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Kalikiano Kalei

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A brief and informal consideration of the remarkable Han Chinese immigrants to Hawaii, whose considerable contributions to Hawaii's culture and economy, spanning from about 1789 through the modern era, continue undiminished today.

A Brief Consideration of the Remarkable Chinese Hawaiians

By Kalikiano Kalei

Let me state at the onset that I am what the Cantonese refer to as Gwai Loh (also known as ‘bak gwai’) and translated variously (depending upon the source) to ‘old devil’, ‘foreign barbarian’, ‘white ghost’, etc.  Although there is no direct reference to ‘foreign’ per se in the term itself, it is the classic Chinese word used by Cantonese native speakers to refer to all white non-Chinese people. In a manner similar to the Hawaiian term ‘haole’, it has assumed a largely generic character throughout several centuries of use, although also congruent to the Hawaiian custom, when the term is used pejoratively (such as in an intensely vindictive or vehement context) it assumes a far more unpleasant nature. [Note: In Hawaii, when a local refers to a white non-local, ‘haole’ is the customary referent term. When the ‘haole’ is the focus of hateful or racist sentiment, the term ‘f**king haole’ is more common applied.]

I say this at the onset here because I have never been particularly proud of being ‘white’.  Of Irish and French Protestant heritage (largely, although there is a bit of German mixed in with it), I will admit to a very substantial pride in having Irish blood in my veins, and the French Huguenot admixture certainly adds a sort of maverick Norman element that I find surfacing in my affect from time to time. But as for being a ‘white Caucasian’?....sorry, not anything to be particularly proud of, in my reckoning.  It goes without saying that all the ignorantly deluded white supremacists who regard ‘white’ skin as a near sacred birthright are about as enlightened as any other type of virulent skinhead racist. This shouldn’t obfuscate the fact that white racists don’t have a case-hardened franchise on racism, however, since racism thrives in all cultures, including that of the Chinese race that I so admire.

Given the built-in sense of self-alienation my natural skin color carries with it (in my regard), I have by custom looked to other, non-white racial groups as sources to inspire my respect and admiration. In Hawaii, given the terrible economic and spiritual dismembering of the indigenous Hawaiian people (kanaka maoli) that ‘haole malihini’ (white foreigners) have been responsible for since Captain Cook’s unhappy landfall in the Sandwich Islands, being a white person has always seemed doubly shameful to me. Of course, as everyone knows, there’s no way to change the color of your skin, chameleon-like, once you’ve been given a voucher for a one-way through-ticket on the birth canal express. With all the Irish in my genetic composition, my Gaelic whiteness is so conspicuous that it is impossible to hide despite my best sun-basting efforts . No amount of exposure to the sun could ever alter this ineradicable ‘marker’ I bear and in fact my earlier, intensive  youthful efforts to acquire a deep tan (fleetingly successful, during the decade or so I lived and worked in the Middle East) merely succeeded in permanently destroying my epidermal collagen (to my everlasting regret). Fortunately for me and in spite of my reckless and imprudent flirting with UV-A and UV-B  as a youth, Mr. Melanoma has thus far not elected to visit me.

While on this subject, reflect for a moment if you will, on the implicit ironies of skin color as a predominating determinant factor in the cultivation of racist sentiments. Whites (also known as ‘honkies’, ‘O-fe’, ‘whitey’, and all sorts of other colorful terms by blacks) as a group tend to look down upon all people of natural color, implying that the whiter the skin, the better and more perfect (the Germans termed it ‘purer’) the individual. However, the upper crust of wealthy white society, consisting of those obsessively seeking high-status among their peers (as well as upward-aspiring, lower class ‘wannabes’ who think being perceived as ostentagiously wealthy is way cool), go out of their way to acquire a suntan….something that the erstwhile racially 'inferior' objects of their scorn and class derision are born with. As I said, there is much irony in human behavior and irony as a fixed aspect of racial prejudice is both rife and totally illogical, but well distributed across the entire spectrum of human existence. Amusingly, the deep irony of this fact is lost on almostg all status seeking, upper-class whities.

All of the foregoing is, however, merely context within which to partly explain what has prompted my fascination with other cultures throughout my life (particularly cultures of the Far East and Pacific Islands) and a helpful filter through which to sift the following remarks and observations on the Chinese immigrant experience in Hawaii.

