Outlawing “Coolies”: Race, Nation, and Empire in the Age of Emancipation

From American Quarterly
  • Moon-Ho Jung


A vote for Chinese exclusion would mean a vote against slavery, against “cooly importation,” a U.S. senator from California warned in 1882. “An adverse vote now is to commission under the broad seal of the United States, all the speculators in human labor, all the importers of human muscle, all the traffickers in human flesh, to ply their infamous trade without impediment under the protection of the American flag, and empty the teeming, seething slave pens of China upon the soil of California!” The other senator from California added that those who had been “so clamorous against what was known as African slavery” had a moral obligation to vote for Chinese exclusion, “when we all know that they are used as slaves by those who bring them to this country, that their labor is for the benefit of those who practically own them.” A “coolie,” or “cooly,” it seemed, was a slave, pure and simple. Representative Horace F. Page (California) elaborated on the same point in the other chamber, branding the “Chinese cooly contract system” and polygamy the “twin relic[s] of the barbarism of slavery.” The United States was “the home of the down-trodden and the oppressed,” he declared, but “not the home for millions of cooly slaves and serfs who come here under a contract for a term of years to labor, and who neither enjoy nor practice any of our religious characteristics.”1


Slave Trade Governor General Chinese Laborer Monthly Magazine Chattel Slavery 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    On the figure of the prostitute, see Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 5.
    The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 891–92; Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 41–43Google Scholar
  3. Robert L. Irick, Ch’ing Policy toward the Coolie Trade, 1847–1878 (Taipei: Chinese Materials Center, 1982), 2–6Google Scholar
  4. Vijay Prashad, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 71–72.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838–1904 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 41–42Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    See, for example: Denise Helly, “Introduction,” The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba: The Original English-Language Text of 1876 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 5–27Google Scholar
  7. Evelyn Hu-DeHart, “Chinese Coolie Labour in Cuba in the Nineteenth Century: Free Labour or Neo-slavery?” Slavery and Abolition 14.1 (April 1993): 67–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Rebecca J. Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860–1899 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 29–35Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 3–59.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Robert J. Schwendinger, Ocean of Bitter Dreams: Maritime Relations between China and the United States, 1850–1915 (Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press, 1988), 30–37Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    William B. Reed to Secretary of State Lewis Cass, January 13, 1858, 36th Congress, 1st session, SED 30, 59–65. The 1818 law is quoted in Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People without a History (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), 37–38.Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    D[aniel] Lee: “Agricultural Apprentices and Laborers,” Southern Cultivator 12.6 (June 1854): 169–70Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    Thomas L. Clingman, “Coolies—Cuba and Emancipation,” De Bow’s Review 22 (April 1857): 414–19Google Scholar
  14. Philip S. Foner, A History of Cuba and Its Relations with the United States, vol. 2, 1845–1895: From the Era of Annexationism to the Outbreak of the Second War for Independence (New York: International Publishers, 1963), 9–124.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    J. Smith Homans and J. Smith Homans Jr., A Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper … Brothers, 1859), 1726–29.Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    For the full text and a discussion of the law named after Representative Horace F. Page of California, see George Anthony Peffer, If They Don’t Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration before Exclusion (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 32–37Google Scholar
  17. Michael Salman, The Embarrassment of Slavery: Controversies over Bondage and Nationalism in the American Colonial Philippines (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Organization of American Historians 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Moon-Ho Jung

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations