Chinese immigration to Hawai’i

Encouraged by King Kamehameha I, Hawaii exported sandalwood to China from 1792 to 1843. As a result, Chinese people dubbed the Hawaiian Islands “Tan Heung Shan”, roughly translates to “Fragrant Sandalwood Hills” in Cantonese.

On record, the earliest immigration of the Chinese came from Guangdong province, China. The first, as records indicate were Chinese sailors who accompanied the Captain Cook journey in 1778. More Chinese crewmen reached Hawaii between 1788-1789. In 1790 a handful of Chinese settled on the island of Oahu. These Chinese sailors had not brought any Chinese women along with them, they intermarried with Hawaiian women. Intermarriage practices between Chinese men and Hawaiian women continued well into the 19th century, when Chinese women were still a rarity in Hawaii.

Most of the Chinese immigrants arrived in Hawaii during the mid-to-late 19th century, when 46,000 Chinese migrated to the islands as laborers for sugar plantations in Hawaii. A large number of them arrived in 1852, connected to 5 year work contracts. When their plantation contracts expired, many decided to remain in Hawaii and opened businesses in Honolulu; we now know the area as Chinatown. A small group of Hong Kong immigrants were contracted to work the plantations on the island of Maui. By 1882, Chinese made up nearly half of the plantation work force.

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