Queen Liliuokalani and the Chinese Community

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One of the most under-documented areas of study is Hawaiʻi-China relations in the 19th century. As early as King Kamehameha I, Kamehameha had Chinese at his court. They were mostly traders interested in sandalwood. Hawaiʻi to Chinese was known for its sandalwood, so much so that the Chinese name for the Hawaiian Islands was “Sandalwood Mountains.” Large scale Chinese immigration, however, did not begin until the reign of King Kamehameha IV. The King originally tried to get immigration from Indonesia, particularly Western Indonesia which was then and still is predominately Christian. But the Dutch government (which controlled Indonesia) refused. So the King negotiated with the Chinese Empire. Most Chinese expatriate communities in SE Asia and the US are from Guandong and Fujian (Fukian), but Hawaiʻi most early Chinese were Punti, Hakka, and Hmong. This is a reason why traditional Chinese food in Hawaiʻi tastes distinctively different than Chinese food in restaurants in say New York, Manila or Singapore. Many of the Chinese married Hawaiian women, Hawaiianized their last names using the Cantonese honorific A (i.e. Afong became Ahuna, Chi became Aki, Ching became Akina, etc), and a Chinese pidgin of Hawaiian emerged. One of the most famous Chinese immigrants in Hawaiʻi was Chun Ah Fong who was Hawaiʻiʻs first multi-millionaire. He married Julia Fayerweather, a Hawaiian who was also an adopted sister to Princess Likelike. Ah Fong also became the first Chinese to be appointed to a Hawaiian government position–that of Privy Council member–of King Kalākaua. King Kalākaua himself visited China in 1881 and was greatly loved by the Chinese in Hawaiʻi. During a speech contest at St Albanʻs (now called ʻIolani), a young Chinese student won and was given a portrait of King Kalākaua and got to meet both the King and Queen Emma. That young student was Sun Yatsen, the father of modern China. Throughout the 1880s, the then Princess Liliʻuokalani consistently backed Chinese plantation workers and supported Chinese cultural institutions in Hawaiʻi. The Chinese community in Hawaiʻi hosted lavish celebrations on the birthdays of King Kalākaua and later Queen Liliʻuokalani up until her passing in 1917.

In the political turmoil of the late 1880s, the Chinese were the second most affected. In 1887, under the Bayonet Constitution, Chinese and Japanese lost their voting rights because Asians were no longer allowed to vote at all despite if they were Hawaiʻi citizens. Europeans and Americans who had property could vote regardless of their citizenship. Chinese businessmen had helped to fund the 1889 Wilcox Rebellion and many them had a close relationship to Joseph Nāwahī through his wife, Emma ʻAʻima, who herself was part Chinese.

When the Queen deposed in 1893, Japanese and Chinese plantation workers threatened to revolt. Most people remember the Queen for not wanting the bloodshed of her people, but the Queen also was deeply concerned about bloodshed of the Chinese and urged Chinese figures to urge other Chinese to pursue non-violence as she believed that the US would do the right thing. The Chinese diplomatic legation in Hawaiʻi recognized the Provisional Government as the de facto government over the Hawaiian Islands but at the same time, many (if not most) Chinese hated the new government. Members of the Provisional and later Republic saw the Chinese as essentially as slaves on their plantations. However, they actually feared the Chinese as an economic threat as they were engaged directly with various commercial activities. Queen Liliʻuokalani had strong relationships with both the Japanese and Chinese communities in Hawaiʻi. 

For Chinese, like their Hawaiian counterparts, the Queen was still the legitimate ruler. Chinese had helped to fund the 1895 nationalist uprising and leading Chinese members were arrested and deported. Samuel Aki, a part-Hawaiian part-Chinese, was a member of Hui Aloha ʻĀina and he represented the Chinese immigrant concerns in the anti-annexation movement. One of the most ardent Hawaiian nationalists was Emma Nāwahī, as mentioned earlier. Chinese who married Hawaiian women signed the 1897 Kūʻē petitions against annexation the United States. While Chinese diplomatic officials recognized the Provisional Government and the Republic of Hawaiʻi, they were writing to their home government in Beijing not to recognize annexation because a majority of people of all races were against it. The government of the Guangxu Emperor did not want to again challenge a foreign power as it just lost wars to Britain, France, and Japan.

When “Annexation Day” came in 1898, Chinese businesses closed their businesses and like their Hawaiian counterparts, also mourned. After “annexation”, Chinese supported the Hawaiian Home Rule Party and later the Democratic Party under Prince David Kawānanakoa. The Empire of China, however, maintained itʻs diplomatic legation as if annexation did not happen. When the Qing Dynasty was replaced by a Republic, the new Chinese President Sun Yatsen recognized annexation. When the Queen passed away in 1917, the new Chinese President Féng Guózhāng rerouted a warship headed to Europe–China had fought as an ally during WWI–to attend the funeral of Queen Liliʻuokalani as a sign of Chinaʻs appreciation of the Queen

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