China discovers Hawaii

TO THE CHAPTERS                     







How did the Chinese come into contact with the native Hawaiians living in the middle of the Pacific and when was the first encounter?

Wood print of a junk around 1650

China was in the 15th century. a great naval power, however, they explored the East China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the route to Europe for trade rather than sailing into the deep Pacific. The famous Silk Road, which led across the mainland, had become very unsafe around 1405 due to robbers and swindlers. Therefore, China switched to the ship and founded a new silk road on the sea. China never went east into the Pacific with their young ships, they stayed in their eastern and southern Chinese seas. It was the European sailors, expeditions and exploratory trips like whalers who opened the doors of Hawaii to the Chinese. There was brisk trade on the part of Canada and the USA with the Chinese trading city of Canton. The former Canton was and is up to the present day the economic center of China.

Seidenstrasse China-Venedig-Europa in der Antike
Additional information:




The Sandalwood trees abundantly cover the Hawaiian islands in their virgin forests. Hawaiians are also familiar with these trees with their fine aromas and oils, because they use this flavored wood to wrap their kapas in a fragrant sandalwood scent. They also call the wood laau ala (laau aala)

Sandalwood iliahi tree ai

From the old documents and documents from the archives it cannot be seen when the economic trade between Hawaii’s and the Sandelwood with China and the mainland USA actually began.

The first indication of a possible commercial trade with Sandalwood between Hawaii and China was the hint of the seaman Isaac Ridler to Captain Simon Metcalfe with the ship „Eleanora“ in the year 1790, which was engaged in the sea fur trade between the Pacific Northwest of the USA and China, this wood for china to load. Due to the decline and almost extermination of the sea otter population in North America, the fur trade with Canton, China had come to a standstill, which now turned the attention of American traders to the fragrant hardwood sandalwood from Hawaii, which the Chinese valued. China uses the wood for medicinal purposes, for the manufacture of sacred utensils for shrines, wooden boxes and carvings, fuel for pyre and for incense sticks that were burned in temples.

China – Canton Trade

Between 1790 and 1810 there was a small trade between these two countries until the two American brothers Jonathan and Nathan Winship set off for Hawaii in 1809 off Oregon’s coast to devote themselves to the newly flourishing business with the fragrant wood.

Simon Metcalfe Letter Concerning John Young 03-22-1790

In October 1811 the two brothers reached Honolulu as captains of the ship „Albatross“ and Nathan Winship with „O’Cain„. There they teamed up with William Heath Davis with his ship „Isabella“, where they loaded their ships with Sandelwood trees and sailed to Canton, China. They made a big profit by selling their freight.

William Heath Davis

After returning to Hawaii, the three captains manipulated King Kamehameha I for a ten-year contract to give them the monopoly of Sandelwood and the cotton trade. This resulted in brisk shipping traffic between Canton, China and Honolulu. King Kamehameha I received a 25% profit on the goods sold through this contract. In 1817 Kamehameha I took an active part in the trade with his newly acquired ship „Ka’ahumanu“, which timber sales in China was more than disappointing. The Hawaiian kingdom was now able to acquire foreign goods through the profit of the Sandalwood trade of the American traders, which now aroused a feverish hunger for western goods. The Sandwich Island became known globally because of this, from which the own people, however, suffered severely.

When America and Great Britain were in the American Revolutionary War or American War of Independence, which took place between the Thirteen Colonies and the British colonial power from 1775 to 1783, Kamehameha I lifted their trade monopoly with the three captains and refused to do so Renew contract. King Kamehameha I felt guilty and indebted to Great Britain as a friend for repealing this agreement with America.

After the death of King Kamhehameha I in 1819, there was extensive looting of the Sandalwood trees until the son and successor of Kamehamheha I, Liholiho, gave the hood to the chiefs. During this time, the chiefs on the islands were very active in the possession of ships and goods. This extravagance left the government hopelessly in debt.

Liholiho, painted in London from John Hayter, 1824

The debt was so great, $ 500,000, that in 1826 American traders complained about the high sums in the royal house. Kamehameha II therefore introduced a general tax to pay off part of their collective debts. That same December, the Kingdom of Hawaii passed its first written law – the sandalwood tax. Every man on Sandwich Island had to deliver half a picul (66 pounds) of good sandalwood, or four Spanish dollars, to the governor of his district on September 1, 1827. Any woman thirteen or older had to pay for a mat twelve feet long and six feet wide, or an equivalent tapa, or a Spanish dollar.

lua na moku ‘iliahi

As a result, a large number of the islanders had to deal with the handling and harvesting of the sandalwood trees. In order to bring the sandalwood from the high mountains to the coast for shipment, the wood was cut into pieces of wood approx. 2 meters long and around 50 cm in diameter. This wood was tied behind the back of women and men and transported to the beach.

There were no machines or animals to do this work in the mountains. Many men died as a result of the hard labor of exhaustion, illness and malnutrition. There were also two severe famines on Sandwich Island because most of the islanders now had to concentrate on collecting sandalwood and neglected agriculture and fishing.

Moloka’i Na Ala Hele ‚Sandalwood Measuring Pit © Gérard Koch 2017

Due to the extreme cutting down of the trees, not only did the quality of the wood deteriorate, the forests were also exhausted.

The timber trade from Sandwich Island to China stalled by 1830 and collapsed completely. China now procured the sandalwood from India and other areas in the Pacific, which now massively lowered prices in Canton and made Hawaiian trade unprofitable.