The first Chinese to visit Tan Heung Shan (‘Sandalwood Mountain’)

The Chinese people have had, collectively speaking, a profound influence on the development of modern Hawaii; this despite their race comprising an estimated 5% only of the total population of Hawaii today.  As an outward turned, sea-faring people by virtue of demographic and economic pressures experienced within their native land, the Han Chinese peoples of southern China were the first of a number of malihini (‘foreigner’) ethnic groups to relocate in the Hawaiian Islands, following centuries of Polynesian occupation. Notably, not only were the Han Chinese the very first non-white immigrants, they also introduced an industry that would for many decades dominate all economic activity in Hawaii: the processing of cane sugar. As if that weren’t enough of a unique cultural cachet, in a certain sense Hawaiian Chinese settlers were also responsible for the overthrow of the last Imperial Chinese dynasty (Qing, or ‘Ch’ing’) in the person and political following of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, whose Kuomintang Nationalists eventually wrested control  of China from the emperor (until Mao’s Communists overthrew them in 1949). Dr. Sun was educated in Hawaii, of course. 

By most accounts, the earliest of the Hakka and Cantonese Chinese (both are Han south China sub-groups) reached Hawaii in the late 1700s (1787 is the specific date cited in an excellent book titled ‘First Chinese in Hawaii’), shortly after Captain Cook’s original discovery [Note: Although Cook is popularly regarded as the ‘discover’ of the islands, substantial evidence exists that suggests that the islands were actually originally discovered by Spanish and possibly even Japanese sea-farers, as early as the mid 1400s]. British ships putting ashore in China not infrequently picked up (and press-ganged, if need be) Chinese as crewmen and sailors on their trading and whaling voyages. Speculation has it that the very earliest Chinese immigrants (pressed as sailors) perhaps jumped ship in Hawaii, although one account opines that in 1789 an English trader, returning from China (with a Hawaiian High Chief from Kaua, whom he had taken to China on his earlier voyage) with trading goods and a complement of 50 Chinese carpenters, left several of the Chinese in Hawaii under the sponsorship of the great Hawaiian Kingdom’s unifier, Kamehameha I.

Regardless of the actual circumstances, it was the discovery of sandalwood in the islands that first directed the attention of the south Chinese to the Hawaiian Islands. Sandalwood has traditionally been highly regarded by the Chinese for its many practical and aesthetic qualities. This earliest economic trade of Hawaiian sandalwood to China formed the original source of foreign revenue for the Hawaiian Ali’i (royalty) and it served to attract the interest of lower class Cantonese and Hakkas who began to immigrate in small numbers. These early Chinese immigrants risked much in journeying to Hawaii, since according to an imperial Chinese edict at that time it was forbidden for Chinese to leave China and settle abroad; the penalty for being caught (or for returning) was immediate execution (although sometime later the edict was rescinded). Such was the fear inspired by the Manchu rulers that Chinese men invariably kept their long pigtail queue, the cutting of which was also proscribed in Manchu law by execution, even after having been out of the Chinese mainland for several years.

Sugar becomes an important Hawaiian economic industry

Sugar cane (known as ‘Ko’), similar to that known and grown in China, already existed in the islands, having been first introduced by the original Polynesian immigrants. It is recorded that in 1802, one enterprising Chinese man named Wong Tze-Chun brought over with him very basic sugar processing equipment consisting of a stone grinder and boiling pans that he then used in an effort to process the wild cane sugar he found growing on Lanai. Due to the extremely dry conditions that characterise Lanai, this original attempt to commercialise cane sugar production failed and after about one year Wong is said to have returned to China, taking his equipment with him. Although unsuccessful in his attempt, Wong Tze-Chun inspired others with the possibilities of commercially processing sugar cane for profit, however, and in the succeeding years (1830s) Chinese ‘Tong See’ (‘sugar masters’) were brought to Hawaii by western (haole) entrepreneurs who felt that refining cane sugar was economically feasible in the islands.

Establishing the cane fields in more climatically favorable locations on the big island of Hawaii and at Lahaina, on Maui, the sugar cane processing industry began to gain modest impetus and by 1850, a substantial immigration of both Hakka and Cantonese Chinese had begun. Between 1835 and 1840 a number of sugar mills had been set up by Chinese immigrants on Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, some backed by haole money and a few funded by a consortium of Chinese investors. It has been estimated that between 1850 and 1898 more than 46,000 Chinese immigrated to the Hawaiian Islands (most after 1875 or so) seeking work and employment as field hands in the commercial sugar operations as word of the enterprise spread via trans-Pacific trading vessels. Most of these individuals started as basic field laborers, working the cane and processing it, and almost all were male, unaccompanied by wives or family.

