The Chinese Presence in Cuba: Heroic Past, Uncertain Present, Open Future

  • Evelyn Hu-DeHart


The Chinese first arrived in Cuba in significant numbers in the mid-nineteenth century, when 125,000 men from South China arrived as laborers under eight-year contracts between 1847 and 1874. Commonly labeled “coolies,” most were destined to work alongside African slaves on sugar plantations, resulting in contemporaries as well as scholars equating coolies with slaves. Others saw the contract labor system as forming the early steps toward the transition from slave to free labor, as indeed survivors of the coolie system integrated themselves into Cuban society around barrios chinos (Chinatowns) everywhere. In the early twentieth century, some 20,000 Cantonese voluntarily immigrated to a prosperous Cuba, building more robust Chinese communities throughout the island. In the 1960s, a mass exodus of Chinese Cubans ensued when the socialist revolutionary state nationalized their properties and businesses. Since then to the present day in the twenty-first century, the Chinese community in Cuba has yet to recover in numbers, as few new immigrants have arrived. However, the Chinese presence in Cuba has become palpable once more, this time in the form of large-scale Chinese state infrastructural projects as well as the insertion of Chinese products into everyday Cuban life, from buses to coffee makers. The arrival of entrepreneurial immigrants is not far behind, as soon as the Cuban state loosens up restrictions on foreign private small- and medium-scale investments in the local economy, an important step to stimulate a languishing Cuban economy.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evelyn Hu-DeHart
    • 1
  1. 1.Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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