Sandelwood – 1905

The southern Chinese city of Canton, like most traditional Chinese cities, was surrounded by a great wall. Outside this wall there were the extensive market and trading districts. The trading system, which existed on China’s south coast from 1700 to 1842, was named by the Europeans as the „canton system“. This from the dominance of one of the largest southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, which the Europeans called the city of Canton. The ancient city of Guangzhou had thrived as an administrative and commercial center for over 1,000 years before the West came. Persian and Arab traders were in these outskirts as early as the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century.


The Ming Emperor restricted the area for western traders and they were only allowed to stay in the city of Macau. In the 18th century, however, the Qing emperor expanded the merchants‘ access to other cities in China. But at the beginning of the 18th century, the port of Canton remained the most convenient for foreigners as well as for the Chinese. As foreign trade expanded in China, the Qing government tightened controls in 1741 and asked foreigners to leave Canton and return to Macau. But in 1757 Canton was again determined and restricted by the Chinese government as the only official trading place.

Like his predecessors, the Qing emperors asked foreign traders to live in a separate district outside the wall.

The foreigners lived in „factories„, which they called themselves that, which lined the promenades with their own national flag on the roof. The factories, where nothing was manufactured, housed the living quarters, warehouses and trading offices.

After the British, where the first were, the Austrians, Danes, Dutch, French, Spaniards, Swedes and Americans followed shortly afterwards. The entire quarter was named „Thirteen Factories„.

The foreign traders‘ quarters of the „Thirteen Factories“ burned down for the first time around 1822, probably caused by an accident. The quarter’s next two full fires were in the first Opium War in 1841 and in the second Opium War in 1856. After all these fires and rebuilding, the factories were relocated further upriver to Shamian Island during the last fire.

Charles Toogood Downing described the new bustle of boats in the Canton River and its city at that time.

Downing (Charles Toogood) The Fan-Qui in China in 1836

The foreign traders, who were only allowed to live in their quarters, looked from his “factories” into a vast, prosperous continent, the wealth of which made all difficulties worthwhile. They, along with their Chinese counterparts, had been exposed to the risks of fire, disease and social unrest. So after a while, they pushed for better access to the interior of China. But only slowly, after almost 150 years, were the traders able to move out of their profitable ghetto and head inland.

Additional information:
Simon Metcalfe Shipp Fair American
John Young mit Kp Simon Windship Log
John Young California fur rush
Isaac Davis Sandelwood
Canton Trade Boston Trade mit Hawaii
Old China Trade



The new home hawaii

My thoughts:

How the first settlers left China even though it was forbidden to go to distant Hawaii later to the United America. How was the crossing and with which ships? What did you take with you from your home to start a new life in Hawaii?


Sugar plantation worker’s home in Wainaku, Hawaii. ca. 1890. Image courtesy of Biship Museum Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii. Photograph by Charles Furneaux.

When the British Admiralty published the existence of islands off the northwest coast of North America in 1784 and made them aware, these „sandwich“ islands became an important strategic base for trade between North America and northeast Asia and China. These islands were an important stop for traders and seafarers on the Pacific crossings to get fresh provisions and water, as well as for the protection of winter storms in the Pacific. Not only did the fur trade between North America and China flourish through the Sandwich Islands, whaling also made a real development through these islands and even became a whaling center.

Lahaina – Walhunting

The sandalwood trade between China and Hawaii also lasted almost half a century. Hawaii became known to the Chinese and also called the islands „Tan HeungShan“ or „The Sandelwood Mountains“.

Through this new trade route, it also opened the way to the Sandwich Island for the Chinese by working cheaply on the merchant ships.

For example, on the return voyage in 1788 of the two ships „Iphigenia“ and „Felice“ under the command of British Captain John Mears, from China to the Sandwich Islands, not only European crew members were on board, including for the first time 50 Chinese. In 1790, the American schooner Eleanora under the command of Captain Simon Metcalf from Macao, China, reached Maui with a crew of 10 Americans and 45 Chinese on board. In 1794, while visiting the Sandwich Islands, Captain George Vancouver reported the presence of a Chinese resident.

The first Chinese in Hawaii pioneered sugar cane, which had been brought to the islands by earlier Polynesian settlers. The Hawaiians only used sugar cane for local consumption. It took a long time, a decade later, for the Chinese to bring the first Sugarmill from China to Hawaii and to revolutionize sugar cane cultivation and processing on Sandwich Island. The individual Chinese also introduced rice cultivation in Hawaii, where large rice fields were created. It wasn’t until 1823 that the first Chinese – a merchant with an inventory – settled in Honolulu. By 1840 there were about 40 foreigners living in Honolulu. Of these, 30 or more were Chinese. These were isolated Chinese, such as farmers, merchants and skilled craftsmen from the province of Guangdong, who tried their luck on the South Pacific islands.

Wailuku sugar mill – 1867 – courtesy of Public Archives of Hawaii, Public domain

The first real migration and foothold of the Chinese took place on Sandwich Island between 1850 and 1870, after the Second Opium War, the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and after the long and bloody Taiping Uprising. At that time, China was economically and politically a shattered country, where Hawaii was only at the beginning of its economic boom.

