Chinese in the English-Speaking Caribbean - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. A study of the Chinese in Jamaica suggested that their economic success was made possible by the replication of Chinese social institutions. The most important of these, of course, was the rotating-credit association, which enabled many to accumulate enough capital to underwrite business ventures. The creation of the Chinese Benevolent Society served to disseminate information about rules and regulations governing commerce, later it became the hub of social life. There were also secret societies, or tongs. In response to the political unrest of the 1930s, when they were denounced for not supporting the then-budding labor movement, the Chinese formed merchant associations to protect their businesses. Other institutions included a Chinese alms house, a Chinese home for the aged, a Chinese sanatorium, a Chinese funeral home, and a Chinese cemetery. In matters of culture, they established a Chinese newspaper (the Chinese Public News); a Chinese library; a literary society promoting Chinese music and drama and featuring lectures on China; and a Chinese public school to teach their children Chinese history and language. By means of these institutions the Chinese in Jamaica cultivated their cultural (Hakka) distinctiveness and perpetuated their social isolation from Creole society.

In contrast, the Chinese in Trinidad were divided along lines of social class, expressed not only in residence patterns but in membership in district associations. The well-to-do lived in high-status, fashionable Creole neighborhoods, separated from other Chinese shopkeepers who lived above their shops in depressed neighborhoods or in the country. This upper class belonged to a literary society, the China Society, where they discussed things such as horse breeding, foreign travel, good marriages, sending their children to good universities in Britain and North America, and fears of Communism.

A handful of district associations in Trinidad were formed on the basis of region of origin in China, and their membership embraced mostly small shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and laundry owners. Often located in dilapidated buildings in run-down, commercial parts of town, these associations, in the early days, were reputed to be gambling houses, then later became centers for sports and recreation. They also housed banquet halls to celebrate festivals such as "double-ten" (i.e., 10 October), the date of the birth of the Republic in China in 1911, and ceremonies like weddings, during which Chinese food would be served, to be followed by Creole-style dancing to Creole-style music played by Creole orchestras.

Political Organization. The Chinese in the English-speaking Caribbean are governed by the national Governments of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana. It is interesting to note that one of early governors-general of independent Guyana, Sir Arthur Chung, was part Chinese, and the first governor-general of independent Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Solomon Hochoy, was also Chinese. Patterson (1975) has observed that this could not have happened in Jamaica, where Chinese encapsulation fueled an image of them being far-removed from nation building.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: