On January 12, 2018, Guyana celebrates 165 years since the arrival of the first Chinese immigrants on the shores of British Guiana at Windsor in 1853. Details of the history of migration, the long voyages and the several issues of indentureship have not all been happy, but the causes for celebration of the social development of a people who have made considerable contributions to the building of a nation are infinite.
The various sources advise us that hundreds of those who left the different ports in China perished at sea and the system of indentured labour that they joined in the colony is one whose notoriety cast a shadow of darkness over Guyanese history. But the story of the Chinese presence in the developing Guyanese society is a much happier sequel. What is worthy of the highest commendation and sincere congratulations to the Chinese community are the resoluteness and strength of character of an industrious people and the role they performed in the triumphs of the Guyanese nation as it stands today.
Several of those who arrived did not complete their contracts and joined other enterprises elsewhere in the colony. Many others either returned to China at the end of their contracts or left to join the growing Chinese communities in the West Indian islands of Jamaica and Trinidad, and the neighbouring colony of Dutch Guiana, now Suriname. Many more of those who finished their contracts left the sugar estates to build other industries, providing goods, merchandise and various services to the local population, becoming pillars of construction in the industrial and private sector advancement of the country.
Several Chinese men between 1853 and 1879 became deeply integrated into local domestic society outside of the plantations, which was remarked upon by historians and anthropologists. After 1920 many Chinese descendants began to join the professions and the intellectual class leading to their further contributions to politics and culture as well as business and industry.
What stands out, however, but has largely gone unfabled, is the Guyanese Chinese contribution to sports. Most exceptional is the dominance in hockey of Chinese players in the 1960s and 1970s, making up most of the national teams during those years with the commensurate impact on the building of the sport. Chinese have also been famous in other sports such as table tennis, squash and motor sports in the years after Independence.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Guyana is an institution arising from the increasing close relations between the respective Republics of Guyana and China that have multiplied and diversified in contemporary times, and have included the large and growing community of a new wave of Chinese immigrants during the last 20 years. The institute, taking the lead on behalf of the university, has a responsibility for academic training and cultural exchanges to foster knowledge and learning and foster a more enlightened Guyanese population where the Chinese presence in Guyana is concerned.
It is our honour to congratulate the Chinese Association, the Chinese community and join the nation in this observation of the 165th Anniversary of Chinese Arrival in Guyana.
Director of Confucius Institute
University of Guyana