Taiping Rebelion – Generals Stockade 1865- Henry Guttmann, Hulton Archiv
A scene of the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864
Hong Kong in 1870. The so-called Opium War between England and China in 1841 led to the occupation of Hong Kong. © picture-alliance / dpa / Hongkong Museum of History

You also have to know that the majority of the Chinese did not come to Hawaii voluntarily, but were dragged to Hawaii as coolies and cheap labor by the increasing number of new American entrepreneurs in Hawaii.

These first 175 imported Chinese came from Hong Kong on Jan. 3, 1852 (according to a report by „the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration“; but should more correctly be „Amoy, Fukien“!) And started their work in Maui, where they earn three dollars a month earned plus passage, room and board.

While the majority of the Chinese plantation owners dominated the rice industry, the American planters mostly concentrated on the cultivation of sugar cane and coffee, and later also of pineapples. The arrival of the Americans marked the beginning of a growing American influence, which was to culminate in the annexation of the archipelago in 1898, brought about by the American plantation owners.

Rice fields – Honolulu

When the British made these archipelagos known at the time, the natives of the Sandwich Islands set a striking and decisive course, which is still visible and recognizable to this day. The Europeans and Americans brought epidemics such as cholera and the plague with them, which drastically reduced the Hawaiian population, through their unsanitary conditions with the rigorous rush to the newly discovered islands, which had been isolated for hundreds of years.

The indigenous population of around 255,000 Hawai’ians in 1788 shrank rapidly due to immunodeficiency to just under 50,000 in 1875.

Father Damien und Lebrakranke auf Molokai

Due to the dying away of the local population, the economically flourishing Hawaii does not have enough workers available, so King Kamehameha III allowed Chinese workers to enter his country. So began the Chinese and American plantation operators in the 1850s to bring contract workers from China (English indentured laborer) to the islands. The first contract workers in Hawaii were Hakka from what is now Fujian Province, who left China via the port city of Xiamen. Most of the Chinese who came to Hawaii came from the depressed provinces of Kwangtung and Fukein in southern China. Under the Qing Dynasty, Chinese people could only leave their country illegally because it carried the death penalty. Since the 1870s, when the number of contract workers required increased significantly, most of them came from Guangdong, from where many Chinese also aspired to go to the American mainland, California. Around this time the gold rush had broken out around San Francisco and Sacramento.

In 1875 the Hawaiian Kingdom signed the ratified free trade agreement with the United States, known as the „Reciprocity Treaty“ (Hawaiian: Kuʻikahi Pānaʻi Like).

Newspaper Article of Hawaii Treaty of 1875

This treaty allows Hawaii, from September 1876, free access to the American sugar market without any additional tax. In return, the US received land in the area known as Pu’u Loa for the so-called Pearl Harbor naval base. This contract encouraged the sugar cane plantation owner to make large investments in Hawaii. This in turn brought a Chinese rush of workers to Hawai’i’s plantations. While an average of barely 100 Chinese per year came to Hawaii from 1852 to 1875, that number rose to more than 3,908 between 1876 and 1899. In total, more than 50,000 Chinese came in the second half of the 19th century, although not all of them settled permanently. Although a large number of contract workers wanted to quickly terminate their employment contracts with a term of three to five years in order to leave the plantation, tens of thousands stayed in the country and took on wage labor or started their own businesses as farmers or business people.

In 1882, Chinese made up nearly 49% of the plantation workforce, and at one point, Chinese were more numerous than whites on the islands. The number of Chinese people living on plantations decreased, while 75% lived and worked in the Honolulu area and quickly became known as Chinatown.

The years 1870-1890 were the height of Chinese migration.

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 The mixing of cultures through marriage

My thoughts:

How were the Chinese received by the Hawaiians? How did they communicate with each other? How did the hi women feel about the Chinese men?

As in mainland America, most Chinese immigrants in Hawaii were men. They had to leave their wives and children behind in China. This is especially true for the contract workers. In contrast, the few Chinese merchants and specialists often took their wives and children with them to Hawaii, far more often than such merchants and specialists took their families with them to mainland America.

Although in 1835 the first Chinese woman arrived and worked as a maid for an American family in Hawaii, the Hawaiian government names the first Chinese woman from the state „Lady of Ayum“ who came to Hawaii on August 19, 1855 as „really“.

Lee Family

The Hawaiian immigration officer William Hillebrand brought 473 men and 52 women back from his trip to China in 1865. The male to female ratio was 17: 1 in 1884. By 1920, less than a third of Chinese men had married a Chinese woman. Most marriages between Chinese men and white women in Hawaii have been to Portuguese women. The Portuguese population was specially brought to Hawaii by the Hawaiian king for the cattle ranching.

Chinese-Hawaiian women in 1880

Other Caucasian women also married the Chinese men in Hawaii. These associations of mixed marriages between Chinese men and Portuguese women resulted in children of mixed Sino-Portuguese ancestry and were still classified as purebred Chinese because the fathers were Chinese. Later, over time, there was more and more intermingling between Chinese men and women from Portugal, Spain, Hawaii, Caucasian-Hawaiians, Puerto Rico, Japan, Greeks and half-white women, although there was a ban on mixed marriages for the first generation of migrants .

chinese hawaiian famaly

Although the Chinese in Hawaii faced prejudice and discrimination, evictions and physical attacks never occurred.

The social integration of the Chinese immigrants progressed steadily. Already the second generation of the Chinese, in the 1930s there were Chinese teachers, journalists, bankers, translators, priests, doctors and managers in Hawaii.

