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Coolies and Cane

, 288 pages

9 halftones, 6 line drawings

July 2009



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Coolies and Cane

Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation

Winner, 2007 Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians
Winner, 2006 History Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies

How did thousands of Chinese migrants end up working alongside African Americans in Louisiana after the Civil War? With the stories of these workers, Coolies and Cane advances an interpretation of emancipation that moves beyond U.S. borders and the black-white racial dynamic. Tracing American ideas of Asian labor to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, Moon-Ho Jung argues that the racial formation of "coolies" in American culture and law played a pivotal role in reconstructing concepts of race, nation, and citizenship in the United States.

Jung examines how coolies appeared in major U.S. political debates on race, labor, and immigration between the 1830s and 1880s. He finds that racial notions of coolies were articulated in many, often contradictory, ways. They could mark the progress of freedom; they could also symbolize the barbarism of slavery. Welcomed and rejected as neither black nor white, coolies emerged recurrently as both the salvation of the fracturing and reuniting nation and the scourge of American civilization.

Based on extensive archival research, this study makes sense of these contradictions to reveal how American impulses to recruit and exclude coolies enabled and justified a series of historical transitions: from slave-trade laws to racially coded immigration laws, from a slaveholding nation to a "nation of immigrants," and from a continental empire of manifest destiny to a liberating empire across the seas.

Combining political, cultural, and social history, Coolies and Cane is a compelling study of race, Reconstruction, and Asian American history.

Moon-Ho Jung is an associate professor of history at the University of Washington.

"In this important and well-researched work, Moon-Ho Jung argues that southern sugar planters looked to Asian 'coolies' to solve their labor problems after the Civil War."

"Argues that coolies played an important role in the social construction of 'whiteness' in the United States... Thoroughly researched."

"Brilliant and beautifully written... Jung's slim volume makes it clear that coolieism was not a marginal issue. The debate over coolieism was bound up in the most pressing issues of the Civil War era, from the policing of the slave-trade ban to the redefinition of citizenship in the postwar South."

"Well researched study... These larger questions about race and labor are relevant not only for understanding the age of emancipation, but also for the current political climate of intensified debates on immigration and citizenship in the United States."

"The heart, strength, and originality of this riveting narrative rest in Jung's discussion of the debates concerning Chinese coolies among diverse sectors of white southerners... A model of the best of American history and, especially, studies of Asian American history and race and ethnicity."

"Not only enriches the texture of Asian American, African American, and southem history, but also offers a global perspective on 19th-century labor migrations."

"Focusing on attempts to import Chinese contract labor to Louisiana sugar plantations in the decade after the Civil War, this book argues for the importance of the Chinese 'coolie' in the construction of race, nation, and citizenship in the United States."

"Jung's work contains real passion... It will have substantial appeal for academic specialists and university libraries with collections in southern, agricultural, and labor history."

"Breakthrough study... Coolies and Cane stands as an instructive study of race, Reconstruction, and Asian American history that points the way for further research."

"An ambitious book... A provocative invitation to reexamine our understanding of race in America in the 'age of emancipation.'"

"An outstanding piece of scholarship and the most complete study of Chinese labor in the South. Through his meticulous research of a vast array of sources, Jung has managed to make a significant contribution to a number of overlapping fields: Asian American history, African American history, Southern history, labor history, race and ethnicity studies, and Diaspora studies. It is rare for one book to touch on so many fields!"

"Meticulously researched and boldly argued, this book is by turns, and often simultaneously, social, labor, business, diplomatic, Caribbean, Asian American, Southern, and political history. It is refreshingly revisionist in showing that moving the focus of Asian American history from the West Coast involves far more than simply acknowledging early settlement in Louisiana. Instead, Jung shows the debates over the possibility that the West Indian 'coolie' could be profitably 'transplanted' to the U.S. South made Asian American history part and parcel of debates over slavery and free labor at numerous turns, pre- and post-emancipation, so much so that initial immigration restriction legislation in the United States regulated 'coolie' trading in the context of the Civil War."

"This invaluable study forever changes our understanding of not only the history of Chinese labor in the United States, but also the very nature of slavery, freedom, and racialized labor in the age of emancipation. "

"A stunning accomplishment, a work of enormous intellectual and moral integrity. Jung has dramatically resituated Chinese American history both temporally and geographically, to the American South and the Caribbean, and connects both to U.S. ambitions in China. This book is about more than racial constructions and ideology. It is also a moving story about real Chinese laborers, who were recruited to Louisiana sugar plantations after the Civil War, and the myriad ways in which they resisted being treated like 'coolies.' "

"This book is bound to be valuable for comparative purposes... It is also a welcome contribution to transnational approaches to American history."

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