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[LABOR] 1876 Strike / Anti-Coolie / Contract Labor

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  • madchinaman
    The Chinese Question and American Labor Historians Stanford M. Lyman [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000] STANFORD M.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8 12:43 AM
      The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians
      Stanford M. Lyman
      [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter
      2000]
      STANFORD M. LYMAN is Robert J. Morrow Eminent Scholar and professor
      of Social Science at Florida Atlantic University. A specialist on
      Asian American studies, minorities and sociological theory, he is
      the author of Chinese Americans, The Asian in North America, and
      Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community among
      Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. His most recent book is
      Postmodernism and a Sociology of the Absurd and Other Essays on
      the "Nouvelle Vague" in American Social Science.
      http://www.wpunj.edu/~newpol/issue28/lyman28.htm


      -

      It is estimated that one million Cantonese left the two provinces of
      South China between 1840 and 1875, the majority coming from
      Kwantung . . . The majority departed as free workers for the mines
      of California, Canada, or Australian Queensland, and for the French,
      Dutch, and English plantations of Southeast Asia. Some Cantonese
      were recruited by Surinam and other Dutch possessions, and the
      English and French islands such as Mauritius and R‚union. Of the
      total number of emigrants, roughly 100,000 persons signed contracts
      to work in Peru, and 142,000 went to Cuba.

      Indeed, subsequent renewals of the act enlarged the meaning of the
      term "laborer" to include salesmen, clerks, buyers, bookkeepers,
      accountants, managers, storekeepers, apprentices, agents, cashiers,
      physicians, restauranteurs, and laundry operators, hardly "coolies"
      by any stretch of the verbal imagination, no matter how it might be
      attached to this kind of rhetorical imagery.

      Moreover, the original act and subsequent as well as earlier
      judicial rulings, put two additional burdens on Chinese who wished
      to emigrate. The first was denial of citizenship: Section 14 of the
      Act provided "That hereafter no State court or court of the United
      States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict
      with this act are hereby repealed."

      Organized labor from either the East or West Coasts did nothing to
      aid in the repeal of this law, and in fact did much to encourage its
      continuance. To give but one telling example: In 1924, Hugh Frayne,
      a New York representative of the A.F.L., told the Congressional
      committee holding hearings on immigration restriction, "Labor is for
      the entrance of suitable immigrants from all nations except the
      Asiatic ones."

      To be sure, from time to time, the importation of Chinese under
      fixed contracts was proposed in order to supply certain regions with
      low paid agricultural workers the three outstanding instances being
      the abortive "Coolie Bill" proposed in California in 1862,

      However, much like the Chinese indentured in the Caribbean in the
      same era, the few Chinese who were brought to the South in the post-
      Civil War era resisted confinement to their proposed serfdom on
      plantations, settled as shopkeepers in small Southern towns such as
      Greenville, Mississippi, and served for decades as middlemen
      proprietors selling goods to blacks, brokering commercial and
      occasionally local political relations between blacks and whites
      and, in the Delta region, inter-marrying with African American women
      and parenting what would become bi-racial families.

      The Chinese coolie, as envisioned in the paranoia of the Sinophobes,
      and in the portrait of him provided by Gyory, was for the most part,
      a figment of the white racist's fertile and fetid imagination, an
      element in the propaganda taken up not only by politicians as Gyory
      would have us believe but also by organized and organizing labor's
      leaders regardless of party affiliation as a reading of the
      Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League would reveal.

      In one, the "credit-ticket" system, "passage money was advanced to
      the emigrant who then repaid his debt after arrival in the new
      land"; the other the coolie system proper, it might be
      called "involved emigrants signing term contracts of service in
      foreign lands in return for their passage." The distinction in
      practice was familiar to the peoples of Southeastern China, whose
      husbands and sons made up the bulk of Chinese going overseas.

      In the latter system, "Chinese were frequently tricked or coerced
      into going abroad. Cantonese called these dealings maaijeutzai,
      meaning "selling pigs."

