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Why did sailing ships so often employ Chinese cooks?

Why did sailing ships so often employ Chinese cooks?


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During the age of sail, it was common for Western ships to employ Chinese cooks. I don't have any numbers except that there are pages and pages of relevant results from search queries including "Chinese cook", "cocinero chino", and so on.

As of 1882, "there are many [Chinese men] in the coasting trade as cooks and stewards" (from "Chinese Sailors: America's Invisible Merchant Marine 1876-1905").

Insofar as all cultures produce professional cooks, what explains the shipboard prominence of Chinese ones? Chinese food is delicious, but surely other factors were in play as well: possibly lower wages, an ability to cook in more styles, etc.


Discrimination against the Chinese was clearly a key factor, excluding them from higher paid and more desirable jobs aboard ship. Here is a quote from the article "'I Espied a Chinaman': Chinese Sailors and the Fracturing of the Nineteenth Century Pacific Maritime Labour Force" by John T. Grider, published in the journal Slavery & Abolition (2010).

White sailors did not mind when Chinese worked in domestic jobs, such as cooks, stewards, cabin boys, mess boys, storekeepers, bakers, porters, pantrymen, and waiters. In domestic roles Chinese did not pose a threat to white concepts of labour-based masculinity, but when Chinese worked in the rigging or in the engine room of steamships, resentment grew. Anger towards Chinese sailors increased substantially when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company replaced white and black sailors with their Chinese counterparts in 1867 in order to save money on wages and food stores.

During the early nineteenth century, very few Chinese men shipped out aboard foreign vessels as seamen. Most Chinese men who did ship out did so as cooks and stewards, and they eventually became a common feature on Pacific vessels by midcentury.


Watch the video: Precious Dragon - Hong Kong to London Voyage 1997 (May 2022).