Achipur and India’s First Chinese Settler

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It is generally believed that the Bengali word for refined sugar, chini , as in Hindi, came because of the Chinese who brought in table sugar, as we know it today. The story finds mention in the writings of noted novelist and poet, Sunil Gangopadhyay. While we won’t get into the merits of that, what we can say for sure is how the sugar and the Chinese are so inextricably connected in Bengal. To find the link you have to go to Achipur around 30 km to the south of Kolkata, where you will find the tomb of the earliest recorded Chinese who settled in India.
While Chinese travelers and chroniclers, like Hieun Tsang and Fa Hien, have made their way into India, through millennia, the first Chinese settler in Bengal was a man the British called Tong Atchew, in the late 18th century. Also referred to varyingly as Yang Dazhao, Yang Daijang and Yang Tai Chow, little is known about the early life of Atchew, except for the fact that he was probably a tea trader. Records show that around 1778, Atchew applied to the colonial government for land in Bengal, because he wanted to set up a sugar mill. Warren Hastings, the then Governor General, was deeply interested in China. The imperial Chinese government regarded Europeans with suspicion and traders were not permitted to enter the country. But China represented a huge potential market, as it does even today and Hastings had been trying, through the efforts of the Scot George Bogle to establish trade ties with the country. It was perhaps because of these considerations, that Hastings granted Atchew 650 bighas of land at an annual rent of 45 rupees. Since local Bengalis referred to Atchew as ‘Achi’, the place where he built his mill, came to be known as Achipur.

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