Sugar cane field work was very arduous and quite physically demanding, but energy, perseverance  and hard work were noted Chinese qualities (particularly of the Hakkas) that appeared well suited to this new commercial activity. In the mid to late 1840s records indicate there were at least 6 sugar mills on Maui alone and by 1898 there were over twenty sugar mills set up throughout the islands to process cane sugar, driven both hydrodynamically (streams) and by animal power. Sugar production soon began to grow into the single most profitable commercial activity in Hawaii.

The strongest and most important motivation for these thousands of Chinese immigrants was the opportunity to earn money for their families back in China and there was initially little or no thought of permanently relocating or settling down in Hawaii after the terms of their labor contracts had been completed. Interestingly, it is noted by some sources that fewer than half of all those who did in fact come to Hawaii actually made it back home, however. Studies show that the same situational circumstances also applied to those Chinese who immigrated to California seeking personal fortune in the gold fields during the 1850s and the thought of making substantial money for a limited time, followed by a subsequent return to live successfully in China on one’s new fortune was a commonly shared dream of all Chinese immigrants (both in California and in Hawaii).

Throughout this early period of Chinese immigration to the islands only a small number of Chinese were able to return to China to bring their wives and families with them back to Hawaii, or to meet and select wives to join them in Hawaii. As a result of this, a great number remained in Hawaii as what came to be known as  ‘old bachelors’ (also called ‘sojourners’). However, loneliness and the irrepressible desire for companionship and comfort of families stimulated a significant intermingling with indigenous Hawaiians and thus began a custom of Chinese-Hawaiian marriages out of expediency (initially) that continued for many decades. Lacking suitable Chinese wives, it was felt that the children from Hawaiian-Chinese marriages were exceptionally handsome, strong and intelligent (and of course basic genetic science favored such disparate gene pool couplings).  In the process of this cross-cultural bonding, many Chinese family names became ‘Hawaiianised’ (an example would be ‘Ah King’ becoming ‘Akina’) to the point where today a great number of Hawaiian sounding names are originally Chinese names that were adapted or modified in the Hawaiian manner. There were also a significant number of common-law pairings between Chinese men and Hawaiian women, since ‘marriage’ as such was essentially unknown in the conventional Hawaiian culture prior to the coming of the Christian missionaries (in 1820).

Before the ‘Great Mahele’ (the royal lands distribution of 1848) it was not possible for outsiders (i.e. individuals other than the Hawaiian kings or royalty) to own land in the islands, thus it was only by virtue of skillful pairings between Chinese ‘Tong See’ (sugar masters) and wives of Hawaiian royal lineage that some of the early Chinese sugar entrepreneurs were able to acquire title to their lands and become Hawaiian citizens under the Hawaiian monarchy. Interestingly, a surprising number of Chinese-Hawaiians today can trace their ancestral roots back to this period and forebears who were royal subjects, a cachet not held by many haoles, either past or present.

The Hawaiian Chinese broaden their horizons

In old China, menial farm and field work was considered very low status, but slightly higher status than trading or business, since traditional Confucianism held the pursuit of commerce in low repute. Merchants and the merchant classes were therefore disparaged to a significant degree in Imperial China. In the new land of Hawaii, in a different culture and faced with a need to gain new means of personal and family wealth, this attitude quickly changed. Opportunities existed that had never been conceivable in China.

Being a highly motivated and industrious people, the Chinese who originally immigrated to work as Hawaiian field hands did not long remain in that capacity, given the extremely arduous nature of the work, coupled with its poor pay and their own personal ambitions to achieve wealth. As soon as their work contracts in the sugar cane industry were completed many moved on to find bigger and better opportunities, seeking callings that more adequately suited their intelligence, determination and astute business capabilities. While they continued to consolidate business opportunities and garner commercial and private success in other areas of work, the need for a new source of cheap sugar cane field labor (resulting from the departure of so many Chinese from the cane fields) was soon felt throughout the sugar plantations by owners. Those Chinese who did not begin their own businesses or commercial retail operations often gravitated to other types of available work (such as that found in taro and rice growing, carpentry, etc.), but many also became successfully involved in trade and small retail businesses.