      In fact, before the 1870s Chinese shoemakers had formed their own
      labor guild, the Li- Sheng Tang. In 1876 Chinese shoemakers engaged
      in a violent job action, demanding, among other things, a return of
      the money given to a contractor who had placed 750 of their fellow
      workers with two Euroamerican firms. In this action the Chinese
      strikers not only went out in open defiance of Yee Chung and Co.,
      the contractors, but also directly opposed the actions taken by
      the "Chinese Six Companies," i.e., the community-wide confederation
      of traditional associations that held sway over Chinatown's denizens
      for decades and that supposedly kept all Chinese in supine thralldom.

      During the 1880s there was more strike activity by Chinese
      shoemakers. "In the summer of 1887, 300 Chinese initiated a work
      stoppage in many Chinese-run firms . . . [seeking a daily] pay raise
      of $1.15 to $1.40 . . . full wages without being compelled to pay
      board to their employers," and, in some cases, cessation of the
      practice of fining workers for failing to meet the daily production
      quota, an end to night work, and the right to work in production
      groups composed of fellows from their own clan, village, or region.
      Of these demands, the compromise eventually reached allowed the
      workers to board themselves, but neither a wage increase nor the end
      of "mixed" work crews, nor any of the other demands were granted.

      To break the strike, it should be noted, one of the Chinese firms
      brought in white strikebreakers. Franks likens these Chinese
      shoemakers to the more poverty-stricken members of the English
      working classes celebrated by E. P. Thompson; Gyory, who as a
      disciple of Gutman is supposedly inspired by Thompson's pathbreaking
      work, makes no mention of them.

      He thus has imposed one more exclusion on the Chinese in addition to
      that inflicted by the Exclusion Act ejection from membership in, as
      well as the history of, the American working class.

      -


      Contract Labor: The Chinese Workingman as a 'Coolie'
      A CENTRAL FEATURE OF GYORY'S ARGUMENT distinguishes between the
      right of Chinese laborers to emigrate to America which, he claims,
      white workingmen did not oppose and the right of capitalists to
      import Chinese to America under conditions of contract which, he
      insists, was the sole objection made in the white workers'
      exclusionary demands.

      The former was lawful under American statutes until 1882; the latter
      allegedly aroused the ire of white workers to what Gyory believes
      was a real socioeconomic evil, contract labor. It was this evil that
      provided a legitimate basis for extending a prohibition on entrance
      to the United States to any people who were brought into the country
      in that condition. Thus, to buttress his claim on this crucial point
      (and, incidentally, to refute a charge that Herbert Hill had brought
      against Adolph Strasser, Cigar Makers' International Union
      president, viz., that this colleague of AFL leader Samuel Gompers
      was one of "two men, above all others . . . responsible for
      organized labor's crusade against Asian workers," as well as a
      similar accusation made by Gwendolyn Mink, namely that Strasser
      had "defended the anti-Chinese posture of [his] California
      colleagues and actively involved [himself] in the exclusion
      movement)

      Gyory quotes the testimony of Adolph Douai and Adolph Strasser, two
      labor leaders who in 1878 testified on the Chinese immigration issue
      before the House of Representatives' Hewitt committee, convened to
      investigate the causes of the ongoing economic depression of that
      era. Douai, editor of the Arbeiter-Union, claimed, "We would not
      restrict anyone . . . We demand that Chinese emigration under
      contract ought to be stopped immediately," but "[n]ot otherwise."
      Strasser, pressed over and over again by Chairman Hewitt as to the
      precise nature of his opposition to Chinese immigration,
      insisted, "I am not opposed to the Chinaman, or any nationality; but
      I am opposed that John Chinaman or anyone else should be imported
      here as a coolie under contract. I don't agree that the Chinaman
      must go. I cannot agree with that, because you might as well say
      that someone else must go. That is wrong; I cannot agree to that. I
      am not in favor of that; but I am in favor not to tolerate the
      direct importation of coolies by contract."

      When Hewitt asked him, "You won't allow anyone to be brought here
      under contract?" Strasser replied, "I am opposed to it." However,
      Gyory's attempt to relieve Strasser and most of the East Coast white
      workers from the charge that they possessed and were possessed by a
      generalized Sinophobic bias will not survive closer scrutiny.

