China and Peru are very far apart geographically. In fact, 10,000 miles separates their respective hemispheres. China and Peru have had a long relationship, however. It originated in immigration. In the mid-1800s, Chinese laborers started to migrate to Peru.[i]
Chinese influences are visible in Peru. I saw many Chinese restaurants, called “Chifa” in Peru, almost every couple of blocks. Some Chifas even have Chinese-version menus. Chinese products exist in almost ever corner in Peru. When we flew into the Amazon jungle, we saw Chinese merchandise, motorcycles, and cars at the port. We asked the locals why there are so many Chinese products, and their responses always referred to the low prices and maintenance costs of the Chinese products. Apart from what can be easily seen, other Chinese influences also exist; for instance, the mixture of Chinese culture with indigenous and colonial cultures.
Let’s take a closer look at the Chinese influences.
The first and the most obvious influence is on gastronomy. Since Chinese immigration to Peru, Chinese-Peruvian culture has revolutionized Peruvian cuisine[ii]. This great fusion is one of the reasons that Peruvian cuisine is one of the best in South America. Chifa, as an indicator of this fusion, is a loan word from Chinese “吃饭” (eat rice). Arroz chauf, a popular Chifa dish, is a traditional Chinese fried rice that we can order from any Chinese take-out in the United States. Tallarin Saltado, a Chinese-Peruvian style chow mein, is also a popular chifa dish. These dishes reflect the fusion and cultivation of the products that the Chinese brought with them and those they found in Peru.
The Chinese influences on Peru’s cuisine due to the large Chinese immigrants to Peru historically. As I mentioned before, from 1849 to 1874, over 100,000 Chinese contract labors, called “coolies,” settled in Peru. [iii] They arrived as indentured servants or transitional labor in the mines and sugar fields to meet the Peruvian need for labor after the slaves were freed in 1854. [iv] When their contracts ended, Chinese laborers integrated into Peruvian society through marriage and business, which is also a part of the historical transition from slave to free labor in Peru.[v] Some freed laborers and later immigrants married Peruvian women and established many small businesses, which included “chifa”s. [vi] Chinese workers also participated in the building of railroads and development of the Amazon rainforest.[vii] These transitions have in turn impacted the Peruvian culture, combining Chinese culture with local and colonial cultures, and becoming a part of Peru’s modern identity.
Apart from Chinese historical influences on Peru’s cuisine, the two countries now have deeper economic ties. Trade and investment contribute to these ties, which are strengthened by the fast growth of China’s economy. In many small towns, even in the Sierras, you can see large trucks owned by Chinese mining companies rumbling down the narrow streets. Their presence indicates the large-scale direct Chinese investments going into Peru.
In fact, Chinese mining companies have been investing in Peru since Peru started privatizing mining enterprises in the early 1990s.[viii] The two countries also signed a bilateral free trade pact in 2009.[ix] In 2010, a group of Chinese companies announced their plans to invest more than $7 billion in Peruvian mining projects by 2017[x]. Every day, ships full of minerals leave Lima for China. Trade and investment have further solidified China’s status as a major strategic partner for Peru.
In all, despite the fact that Peru and China are so far from each other, their cultural interactions have a long history in Peru’s heritage. Chinese influence has contributed to the diversity of Peruvian culture, especially Peruvian cuisine. With the rising importance of trade between the two countries, they will only have stronger ties together in the future.
Figure 1. Chinese-made shirt at Puerto Maldonado, the tag is totally Chinese
Figure 2. Inside a Chifa restaurant in Lima
[i] Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013
[ii] Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013
[iii] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia
[iv] Isabelle Lausent-Herrera, “Tusans (tusheng) and the Changing Chinese Community in Peru,” Journal of Chinese Overseas 5 (2009): 116.
[v] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia
[vi] Justina Hwang, “Chinese in Peru in the 19th century”, Modern Latin America web supplement for 8th edition
[vii] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia
[viii] Cynthia Sanborn, Victoria Chonn, “Chinese Investment in Peru’s Mining Industry: Blessing or Curse?” Global Economic Governance Initiative Discussion Paper, Aug 2015
[ix] Evan Ellis, “China’s Engagement with Peru: An Increasingly Strategic Relationship”, Jamestown China Brief, Nov 11, 2011
[x] Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013
– Tian Xu