The Coolie Speaks

Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba

Lisa Yun
Book Cover

PB: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-582-0
Publication: Feb 09

HC: $61.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-581-3
Publication: Feb 08

Ebook: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-583-7
Publication: Feb 08

336 pages

6 tables, 3 figs., 1 halftones

A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Introducing radical counter-visions of race and slavery, The Coolie Speaks focuses on Chinese laborers 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 reconceptualizes 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, transculturation, 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, transnationalism, 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.


"Beautifully written, The Coolie Speaks offers a moving testament to the responsibility of scholars in the recovery of lives. The book makes significant interventions in the literatures of African slavery and Asian indentured labor, and it stakes and charts new territory across the disciplines of history and literary criticism."
Gary Y. Okihiro, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Challenges of a Transitional History

1. Historical Context of Coolie Traffic to the Americas
The Narrative of Transition
The Early Experiments
Chinese and Indian Coolie Labor
Chinese Coolies and “Tea with Sugar”
Coolies on Ships and the Passage
Coolies on American Ships
Coolies on Land

2. The Coolie Testimonies
The Commission Investigation
Methodological Challenges of Reading Testimonies
Coolie Testimonies and African Slave Narratives
Who Were the Coolies?

3. The Petitions
The Witness Petition
The Verse Petition
The Argument Petition
Philosophical Prelude
Chasing Freedom
Slaves of the Market
The Paper Chase Petition

4. The Depositions
Race, Resistance, and Spectacular Subordination
The Peculiar Fatality of Color
Struggle Before Solidarity
The Cost of Domination

5. An Afro-Chinese Author and the Next Generation
The Subversive and the Translator
The Motley Tongue
Liberation, Solidarity, and “Socio-political Adultery”
Coolies and Californians

Conclusion: Old and New Maps of Coolies

About the Author(s)

Lisa Yun is Associate Professor of English and Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University.


In the Series

  • Asian American History and Culture edited by Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee

    Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong and Linda Trinh Võ, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.