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The birth of Chinatown in Honolulu

© Gérard Koch – 2018

Today’s Chinatown is a business and residential district in the heart of downtown Honolulu, Oahu. With a few exceptions, most of the buildings in Chinatown date from after 1900, as the Chinese quarter had already suffered two major fires and most of the neighborhood was destroyed. Chinatown in Honolulu is, in my opinion, the only place with charm that still evokes a historical sense of time and place. The neighborhood has retained its historic buildings and community identity over the years, while the population has evolved into a diverse mix of cultures.

Nu’uanu Stream about 1883
Nu’uanu Stream – 1942

Chinatown was established in the 1840s and 1850s in an area along Honolulu Harbor, southwest of the Nu’uanu freshwater stream. The port played an important gateway for the Chinese. After their plantation employment contracts expired, many Chinese immigrants moved down to the port and expanded their Chinatown in Honolulu to work for existing companies or to open their own. As Honolulu grew, old Hawaiian fish ponds were filled in along the port area and the Nu’uanu Current channeled at its mouth, expanding the port area and with it Chinatown, which eventually covered 35 hectares.

Honolulu Harbor – 1857
Honolulu Harbor 1881

By 1882, Chinatown was a thriving business district, serving both its own people and the larger Honolulu community. With Chinatown near the port, many newly arriving immigrants used the neighborhood’s shops and restaurants as a meeting point to make friends and relatives, socialize, and find job offers. Chinatown companies eventually became the second largest employer for Chinese immigrants after the sugar plantations.

Chinese Immigrants comming in to Honolulu

In 1886 a fire broke out in a restaurant in the district and spread quickly. The fire burned for three days, and when it was put out it had destroyed eight blocks. Chinatown was quickly rebuilt, but rebuilding the city ignored regulations designed to prevent future fires.

Chinatown, Honolulu vor dem grossen Feuer
Hotel-Street Chinatown, Honolulu

By the late 1890s, many of the buildings in Chinatown were overcrowded wooden commercial, residential, and mixed-use structures with poor sanitation. A large plague of rats from the nearby harbor spilled over into this quarter. At the beginning of December 1899, an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the district was exacerbated by the cramped living conditions. Schools have closed and Chinatown’s 7,000 residents have been quarantined. On December 31, 1899, after 13 people died of the plague, the Honolulu Health Department ordered the demolition of all buildings in which a person had contracted the disease. Chinese residents were evacuated and the Honolulu Fire Department started a series of controlled fires. As of January 1, 1900, 41 fires were started, each of which successfully destroyed buildings. On January 20, however, during one of the controlled burns, the wind turned and burning embers were carried onto the steeple of Kaumakapili Church, causing the wooden building to go up in flames. The pumps used by the fire brigade at that time could not spray the water up to the height of the church tower, the flames spread quickly, moved from building to building and flooded the district. The fire burned 17 days and destroyed 38 acres of Honolulu, including almost all of Chinatown. Thank goodness no people were killed, but over 4,000 people became homeless. The refugees were placed in emergency camps in the city, including the grounds of the Kawaiaha’o Church and the area behind the ‚Iolani Palace. After the fire, Chinatown was surrounded by a high wooden fence that restricted access to the district. The fire department continued to use controlled burns, all without incident. After May 17, 1900, the area was re-measured and new building permits issued. In June Honolulu was declared plague free. Today, most of the oldest buildings in Chinatown date from the early 1900s, with some notable 19th-century buildings that survived the fire.

“The Passing of Chinatown” before (January 20) and after (January 24) the fire, Honolulu Advertiser, 1900 Hawai’i State Archives

By the 1920s, Chinatown was again a thriving business district. However, as the district grew, the Chinese population had shrunk. In the mid-1880s, the majority of Chinese people living on the Hawaiian Islands lived in Honolulu’s Chinatown. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 slowed immigration from China, sugar plantation owners turned to Japanese immigrants as a source of work. Many of these Japanese workers moved to Honolulu and Chinatown after their contracts were signed. The Japanese residents of Chinatown opened theaters, hotels, cafes, and bars to serve the Japanese population. Japanese immigrants were followed by Filipinos and Portuguese, making Chinatown one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Honolulu.

Japanese immigrants in Honolulu

Chinatown began to decline in the late 1930s as many of the Chinese residents moved to other areas of Honolulu to live while continuing to do business in the Chinatown district. However, with America’s entry into World War II, Chinatown saw a new vitality as its nightclubs, restaurants, brothels along Hotel Street, and gaming parlors became popular destinations for the islands‘ large military populations. After the war, Chinatown slowly fell into disrepair and became known as a hotspot for illegal activity. In the 1950s and 1960s, the number of people living in China Quarter continued to decline and businesses began to suffer again. The opening of the Ala Moana Shopping Center in 1959, located two miles southeast, resulted in shoppers stopping to frequent stores in downtown Honolulu or Chinatown. Also that year, 1959, Hawaii was illegally proclaimed the 50th US state and sparked a tourism boom on the US mainland. Sugar, pineapple and coffee were the main industries on the islands until 1960, when tourism replaced them. As the Waikiki area, just three miles from Chinatown in Honolulu, became the most popular tourist destination, fewer and fewer people visited Chinatown.

