Hawaii Guide

                        The Chinese in Hawai'i

Written by Clarence Glick.

Adventurous and enterprising Chinese were in Hawai'i not long after Captain Cook, the first nonPolynesian discoverer, am:ved in 1778. Soon after news of Cook's discovery reached England, British ships with Chinese crewmen aboard called at Hawaiian ports. It is thus quite probable that the practice of crewmen jumping ship accounts for the earliest of Hawai'i's Chinese residents. However, it was a new supply of sandalwood reaching the Canton market in the early 1800's that really brought Hawai'i to the attention of South China. Because the sandalwood came from the islands, Hawai'i was called Tan Heung Shan, Sandalwood Mountains, a name used by

Chinese in Hawai'i to this day.

Between 1800 and 1850, a few score Chinese came independently from South China. They ventured overseas in defiance of an imperial edict, later rescinded, which forbade Chinese to leave China under threat of execution upon return. The most successful of these pioneers became sugar planters and traders in the main port towns - Honolulu, Lahaina and Hilo. None of them brought Chinese wives@ most of them established Chinese-Hawaiian families and spent the rest of their lives in Hawai'i.

The largest number of Chinese immigrants, some 46,000, came to Hawai'i between 1850 and annexation of Hawai'i to the United States in 1898, most of them after 1875. Nearly all the Chinese immigrants came to Hawai'i as landless villagers, thinking they would stay only long enough to make the fortune they wanted to take back home. Over half of the preAnnexation immigrants ultimately went back to live in China permanently.

Several thousand immigrants gradually changed from temporary sojourners to permanent settlers Among them were some who had married or established common-law marriages with Hawaiian women, becoming ancestors of the large and proud Chinese Hawaiian element in today's part-Hawaiian population.

Young Chinese - especially the boys at first - were drawn into mission schools and later into the unsegregated public schools. Because of excellent employment opportunities in Hawai'i, as well as the high value placed by Chinese on education (even though most immigrants had little formal schooling), Chinese parents encouraged their sons to get as much education as possible. And they abandoned their traditional indifference and even opposition to the schooling of daughters on seeing that professional employment, especially as school teachers, was open to women. Many Hawai'i-bom Chinese were sent to the United

States mainland for professional training before it was available in the islands, and hundreds of Hawai'i-bom Chinese still go to mainland universities for undergraduate or graduate education each year.

This strong emphasis on education has resulted in a highly favorable position for Chinese men and women in Hawai'i. Nearly three-fourths of them are employed in higher-lever jobs - skilled. clerical and sales, proprietary and managerial, and professional. As a result, the Chinese enjoy the highest median of income of all ethnic groups in Hawai'i.

The favorable conditions in Hawai'i led to a remarkable geographical redistribution of the Chinese in the islands. In 1890 most of the Chinese, predominantly Chinese born, worked in rural jobs. However, by 1950 most of the Chinese men, predominantly island-born, were employed in Honolulu alone. At present, ninety-five percent of all Chinese live in Honolulu and other urbanized areas of 0'ahu. They have become by far the most highly concentrated ethnic group in Hawai'i.

Although it is commonly thought that the present day Chinese in Hawai'i are descendants of sugar plantation contract laborers, this is something of a misconception. A larger proportion of island-born Chinese families almost surely sprang from rice plantation entrepreneurs. independent farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and a few professional men who found Hawai'i a pleasant land of opportunity and made it home for themselves and their descendants, many of whom are now fourth. fifth, and even sixth generation island-born.

Thus, the Chinese in Hawai'i, while secure in their position as partners and leaders in the islands' multi-ethnic society, also look back to their ancient culture and traditions with pride and satisfaction.

Reprinted from Paradise News

Cick here for other things to do in Hawaii.

hawaiiguide banner