[N.p., likely Havana]: February 22, 1860. Partially-printed folio broadsheet, printed in both Spanish and Chinese, completed in manuscript in Spanish, Chinese, and English, with additional manuscript notations in the margins, 16.5 x 10.5 inches. Old folds, some fold separations and minor chipping along fold lines, with minor loss to text, moderate foxing and toning. A fragile but important document. About good. Item #2399
A sobering emigration certificate and indentured labor contract for a Chinese laborer in Cuba in 1860, issued by the Compañía Cubana de Emigracion para la Habana. The document is partially-printed in both Spanish and Chinese, and is signed in both languages by the relevant parties to the contract. The Chinese laborer, Chu Lir of Hokkien, is only eighteen years of age when he signs the present document, indenturing himself to the firm of Fernandez, Schimper y Ca, a commercial enterprise operating in Cuba at the time. Lir was hired as a laborer for a term of eight years; he signs his name in Chinese characters at the bottom of the first page. Interestingly, the contract is counter-signed by B.W. Tucker as an agent for the company, and Lir's signature is witnessed by an English-speaking man named Ed Vincent, presumably also an employee of Fernandez, Schimper y Ca; English is not often encountered on Chinese indentured servant material from this period. Some of the additional marginal notations on the verso are written in Spanish around and above the block of Chinese text.
Chinese indentured servitude in 19th-century Cuba was tantamount to slavery, even after the abolition of the peculiar institution in the British West Indies. With their free source of labor no longer available, plantation owners in Cuba looked elsewhere; and they looked east. From around 1848 to the mid-1870s, over 100,000 Chinese indentured servants made their way to Cuba, often sailing to Cuba in large groups. Once they arrived, Chinese laborers indentured themselves to Cuban masters for terms of at least five years. The treatment of Asian indentured servants in Cuba varied widely, with reports of some particularly ill-treated laborers ending their lives by suicide. "Some contemporaries and later historians...have condemned the servitude of the Asians as a thinly disguised revival of slavery. These critics have pointed to a variety of abuses to which the Asians were subjected, both legally - with severe laws governing absenteeism, vagrancy, and insufficient work - and illegally, in the form of harassment by vicious masters. Yet other observers have defended the system as a boon to the Asian workers. Voluntary reindenture at the end of their terms was common among the migrants, suggesting that many Asians judged the system to be beneficial to them" - Drescher.
A fragile but extremely important artifact from a sad period when barely-veiled slavery was still alive in the world.
Seymour Drescher & Stanley L. Engerman, editors, A Historical Guide to World Slavery (New York, 1998), pp.239-42.