ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE CHINESE IN JAMAICA
On July 30, 1854, 267 Chinese immigrants landed in Jamaica from Hong Kong, mere months before another set from Panama on a ship called EPSOM. Later that same year, 205 Chinese immigrants demanded to leave Panama during a yellow fever outbreak. On November 1, 1854, 195 immigrants arrived on a ship called the VAMPIRE, and on November 8, 10 on the Theresa Jane. Less than 50 of them survived as most had already contracted the disease. In the 1860s, 200 immigrants landed from Trinidad and British Guiana as indentured labourers on a 3 year contract. At the end of the contract period, most started small grocery shops selling by barter or extending credit in small affordable quantities. They lived above, behind and near their shops, and was so close knit they formed a sort of Chinatown. In 1884, 501 men, 105 women, 54 boys and 17 girls landed in the Kingston Harbour. As a result of the growing population, the Chinese had their own cemetery, and in 1891, Chin Tung-Kao founded the Chinese Benevolent Society,
In the mid 1920s, the Chinese population was close to 4000, and by 1930, 200 additional immigrants arrived. The Jamaican Government, facing economic pressures of the depression years with thousands of unemployed having no prospects of jobs in the immediate future, decided to close its doors to Chinese immigrants. After January 1931, only children under 14 yrs old were allowed in on a student permit. Returning Chinese residents were required to produce a re-entry permit which had to be obtained prior to departure. Restrictions were tightened further in 1940 when only diplomats, tourists and students with permits were allowed entry. Sometimes later, limited quotas were granted for wives, children and parents. Jamaican-born Chinese had to show proof of birth.
In the 1940s, second generation Chinese (those that were born in Jamaica), were not keen on being wedded to the Chinese culture of shopkeepers. And so embracing the Jamaican culture, many converted to Roman Catholicism and ventured into other professions. They are now prominent citizens in almost all professions including Government Ministers, clergymen, hoteliers and doctors. They also now own Banks, Supermarkets, Bakeries, Restaurants, etc. with most supermarkets stocking Chinese ingredients for cooking, and restaurants continue to offer Dim Sum the traditional Chinese Sunday brunch. One of our first female politicians was Madame Rose Leon who served on both sides of the political divide, and went on to find the first beauty school in the island. Another noted descendant of immigrants, Patsy Yuen was crowned Ms. Jamaica in 1973, and went on to place 2nd runner-up in the Ms. World competition that same year. Currently, we are seeing a new wave of Chinese immigrants who are now the largest group of merchants, operating supermarkets, wholesale and beauty shops throughout the length and breadth of our island.
Jamaica currently enjoys a great relationship with the people of China, with them assisting in building our road infrastructure, hospitals and bridges. China Harbour Engineering Construction (CHEC) is one such company that has set up shop and has done tremendous work on our highway infrastructure. The Chinese have also assisted with the setting up of a Chinese Garden at the Hope Botanical Gardens in our capital city Kingston, and taking over of the Alpart Bauxite mining company.
The Chinese custom of using fireworks to celebrate special occasions became a favourite Jamaican attraction, especially at Christmas time. In more recent times Chinese celebratory dances such as the lion and dragon dances have been included among the annual National Festival events. This is one area of the creative arts which demonstrates the integration process.
The Chinese industry and their disciplined approach to work, their care and nurturing of children and the emphasis they place on education and on family life, set examples for the Jamaican society. The tradition of the extended family in Chinese culture parallels that in African cultures. So is respect of age whether it be to a member of the immediate family, or to an outsider. In these ways the Chinese have helped to preserve such values in the Jamaican society.