The tragedy of Chinese coolies in Cuba and Peru in the nineteenth century
Conference by Pierre-Emmanuel Roux, Senior Lecturer Head of the Korean Studies Section University Paris Diderot UFR Languages and civilizations of East Asia.
Some 250 000 Chinese coolies left for Cuba and Peru between the 1840 and 1870 years. These workers recruited to replace African slaves were for the most part duped and forced to sign a contract chaining them to the service of an owner mainly in the sugar industry.
The abuses of the system ended up being denounced through a series of resounding scandals that led the Qing Empire to rethink the framework of its external relations.
Our conference proposes to revisit this story from a rare and singular work, the Illustrated Description of the Living Underworld (Sheng diyu tushuo). Published in 1875 by a large Cantonese publishing house, this unsigned pamphlet relates through force images the tragic fate of coolies and denounces a new form of slavery, at the time of its abolition, with a succession of kidnappings, abuse and of malemorts. This bestseller was nevertheless banned in China shortly after its publication in order to eliminate any risk of pogrom against Westerners. Long lost, the book was recently rediscovered and has been the subject of a French translation whose reading of several striking passages will punctuate our presentation.