Digital Version of Rare Chinese Primary Resource, Guba hua gong diao cha lu Available Online

NEW YORK, February 12, 2007 The C. V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University recently made available the digital version of a rare Chinese primary resource documenting the conditions of Chinese laborers in Cuba in the late nineteenth century.

The set, entitled Guba hua gong diao cha lu, contains the original depositions of 279 laborers in its first four volumes and related documents in the last two volumes, revealing the unusual personal stories of forced immigration during the late nineteenth century During that period, the Chinese government formed a Commission to ascertain the condition of Chinese laborers in Cuba. The laborers, called coolies from the Hindi word kuli for hired laborer, provided answers and depositions in response to the inquiries of the commission.

While Chinese coolies in Cuba were theoretically indentured servants, they were in fact slaves, acquired by kidnapping or deception and sold to sugar plantation owners and others in the Caribbean and the Americas. Trade in Asian laborers across the Pacific increased as efforts were being made in the mid-nineteenth century to restrict trade in African slaves across the Atlantic.

The depositions provide a rare glimpse into the realities of slavery for Chinese workers during the Spanish Colonial period in Cuba: "... I didn’t understand the meanings of the contract. They only said the contract term was eight years of employment. After signing, they forced me into a foreign ship. I cannot remember when the ship took off. When the ship reached Havana, I was marked for sale. Potential buyers came to look at me everyday. After 10 days, I was sold to a sugar plantation. There were 52 workers like me. The general manager and foremen were extremely vicious, treated us worse than they did to dogs and pigs..."

Starr's copy of Guba hua gong diao cha lu is apparently the only one in North America, and only individual items seem to be held in Chinese libraries. It has been made publicly available online by Columbia's Libraries Digital Program at:

"This rare and valuable resource was discovered by a scholar using the collection, who pointed out to us a treasure we didn't realize we had," said Amy Heinrich, Director of the Library.

Columbia is a leader in the field of East Asian studies, with more than 70 faculty members working in this area. More than 20 percent of all undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard enroll in at least one course about East Asia. Students and scholars from all over the New York metropolitan area and the world have come to rely on the C. V. Starr East Asian Library for their research.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

The C. V. Starr East Asian Library is one of the major collections for the study of East Asia in the United States, with over 805,000 volumes of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Western language materials, as well as some holdings in Mongol and Manchu, and over 6,500 periodical titles. The collection, established in 1902, is particularly strong in Chinese history, literature, and social sciences; Japanese literature, history, and religion, particularly Buddhism; and Korean history. The Library’s website is located at

02/12/07 LMK