Chinese Jamaicans

Chinese Jamaicans
Chinese Jamaicans
Bunny Lee (Reggae Awards 2007) cropped.jpgSeanPaulIRAWA.jpgClive Chin cropped.jpg
Notable Chinese Jamaicans:
Bunny Lee • Sean Paul • Clive Chin
Total population
Approx. 22,000 (1998)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Jamaica: Kingston
Overseas: Toronto, New York City, South Florida

Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois


Christianity (primarily Catholicism and Anglicanism) with some elements of Chinese folk religion[2]

Related ethnic groups

Hakka people, ethnic Chinese in Panama, Jamaican Americans, Jamaican Canadians,

Chinese Jamaicans are the descendants of migrants from China to Jamaica. Early migrants came in the 19th century; there was another wave of migration in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the descendants of early migrants have moved abroad, primarily to Canada and the United States.[3]


Migration history

Most Chinese Jamaicans are Hakka and can trace their origin to the Chinese labourers that came to Jamaica in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.[4] The British parliament made a study of prospects for Chinese migration to the West Indies in 1811, and in 1843 made an attempt to recruit Chinese workers to come to Jamaica, British Guiana, and Trinidad, but nothing came of it.[5] The two earliest ships of Chinese migrant workers to Jamaica arrived in 1854, the first directly from China, the second composed of onward migrants from Panama; they were contracted for plantation work.[6] A further 200 would arrive in the years up until 1870, mostly from other Caribbean islands. Later, in 1884, a third wave of 680 Chinese migrants would arrive; with the exception of a few from Sze Yup, most of these were Hakka people from Dongguan, Huiyang, and Bao'an. This third wave of migrants would go on to bring more of their relatives over from China.[4]

From 1910, Chinese immigrants were required to pay a £30 deposit and pass a written test to demonstrate that they could write 50 words in three different languages; the restrictions on Chinese migrants were tightened even further in 1931, but relaxed again by 1947 due to lobbying by the Chinese consulate.[7] The 1943 census showed 12,394 Chinese residing in Jamaica; these were divided into three categories by the census, namely "China-born" (2,818), "local-born" (4,061), and "Chinese coloured" (5,515), the latter referring to multiracial people of mixed African and Chinese descent. This made Chinese Jamaicans the second largest Chinese population in the Caribbean, behind Chinese Cubans.[8][9] By 1963, the Chinese had a virtual monopoly on retail trade in Jamaica, controlling 90% of dry goods stores and 95% of supermarkets, along with extensive holdings in other sectors such as laundries and betting parlours.[10]

Since the 1970s, thousands of Chinese Jamaicans moved abroad as Jamaica's economy slowed; at first, they went primarily to Canada, which was more open to immigration than the United States, but the U.S. later became a major destination as well. As a result, clusters of Chinese Jamaicans can be found outside of Jamaica as well, in Toronto, New York City, and South Florida. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a new wave of Chinese migration to Jamaica, consisting of Hong Kong and Taiwan entrepreneurs who set up textiles factories on the island targeting the U.S. market, and often brought in migrant workers from China to staff their ventures.[3]

Community organisations

In comparison to Overseas Chinese communities elsewhere, hometown associations related to migrants' places of origin in China were not very influential among migrants to Jamaica.[11] Some secret societies such as the Hongmenhui were active in organising plantation workers in the 1880s; however, the first formal Chinese organisation in Jamaica was a branch of the Freemasons.[12] Later, the Chinese Benevolent Association (中華會館) was founded in 1891.[13] The CBA continues to operate from a two-story building with guardian lion statues in the front; the ground floor is occupied by the Jamaican-Chinese Historical Museum. The building has been featured on a Jamaican postage stamp.[3]

The first Chinese-language newspaper in Jamaica, the Zhonghua Shang Bao (中華商報), was founded in 1930 by Zheng Yongkang; five years later, it was taken over by the Chinese Benevolent Association, who renamed it Huaqiao Gongbao (華僑公報). It continued publication until 1956, and was revived in 1975.[14] The Chinese Freemasons also published their own handwritten weekly newspaper, the Minzhi Zhoukan (民治周刊) until 1956. The Pagoda, started in 1940, was the first English-language newspaper for the Chinese community. The local branch of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) also began publishing their own paper, The Chung San News (中山報) in 1953.[12]