      Perhaps, first, it ought to be noted that, despite all the posturing
      before Congressional committees and other public venues, the
      opponents of contract labor succeeded, as the wording of the Chinese
      Exclusion Act plainly shows, in prohibiting the coming to America of
      all Chinese laborers, whatever their contractual condition: "sec.15.
      That the words 'Chinese laborers," wherever used in this act, shall
      be construed to mean both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese
      employed in mining." Indeed, subsequent renewals of the act
      enlarged the meaning of the term "laborer" to include salesmen,
      clerks, buyers, bookkeepers, accountants, managers, storekeepers,
      apprentices, agents, cashiers, physicians, restauranteurs, and
      laundry operators, hardly "coolies" by any stretch of the verbal
      imagination, no matter how it might be attached to this kind of
      rhetorical imagery.

      Moreover, the original act and subsequent as well as earlier
      judicial rulings, put two additional burdens on Chinese who wished
      to emigrate. The first was denial of citizenship: Section 14 of the
      Act provided "That hereafter no State court or court of the United
      States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict
      with this act are hereby repealed."

      Four years earlier, in the Federal District Court proceeding In re
      Ah Yup, a Chinese immigrant alien was declared to be "Mongolian,"
      and being, therefore, neither "white" nor of "African nativity"
      nor "African descent," to be ineligible for citizenship in the
      United States.

      The second burden took the form of an extension of legal
      disabilities already applicable to Chinese men to their wives: "The
      wife of a Chinese labourer," observed Huang Tsen-ming, Associate
      Justice of China's Judicial Yuan in 1936, "or a Chinese woman not
      previously a labourer, who married a Chinese labourer, was held to
      have or acquire the status of the husband, and was not permitted to
      enter the United States."

      Just as Chief Justice Taney had in 1857 denied United States
      citizenship to Dred Scott and all other African Americans,
      foreclosing for them the possibility of being included in the
      Constitutional compact embracing "We, the people, "so, in the court
      ruling of 1878, ratified by section 14 of the Exclusion Act in 1882,
      did the justices and legislators do the same to Chinese immigrants.
      While the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution
      revoked the Dred Scott ruling on African Americans' citizenship,
      Chinese immigrants in American would not become eligible for
      naturalization until such a provision was included in the repeal
      legislation of 1943.

      Organized labor from either the East or West Coasts did nothing to
      aid in the repeal of this law, and in fact did much to encourage its
      continuance. To give but one telling example: In 1924, Hugh Frayne,
      a New York representative of the A.F.L., told the Congressional
      committee holding hearings on immigration restriction, "Labor is for
      the entrance of suitable immigrants from all nations except the
      Asiatic ones."

      Gyory seeks to re-attach legitimacy to the fear that a "coolie
      trade" from China would swamp America and subvert the aims of its
      progressive labor movement. In this sense, his thesis seems to
      support the argument made by Perlman and quoted at the beginning of
      this essay. However, he doesn't want to attribute this apprehension
      to white workers if it is considered a racially prejudiced
      stereotype; rather, he wishes to assign it to the white workers as a
      prescient perspective if it is based in fact.

      Thus, although in his text and in a footnote citation103 he
      indicates that he must know about Persia Crawford Campbell's
      distinction between the "credit-ticket" system, by which a great
      many Chinese came to America, and the coolie trade proper, outlawed
      by poorly enforced American laws of 1862 and later years, by which
      Chinese were brought to Peru, Cuba, the British West Indies, and
      other areas where exploitation of Asian laborers was the order of
      the day, he purposefully allows this distinction to be obscured and
      glossed over, making 19th-century Chinese immigration to the United
      States appear to be but one more instance of the nefarious and multi-
      faceted coolie trade.

      Hence, Gyory places a greater emphasis on the "Koopmanschap affair"
      an ultimately abortive scheme hatched at a convention of planters
      meeting in Memphis, (1869), whereby about 200 Chinese were
      inveigled, shanghaied, or kidnapped from the interior of Guangdong
      province and brought to New Orleans by Cornelius Koopmanschap in
      order to supply the South with agricultural laborers111 than on the
      more common means by which Chinese came to this country.

      For example, when Gyory recounts that in the three years before the
      Chinese exclusion law was passed, fears were noised in the press and
      by white labor agitators, warning that the Chinese were moving
      eastward into the workplaces of white laborers, he opines that "The
      ghost of Koopmanschap hovered ominously," and that in effect the
      white worker was being told "You are replaceable, and your
      replacements are ready."112 Just as, earlier, Gyory, having
      discussed the meaning of the word "coolie," had posed a series of
      rhetorical questions:

      But were all Chinese who signed contracts 'coolies' and 'almost
      slaves'? Could an impoverished Chinese man sign a contract and not
      be a 'coolie'?

