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‘Unwanted Scraps’ or ‘An Alert, Resolute, Resentful People’? Chinese Railroad Workers in French Congo

  • Julia Martínez (a1)

Abstract

In the late 1920s, the colonial government of French Equatorial Africa decided to employ Chinese workers to complete their railway line. The employment of Chinese indentured labor had already become the subject of considerable international criticism. The Chinese government was concerned that the French could not guarantee worker health and safety and denied their application. However, the recruitment went ahead with the help of the government of French Indochina. This article explores the nature of Chinese worker protest during their time in Africa and their struggle against French notions of what constituted appropriate treatment of so-called “coolie” labor.

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References

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NOTES

1. Testimony of Mang Kam, through interpreter Song Kam Yock, Chinese camp at Km. 104,200, August 29, 1929, devant Le Reste, Théophile Capitaine d‘Infanterie Coloniale, Officier de Police Judiciare, “Affaire Combes-Mang-Kam, Coups et refus de travailler,” fonds du Gouvernement général d'Afrique Equatoriale Française (hereafter GGAEF), 3H/48, Archives Nationales d‘Outre-Mer (ANOM), Aix-en-Provence, hereafter ANOM.

2. For discussion on the end of indenture, see Martínez, Julia, “The End of Indenture? Asian Workers in the Australian Pearling Industry, 1901–1972”, International Labor and Working-Class History 67 (2005): 125–47.

3. Brown cited in Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the Global Color Line, White Men's Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Melbourne, 2008), 331.

4. Jung, Moon-Ho, “Outlawing ‘Coolies’: Race, Nation, and Empire in the Age of Emancipation”, American Quarterly 57 (2005): 677701, 679.

5. Moon-Ho Jung, “Outlawing ‘Coolies,’” 678.

6. Ngai, Mae, “Chinese Gold Miners and the ‘Chinese Question’ in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria”, Journal of American History 101 (2015): 10821105 .

7. Yun, Lisa, The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba, (Philadelphia, 2008), xvxvi .

8. Huynh, Tu T., “‘We are not a Docile People’: Chinese Resistance and Exclusion in the Re-imagining of Whiteness in South Africa, 1903–1910”, Journal of Chinese Overseas 8 (2012): 137–68, 152.

9. Kynoch, Gary, “Chinese Mineworkers and the Struggle for Labor in South Africa, 1904–1910”, International Journal of African Historical Studies 36 (2003): 309–29. See also article by Mae Ngai in this volume.

10. Hurgobin, Yoshina and Basu, Subho, “‘Oceans without Borders’: Dialectic of Transcolonial Labor Migration from the Indian Ocean World to the Atlantic Ocean World”, International Labor and Working-Class History 87 (2015): 726, 8.

11. Tze-Ken, Danny Wong, “Chinese Migration to Sabah Before the Second World War”, Archipel 58 (1999): 131–58.

12. Richardson, Peter, “The Recruiting of Chinese Indentured Labour for the South African Gold-Mines, 1903–1908”, Journal of African History 18 (1977): 85108, 92.

13. Knüsel, Ariane, Framing China, Media Images and Political Debates in Britain, the US and Switzerland, 1900–1950 (London, 2012), 85.

14. Loy-Wilson, Sophie, “‘Liberating’ Asia: Strikes and Protest in Sydney and Shanghai, 1920–1939”, History Workshop Journal 72 (2011), 74102 , 78.

15. Benton, Gregor, Chinese Migrants and Internationalism, Forgotten histories, 1917–1945, (Milton Park, Montreal, Quebec 2007).

16. Chesneaux, Jean, The Chinese Labour Movement, 1919–1927, translated from the French by Wright, H.M., (Standford, 1968), 370–71.

17. Consulat de France à Amoy, February 10, 1931, M. Fernand Roy, Interpreter, Charge du Consulat de France, à M. H.A.Wilden, Minister Plenipotentiaire de la Republique Francaise en Chine, Pekin Ambassade, Series A, 123, Centre des Archives diplomatiques de Nantes (hereafter CADN).