Prior to Jamaican independence, there was an annual Miss Chinese Jamaica pageant, initially organised as a fundraiser for the CBA.[15] It came to be supported by The Pagoda, which wrote editorials exhorting girls from the Chinese community to join, and in some years offered sponsorship prizes such as, in 1955, a two-week trip to Miami for the winner, in an effort to spark participation in what was sometimes a sparsely attended event.[16] However, as the pageant grew in popularity, it drew charges from Afro-Jamaican journalists that the ethnic pride on display there was "unpatriotic" and "un-Jamaican". The pageant renamed itself to the Miss Chinese Athletic Club, in an effort to avoid controversy, but nevertheless, held its final "openly racialised beauty contest" in 1962.[17] Over the following years, Chinese Jamaican women did not participate in the Miss Jamaica pageant for fear of racial controversy. However, this informal colour line was broken in 1973, when Patsy Yuen entered and earned the Miss Jamaica title in 1973, going on to place third in the Miss World competition in London; however, Yuen publicly portrayed herself as a completely assimilated Jamaican with little connection to her Chinese heritage, claiming in media statements that she didn't even like Chinese food, in order to avoid "disrupt[ing] the official picture of the country's identity".[18]

There was also a Chinese Jamaican community school, the Chinese Public School. It was set up first by the Chinese Freemasons in 1920 (under the Chinese name 華僑公立學校), and operated until 1922; a Chinese drama club revived the school in 1924 (and gave it a new Chinese name 新民學校, literally "New People's School"), charging tuition fees of £6. The drama club continued to operate the school until 1928, when the CBA purchased it for £2,300 and gave it its present name, and moved it into a larger building.[19] The CBA promulgated a new constitution for the school in 1944, which stated that it would follow the curriculum of the Republic of China's Ministry of Education, and that Chinese was the primary medium of instruction while "foreign languages" were secondary. In 1945, with enrollments booming to 300 students and competitor schools being established as well, the Republic of China consulate called for donations to renovate the school, eventually raising £10,000. In the 1950s, there was heated debate in the community over the medium of instruction, with some suggesting curriculum localisation in the name of practicality, while others saw abandonment of Chinese-medium instruction as tantamount to abandonment of Chinese identity.[20] Practical considerations won out; the curriculum was reorganised with English as the primary instructional medium in 1952, and by 1955, the school only had two teachers who could speak any Chinese.[21] After that, the school's fortunes fluctuated, and it was finally closed down in the mid-1960s.[22][23]

Interethnic relations

Early Chinese migrants, largely male, often entered into common-law unions with the Afro-Jamaican women who worked in their businesses. However, Chinese women rarely married Afro-Jamaican men. Interracial marriage became less common as the number of women of Chinese descent in Jamaica grew.[24] Nevertheless, by the 1943 census, nearly 45% of Jamaicans with some Chinese ancestry fell into the census category of "Chinese coloured" (mixed Chinese and African descent).[9]

Along with other ethnic entrepreneurs associated with foreign capital—Lebanese, Syrians, and Cubans—Chinese entrepreneurs became a targets of antagonism from the Jamaican poor, who regarded them as "alien and exploitative".[25] Unlike in other countries of the West Indies, where East Indians took the brunt of racial antipathy from black populations, in Jamaica the Chinese themselves found themselves the targets of ethnic prejudice fueled by worker unrest.[26] This resentment against Chinese Jamaicans often manifested itself in the form of property crimes, especially arson. However, in the popular imagination, such arson was not seen as the result of attacks by poor Jamaicans, but rather as attempts at insurance fraud, yet another example of "sharp" Chinese business practises.[26][27] Anti-Chinese riots broke out in 1918 and 1938.[28]

