Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation

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How did thousands of Chinese migrants end up working alongside African Americans in Louisiana after the Civil War? With the stories of these workers, Coolies and Cane advances an interpretation of emancipation that moves beyond U.S. borders and the black-white racial dynamic. Tracing American ideas of Asian labor to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, Moon-Ho Jung argues that the racial formation of "coolies" in American culture and law played a pivotal role in reconstructing concepts of race, nation, and citizenship in the United States.

Jung examines how coolies appeared in major U.S. political debates on race, labor, and immigration between the 1830s and 1880s. He finds that racial notions of coolies were articulated in many, often contradictory, ways. They could mark the progress of freedom; they could also symbolize the barbarism of slavery. Welcomed and rejected as neither black nor white, coolies emerged recurrently as both the salvation of the fracturing and reuniting nation and the scourge of American civilization.

Based on extensive archival research, this study makes sense of these contradictions to reveal how American impulses to recruit and exclude coolies enabled and justified a series of historical transitions: from slave-trade laws to racially coded immigration laws, from a slaveholding nation to a "nation of immigrants," and from a continental empire of manifest destiny to a liberating empire across the seas.

Combining political, cultural, and social history, Coolies and Cane is a compelling study of race, Reconstruction, and Asian American history.

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Winner, Merle Curti Award, Organization of American HistoriansWinner, History Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies

How did thousands of Chinese migrants end up working alongside African Americans in Louisiana after the Civil War? Tracing American ideas of Asian labor to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, Moon-Ho Jung argues that the racial formation of "coolies" in American culture and law played a pivotal role in reconstructing concepts of race, nation, and citizenship in the United States.

"In this important and well-researched work, Moon-Ho Jung argues that Southern sugar planters looked to Asian 'coolies' to solve their labor problems after the Civil War."― American Historical Review

"Brilliant and beautifully written... Jung's slim volume makes it clear that coolieism was not a marginal issue. The debate over coolieism was bound up in the most pressing issues of the Civil War era, from the policing of the slave-trade ban to the redefinition of citizenship in the postwar South."― Journal of American History

"The heart, strength, and originality of this riveting narrative rests in Jung's discussion of the debates concerning Chinese coolies among diverse sectors of white Southerners... A model of the best of American history and, especially, studies of Asian American history and race and ethnicity."― Journal of American Ethnic History

"These larger questions about race and labor are relevant not only for understanding the age of emancipation but also for the current political climate of intensified debates on immigration and citizenship in the United States."― Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

Moon-Ho Jung is an associate professor of history at the University of Washington.

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