1933 Chinatown

In 1973, Honolulu’s Chinatown was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District. As a result, the area began to revitalize and the city began to invest in Chinatown and its unique history. Government spending revitalized the local economy and encouraged private investors to return to the district. In the 1980s, the Maunakea Marketplace, which includes the facade of an older theater, and the Kekaulike Mall were built to bring commerce back to Chinatown. Chinatown residents and business owners were instrumental in the rebirth of the district, creating nonprofits and businesses, and working with the city to maintain and expand Chinatown. Today, Chinatown in Honolulu is once again a vibrant business district with smaller traditional shops such as restaurants, bars and Chinese retail stores alongside a growing number of art galleries and artist studios.

Chinatown Historic District is the largest area in Honolulu that reflects architectural and historical character with a distinctive sense of time and place. Most of the buildings in the district were built between 1900 and 1920, with few dating from before the 1900 Chinatown fire. The Royal Saloon Building, built in 1890, is one of the few buildings in Chinatown to survive the 1900 fire. Located at 901 Nu’uanu Street on the corner of Nu’uanu and Merchant Streets, it was built by local bartender and investor Walter C. Peacock.

Royal Saloon Murphys

The design of the one-story Royal Saloon Building is a mix of Florentine Gothic and Renaissance styles with cast iron decorations and white stucco pilasters, balustrade and cornice. Another survivor of the 1900 fire, the T. R. Foster Building was built in 1891 by Thomas R. Foster, one of the founders of the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company, which became Hawaiian Airlines in 1941. Located at 902 Nu’uanu Avenue, the Italian-style building features white stucco pilasters, a balustrade, and cornice that resemble the Royal Saloon Building across the street. The Irwin Block Building at 928 Nu’uanu Avenue dates back to 1897. The two-story building owned by William G. Irwin, a sugar cane entrepreneur, was designed and expanded in the Romanesque style of Richardson by architects CB Ripley and Charles William Dickey roughly hewn volcanic rock and bricks.

Nippu Jiji

In 1923, Nippu Jiji, a Japanese-language newspaper, bought the building and added his name and date „1895“ to the top of the building to mark the establishment of the newspaper.

The Italian-style brick and stucco Mendoca Block Building, built in 1901, covers an entire block on North Hotel and Maunakea Street.

Historic Chinatown Mendonca

Architect Oliver Green Traphagen designed the building for businessman Joseph Mendoca, nephew of the Portuguese consul Jason Perry. Mendoca was a member of the Public Safety Committee of the Annexation Party that contributed to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and founded the Republic of Hawaii in 1894. The Mendoca Block Building was one of the first buildings built in Chinatown after the 1900 fire. O’ahu Market was built in 1904 by Anin Young, a Chinese businessman, and is located on North King Street and Kekaulike Street. It was owned by the Young family for 80 years and was sold to Oahu Market Corporation in 1984, which was founded by 24 tenants of the market with the support of the Historic Hawaii Foundation. The market still operates from its original building, which is brick and coral blocks with a stone foundation and a wooden roof. As since 1904, the interior is divided into stalls open to the street. The Perry Block Building on Nu’uanu Avenue and Hotel Street dates from 1889 and is another of several buildings in Chinatown that survived the 1900 fire. Anna Perry, the widow of the Portuguese consul Jason Perry, had the building designed and built in the Renaissance and Neo-Greco styles. A design in the window keystones was made by the Portuguese co. accepted. The sidewalk in front of the building is covered with paving stones that came to Hawaii as ballast on ships from China.

Built in 1938 on the corner of North Hotel and Maunakea Street, the Wo Fat Restaurant Building was built in the Italian style and features an octagonal tower with windows and architectural references to Chinese temple motifs. The original Wo Fat Restaurant opened in 1882, burned down in the fire of 1886 and was rebuilt and unfortunately burned again in the second fire of 1900. It was relocated to North Hotel Street in 1906. The current building was built in 1938 specifically for the Wo Fat Restaurant, which was the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Honolulu until it closed in 2009. Today the building houses the Hong Kong Supermarket, an Asian grocery store. The simple, Italian-style Club Hubba Hubba building at 25 North Hotel Street dates from 1899 and is a survivor of the 1900 Chinatown fire. Developer Lincoln L. McCandless built the two-story commercial building that has housed several over the years Shops were housed including the popular World War II Aloha Cafe. Club Hubba Hubba opened in the building in 1947 and became one of the most famous jazz and burlesque clubs in Chinatown before closing in 1997.

The Armstrong Building is designed for retail sale of apartments on the second floor and is located at 175 N King Street. Built in 1905 by James Armstrong, the building was sold to Lincoln L. McCandless in 1922 and is still owned by the McCandless family. The blue lava stone building housed the famous Musashiya Fabric Store, one of the largest fabric stores in Honolulu.

It was in this building that Koichiro Miyamoto, the son of the founder of Musa Shiya, designed the first Hawaiian „Aloha“ shirt.

Today, the Chinatown Historic District is a thriving area with an eclectic mix of Southeast Asian cultures including Chinese, Vietnamese, Laos, Japanese, Thais, Filipinos, and Koreans, as well as native Hawaiians and Caucasians. Visitors to the district can immerse themselves in the mix of cultures and experiences while visiting the district’s restaurants, shops, and Asian product markets.


Additionally, part of the Honolulu Arts District, with its art galleries, performing arts spaces, and First Friday Art Walk, is located in the Chinatown Historic District, which helps make this area one of the most interesting and vibrant places in Honolulu. The Chinatown Historic District in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, HI, is roughly drawn from the Nu’uanu Stream, Beretania St., Nuuanu Ave. and the Honolulu Harbor.