Resentments against Chinese Jamaicans again reached a boiling point in 1965. On 28 August, an employee of a Chinese-owned store in Kingston reported to police that three Chinese brothers beat her at the store; an angry crowd surrounded the store, and one member of the crowd was shot by a Chinese. Over the next few days, crowds of as many as 300 people were seen looting and burning Chinese stores in the Barry Street, West Queen Street, Spanish Town Road, Orange Street, and North Street area, with sporadic violence continuing until 1 September. During the disturbances, another eight people died; one of the dead had been shot by a Chinese trader defending his shop.[27] The disturbances were an example of increasing tensions in West Kingston, foreshadowing later violence between the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party in the lead-up to the 1967 general election.[29]


Early Chinese migrants to Jamaica brought elements of Chinese folk religion with them, most exemplified by the altar to Guan Yu which they erected in the old CBA building and which remains standing there, even as the CBA moved its headquarters.[30] However, with the passage of long decades since their ancestors first migrated from China, traditional Chinese religious practises have largely died out among Chinese Jamaicans.[31] Some traditional practises persisted well into the 20th century, most evident at the Chinese Cemetery, where families would go to clean their ancestors' graves during the Qingming Festival in what was often organised as a communal activity by the CBA (referred to in English as Gah San, after the Hakka word 嫁山); however, with the emigration of much of the Chinese Jamaican community to the North American mainland, the public, communal aspect of this grave-cleaning died out, and indeed it was not carried out for more than a decade before attempts by the CBA to revive it in 2004.[32]

Christianity has become the dominant religion among Chinese Jamaicans; they primarily adhere to the Catholic Church rather than the Protestantism of the majority establishment. Anglicans can also be found in the Chinese Jamaican community, but other denominations which are widespread in Jamaica such as Baptism (traditionally connected with the Afro-Jamaican community) are almost entirely absent among Chinese Jamaicans.[33] Conversion of Chinese Jamaicans to Christianity came about in several ways; some made conversions of convenience in order to obtain easy legal recognition for marriages and births, while Chinese men who entered into relationships with local women were often absorbed into church community through the selection of godparents for their children, and the attendance of children at Sunday schools. Furthermore, Catholic teachers taught English at the Chinese Public School up until its closure in the mid-1960s, which facilitated the entry of Chinese Jamaicans to well-known Catholic secondary schools.[23] There were a large number of conversions in the mid-1950s, evidence that the Chinese were "increasingly trying to adapt themselves to local society"; a former headmaster of the Chinese Public School, He Rujun, played a major role in attracting Chinese converts to Christianity in those years.[34]

The newest wave of Chinese migrants from Hong Kong and mainland China are in many cases not Christians, but they have not brought with then any widely visible non-Christian religious practises. A few of them were already Protestants, and have formed their own churches, which conduct worship services in Chinese; due to language barriers, they have little connection to the more assimilated segments of the Chinese Jamaican community.[35]

Cultural syncretism

Chinese Jamaicans have also had an impact on the development of reggae. The trend of Chinese Jamaican involvement in reggae began in the 1960s with Vincent "Randy" Chin, his wife Patricia Chin, and their label VP Records, where artists such as Beenie Man and Sean Paul launched their careers; it remains common to see Chinese surnames in the liner notes of reggae music, attesting to the continuing influence.[36][37]

Assimilation has taken place through generations and few Chinese Jamaicans can speak Chinese today; most of them speak English or Jamaican Patois as their first language. The vast majority have anglicized given names, and many have Chinese surnames. The Chinese food culture has survived to a large degree among this group of people.[citation needed]

Notable people

This is a list of notable Chinese immigrants in Jamaica, and Jamaicans of Chinese descent.


See also

  • Caribbean-China relations
  • People's Republic of China-Jamaica relations
  • Chinese Caribbean