By 1860 a large number of former Chinese field hands had left the island sugar producing plantations to begin retail businesses in Honolulu, settling into part of that city that quickly became known as Chinatown. Bakeries, tailors, jewelers, launderers, and grocerers begun by the Chinese all sprang up in an atmosphere that provided both economic and cultural support for the entire Chinese community. Since the Chinese have always been highly skillful businessmen, there found a great number of opportunities to exist within the bounds of Honolulu’s Chinatown, enabled by homogenious cultural and commercial needs. Not surprisingly, these new commercial activities included opium dens, brothels (prostitution remained legal in the islands through the 1940s), inlcuding a number of other illicit activities such as gambling and pornographic pandering, child prostitution, etc. It was commonly regarded by most Honolulu residents of that period that no matter what one wanted, it could very probably be found in Chinatown for the right price. Regardless of the influence of Christian morals and the many churches in Honolulu, graft, corruption, and vice existed quite comfortably alongside legitimate business in old Chinatown and opium use remained popular throughout all levels of Chinese Hawaiian society up until the last half century. Although many Chinese remained Taoist and/or Buddhist in their favored spiritual leanings, a significant number adopted Christianity as well.

Despite the great economic and cultural diversity to be found in Chinatown, due to substantial differences in lifestyle and cultural attitudes, regard for general hygiene and civic health suffered greatly in the area and a majority of upper class haoles in Honolulu regarded Chinatown as a civic blight and collective health hazard. Owing to a lack of satisfactory fire-prevention resources and the rickety nature of many buildings and habitations in the Chinese district, fires were a not uncommon event. Many smaller ones were contained, but two fires in particular (the first occurring in 1886 and the second in 1900) became major threats and the entire Chinese district was razed to the ground in the latter instance.  [Although the 1900 fire had been started deliberately as a localised attempt to destroy the habitat of rats infested with bubonic plague bearing fleas, it got out of control and quickly threatened to destroy the entire area. It is felt that efforts to control the conflagration, once started, were half-hearted at best, owing to wealthy haole sentiment that favored dislodging the Chinese so as to take over the increasingly valuable land Chinatown occupied.] Regardless of this blatant racist sentiment and prejudicial effort by whites to get rid of the Chinese district, the Chinese persevered and remained despite their great losses in the fire, and succeeded in rebuilding Chinatown anew.

While new waves of other outside ethnicities (Japanese and latterly the Filipinos) soon replaced the Chinese in basic field labor positions on the sugar cane plantations, the Chinese were themselves constantly upgrading and improving both their personal and collective lot in the islands of Hawaii by virtue of mutual support groups and organizations that included temples (Taoist and Buddhist), clan and family groups, language schools, cemeteries and media (newspapers and printed matter). An established characteristic of Chinese expatriates abroad, each family clan (or surname group) provided mutual support for its members in the form of social events, banking, loans, housing, and so forth;  many Chinese belonged to secret societies (tongs) in China and these also served as a mutual source of support for the Chinese in Hawaii.
Traditional Confucian values promote upward aspirations

Due to the great value placed upon education that existed among the Chinese (most of the original Chinese immigrants were unschooled and many were often overtly illiterate), all sons and many daughters were sent to schools to obtain higher education. Despite traditional Chinese Confucian custom that favored sons and relegated daughters to a somewhat lesser status, the Hakka Chinese in particular were quick to discern the fact that opportunities existed in the west for both sons and daughters to obtain an education. Although for girls the choice was typically limited to either teaching or nursing (this remained the case up thriough the 40s), Chinese families in Hawaii frequently sacrificed much in order to be able to send their children to schools. Early in the immigration process, sons were sent to local missionary schools, but later, as personal wealth among the Chinese grew appreciably, sons were sent to American mainland learning facilities (institutes, colleges, and universities) for the best education their parents could afford to provide them with. Although it is commonly perceived that today’s high-achieving Chinese-Hawaiians sprang uniformly from the efforts of earlier relatives who were originally employed at the lowest levels of sugar cane field labor, this is likely a gross mischaracterisation, since the majority of Hawaii’s Chinese more likely had familial predecessors  engaging in more conventionally bourgeois activities (such as retailing, independent entrepreneurial activity, commerce, small businesses, and horticultural work).

