The Cargo Rebellion in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
March 2023

Chang frames out a scant graphic history with accompanying scholarly essays that offer insights into Chinese laborer rebellion against the plantation system in 19th-century America. By 1833, when the British and Americans had outlawed the transportation of enslaved Africans, plantation owners sought to maintain their wealth through the indentured servitude of Chinese and South Asian workers. In 1852, Leslie Bryson contracted 400 workers in Xiamen, China. Hearing of mistreatment abroad and rumors of being taken to deadly guano islands, the laborers mutinied before being stranded near Ishigaki Island. The aftermath, explained only in broad strokes in the illustrated script, sparked an international legal debate similar to the earlier Amistad trial, though without the same lasting public memory. The essays include writings by historian Alexis Dudden, who fills in details about the mutiny, and musicologist Benjamin Barson, who traces aftereffects of the trade in the Louisiana sound. The art by Kim Inthavong leans to maps and set pieces with abstracted figures. While compact and direct as a primer, the scope feels limited, particularly given the potential depth of this uncovered history.