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Articles Home - The Chinese Community and Santo Domingo’s Barrio Chino
The Dominican Republic has often been praised as a cultural mosaic and in the heart of Santo Domingo the Chinese community is one of the many cultural enclaves that has added to that mix. Since the mid 19th century there has been a Chinese presence in the DR and in that time those Chinese-Dominicans have continually contributed to the overall Dominican community, not just through business, but also in culture and politics. In the early 1990s the idea of honoring the memory of those early Chinese immigrants and the growing Chinese community of the DR was born, but that ambitious idea has grown into what is proving to be the revitalization of a once run-down area of Santo Domingo.

History of Chinese migration in the DR: the 19th century
Large-scale Chinese migration to the Americas began during the 19th century. According to studies by historians Jose Chez Checo and Mu-Kien Adriana Sang, the Chinese migration to the DR was part of a larger migration pattern from China as a result of extreme poverty, a deteriorating economic climate and political and ideological conflicts during this period. Driven by war, starvation and an increased need for manpower to fulfill a wave of colonial industrialization many people, mostly poor and uneducated men, made their way from China to the Americas as laborers. A large number of unskilled workers were sold in what was labeled the “coolie” trade, but the specific nature of Chinese migration to the Caribbean is due to the fact that the region was considered a stopover on the route to the United States. Although Cuba, Puerto Rico and the DR were seen as stops to the final destinations, for a variety of reasons many Chinese immigrants stayed in these Caribbean countries and established small niches.

The first recorded mention of a Chinese presence in the Dominican Republic was in 1864 during the War of the Restoration, with references to a man named “Pancho el Chino,” who fought in the War. There are also reports that a businessman named Gregorio Riva brought a handful of Chinese laborers over from Cuba to make bricks and quicklime in the Cibao region. This group of Chinese immigrants eventually built warehouses in Samana, Yuna and Moca. By 1870 the Chinese migrants had built the cemetery in Moca and Jose Chez Checo writes that at least one of the men married and had children. By 1878 the presence of Chinese-Dominicans in Puerto Plata had increased thanks to the work of General Segundo Imbert, who was Govenor of Puerto Plata and by 1893, according to an official census, there were seven Chinese males living in Santiago.

The early 20th century
By 1910 there were 32 Chinese residents in Santo Domingo and there is a reference to 12 living in Santiago in a book by Pedro Batista. In 1918 a large group of Chinese immigrants settled in Puerto Plata, via New York, and by 1919, according to an official census there were 64 Chinese residents in Santo Domingo. One of the largest waves of Chinese migration to the DR came during the US invasion of the country between 1916 and 1920. The 1920s also brought on a large wave of Chinese migration to the DR, although surprisingly requests for entrance visas were from Chinese laborers living in Jamaica. Rear Admiral Cesar De Windt Lavandier noted that many of those Chinese families settled in San Pedro de Macoris. By 1920 there were a total of 255 Chinese residents in all of the DR and were distributed in the following way: 103 in Santo Domingo, 30 in San Pedro de Macoris, 30 in El Seibo, 1 in Azua, 3 in Barahona, 7 in Pacificador, 12 in La Vega, 10 in Espaillat, 36 in Santiago, 10 in Puerto Plata and 1 in Montecristi. According to the census all were male.

The 1920s
Although initial attitudes towards Chinese immigrants were less than favorable, by 1929 the Chinese presence on the island was looked upon as positive, a notion that remains true till this day. Listin Diario correspondent in La Romana, Alberto Bordas wrote that the Chinese community, although not numerous was average in size and the majority worked in octopus cultivation, restaurants and laundries. Bordas highlighted the honor with which the Chinese businesses carried themselves and added that this was to the benefit of small Dominican business.
During the thirty years of Rafael Trujillo’s rule, Chinese migration to the DR also increased, as Trujillo’s immigration policies made entrance into the country easier. Although the Chinese presence in the DR was now 60 years old, the 1931 visit of the Chinese ambassador, who was stationed in Cuba, helped to strengthen ties between both countries and it was during this visit that there was talk of modifying the 1912 Immigration law. The Dominican government intended to export tobacco, sugar and cacao to China but the diplomatic relationship between both nations now provided a political support system for the burgeoning Chinese community in the DR.

The 1930s - 1950s
By 1935 there were 312 Chinese persons in the DR. The 1937 Sino-Japanese war marked another important date because it was during this armed conflict that increased numbers of Chinese migrants came to the DR. In 1944 an official Chinese office was opened in the DR and in 1945 a branch of the Chinese National Party was also opened in the DR. Within a 15-year period the Chinese community in the DR grew to 455 and in 1956 the Chinese community had one its many success in the DR when Angel Cheaz became the first Chinese student to graduate, as an engineer, from a Dominican university. Although Chinese immigration to the country tapered off, it nonetheless continued although in lower numbers.

1950s – present
By the 1950s Chinese-Dominicans had established a small niche in the Duarte area of Santo Domingo and most of the businesses in that part of the city were Chinese-owned. Since Chinese migration had declined during the 1960s and 1970s, the community’s growth was limited. Add to this that Chinese immigrants to the DR integrated into the larger Dominican community, unlike their counterparts in other countries, the larger Chinese culture began to take a back seat and become a less visible part of what the DR had to offer. But a new wave of migration during the early 1990s has sparked new interest about the Chinese community in the country and revived the notion of the need to remember the contributions of past generations. Although no official census has been made, there are estimates of about 15,000 people of Chinese origin living in the DR and this number could be much higher if the number of mixed heritage Chinese-Dominicans is counted. Chinese Dominicans have made great strides in the DR. Jose Chez Checo was former President of the Dominican Academy of History and historian and writer Dr. Mu Kien Adriana Sang has also contributed greatly to Dominican culture. Chinese immigrants have also made contributions in the areas of sports. Female table tennis stars Nieves Xue Wu and Lian Quian, and male star Lin Jun have continually represented the DR in international competitions with great success.
 
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