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THE COOLIE TRADE by Arnold J. Meagher


by Arnold J. Meagher

ISBN: 978-1-4363-0943-1

A thorough study of the roots of modern human trafficking and Chinese emigration.

Against the backdrop of China’s rapid advance to the forefront of the world economy and sharp scrutiny over global trends in human trafficking, Meagher’s exhaustive survey of Chinese indentured labor is a richly informative, timely release. His volume, much broader in scope than the Latin America in his subtitle indicates, is a careful examination of cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that contributed to this phenomenon. Meagher argues that the termination of the African slave trade, an urgent need for laborers in the West and a deteriorating Chinese economy conspired to spawn the emigration of more than a quarter million Chinese laborers to Latin America in the span of 28 years. Beginning in 1847, Chinese emigration quickly evolved into a prosperous black market cottage industry that, alongside the illicit opium trade, attracted enterprising, often dubious characters. These overlords relentlessly plundered China’s human resources to satisfy a labor vacuum in the West. Scheming brokers often used any means available–false promises, deceit and fraud–to lure prey aboard ships. Victims of kidnapping account for more than a quarter of the human cargo, while appalling prison-like conditions, mutinies and disease resulted in a 12 percent mortality rate during the nine-month voyage. Great Britain and the United States abandoned the coolie trade in the mid 1860s after much public outcry. Trafficking, however, continued to flourish until 1874 aboard other ships sailing for Latin America, often destined for Cuba and Peru, where booming sugar, guano and mining industries demanded a steady flow of fresh workers. This authoritative account is acutely critical of the coolie trade as a means by which the slave trade continued in the West, but suggests it did have its advantages: challenging draconian Chinese taboos that once forbade emigration and introducing Chinese culture to Western society.

The author’s fluid, conversational style elevates Meagher’s work from the weight that often bogs down other academic texts. Engaging and topical fare.