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Hard work on the sugar plantations

In 1802, Wong Tze-Chun brought the first machines with him from China in order to set up the first sugar factory in Hawaii on the island of Lanai. Unfortunately, after a year, the venture failed and Wong Tze-Chun returned to China.

Sugar Mill, Lanai

The second attempt was by John Wilkinson, who in 1825 tried to plant 100 hectares of sugar cane in the Manoa Valley, Oahu, in order to mass-produce sugar. Unfortunately, J. Wilkinson passed away in 1827 when his business only had one more harvest before his company closed.

Three-roller sugar mill, Kualapuu, Molakai

When Ladd & Company, who opened their sugar plantation in Koloa, Kauai, in 1835, it was the first successful large sugar manufacturing company in Hawaii. Thanks to the temperate climate and high quality soil in Kauai, sugar cane provided ideal growing conditions for sugar production. This plantation laid the foundation for one of Hawaii’s largest industries. More sugar cane plantations followed and more and more cheap labor from China, later in 1868 from Japan; Korea and the Philippines were brought to Hawaii through long-term employment contracts.

Ladd & Company

Mainly by the new American plantation owners, Hawai’i introduced the Masters and Servants Act on June 21, 1850, which legalized contractual services and the bulk importation of workers from other countries. This treaty was more about economic and financial growth than humanitarian conditions. This law introduced a harsh contract labor system. Under the Masters and Servants Act, a frequently absent worker or having problems with absenteeism or leaving a job before the contract is signed could be „coercive“ detained by employers and subject to severe penalties. Penalties included working overtime beyond what was specified in the employment contract (usually double the original contract period) and imprisonment. Workers could not organize unions or go on strike with this system. This is a black chapter for Hawai’i that went under slavery.

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Der Chinese Exclusion Act

Anti Chinese Wall cartoon Puck, 1882

Early 19th century Very few Chinese entered the USA, let alone Hawaii. But around 1850, with the boom in the sugar cane plantations in Hawai’i, the gold rush around Sacramento, California, the own Chinese problems, such as the two opium wars (1839-42, 1856-60), which were instigated by the British, caused crop failures bad weather, thousands of Chinese left their poor country and migrated to the USA. Around 1880, over 100,000 Chinese were already living on the west coast of California (San Francisco) and in Hawai’i, who were also brought in specially by the whites for slave labor in the ice rink construction in the USA and plantation work on Hawai’i.

Chin. Immigrants build the transcontinental railroad through the United States, 1869

Due to the large number of newcomers from the distant country, there were soon racist thoughts and unrest between the white gold prospectors and the Chinese. When California introduced a miner’s tax of $ 3 only for the Chinese in May 1852 to protect white miners and prospectors, it escalated to violence and crime. It was also decided by the Supreme Court in 1854 that Chinese immigrants such as Afro-Americans and Indians were not allowed to testify in court. Thus it was impossible for the Chinese to find justice with the increasing violence of the whites on the newcomers. The Chinese people have faced persistent discrimination at work and in their camps.

With regard to the economic crisis of 1870, an anti-Chinese political current in California combined the danger of wage dumping by the Chinese immigrants and as competitors for the fewer jobs. With this they initiated the „Chinese Exclusion Act“ which is of course directed against the Chinese and is associated with racism.

The „Chinese Exclution Act“ was passed in the US Congress on May 6, 1882, which is based on a revision of the Burlingame Treaty, concluded in 1868, which describes the immigration of Chinese migrants to the USA or is now restricted by the new act.










The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first immigration law in US history to restrict immigration from a group of people based on their ethnicity. In a ban negotiated by the Imperial Japanese and the US government (Gentlemen’s Agreement 1907), almost 25 years later, the influx of Japanese into the United States was restricted.

The journal get used in 1894 to track Chinese immigrants

The Chinese workers and businessmen in Hawai’i were largely spared from the situation that prevailed on the mainland.

It was not until the Second World War that the “Chinese Exclusion Act” was repealed. From 1947 onwards, the Chinese were also allowed to purchase land outside of Chinatown. In 1948 the ban on mixed marriages between Chinese and whites was lifted.

The Japanese followed the second phase of immigration and had to live under the same racism and violence of the Americans as the Chinese. The Japanese, including the American-Japanese in Hawaii and in the USA after the bombing of Pearl Habor on Oahu, had to go through a sad story and time. They have been relocated from their homes to camps.

Over a third (34%) of the Japanese population in the US now live in Hawai’i.

Japanische Camp in West Oahu
People wait in line for their housing assignment at the Manzanar internment camp in the California desert in 1942. More than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes and placed in camps in several states during World War II
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The overthrow of the QING dynasty

I do not want to go into the significant Chinese history, as well as the emergence of the Qing dynasty by the Mongols and the Jurchen, here. The Qing dynasty inherited a difficult legacy from its predecessors, who had to contend with many internal and western powers as well as with Japan in political and military problems.

Kaiser Daoguang

Although the Qing dynasty more or less succeeded in establishing inner peace among the people and in bringing about a good economic situation through modernization with steam engines, the next core problem was just around the corner. This increased the population from 143 million to 430 million people between 1740 and 1850 and overburdened the Chinese administration. There was renewed deep tension between the Chinese slave laborers, the peasants and the battered, exhausted administration. With these culturally oppressed and dissatisfied people, the privileged general of the red banner Heshen (1750-1799) was able to build up a nationwide network of corruption. In the consciousness of the emperor, Heshen enjoyed almost unlimited freedom of action and abused his position of power with the poor people in order to amass an unlawful estimated fortune of 800 million silver tales.

