The Chinese are here...

Lance Neita

Sunday, September 10, 2017

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The recent wave of allegations critical of Chinese companies operating in Jamaica have been heavy-handed and, according to the Chinese Embassy, “...could encourage a backlash and create an unsafe environment for Chinese nationals working in Jamaica”.

These allegations have come from some of the most unlikely sources, including politicians who have worked closely with the Chinese on a number of projects that have undoubtedly been of benefit to Jamaica.

The Chinese-Jamaican bond and assimilation have been so strong that there a large number of non-Chinese Jamaicans with Chinese-sounding names. In this instance I won't name names.

The Chinese Embassy is obviously aware that there have been periods of anti-Chinese emotionalism in Jamaica's history. Some of these instances have actually led to rioting and uprising against the Chinese. One such shameful event occurred in 1918. It started at Ewarton and spread quickly to other parts of St Catherine and other parishes such as St Mary, Clarendon and St. Ann. A colonial secretary in the late 1920s is said to have accused the Government and police of failure to employ the law against Chinese immigrants and advocated “extreme violence against Chinese, so that their shops will be burnt down”. Think on these things.

We need to be careful that this current argument does not get out of hand and excite any wayward behaviour.

Back in 2010 I wrote a column published elsewhere entitled 'The Chinese are coming'. Today's little outburst encouraged me to go back to that article which, at the time, spurred mixed responses, in some cases very similar to what we are hearing today.

I said then that, “China's great leap forward for interaction with the rest of the world has landed in Jamaica with the announcements of mega-partnerships in sugar, housing, construction, and other potential areas of interest. This is a clear indication that China's strategic investment plan to spread its commercial influence across international borders includes Jamaica, which they regard as a natural hub for creating new business, shipping, and marketing ventures in the Caribbean.

“The expansion of China is not one-sided, as it has also opened its doors to foreign investment in auto industry, computer technology, commerce, manufacturing, construction, and other major enterprise.

“Jamaica would be short-changed if we were left out of the economic miracle that is now taking place in the Far East. We are not strangers to China and, in terms of playing hosts, we have a cultural advantage based on some 150 years of Chinese integration and assimilation into the Jamaican society.

“The first Chinese immigrants came in the 1850s, and by the year 1930 some 4,000 had immigrated to Jamaica. They came as indentured farmers and in the early period were deployed to the large cultivations to work in the planting of coconuts, bananas and sugar cane.

“The Chinese genius for trading came with the early immigrants, who started the line of grocery shops that have become their trade marks across the country. Known colloquially as 'Chiney shops' they could be found in almost every village and town and were the forerunners of the grocery and dry goods business establishments, including the supermarkets that first opened in Jamaica in the 1950s.”

The 'Chiney shop' of my village and boyhood days was manned by Shim and Madam. If the shop were ever empty, you would knock on the wooden counter and call out, “Serve!” Madam would appear mysteriously to fill the order of salt fish, corned meat, rice, flour, cornmeal, and other basic items. If the order was substantial she would slip a mint ball into your hand, accompanied by a conspiratorial wink.

Shim Shop was the cornerstone of commerce in the little village. It was one of the first buildings to get electricity and that was enough to generate nightlife in an otherwise sleepy little settlement.

Shim was also a smart businessman who knew how to play his hand to keep or reward his customers. No matter how mad you may have got over a short pound in the flour bag, you were all smiles at Christmastime when Shim sent around his Christmas bags to favoured customers. My father always looked forward to the groceries, ham, aerated water, and a bottle of syrup that came in the parcel.

The Chinese sent their children to the local school and we made great friends with them as they were our source for comic books smuggled out of the shop, or the one giant lollipop which could make its way through at least 10 sets of taste buds.

I went further to say in the article that, “We will watch with interest if there is to be any significant importation of Chinese skills or labour attached to these new business ventures. However, this should not be the case, as the sugar industry, for example, is well staffed, managed and operated by Jamaicans with proven capabilities and years of experience.”

On reflection, I may have been wrong here, although what I said in that article, written over seven years ago, is still relevant. There has, for example, been a significant importation of Chinese skills or labour attached to these new business ventures. In some cases more than enough, but the Government does monitor the immigration, and in Alpart's case we are assured by the Minister of Mining that a large percentage of the foreign labour on that site will be returning to their homeland soon.

The ones that came in to do largely construction work have been pretty quiet; they have settled down nicely in most instances to themselves, I have not heard of them being involved in any law-breaking or gun-shooting and, apart from a number of babies turning up with those Chinese names I told you about earlier, they have kept the peace.

I went on to say, in 2010, “The other concern expressed as a fear in some quarters is that China appears set on taking over the wheels of our industry. This suggestion should be dismissed as out-of-touch with the concept of globalisation which we have embraced. Our trade and commerce has, for years, been in and out of the hands of multinationals, as well as Jamaicans. The Syrians, the Jews, the Indians, the Chinese, the Americans, and the Europeans have been a part of our corporate landscape, establishing partnerships and dynasties in Jamaica that have served the country well.

“In this instance of a new phase of foreign investment, we look to the Government to protect our interests. The Chinese are adept at negotiation, and we must seek and share full disclosure of all conditions attached. The discussions appear to be moving smoothly and in a spirit of harmony.

“Perhaps now is the time to broker a deal for the upgrading and conversion of the Trelawny Greenfield Stadium, in which the Chinese have some maternal interest, into a super sports development centre that would bring athletes and sportspersons from all over the world for training and world circuit events.

“The Chinese and their disciplined approach to work, and the emphasis they place on education and family life have set an example for the Jamaican society to emulate. Chinese-Jamaicans have made positive and lasting contributions to Jamaica's social and economic development.”

One thing is certain, the Chinese have demonstrated a work discipline that we would do well to follow. I am sure that their record of productivity is second to none in Jamaica.

The Chinese have indeed made a positive and lasting contribution to our development. Think of names like Tessanne Chin, Patsy Yuen, Byron Lee, Patrick Chung (famous American footballer), Winston Chung Fah, Michael Lee Chin, Raymond Chang, and Vincent and Patricia Chin,

In the world of politics think of Rose Leon, Ferdinand Yap Sam, Maurice Tenn, Horace Chang, and Delroy Chuck. And is there a One-Ting in the House? That name, or one very similar, is beginning to ring a bell.

Lance Neita is a public and community relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or

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