Introducing radical counter-visions of race and slavery, The Coolie Speaks focuses on Chinese labourers who worked side by side with African slaves in Cuba. The Chinese wrote of their peculiar yet prescient experiences of new bondage in a slave society that was transitioning from slavery to abolition. Through an examination of these narratives of resistance, the book re-conceptualizes diasporic representations and histories to offer transformative re-examinations of "Chinese," "African," and "Latino" in mutually imbricated contexts. In that historical moment of multi-racial encounter, trans-culturation, and intense daily conflict, Yun argues, discourses of "freedom" and the contract institution emerged as a globalizing system of enslavement. With a historical introduction and literary readings, this first-time examination of writings by Chinese coolies and of a next generation Afro-Chinese author, raises timely theoretical and methodological questions regarding freedom, race, diaspora, trans-nationalism, and globalization.
This interdisciplinary work, grounded in literary studies, history, law and philosophy will interest scholars in American studies, Africana studies, Caribbean/Latin American studies, Asian studies, and Asian American studies, among others.
"Yun provides a worthy examination of the lives of Asian immigrant laborers during the last half of the nineteenth century... [A] solid addition to the historiography of Chinese laborers in Cuba... Yun's book is essential for graduate students and scholars who study race, ethnicity, labor, and immigration in Latin America and the Caribbean." The Journal of World History "It makes significant interventions in the literatures of African slavery and Asian indentured labor, and is an important, primary document. The Coolie Speaks" will be a key work in Chinese, Caribbean, and Asian American studies for years to come." Gary Okihiro, Columbia University "The individual testimonies...are stunning in their particularity and personality. Some use Chinese historic and poetic allusions in sophisticated ways, some are quite simple, and all are anguishing...The author is to be commended." Library Journal "Little critical attention has been paid to one of the most important testimonials in Latin American history: The Cuba Commission Report. Lisa Yun's timely and well-written book is undoubtedly the most complete study to date on this jewel for the study of race relations, labor migration, and the international division of labor. Her outstanding analysis of the testimonial is complemented with other testimonies related to the so-called coolie trade in Cuba. In this sense, the book rescues from oblivion the abuses committed against southern Chinese indentured laborers... The Coolie Speaks is of interest not only for Chinese diaspora studies but also for Latin American, Caribbean, and Pan-African studies and literary criticism. This book is bound to become a seminal work for the study of the Chinese presence in the Americas." The Colonial Latin American Historical Review "In this exceptional study, Yun uniquely compares the original depositions in Chinese with the translated versions and meticulously explores the fascinating, complex world views of this element of the population. She superbly contextualizes the heterogeneous world of contract labor involving Africans, Indians, and Chinese around the world. This examination...represents an enormously significant contribution to the field. Summing Up: Highly recommended." Choice "The Coolie Speaks offers a thorough interpretation of the intersection of Asian, African, Latin American, Caribbean, and North American racial and economic philosophies within the context of slavery in nineteenth-century Cuba. Its extraordinary examination of bondage in Cuba also probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race by focusing on an often-neglected dimension of Latin American historiography... [It] provides a thorough and innovative interpretation of an important element within Latin American society." HISTORY "The Coolie Speaks is a fascinating and thought-provoking interdisciplinary work, which relates several areas of Asian, African, Caribbean, Latin American, and American Studies." The Afro-Hispanic Review "Yun has made an important contribution to the history of the Coolies in Cuba and by looking at their relationship with the African slaves, she has provided us with a fresh approach to the history of repression, resistance and solidarity of nineteenth-century Cuba." E-misferica, Jan 2009 "The Coolie Speaks is a remarkable interdisciplinary text that explores the historical, literary, and philosophical implications of Chinese indentured labor in nineteenth-century Cuba. Lisa Yun offers an exceptional analysis of the 1876 Cuba Commission Report... Her close examination of coolies' responses reveals the fascinating ethnic and class heterogeneity of the workers themselves, disrupting modernist assumptions of a universal, homogenized coolie subject... One of the book's most important contributions is its identification of a coolie narrative... Yun's well-crafted argument effectively establishes the coolie narrative as a literary archetype with far-ranging methodological, philosophical, and epistemological implications." The Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Spring 2009 "[Yun] produces a fascinating, elegantly written, and careful analysis of thousands of depositions and petitions collected during an 1874 Chinese government fact-finding mission to Cuba (at the height of the anticolonial Ten Years' War) to investigate the work and life conditions of Chinese coolies and intervene on their behalf... [O]ne of the book's greatest scholarly contributions is that it challenges a monolithic historiographical portrayal of the Cuban body politic...[T]his interdisciplinary work of history and literary criticism is a highly readable, critical scholarly innovation for studies of race, labor regimes and violence, immigration, and Asian diaspora experience in Cuba and the Americas." Hispanic American Historical Review "[Yun] has opened up a horrific oyster shell embedded in the reefs of the slave trade... Yet the power and striking originality of The Coolie Speaks lies less in its message than in its harsh but elegant dialectic of recovery and storytelling... The Coolie Speaks is a breakthrough of scholarship. It provides a new map not just of the Atlantic slave trade, Chinese diaspora, and modern capitalism, but of scholarly means to articulate the words, places, and stories that tumble outward from the violent and fractured history of modernity. Like Toni Morrison's Beloved, The Coolie Speaks seems to find a root language to remember and memorialize human suffering and agency, while teaching us again as scholars and citizens of the world to listen carefully to the cries, whispers, and exhortations of the past." - Caloo, Winter 2010