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Yong Atchew

Yong Atchew also known as Tai Pak Kung is the first Chinese settler in India came around 1780. The village he founded fifteen miles south of Calcutta, became a sugar plantation and sugar mill later. One hundred and ten Chinese came to work for his project. By April 1782, 2000 maunds of sugar was ready for sale along with good quantities of the popular spirit arrack, but his enterprise was plagued with troubles. After that he took a loan from the East India Company against his personal bond and pledge to bring over more craftsmen from China. But his fortunes never looked up and he died broken hearted about the year 1783.

Of his associates and workmen remaining most are reported to have come to Calcutta to join their vagabond compatriots, the ‘Macao ship deserters’ : Chinese sailors who, virtually kidnapped or ‘Shanghaied’ into service, had deserted ship and were waiting for a ‘friendly’ vessel. Thus the Chinese made an entry into the city proper. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Calcutta Chinese had established themselves as a skilled industrious, sober, honest, and above all a clean people. Almost every subsequent decade brought new faces from China, in both Imperial and Republican times. With every fresh influx, the community renewed its cultural links with ‘Mother China’ and thus preserved its ethnic integrity. The 1951 Census found only 5,710 Chinese in Calcutta, but today they are estimated to number 8,000 – the overwhelming majority of all the Chinese in India.

Yong atchew’s scarlet horseshow-shaped tomb can be seen on the banks of the Hugli at Achipur, the village he founded fifteen miles south of Calcutta and which draws its name from him. It has become a shrine visited by all Chinese of these parts at least once, during their New Year festivities. Candles and joss-sticks are also faithfully offered every year at the gleaming red tomb of Yong Atchew. He died a broken man, but two hundred years of history can testify how much Calcutta owes to his vision and enterprise.