinese people

Despite this, these new kind of Chinese immigrants established themselves in Peru, opening businesses, stores and restaurants. These new business owners wanted to hire Chinese workers, so they paid for more to come to Peru. This way, the Chinese population continued to increase. In 1922, anti-Chinese feeling grew; some people even wrote newspaper articles criticizing Chinese immigrants. This time, however, the Chinese community in Peru defended itself. They published letters, notices and articles describing the benefits the Chinese had brought to Peru: how Chinese commercial activities had contributed to modernize the country, promoted international commerce, provided jobs and inexpensive products to poor people, and promoted the development of agriculture, not to dominate Peru like other foreign companies did, but to improve its economy. Gradually, the Chinese people started to emerge and improve in every area, and their ability to work was recognized. The Peruvian population realized that the spirit of Chinese immigrants had always been to integrate themselves to society, not only in education but also in customs, activities and culture. At the same time, they have maintained their Chinese values and heritage; for example, in 1920 there were two Chinese schools, a theater and many Chinese temples in Lima. Chinese people have lived in Peru for 160 years now, and they make up the largest ethnic group of the population. Sociologists believe 10% of the Peruvian population has Chinese blood.

The word chifa comes from chiu-fan, which means to eat in Chinese

In conclusion, Chinese people brought to Peru their ability to work, and their diligence and willingness to produce were recognized. We could even say that Peru would not be the 6

Lima Chinatown

same without the effort, hard work, sacrifice and, in general, without the contributions of the Chinese population.

Wong Supermarkets, the largest supermarket chain in Per

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