However that may be, thanks to the strong and uncompromising emphasis on the importance of acquiring higher education and efforts towards constant personal improvement, the Chinese in Hawaii today enjoy some of the highest earning levels on the islands, with many having chosen lucrative and highly respected professions such as medicine, law, pharmacology to go into. Unfortunately, a side-effect of this constant push towards higher learning has been the permanent loss of subsequent Chinese-Hawaiian generations to the mainland (and international locales). Another result of this upward aspiring desire to achieve has been, over the subsequent years, a clustering of the islands’ Hawaiian Chinese on the island of Oahu (particular in or near Honolulu), where today it is estimated that more than 95% of all Hawaiian-Chinese are located. As plantations thrived, only later to collapse (as the economics of sugar and pineapple commodities fluctuated), a great number of Chinese-owned and operated retail businesses that relied heavily on plantation commerce (particularly on those located in the lesser-islands) for their livelihood succumbed to this substantial economic dropping away of agricultural commerce. Their owners, often regarded as pillars of the community, were generally well-liked (by most non-haoles) for their selfless support of others and their generosity to all peoples, including poorer Hawaiians. Eventually, these outer-island business closures, together with establishment of Honolulu as the chief Hawaiian center of business and commerce, led to most Chinese leaving Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, and Hawaii (the big island) to cluster on Oahu (particularly in and around Honolulu).

The infamous Chinese Exclusion Acts

By 1893, the Chinese population in Hawaii had risen from (according to an 1852 census) 71 Chinese (among 1962 foreigners and 84,164 native Hawaiians) to a remarkable 20% of the total (a similar trend was noted in California on the mainland, a trend that alarmed many whites, who feared a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, prompting a wave of virulent anti-Chinese xenophobia). Marked by reactive white racism that regarded the Chinese as constiting a dire ‘yellow peril’ (i.e. cheap labor that threatened unfair competition to whites over jobs and occupational livelihoods), it was not long before political enactment of the infamous United States Federal ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’ (1882) came into being, fostering a formal barring of further immigrants from China to the American mainland (principally California) under this law. This in turn resulted in a great wave of further Chinese immigrants to Hawaii, since they were no longer able to immigrate to California’s gold fields. Soon, the growing economic power of the Chinese in Hawaii and their departure from the menial field work to rise higher in the local economic hierarchy were again perceived by the haole upper class as constituting a threat to their own power; this in turn resulted in passage through the Hawaiian Cabinet Council of the 1886 Hawaiian Chinese Exclusion Act. When the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown and Hawaii became a US territory in 1900, the United States Federal Chinese Exclusion Act was subsequently extended to the islands.

This resulted in an almost total cessation of all Asian immigrants, with the further result that a great number of Chinese elected to return to China. Due to these events, it has been estimated that by 1910, the overall Chinese population on the islands had shrunk to less than 21,000 individuals. Ironically, by the time World War Two had begun (some 38 years later), China reemerged in an entirely new light as an important ally against the Japanese and in 1943 the old Chinese Exclusion Act laws were permanently rescinded, allowing the Chinese to once again immigrate to the US and Hawaii. By 1980, a new census revealed a Chinese population in the island of about 50,000 as once again Chinese returned to the Hawaiian Islands. Ironically, one of the effects of World War Two was that many haoles left the islands, fearing a wartime invasion by the Japanese, and this opened up a number of new opportunities as Chinese took their place in business and other areas of Hawaiian commerce left vacant by departing haoles.

One of the notable changes affecting Chinese in Hawaii since the 1940s has been the establishment and further solidification of ties to the indigenous Hawaiian community (kanaka Maoli), much of it through diffuse Chinese-Hawaiian intermarrying. This has permitted access to both high levels of political power and powerful business enterprise on a hitherto unprecedented scale, and enabled the Chinese community to gain further tremendous influence in the Hawaiian Islands.

Unfortunately, as this merging of traditional Chinese and indigenous Hawaiian social culture has grown, one rather unhappy side effect has been the gradual dilution of traditional Chinese cultural (traditional Confucian) precepts that include changing attitudes towards education, child-rearing, and extended family relations. Further, the ever-increasing effects of imported mainland style frenetic and high-tech western material culture into Hawaii has further degraded traditional attitudes. Families comprised of both Hawaiian and Chinese people are now increasingly adopting western style households with working parents and fewer children. To some extent, and despite a traditional Hawaiian loving regard for children, this has resulted in a slight but significant diminishment of the formerly intensive Chinese parental concern over one’s children’s and their welfare.

Chinese and Hawaiian cultures admix positively

The effects of the relevant cultural and marital diversity, always highly contentious and debatable, are felt by the Hawaiian Chinese in a number of ways. One of them is that very few recent generation Chinese are able to speak the language of their ancestors and traditional culture is often remembered merely as something that the older people honored and maintained. Fortunately (and most recently), this has been to some degree countered by a small but growing movement in the islands to perpetuate and foster awareness of Chinese cultural heritage.

