As a school kid, I was taught that Columbus sailed across the Atlantic with three ships, the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina. But what do we know about the vessels that brought the Chinese immigrants of the 19th century to North America? I certainly learned nothing about this in school. There is much historical research about what happened to Chinese once they crossed the Pacific to reach North America, but detailed information about the operations of the ships that transported them has been ignored, as if this process was unimportant.
Fortunately, a scholar in Hong Kong, Elizabeth Sinn, published a monumental work last year, Pacific Crossing, that fills this gap admirably. It is the most fascinating and enlightening book I've run across in recent years about Chinese immigration to North America. Scholarly, but highly readable, this masterpiece by Elizabeth Sinn examines the huge economic and social impact of the business of transporting immigrants back and forth on ships between China and North America. These developments, she holds, helped transform Hong Kong into its significant place linking the East and West.
Sinn coins the term, in-between places, to describe the transitory and fluctuating domiciles of many immigrants who were neither here nor there for long periods. She not only details the economic and trade profits of shipping human cargo to and from China, but also material goods including gold, granite, opium, flour, sugar, and Chinese food and spices. She provides rich details of the traffic in prostitutes and slave girls as well as the transport of bones of Chinese who died overseas.