18. McKeown, Adam, “Chinese Emigration in Global Context, 1850–1940”, in Proletarian and Gendered Mass Migrations: A Global Perspective on Continuities and Discontinuities from the 19th to the 21st Centuries, ed. Hoerder, Dirk and Kaur, Marjit (Leiden, 2013), 268.

19. “Rapport sur les possibilities d'un recrutement direct, en Chine, de main-d'oeuvre chinoise pour le compte de l'Afrique Equatoriale Française,” February 1931, GGAEF, 3H/50, ANOM.

20. Tonkin, Elizabeth, “A Saucy Town, Regional Histories of Conflict, Collusion and Commerce in the Making of a Southeastern Liberian Polity”, in The Powerful Presence of the Past: Integration and Conflict along the Upper Guinea Coast, ed. Knörr, Jacquline and Filho, Wilson Trajano (Leiden, 2010), 125.

21. Richardson, Peter, Chinese mine labour in the Transvaal (London, 1982), 32

22. English translation: Lintung Ming Kuo Jih Pao, Swatow, June 29, 1929, Pekin Ambassade, Series A, 123, CADN.

23. Anshan, Li, A History of Overseas Chinese in Africa to 1911 (New York, 2012), 73.

24. Li, A History of Overseas Chinese, 71.

25. Goffin, Louis, Le Chemin de Fer du Congo (Brussels, 1907), 65.

26. Li, A History of Overseas Chinese, 69–70.

27. McKeown, Adam, “Chinese Emigration in Global Context, 1850–1940”, Global History 5 (2010): 95124 , 100; Richardson, Peter, Chinese Mine Labour in the Transvaal (London, 1982), 32; Bright, Rachel, Chinese Labour in South Africa, 1902–10 (London, 2013). See also article by Mae Ngai in this volume.

28. Akurang-Parry, Kwaben O., “‘We Cast about for a Remedy’: Chinese Labor and African Opposition in the Gold Coast, 1874–1914”, International Journal of African Historical Studies 34 (2001): 365–84.

29. Headrick, Rita, Colonialism, Health and Illness in French Equatorial Africa, 1885–1935, ed. Headrick, Daniel R. (Atlanta, 1994), 276

30. Headrick, Colonialism, Health, 193; Thompson, Virginia and Adloff, Richard, The Emerging States of French Equatorial Africa (Stanford, CA, 1960), 140.

31. Thompson and Adloff, The Emerging States, 12.

32. Sautter, Gilles, “Notes sur la construction du chemin de fer Congo-Océan (1921–1934)”, Cahiers d’études africaines 7 (196): 219–29, 231.

33. Sarraut, Albert, La mise en valeur des colonies françaises (Paris, 1923), 415; Martin, Phyllis M., Leisure and Society in Colonial Brazzaville (Cambridge, 2002), 47.

34. Thompson and Adloff, The Emerging States, 141.

35. Sautter, “Notes sur la construction,” 234.

36. Cooper, Frederick, Decolonization and African Society, The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Ann Arbor, 1996), 2729 ; see also Rodet, Marie, “Forced Labor, Resistance, and Masculinities in Kayes, French Sudan, 1919–1946”, International Labor and Working-Class History 86 (2014): 107–23.

37. van der Poel, Ieme, Congo-Océan, Un Chemin de Fer Colonial Controversé, Tome 2, (Paris, 2006), 3; Marcel Joubert, “Sous le carcan impérialiste: en Afrique Equatoriale française les nègres se dressent contre la colonisation sanglante,” L'Humanité, January 19, 1929, 5.

