Suriname migration registers of Indentured labourers from China

This is a documentation in English of the migration registers of indentured labourers from China to Suriname. An index based on this archive is accessible via the website of the Dutch National Archives. The original immigration registers and name registers can be viewed at the National Archives of Suriname.

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The rights to the index are reserved and are not available under a Creative Commons license or CC0 statement. The database cannot be downloaded, but can be searched via the website of the National Archive.

Chinese indentured labourers in Suriname

For a long time, labour on the plantations in Suriname was performed by enslaved people. When in the 19th century more and more countries abolished slavery, Surinam planters feared the consequences if the Netherlands would also abolish slavery, instilled by experiences of the English and French abolition of slavery. In the English colony of British Guiana, approximately 66 percent of the formed enslaved had left the plantations after emancipation. In addition, a high death rate and escape attempts by enslaved persons in Suriname caused shortages on the labour market.

In 1858, planters in Suriname asked the government for support in recruiting workers from abroad. That year a period of two decades of Chinese labour migration to Suriname began with the recruitment of 18 Chinese workers for contract work on the Catharina Sophia plantation. This first recruitment of Chinese indentured labourers from Java in 1858 incurred high costs. As a result, it was decided to bring a second group of Chinese indentured labourers not from Java, but from China itself. After opening up to Western powers with the conclusion of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, China had legalized emigration in 1850. The possibility of leaving the country through open Chinese port cities, Portuguese Macao and British Hong Kong, was particularly taken advantage of by the Hakka. This minority had been driven from the North to southern China by the Mongols in the 13th century, where it lived in conflict with the indigenous population. Many of the Chinese indentured labourers in Suriname came from this group.

At first, the government in Suriname managed the recruitment of Chinese indentured labourers. But after the arrival of the second group of Chinese indentured labourers in 1858, recruitment was transferred to private initiative. Part of this recruitment was organized by the "Immigratie Maatschappij," which was founded in Amsterdam in 1865. This company, with an office in Hong Kong, recruited indentured labourers in China for a commission. But already after four years the company had its last shipment as Hong Kong was closed for recruitment of workers outside of the British colonies.

In the period 1858-1874 about 2,780 Chinese workers were recruited for labour in Suriname, for the most part from China. After 1874, Chinese indentured labourers  were no longer recruited for Suriname. This can be explained by the official prohibition of contract migration by China and by the closure of ports like Macao and Hong Kong. But this recruitment stop can also be explained by other obstacles such as the high recruitment costs and the short contract periods. Many Chinese workers did not renew their contracts after five years and returned to China. An important reason for return was the absence of Chinese women. Women were not permitted by the clan leaders to emigrate with their husbands. Clan leaders did this to stimulate the men to send money to China and return after the contract had expired. By 1905, there were only 1,160 Chinese present in Suriname. Until World War II, the Chinese community in Suriname would grow slowly.

Overview: ships that brought Chinese migrants to Suriname


The database 'Chinese indentured labourers in Suriname' is based on data from the immigration registers held in the National Archives of Suriname. Not all immigration registers have survived. Also, some sections are so damaged that not all data are legible anymore. These gaps have been filled as much as possible with data from the name registers kept by the civil registrars at the time. Of the 2,630 Chinese indentured labourers  who arrived in Suriname in the period 1853-1874, the data of 2,017 Chinese are included in this database.

For this database the following immigration registers were used:

China 1864-1871 no. C1-C966

This register contains the names of indentured labourers from China with the numbers C1 to C966. These are immigrants who arrived from Hong Kong and Macao during the period 1858-1871.

China 1864/1871 no. C967-C1080

This register is a continuation of the above register and contains numbers C967-C1080.

Register China 1880

This register contains the names of Chinese indentured labourers who came from Java in 1872-1874. It concerns 21 immigrants in 1872, 81 in 1873 and 13 in 1874.

Register Barbados and China 1879 no. 386D

This register, officially entitled "Register of free workers introduced, drawn up in response to the government resolution of December 23, 1863 no.1", contains the names of free immigrants in the period 1863-1871. Furthermore this register contains the names of 58 labourers from British Guiana in the period 1865-1868 who were employed at Nickerie. Finally, a duplicate register of indentured labourers  prior to 1871 is pasted in the back of this volume. The original register has apparently been lost. The surviving volume contains contract numbers C1513 through C1879.

Immigrants from the British West Indies A to V 1872-1892

This register lists 42 immigrants from 1872 and 60 immigrants from 1873.

What data does the database 'Chinese indentured labourers in Suriname' contain?

The index ‘Suriname: Indentured labourers from China’ contains data of Chinese immigrants (and their descendants) who in the period 1858-1873 left for Suriname as indentured labourers to work on the plantations. You can search the index by person name, contract number, ship's name, place of origin and by terms appearing in the so-called memo field.

Some indentured labourers that did not migrate directly to Suriname, but arrived via British Guiana, hence cannot be found in the database.


Ankum-Houwink, J.C., De migratie van Chinezen naar Suriname (n.p. ca. 1972).

Ankum-Houwink, J.C., Chinese kontraktarbeiders in Suriname in de 19e eeuw, OSO, 4 (2), 1985, 181-186, .

Groenfelt, E., Impressies van de Chinese gemeenschap in Suriname: enkele culturele aspecten van Chinezen in Suriname (n.p. 1995).

Lamur, H.E. & J.A. Vriezen, Chinese kontraktanten in Suriname, OSO, 4 (2), 1985, 169-179,

Man A Hing, W.L., The Hakkas in Surinam, in: The proceedings of the international conference on Hakkaology (Hong Kong 1994), 189-195.

Tseng, F., De grote oversteek: het lot van de Surinaamse Chinezen, China Nu 16 (4), 1991, 16-18.

Zijlmans G.C. & H.A. Enser, De Chinezen in Suriname. een geschiedenis van immigratie en aanpassing 1853 - 2000, (n.p. n.y.) Informatiecentrum Nationaal Archief: S 35 104.

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