      And then answered them: "Possibly, probably, but no one knew for
      sure." so, in his discussion of the fears attending the rumors of
      a "Chinese labor invasion" of the East, rumors spread by Sam Quong,
      a recent immigrant, Mrs. Timothy Sargent, a promoter of Chinese
      domestic services, Gifford Parker, a merchant in the China trade,
      and planter Henry Scharett, he concedes, "There may have been little
      truth to their statements, but no one could be sure, and in the end
      it really didn't matter."

      But, of course, it was possible to ascertain the truth then, and it
      did matter then to the Chinese who were to become the victims of
      these base canards, and to the white workers who should have been
      able to figure out for themselves, since they were not told by their
      leaders, that dividing the working class into excludable and
      eligible workmates on the basis of race would do untold damage to
      labor solidarity and the need for workers to speak to capital in a
      multi-ethnic but single voice. And it should matter now to Gyory in
      particular and to labor annalists in general.

      For the unrepentant mendacity of the charges hurled at the Chinese
      by both the rank and file and the leaders of the American labor
      movement continue not only to dirty labor's escutcheon but also to
      falsify labor history itself. What yesterday's white workers need is
      not a new form of historiographical exoneration for their racist
      misdeeds, but rather an acknowledgment of the role they played in
      the anti-Chinese movement and a recognition of the proactive effects
      their involvement in the "Chinese Question" had on both Chinese life
      chances in the United States and the labor movement itself. These
      desiderata, sad to say, Gyory does not provide.

      Although contract labor was by no means unknown in other sectors of
      the labor market in the United States, it was alleged to be a
      peculiar feature of Chinese immigration. To be sure, from time to
      time, the importation of Chinese under fixed contracts was proposed
      in order to supply certain regions with low paid agricultural
      workers the three outstanding instances being the abortive "Coolie
      Bill" proposed in California in 1862, the antebellum pro-
      slavery "fire- eaters" attempts to seize Cuba, make it a slave
      State, and, as an added bonus, import portions of that Spanish
      colony's small Chinese population as "warrantee" workers on
      Mississippi's plantations, and the aforementioned Koopmanschap
      affair, which in fact was the final and failed large-scale attempt
      to substitute Chinese for Freedmen on the South's plantations.

      However, much like the Chinese indentured in the Caribbean in the
      same era, the few Chinese who were brought to the South in the post-
      Civil War era resisted confinement to their proposed serfdom on
      plantations, settled as shopkeepers in small Southern towns such as
      Greenville, Mississippi, and served for decades as middlemen
      proprietors selling goods to blacks, brokering commercial and
      occasionally local political relations between blacks and whites
      and, in the Delta region, inter-marrying with African American women
      and parenting what would become bi-racial families.

      These Chinese were hardly a threat to the white workers who
      organized against them. Moreover, many of these Chinese went to
      court demanding their civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of
      the United States Constitution. In 1927, to take one example from
      many that might have been chosen, one Chinese family, with the
      support of the community, brought an unsuccessful suit to the United
      States Supreme Court seeking desegregation of Mississippi's
      white/colored school system.

      The Chinese coolie, as envisioned in the paranoia of the Sinophobes,
      and in the portrait of him provided by Gyory, was for the most part,
      a figment of the white racist's fertile and fetid imagination, an
      element in the propaganda taken up not only by politicians as Gyory
      would have us believe but also by organized and organizing labor's
      leaders regardless of party affiliation as a reading of the
      Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League would reveal.

      The actual means by which most Chinese immigrated to the United
      States was by incurring a debt, i.e., by purchasing a "credit-
      ticket" in order to pay for their transoceanic passage, and,
      perhaps, provide for their basic needs when they first arrived. "Two
      middlemen systems evolved," write leading Chinese American
      historians Him Mark Lai, Joe Huang, and Don Wong in their careful
      analyses of the means by which Chinese peasants and workers could
      depart from China and journey overseas, in order "to facilitate
      emigration."

