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Shortly after Emancipation, the English Plantation owners realized that the African descendants having been freed from slavery were reluctant to work on the sugar estate. Based on this realization, they decided to import Chinese and East Indians to work for them.
By 1854, the first group of four hundred and seventy two (472) Chinese come toJamaica from Panama . Prior to this time there were about thirty Chinese living in Jamaica . The second batch, of about two hundred, coming from Trinidad and British Guiana arrived in Jamaica between 1864-1870. On June 12, 1884 , a third group of about six hundred and eighty arrived straight from China , all having three year contracts.
In 1905, the Jamaican Government noticed the increased population of Chinese immigrants and passed a law that restricted entry to the country if certain criteria were not met. The law passed emphasized three main areas:
Immigrants had to be registered with immigration authorities before entry.
Immigrants had to have a guarantor from a reliable shop.
This guarantor should be able to prove that the immigrant is law-abiding and will not be a burden on society.
Having arrived in Jamaica the authorities need to know their address and contact information. From this point onward the immigration law had become very strict.
By 1930, there were four thousand Chinese immigrants in Jamaica. By 1931 the government had stopped issuing passports as an effort to reduce the “Chinese Invasion” as it was called then. In another six years the figure reached to a high of six thousand. As a result of this between 1931 and 1940 they were additions to the immigration law that includes:
- The immigrants having to successfully pass a written and oral English Language test;
- Paying a fee before entry;
- Doing a medical examination which should prove whether or not the immigrant is physically fit and healthy.
After their contracts had expired many were reluctant to return to China as they knew what effect communism would have had on their return. Over population, drought, flood and famine were added reasons why they left China as well as why they remained in Jamaica.
In 1880, many of those who had remained in Jamaica started retail businesses trading in grocery items with a few shops set up in Kingston. They as a group developed the Chinese Benevolent Society, founded by Chung Fah Fuicon in 1890. The purpose of the society was to look after their interest and welfare, to promote charitable activities and mutual assistance among themselves, and to act as arbitrator in the settlement of their disputes.
By 1954, there were over one thousand commercial establishments owned by the Chinese. In 1970 the number amounted to .7 percent of Jamaica ’s population. In 1982, this fell to .2 percent as many migrated to Canada and the United States of America .
The Chinese, were noted for their acumen business and for the caring and nurturing of their children placing great emphasis on education and family life. To date, these characteristics have positively impacted the Jamaican society. Over the years the Chinese became integrated in many professions such as law, medicine, business, retailers, civil servants and teachers, while others remained wage earners in the banking and manufacturing sectors. Jamaican Chinese are greatly admired for being hardworking, diligent and courteous. They have added another dimension to the plurality of the cultural heritage of Jamaica . During Christmas and other special occasions one can always look forward to performances of the Dragon Dance in the floats in the city.
Chen, Julie. “The Chinese in Jamaica.” The Daily Gleaner 29 June, .:p15.
Lee, Easton. “Jamaican culture: the Chinese connection.” The Observer 31 May 1997.
Yap, Stephen. “The Chinese Community”. The West Indian Review. [ ] 1954.
Yin, Lee Tom. Chinese in Jamaica . Kingston , 1957.