General Heshen, of the red banner

Under the presumption of almost imperial powers, he exploited the people, practiced extortion on a large scale, embezzled state funds and had the obligations and services incumbent on him paid for. With his corrupt actions, Heshe also withdrew funds from important infrastructure projects such as dyke construction, which ultimately led to violent natural disasters such as the flooding of the Yellow River. Many farmers left their homeland because of this and emigrated to Hawaii, among other places.

The Qing Dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi of China.

The imperial Qing dynasty received further rifts due to an armed conflict between Great Britain and the Empire, which led to the first Opium War. With this first opium war from September 4, 1839 to August 29, 1842, the time of the dynastic decline began, which is a milestone in Chinese history.


The ineffective military response from Qing State made China’s military inferiority obvious to foreign and domestic observers. In China, the lost war is considered to be the beginning of a century of colonial foreign determination and ushered in a legitimacy crisis in the traditional state and social system. It exacerbated the country’s domestic political problems. The imperial Qing dynasty continued to crumble and was further weakened by the Second Opium War in 1858, when China had to make further foreign and trade concessions.

Landing of allied troops in Hong Kong
second opium war

Simply put, the last 70 years of the Qing Dynasty can be said to be the story of decline.

More generally, however, the causes of this dynasty decline – when viewed as a function of ailing institutions such as the examination system or an increasingly inefficient revenue system outside of population growth – can be traced back to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and before. Therefore, this perspective of major socio-political forces can also be taken into account, which raises the question and allows whether the decline is not only due to the political order of the Qing, but to the Chinese civilization itself. Reforms slowly came symptomatic of this decline and with limited, sporadic government support. Known as the Qing Restoration, which began around 1860, the aim was to revitalize the Confucian state through administrative and tax reforms, as well as a practical application of Confucian principles in governance.

At the end of the 19th century, some Chinese began to realize that if they wanted to become a modern nation, their political system had to be seriously reformed and, if it failed, changed. The combined effects of modern trade, industry and education had resulted in the great diversification and enrichment of the Chinese elite. You were now ready for a more say in politics. When their demands were not satisfied, they left the Qing Court, and the dynasty collapsed in 1912. In the immediate aftermath, all efforts to reform or self-reinforce had failed. In the long term, the late Qing laid the foundation for modern China. There was no turning back.

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Sun Yat-sen

Hawaii did not yet know when the sailing ship, coming from China, docked in Honolulu around 1878, which future celebrities as well as important personalities were on the ship. At the age of 13, Sun Yat-sen left his father as a poor farm boy in his village of Cuiheng, (翠亨村), Xiangshan County (香山 縣 / 香山 县), Guangdong (southern China), where he was born on November 12, 1866, traveled to after his mother, Madame Yang, who had emigrated at the time, and to his 17-year-old brother, Sun Mei. He wanted to work as a farmer for his brother, one of the richest rangers on Maui, but soon realized that he was different from all the other Chinese workers.

Sun Mei sent Sun Yat-sen to the Anglican Iolani School from 1879 to 1882, and to the Punahou School until 1883, where he was the first Chinese to receive a Western education. He learned English, studied geography, math and the Bible. When he first came into contact with Christianity, he was so overwhelmed that he converted to Christianity in 1882. By converting to the Christian faith, it promoted Sun Yan-sen’s revolutionary ideals.

Sun studied medicine from 1887 to 1892, where he then worked as a doctor at the Kiang Wu Hospital in Macau. He also managed to replace the Chinese chairs there with German professors. Sun toured Europe, where he noticed the difference between the government of the Qin Dynasty and that of the West, which stirred up dissatisfaction in his country. So he began his political activities by forming reform groups with Chinese exiles in Hong Kong. Later in October 1894 he founded the Xingzhonghui (興 中 會 / 兴 中 会 – „Association for the Restoration of China“) with the aim of creating a platform for future revolutionary activities. After the failure of the planned „Canton Uprising“ (乙未 廣州 起義 / 乙未 广州 起义) in 1895, the Qing government put a bounty on Sun. Sun flees into exile in Europe, the USA, Canada and Japan for 16 years. Sun Yat-sen was expelled from exile in Japan to the United States when he and the Chinese dissident group founded the Tongmenghui Bund („Chinese Revolutionary League“), the predecessor of the Kuomintang, in 1905.

Sun was in possession of a birth certificate issued by the Hawaiian Territory of the United States, which stated that he was born on November 24, 1870 in the Kingdom of Hawaii. This information was not correct. Sun Yat-sen was given this certificate in Hawai’i in March 1904, which enabled him to have a legal residence in the United States, which would otherwise have been denied under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.



On October 10, 1911 the time had come for the Wuchang uprising, today the district of Wuhan, capital of the Chinese province of Hubei, to begin. This was the prelude and beginning of the Xinhai Revolution which heralded the end of the two thousand year rule of the imperial dynasties in China.

Battle at Hankow.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty on December 29, 1911, at a conference of provincial representatives in Nanjing, the highly respected Sun Yan-sen was elected as the interim president of the Republic of China, which was proclaimed for the first time. Sun was a compromise candidate between the revolutionaries and the conservative nobility.