38. Maginot, Paris, Telegramme Officiel, November 28, 1928, à Gouvernement Brazzaville, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

39. Headrick, Colonialism, Health, 281.

40. Emploi de la main-d'oeuvre asiatique sur les chantiers du Chemin de Fer Congo-Ocean, GGAEF 3H/50, ANOM.

41. Lasnet, “L'Inspecteur Général du Service de Santé des Colonies en Mission,” “Rapport sur le debut de l'essai de travailleurs chinois au Congo-Ocean,” Brazzaville, September 20, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/49, ANOM.

42. Thompson and Adloff, The Emerging States, 142.

43. Sautter, “Notes sur la construction,” 254.

44. Sautter, “Notes sur la construction,” 255.

45. Sautter, “Notes sur la construction,” 255–56.

46. Headrick, Colonialism, Health, 305

47. Blog de Fabrice au Congo, http://voyage-congo.over-blog.com (accessed May 11, 2014).

48. Maginot, Ministre des Colonies, Paris, January 22, 1929, to Gov.Gen. Indochine, Gov.Gen. AEF, GGAEF, 3H/43, ANOM.

49. Maginot, January 22, 1929, ANOM.

50. Lai, Walton Look, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838–1918, (Baltimore, 1993), 62.

51. Northrup, David, Indentured Labor in the Age of Imperialism, 1834–1922 (Cambridge, 1995), 119.

52. Kaur, Amarjit, “Labour Dynamics in the Plantation and Mining Sectors in Southeast Asia, 1840–1950: A Historical Perspective”, in Labour in Southeast Asia, Local Processes in a Globalised World, ed. Elmhirst, Rebecca and Saptari, Ratna (London, 2004), 60; Tinker, Hugh, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830–1920, (London, 1993), 369; Lasker, Bruno, Human Bondage in Southeast Asia (Westport, 1950), 244–52.

53. Maginot, January 22, 1929, ANOM.

54. These numbers referred to sites along the railway line measured by distance in kilometers from Point Noire.

55. August 6, 1929, Pointe Noire to Brazzaville, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

56. Le Directeur du Service de la Main-D'oeuvre, M'Boulou, August 14, 1929, à le Gov.Gen. AEF, Brazzaville, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

57. Gov.Gen. AEF à Ministre des Colonies, August 19, 1929, GG AEF 3H/44, ANOM.

58. Gov.Gen. AEF, August 19, 1929.

59. Le Directeur du Service de la Main-D'oeuvre, M'Boulou, August 14, 1929.

60. Gov.Gen. AEF, à Ministre des Colonies, July 1929, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

61. Kair, Inspecteur-Général des Colonies, Point-Noire, à Gov. Gen. AEF, Brazzaville, August 21, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

62. Testimony Gendarme Augustin Combes, September 21, 1929, before Roux, Tribunal of Brazzaville, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

63. Gov. Gen. AEF à Ministre des Colonies, September 19, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

64. Wong-Kouai, Overseer Chinese camp, September 1, 1929, to Commandant Chinese Camp km.104, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

65. See Lowrie, Claire, Masters and Servants: Cultures of Empire in the Tropics (Manchester, 2016).

66. Deposition of Piou, October 1, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

67. Captain Houdré à Le Directeur du Service de la Main-D'oeuvre, M'Boulou, September 4, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

68. Testimony, Captain Houdré, September 12, 1929, GG AEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

69. Wong Kouai, Proces-Verbal, September 12, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

70. Renseignements Signaletiques sur les Huit Travailleurs Asiatiques Diriges Sur Brazzaville, September 5, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

71. Tribunal Brazzaville, Nom de l'inculpé Ly Hang, Proces-Verbal D'Interrogatoire, September 11, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

72. Note Explicative concernant le travailleur Li Hang, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

73. The danger of chiques was acknowledged by Lasnet, “Rapport sur le debut de l'essai de travailleurs chinois au Congo-Ocean,” September 20, 1929; Denbow, James, The Archaeology and Ethnography of Central Africa (New York, 2014), 153–55.

