Out of Many One (But easy on the Chinese) People
Xi Jinping, the President of China is in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend. Why Port of Spain and not Kingston? The question reminded me of a dream.
It was unlike any other dream. It seemed like a carnival parade but it was a huge demonstration all along Knutsford Boulevard. The crowd repositioned as CVM Television arrived. On one side the placards read, “We love Missa Chin.” On the other side, “We hate Missa Chin.” Maybe there should have been some placards with, “We love to hate Missa Chin.”
The official launch of the North-South highway project and the announcement of the granting of 1200 acres of land to Chinese investors, reignite a firestorm that has periodically flared on this island for perhaps the last 150 years. The comments with the online articles were pointed: Jhaki was of the view, “The Chinese are slowly taking over. In spite of all the jobs this development will bring, it is a little unsettling to know that such a large area is being sold to foreigners for them to put up their own businesses. We need to see the big picture here. The Chinese are smart and they see the need to nab a bit of this paradise.”1 An earlier comment to an Observer article had Mwhip even more sarcastic and stating, “We should all learn to speak Chinese because the next move is Jamaica become a providence of China!”2
The Long March to subdue and to capture Jamaica has been seen and feared for a long time. Could it be that there is still some lingering connection between the name of the vessel (Vampire) that brought the second group of Chinese from Panama in November 1854 and the thoughts that it literally brought Oriental vampires to our shores? In 1905 and 1910 restrictive immigration laws were passed which made it difficult for the Chinese to enter the island.
Nearly 70 years later, the locals were indeed even more fearful and went close to describing the immigrants as vampires. In April of 1922, the Parochial Board of St. Andrew lobbied Central Government to forbid the landing of any other Chinese on the island. They argued that the Chinese already had a monopoly on the “grocery trade, and the bakery. laundry, restaurant, pastry and ice cream businesses” and were taking bread out of the mouths of the local populace.”3 By 1930s the laws were tightened even further and only Chinese below the age of 14 were allowed entry.
The stories of the Chinese Riots are well known. Truth be told, perhaps many of the root causes are alive and well and we could perhaps see similar events in the future.
The issue of land to the Chinese may even be deeper than it appears. Although not popularly now expressed, the feeling that by birthright the African Jamaican has some perpetual and superior claim to Jamaica, and that those who came after should go back home. This amusing exchange from Jackie Ranston’s book3 put the matter on the table. It takes place in the Supreme Courts as part of the Slander case brought by Lin Kin Chow against Alice Jones, after an argument got well beyond what is quoted. The quarrel occurred in Williamsfield in Manchester. Mrs. Jones and Mr. Lin Kin Chow had grocery businesses on adjacent premises. Lin Kin Chow wanted to put up a fence and Mrs. Jones objected. Lin Kin Chow may have been particularly expressive that day, given the evidence that he was drunk when the altercation began.
“I won’t allow you to put up any dirty box fence,” she told him.
“This is my land,” he replied.
“This isn’t your land. Your land’s in China.”
This isn’t your land either. Your land’s in Africa.”
Not wanting to start another riot, 13 year old Lisa Yap, may wish to tell you that her great great great great great grandfather was born in Kingston as was all of 10 years old at the time of the Morant Bay Rebellion. She will be forceful enough to tell you that by 1900 his children were well established in business in Kingston and Port Antonio, that his great grandchild was among those who left the island to serve in the British Army during World War 2 and that as a family, they have an unbroken record of nearly 160 years of service to this island. And she knows but may not insist that she is as much Jamaican as ackee and salfish. (We will look at what makes you Jamaican at another time).
And how is the Long March being curtailed in this century? It will be pretty difficult with the Chinese (from China) now building roads (Christiana bypass and Harbour View to the Airport completed – South to North Highway ahead), owning sugar factories (Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge)and with a Confucius Institute at our highest seat of learning. And it would not be preposterous that 10 years from now, 30% of our energy is supplied by a coal fired power plant built and operated by Chinese with coal imported from China and that Jadex 6 will be largely done with the support of the Royal Bank of China (RBC) which has its regional headquarters in Kingston.
And we must have learned by now that Mr. Chin is not worried about our hundreds of Missa Chin jokes, being imitated (Yellow Man: Mr Chin – Un lang shang lang un lang pai) or being ridiculed in the music (Leave mi Kisiloo). And whether he be Messrs Chin, Chang, Chen, Chow, Chung, Lue, Lee, Lyew, Lyn, Wong, Ten, Yap or Sam, he is not worried by common assertion about the size of his organ, and if persuaded to be drunk like Lin Kin Chow, would make the case, that it’s not the size that matters.
And the fear is still alive. We are celebrating 50 years of independence and have some belief in but would rather express the motto as Out of Many One (but easy on the Chinese) People.
I have no fear of the Chinese. I grew up in the hills of St Ann and Chinese were few and far between. The Lyn Cooks of Aboukir and Clarksonville were in wholesale and retail trading, lived modestly, worked long hours, raised large families and displayed no hegemonic intentions. The Lee family had a bakery in Borobridge, and the Nams an appliance and furniture store in Brown’s Town, but these were a tiny fraction of the overall commerce of the area a certainly did not come close to dominating business in the area.
So please relax. Keep on driving your Chery QQ, look out for the bright red Howo trucks hauling cane and get ready to pay your toll on the North to South Highway after Mr. Chin delivers. Buy your Drop Pan, eat your Chinese food and watch the Dragon Dance. There is not much to fear. We know our Mr. Chin – he has been here for 160 years. But he has some grand cousins, in fact more grand cousins than all of the USA and Canada put together. And some of them have a few shillings (rather yuan). What if we could do some serious trading with them, which is getting them to purchase things that we have to sell? What would it take to get 3,000 of them to disembark weekly from a cruise ship (perhaps the New Vampire) at some port on the island? What if we could sell them tons of John Crow beads and rose apples and susumber? And how about a monthly legal container of compressed medical weed to be used for levitation and medical research?
Rather than whimper, let us put it to Mr. Chin and live with our reality. Lin Kin Chow may have been drunk, but he was right. I have as much claim today to an acre of land in Ghana as his grandchildren have to an acre in Hong Kong. Handcuffs, medication and a bed in a mental institution would be the certain the intelligent response to me, if I arrived and staked a claim, that a few hundred meters of a pristine tourist filled beach on the Ghana coast is mine because 300 years ago it was illegally captured from my ancestors, by some Europeans who established slave trading posts in the area. Let us not view Mr. Chin (and his relatives here) as the new exploiters coming to take away the last of the little we have. So Jhaki, keep your Chin up. Let us find a way to make it a win-win for both ourselves and Mr. Chin.
3. Ranston, Jackie, 1998, Lawyer Manley First Time Up, The Press University of the West Indies.
The Arrival of the Chinese, Rebecca Tortello
Yellow Man, Mr. Chin