Sun Yat-Sen elected president of new Republic of China

On the upcoming parliamentary elections on August 12, 1912, Sun founded the National People’s Party (Kuomintang) from numerous smaller political groups.

After he was sworn in, Sun convened delegates from all provinces to establish the National Assembly of the Republic of China. This assembly declared the transitional right to be the basic law of the new republic. In China, the southern provinces proclaimed their independence, while the north remained true to the old system. The weak transitional government also lacked a new army to control the troops loyal to Qing. Sun Yat-sen therefore needed the support of the North Chinese military, the Beiyang Army, which was subordinate to the Yuan Shikai. Sun was forced to promise the office of president so that he would side with the revolution and force Emperor Puyi to abdicate.

Puyi the two year old emperor of the Qing dynasty

Yuan became a dictator rather than a good president of the new Republic of China. As a result, Sun attempted a revolution against Yuan in 1913, which failed unspeakably and forced Sun to go into exile in Japan. There, in Japan, Sun Yan-sen married Song Qingling on October 25th after separating from his first wife, Lu Muzhen.

After four years in exile, Sun returned to China in 1917 and was elected President of the self-proclaimed national government in Canton in 1921. In 1923 he declared his three popular principles in a speech to be the basis of the state and his five-yuan constitution as a guideline for the political system. In order for the independent southern provinces of China to be militarily powerful against the militarists in Beijing, Sun founded the Whampoa Military Academy near Canton, with Chiang Kai-shek as commander and party comrades such as Wang Jingwei and Hu Hanmin as political teachers.

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen was convinced that, due to the prevailing conflicts from north China to south China, the whole country could only be better controlled and united by using force from his base in south China. His idea was that after a period of political tutelage, the transition to democracy should take place. In this regard, Sun traveled north on November 10, 1924 and advocated an all-China conference and the abolition of unfair trade agreements with the West. Two days later, despite poor health and civil war, Sun Yat-sen traveled further north to discuss the future of the country and its dreams and vision.

On March 12, 1925, Sun Yat-sen died of liver cancer in Beijing at the age of 58.

Funeral of Sun Yat-sen
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Kaoro Otsuki Sun Yat Sen Memorial House
Puyi Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum
Battle of Yangxia Sun-Yat-sen-Gedächtnishalle
Xinhai-Revolution Trip to attend the reinterment of Sun Yat-sen, 1929
The China Revolution of the Sun Yan-sen Trail in Hongkong
Sun Yan-sen Hawaii University of Hawaii and Sun Yan-sen
Christianity  Sun Yan-sen and the modern China
Chronology of Dr.Sun Yat-sen



The legacy

Sun Yan-sen’s political philosophy, known as the threefold people’s principle (三民主義 / 三民主义), was published in August 1905 and was based heavily on American progressivism.

In order to achieve final peace, freedom and equality in China, Sun proposed to use the principle which he described in his work „Methods and Strategies for Building the Country“, which he had completed in 1919.

Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek

In 1925, after Sun’s death, a power struggle broke out between the young protégé Chiang Kai-shek and the older Wang Jingwei, which split the Kuomintang.

Wang Jingwei and Chiang Kai-shek

That was partly due to the conflicting legacy that Sun Yat-sen had left. When the alliance between communists and the Kuomintang dissolved in 1927 and civil war broke out, everyone claimed to be its real heirs. This split persisted during the Japanese War. (It is also very interesting to read about the Pacific War)

The Soong sisters, left to right: Soong Ei-ling (1890 – 1973), Soong May-ling (1897 – 2003) and Soong Ching-ling (1893 – 1981) in Chongqing (Chunking), China, 1940. The sisters were uniquely influential in Chinese politics in the early 20th Century, with Ai-ling marrying banker and finance minister H. H. Kung, May-ling working with and marrying Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and Ching-ling marrying first President of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen.
Topical Press Agency

Sun’s widow Song Qingling sided with the communists during the civil war and was Vice President of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1981, and became honorary president shortly before her death in 1981. Her sister Song Meiling, in turn, was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek.

1927 Chiang Soong wedding with Chiang Kai-shek

Sun Yat-sen is the only Chinese politician who is highly respected in both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. In Taiwan, he is considered the father of the Republic of China and his image is present in almost all public spaces. Since Sun Yat-sen was never in the government of Taiwan, he is also harmless to supporters of Taiwanese independence.

In the People’s Republic of China he is seen as a Chinese nationalist and a champion of the republic and socialism. In recent years, Sun has also been brought to the fore by the Chinese government, not least to improve relations with Taiwan and its reunification supporters there. There is now a large picture of Sun Yat-sen on Tian’anmen Square for the May celebrations, while pictures of Karl Marx and Lenin can no longer be seen.

In Hawaii itself, one can still find and discover many traces and historical testimonies as well as legacies of Sun Yan-sen. He is still revered by many Chinese and other people in Hawaii, and his philosophy and thoughts are learned in schools. Even though Sun Yan-sen passed away, he still lives on, in schools, museums, parks or simply in statues.

Kepaniwai Park, Maui ©Foto Gérard Koch 2015

In Honolulu, in Chinatown, Oahu, you can find the Dr. Visit Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park, see the statue of him at 100 N Beretania St., make a detour to the Hawaii Chinese History Center or visit the Sun Yat Sen Cultural Center at N Kukui St. There is also a small one on Maui Park, Sun Yan-sen Park at 13434 Kula Hwy, Kula or the Wo Hing Temple Museum in Laheina.

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