On the positive side of the equation, cross-cultural marriages and the richly broadened awareness and understanding that obtains there-from can only continue to produce genetic combinations that foster positive results. Already considered one of the most diverse cultures to be found anywhere, Hawaii’s ‘poi-dog’ (mixed breed) multi-cultural diversity continues to demonstrate the wonderful potential for personal growth and Hawaiian social development that marriage between disparate cultural groups can, under the right circumstances, yield. Today’s typical Hawaiian child frequently has a very healthy cross-mixing of white, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Filipino, Fijian, Samoan, Korean, and other bloodlines flowing in his veins and these effects of a culturally diverse extended family can only be encouraging. 

The Chinese ancestors who left their native regions in south China to seek wealth and new opportunities in Hawaii have contributed immeasurably to the islands in ways too innumerable to count beyond those few citations I have made here, no matter by what methods one uses to gauge the process.  Having brought with them their unique cultural heritage embodying dedication, perseverance, boundless determination to succeed, family loyalty, high regard for education and learning, and a notable spirit of communal collectivity, theirs is an enviable heritage to pass on to all others in the islands. The list of Chinese-Hawaiian ‘heroes’ (those who most exemplify that ineluctable spirit of ‘Aloha’ that is the heart of all Hawaiian culture) continues to grow, as Chinese-Hawaiian individuals perpetuate the highest standards of academic and social excellence in the living of their lives and the gracing of their communities.

In closing, I am reminded in this context of one of my own personal Hawaiian ‘heroes’, Rell Kapolioka’ehukai Sunn, known to many as the ‘Queen of Makaha’ for her life-long exemplification of the true Hawaiian Aloha Spirit. Although Rell passed untimely in 1998 due to breast cancer, her personal achievements and inspiring story continue to serve as an example and roll model for others (both Hawaiians and all people) in the living of their own lives. Rell was, of course, the product of a typically diverse Hawaiian family that included Chinese, Hawaiian, and Irish ancestry. I have no doubt that Rell’s Chinese ancestors (aumakua) continue to look down approvingly on the good works of her life, those past as well as those that continue, through her efforts to help keiki (children) from troubled and substance addicted families. They are today sustained after her death by Rell’s daughter Jan and her husband Tony through the Rell Sunn Educational Foundation. If you aren’t aware of who Rell Sunn was, please take a moment to find out about this courageous Hawaiian wahine and her life. Her story will inspire you, garans!




Joining an already excellent selection of available books and references on the Chinese in Hawaii, the University of Hawaii has recently published the 4th in a series of four ethnic studies books on the Chinese heritage of the islands. Titled ‘Chinese Pioneering Families of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai’, it provides a wonderful compilation of Chinese family oral histories and personal accounts of what it was like to be Chinese in Hawaii of earlier times, with special emphasis on the three smaller islands referenced. Three prior books in the series cover the other islands, including a specialized assessment of the Chinese on Oahu (both in rural areas and in Honolulu), although they are now long out of print and somewhat difficult to locate. Well worth the time to read and absorb for a number of reasons, if you can find them.

One surprise for me personally, as a lifelong and ardent bicyclist, was the fact that some of the early Chinese immigrants opened the first turn-of-the-century bicycle shops in the islands! Of course it is well known by many that Chinese Nationalism in the form of Dr. Sun Yat Sen for all practical purposes originated in Hawaii, thereby establishing a long lasting link between the development of Dr. Sun’s Kuomintang Nationalist Party and the Chinese of the Hawaiian Islands. 

An area of Chinese-Hawaiian history I did not allude to in the above article concerns the Chinese who were part of the father Damien’s Kalaupapa Colony on Molokai, begun as an isolated quarantine refuge for those afflicted by the ravages of Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy). The history of that melancholy place is remarkable and a subject for its own considered study, entirely independent of the Chinese who were sent there. Coincidentally, the slang Hawaiian name for a Chinese person in the islands remains ‘Pake’ today, but it was originally also a reference to leprosy itself (known as Ma’i Pake’, or ‘the Chinese disease’), since the affliction was thought to have been brought from China to Hawaii.

One further note: the image displayed at the top of this page shows a Hawaiian-Chinese-Irish family at the turn of the century. The positive genetic aesthetics embodied in this group portrait are visually obvious. Such disparate pairings have generally resulted in handsome, sturdy and intelligent keiki, almost without exception. A far cry from the frequently adverse effects resulting from intermarriage of brothers and sisters (a deliberate practice of the ancient Hawaiian Ali'i to preserve royal lineages).

Web Site University of Hawaii Press website

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Reviewed by m j hollingshead 8/3/2010
interesting article

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