74. Plainte du surveillant Lao Vinh San contre le travailleur Ly Tsint, 810, September 7, 1929, devant Le RESTE. Assisted by interpreter Lou Seck Piou, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

75. Lasnet, “Rapport sur le debut de l'essai de travailleurs chinois au Congo-Ocean,” September 20, 1929.

76. Dr. Hou, Letter to De Poyen, July 25, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

77. Proces-Verbal D'Interrogatoire, Tentative débouchage des ouvriers (attempts to poach from workers), August 28, 1929, before Le Reste, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

78. Atonetti, à Ministre des Colonies, August 19, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

79. Antonetti, Brazzaville, October 7, 1929 à Ministre des Colonies, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

80. Lasnet, “Rapport sur le debut de l'essai de travailleurs chinois au Congo-Ocean,” September 20, 1929.

81. Maginot, Telegramme, September 1, 1929 to Government Brazzaville, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

82. Telegramme Officiel, Pointe-Noire, December 15, 1929, Gov. Gen. AEF, Brazzaville, Fournier, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

83. Antonetti, Pointe Noire, à Ministre des Colonies, November 12, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/44; Camp des Travailleurs Chinois de Pointe-Noire, Etat des sommes perçue par les Travailleurs Chinois condamnés et embarqués le 15 Décembre 1929 sur le vapeur “Asie,” 3H/48, ANOM.

84. Pietri, Paris, à Government Brazzaville, December 7, 1929, GGAEF, 3H/44, ANOM.

85. No. 328, Ordre de Service, Lieutenant-Colonel Allut, Commandant, M'Boulou, February 22, 1930, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

86. Alfassa, Brazzaville, May 16, 1930 to M'Boulou, GGAEF, 3H/48, ANOM.

87. Gov. Gen. AEF to Gov. Gen. Saigon. Signed Alfassa, Telegram no. 656, July 1, 1930, Hong Kong Consulate, 64 Liasses, 27, CADN.

88. Consulat de France, Amoy, No. 14, February 10, 1931, M. Fernand Roy, Interpreter, Charge du Consulat de France, à M. H.A.Wilden, Minister Plenipotentiaire de la Republique Française en Chine, Pekin Ambassade, Series A, 123, CADN.

89. Haiphong, October 28, 1931, Rapport du Médecin Commandant MARSY des Troupes Coloniales, Convoyeur du convoi de rapatriement des Travailleurs Asiatiques to Ministre des Colonies, 3H/49, ANOM.

90. Gov.Gen. de l'Indochine, Hanoi, to Gov. Gen. AEF, November 6, 1931, 3H/49, ANOM.

91. Martínez, Julia, “Chinese Rice Trade and Shipping from the North Vietnamese Port of Hai Phong”, Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies 1 (2007): 94.

92. L'inspecteur du Travail au Tonkin, Rapport à Résident Supérieur, No. 1515, AS. du rapatriement d'un convoi de travailleurs chinois par le vapeur ‘Dupleix’ arrivé a Haiphong le 17 Septembre 1931, October 5, 1931, GGAEF, 3H/49, ANOM.

93. Bride, chief administrator, Fort Bayard, Extrait du rapport Politique du septembre 1931 du Territoire de Kouang-Tchéou-Wan, October 6, 1931, GGAEF, 3H/49, ANOM.

94. Dufaure de la Prade, Consul Général de France a Hongkong, Consulat de France, Hongkong, a P. Pasquier, GG de l'Indochine, No. 156, September 23, 1931, GGAEF, 3H/49, ANOM.

95. Bride, Extrait du rapport Politique, October 6, 1931.

96. Arrete allouant une indemnité aux héritiers d'un travailleur chinois décédé à la suite d'un accident de travail, Signed Alfassa, Brazzaville, February 6, 1932, GGAEF, 3H/49, ANOM.

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‘Unwanted Scraps’ or ‘An Alert, Resolute, Resentful People’? Chinese Railroad Workers in French Congo

  • Julia Martínez (a1)

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