Chinese labourers working on the Northwest Pacific Railway in the United States in the 1880s. Imported Chinese labourers were called coolies, a label author Mae Ngai is seeking to lift from their backs in her book The Chinese Question. Photo: Getty Images
Chinese labourers working on the Northwest Pacific Railway in the United States in the 1880s. Imported Chinese labourers were called coolies, a label author Mae Ngai is seeking to lift from their backs in her book The Chinese Question. Photo: Getty Images

‘Coolies’ then, still ‘coolies’ now: professor seeking to rehabilitate 19th century migrants from China notes how little some white views of Chinese have changed

  • Mae Ngai, author of The Chinese Question about Chinese migrants’ battle for acceptance, believes we all have to have responsibility for our nation’s history
  • At times the book conveys a sense of personal umbrage, such as when the Chinese are described as ‘locusts’ that white settlers fear will overrun them

Chinese labourers working on the Northwest Pacific Railway in the United States in the 1880s. Imported Chinese labourers were called coolies, a label author Mae Ngai is seeking to lift from their backs in her book The Chinese Question. Photo: Getty Images
Chinese labourers working on the Northwest Pacific Railway in the United States in the 1880s. Imported Chinese labourers were called coolies, a label author Mae Ngai is seeking to lift from their backs in her book The Chinese Question. Photo: Getty Images
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