  1. ^ Li 2004, p. 57
  2. ^ Shibata 2006
  3. ^ a b c Hemlock, Doreen (2005-04-17), "Out Of Many, One People: Chinese-Jamaicans Treasure Their Roots And Their Communities", Sun-Sentinel,, retrieved 2010-08-26 
  4. ^ a b Li 2004, p. 44
  5. ^ Lai 1998, p. 47
  6. ^ Li 2004, p. 43
  7. ^ a b c d Tortello, Rebecca (2003-09-01), "The Arrival of the Chinese", The Jamaica Gleaner,, retrieved 2010-08-30 
  8. ^ Lai 1998, p. 287
  9. ^ a b Lai 1993, p. 50
  10. ^ Lacey 1977, p. 26
  11. ^ Li 2004, p. 53
  12. ^ a b Li 2004, p. 52
  13. ^ Li 2004, p. 47
  14. ^ Li 2004, p. 51
  15. ^ Barnes 1997, p. 297
  16. ^ Barnes 1997, p. 299
  17. ^ Barnes 1997, p. 300
  18. ^ Barnes 1997, p. 301–302
  19. ^ Li 2004, p. 48
  20. ^ Li 2004, p. 49
  21. ^ Li 2004, p. 49–50
  22. ^ Li 2004, p. 50
  23. ^ a b Shibata 2006, p. 58
  24. ^ Bouknight-Davis 2004, p. 83
  25. ^ Lacey 1977, p. 14
  26. ^ a b Lai 2005, p. 70
  27. ^ a b Lacey 1977, p. 86
  28. ^ Lai 2005, p. 71–72
  29. ^ Lacey 1977, p. 87
  30. ^ Shibata 2006, p. 55–56
  31. ^ Shibata 2006, p. 52
  32. ^ Shibata 2006, p. 64–5
  33. ^ Shibata 2006, p. 57
  34. ^ Li 2004, p. 56
  35. ^ Shibata 2006, p. 58–59
  36. ^ "Asian-American Heritage Week: Chinese Jamaicans Help Reggae Music Evolve",, 2007-05-15,, retrieved 2010-08-30 
  37. ^ "Asian-American Heritage Week: Multi-Ethnic Family Works To Maintain Asian Heritage",, 2007-05-116,, retrieved 2010-08-30 


  • Barnes, Natasha B. (1997), "Face of the Nation: Race, Nationalisms, and Identities in Jamaican Beauty Pageants", in López Springfield, Consuelo, Daughters of Caliban: Caribbean women in the twentieth century, Indiana University Press, pp. 285–306, ISBN 9780253332493 
  • Bouknight-Davis, Gail (2004), "Chinese Economic Development and Ethnic Identity Formation in Jamaica", in Wilson, pp. 69–93 
  • Lacey, Terry (1977), Violence and politics in Jamaica, 1960-70: internal security in a developing country, Manchester University Press, ISBN 9780719006333 
  • Lai, Walton Look (1993), "The people from Kwangtung", Trinidad and Tobago Review 15 (8/9): 49–51, 
  • Lai, Walton Look (1998), The Chinese in the West Indies, 1806-1995: a documentary history, University of the West Indies, ISBN 9789766400217 
  • Lai, Walton Look (2005), "Images of the Chinese in West Indian History", in Anderson, Wanni Wibulswasdi; Lee, Robert G., Displacements and diasporas: Asians in the Americas, Rutgers University Press, pp. 54–77, ISBN 9780813536118 
  • Li, Anshan (2004), "Survival, Adaptation, and Integration: Origins and Development of the Chinese Community in Jamaica", in Wilson, pp. 41–68 
  • Shibata, Yoshiko (2006), "Searching for a Niche, Creolizing Religious Tradition: Negotiation and Reconstruction of Ethnicity among Chinese in Jamaica", in Kumar, P. Pratap, Religious Pluralism in the Diaspora, Brill, pp. 51–72, ISBN 9789004152502 
  • Wilson, Andrew R., ed. (2004), The Chinese in the Caribbean, Markus Wiener Publishers, ISBN 9781558763159 

Further reading

  • Bryan, Patrick (1996), "The Creolization of the Chinese Community in Jamaica", in Reddock, Rhoda, Ethnic Minorities in Caribbean Society, University of the West Indies Press, pp. 173–272, ISBN 9789766180249 
  • Lee, Russell (1998), "The Chinese Retail Grocery Trade in Jamaica", in Wang, Ling-chi; Wang, Gungwu, The Chinese Diaspora: Selected Essays, 2, Singapore: Times Academic Publisher, pp. 112–130, ISBN 9789812100931 

External links

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