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Chinatown's beginnings
Hawaii's first Chinese
Chinatown takes shape
Chinatown's other communities
Chinatown fire of 1886
Chinatown fire of 1900
Chinese culture
A`ala Park
Cultural and economic changes
Chinatown's rejuvenation
Chinatown today
Bibliography - Chinatown



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Hawaii's first Chinese

The official arrival of Chinese in the Islands came in late 1788, when the Iphegenia and North West America stopped on their fur trading voyage, returning to China from the northwest coast of America. The ships carried 50 Chinese crewmen, many of them carpenters or smiths. They stayed in Hawai`i during the first three months of 1789 while their ships refueled and sheltered from winter seas. Another 45 Chinese crewmen arrived later in 1789 aboard the Eleanora under Captain Simon Metcalf.

A decade later, Chinese brought the first sugarmill to Hawai`i from China. It was not until 1823, however, that the first Chinese - a trader with a stock of goods to sell - took up permanent residence in Honolulu. By 1840, there were 40 or so foreigners living in Honolulu. Of these, 30 or more were Chinese.

Hawaii's Chinese population took a giant leap when plantation owners recruited Chinese laborers to work in the sugar fields. The first Chinese contract workers arrived in 1852, signed to five-year contracts which earned them three dollars a month plus their passage, room and board. The first workers - 175 from Hong Kong - took up their labors on Maui. Most Chinese coming to Hawai`i came from the depressed Kwangtung and Fukein provinces in southern China. Between 1852 and 1876, 3,908 Chinese were imported. In 1882, Chinese made up nearly 49% of the plantation work force and at one point, Chinese outnumbered whites in the Islands.

Most Chinese plantation workers did not renew their five-year contracts, opting instead to work on smaller private farms or for other Chinese as clerks, as domestics in haole households, or they started their own businesses. By 1882, the Chinese population hovered around 5,000, 20% of Honolulu's population. Numbers of Chinese living on plantations fell while 75% lived and worked in the Honolulu area quickly becoming known as Chinatown.

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