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Vol. 71/No. 41      November 5, 2007

Meetings in Edinburgh, Glasgow discuss
book by Cuban Chinese generals
EDINBURGH, Scotland—Meetings were held at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities October 18 and 19 to celebrate the publication of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. Many of the 90 people in attendance at the two panel discussions were students, more than a dozen of them Chinese.

The book, published by Pathfinder Press, tells the story of Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong. As young Cuban rebels of Chinese ancestry, each became a combatant in the Cuban revolutionary war of the late 1950s, and after the revolution, rose to the rank of general in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. Today all three continue to play a leadership role in their country.

“This book tells a fascinating story of Chinese immigrants in Cuba, in the Cuban Revolution and beyond,” said Jane Duckett in welcoming the audience in Glasgow. Duckett is the director of the Scottish Centre for Chinese Social Science Research at the University of Glasgow, which sponsored the event there.

The meetings began with an excerpt from the film Ancestors in the Americas: Coolies, Settlers and Sailors by U.S. filmmaker Loni Ding. The documentary recounts the oppression of China by the British and other imperialist powers, including the shipping of bonded laborers from China and the Indian subcontinent to the Americas to replace African slaves. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the Spanish colonialists transported tens of thousands of Chinese to Cuba to work on the sugar plantations.

Caroline Hoy, a researcher and lecturer on Chinese affairs, spoke at the meetings. Outlining the history of Chinese migration to the Americas, she explained that the Chinese in Cuba were contracted for eight years, after which time “few had the money to return to China.” They settled on the island and many fought in the independence wars against Spain.  
What changed in 1959
“The level of integration of the Chinese in Cuba changed after 1959 because of a true all-encompassing social revolution,” said Hoy.

Drawing on the book for many of her remarks, Hoy highlighted the episode recounted by Moisés Sío Wong when he explained the leadership qualities of Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the central leaders of the Cuban Revolution. Sío Wong “naively” asked Guevara, then head of the National Bank, for $50 for a relative. In contrast with government officials in other countries who routinely resort to nepotism and slush funds, Guevara told him he could offer him nothing except his own modest officer’s salary of 125 Cuban pesos, which he told Sío Wong to take if he needed it.

Jonathan Silberman, from Pathfinder Books in London, also spoke at both events. Last year Silberman accompanied Sío Wong, Choy, and Chui at several meetings across Cuba to present the book.

“This book wasn’t published primarily for Cuba or for Cubans,” Silberman said, “but for people like us in Britain and other countries who themselves want to fight exploitation and oppression.” He said this included immigrant workers in the United Kingdom who respond to attacks on their conditions at work by joining trade unions.

The three generals, he continued, are typical of the thousands of “men and women from nowhere” who made Cuba’s socialist revolution. “We can see ourselves in this book too,” he said.

Silberman noted London’s “history of imperialist domination of China and the Chinese” and its hostility to the Cuban Revolution. This includes a little-known incident at the end of World War II when the British government rounded up and summarily deported Chinese seafarers in Liverpool who had served for years on British merchant ships.

Silberman pointed to the interest that Our History Is Still Being Written has generated among young people of Asian descent, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, who proudly identify with the struggles and accomplishments of their ancestors. Many find themselves attracted to the example of the revolution in Cuba, where working people have made unprecedented progress in uprooting racist discrimination and continue to aid struggles against exploitation and oppression worldwide.

At both meetings there was a lively question-and-answer period. The topics covered included the renewal of interest in and celebration of Chinese culture in Cuba today, the struggle against racism in Cuba, and the ongoing efforts to win the new generation there to the revolution. In Edinburgh the meeting was chaired by Natascha Gentz of the Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, one of the sponsors along with Pathfinder Books in Edinburgh. The Chinese Students Association, also a sponsor, served refreshments.

Also publicizing the two events were the Scotland-China Association, the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign, and the organizers of Glasgow Black History Month, which is celebrated in the United Kingdom in October.  
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