      In one, the "credit-ticket" system, "passage money was advanced to
      the emigrant who then repaid his debt after arrival in the new
      land"; the other the coolie system proper, it might be
      called "involved emigrants signing term contracts of service in
      foreign lands in return for their passage." The distinction in
      practice was familiar to the peoples of Southeastern China, whose
      husbands and sons made up the bulk of Chinese going overseas.

      In the latter system, "Chinese were frequently tricked or coerced
      into going abroad. Cantonese called these dealings maaijeutzai,
      meaning "selling pigs."

      In the former, although abuses were not unknown, there was more than
      a semblance of free and voluntary migration. "During the nineteenth
      century," writes Liping Zhu, "the majority of Chinese immigrants
      came to the United States by means of the credit-ticket system . . .
      [But] other poor peasants simply signed a contract with either the
      Chinese merchants or foreign agents, who paid all expenses for
      transit to the United States in exchange for their labor for a
      certain period, which varied from two to ten years. These people
      were the so-called contract laborers."

      However, Zhu goes on to emphasize, "From the beginning, the majority
      of Chinese pioneers to the American West were free." And, unlike
      Gyory, who, in his attempt to denigrate Coolidge's comments on the
      consular service's corrupt practices, appears to be willing to
      accept the consular service's analogy of contract labor to slavery,
      Zhu points out, "Unlike African slaves, the Chinese migrated to the
      United States voluntarily."

      Indeed, Chinese migrated to the United States in several different
      ways. Not only were there a small number of attempts to recruit
      contract labor from China, but also there was a more widely used
      debt-based approach to immigrating, not unlike the "padrone" system
      used by European workers who journeyed to America. In the Chinese
      case, Chinatown associations rooted in clanship or district of
      origin acted as both labor brokers and debt-collectors.

      But, in addition, there was a certain amount of utterly free and
      individualized migration, as has been emphasized in Tchen's
      pathbreaking study of New York City's pioneer Chinese. Thus, the
      coming of Chinese to the United States should be contrasted to, say,
      that of those who went to Cuba in the early period, where, in the
      1850s and for two decades thereafter, "From an economical point of
      view, the Chinese became the first viable alternative to the African
      slaves . . . [until, that is,] the Chinese empire's cancellation in
      1873 of the agreement that had authorized the traffic in
      coolies . . . "

      Moreover, in later years, "Spaniards, Chinese, and white and black
      Cubans served as [railroad] stokers, brakemen, and day
      laborers . . . [such that the Cuban labor-force's ethnic
      heterogeneity] at first [held] back the creation of a homogeneous
      class awareness." Denise Holly, who carefully re-examined the
      Chinese Yamen's Cuba Commission Report of 1876, concluded:

      It is estimated that one million Cantonese left the two provinces of
      South China between 1840 and 1875, the majority coming from
      Kwantung . . . The majority departed as free workers for the mines
      of California, Canada, or Australian Queensland, and for the French,
      Dutch, and English plantations of Southeast Asia. Some Cantonese
      were recruited by Surinam and other Dutch possessions, and the
      English and French islands such as Mauritius and R‚union. Of the
      total number of emigrants, roughly 100,000 persons signed contracts
      to work in Peru, and 142,000 went to Cuba.

      And two more points are worth mentioning in order to lay to rest
      hopefully once and for all Gyory's raising of the coolie charge
      against the Chinese who came to the United States. Contrary to his
      claim that a great many Chinese were "imported" under contract into
      the United States, especially during and after the years when the
      Transcontinental Railway was being constructed, it is to Robert G.
      Lee's discerning investigation into the origins and discontinuities
      of Chinese immigration to the United States that Gyory should have
      turned for Lee shows, inter alia:

      While the Central Pacific did recruit laborers beginning in 1867, it
      had already hired many of its workers from among the Chinese already
      in California. After the completion of the trans-continental line in
      1869 the Chinese still remained active in rail construction
      throughout the West, but there is little evidence to suggest that
      the other lines recruited fresh labor from China but rather used the
      massive work force laid off by the Central Pacific.

      Gyory also makes much of the fact that Calvin T. Sampson the owner
      of the ladies' boot and shoe factory in North Adams, Massachusetts,
      in behalf of which he sought to break a strike by white workingmen
      belonging to the Knights of St. Crispin negotiated a three year
      contract with Kwong, Chong, Wing and Co., a San Francisco- based
      enterprise, that Gyory calls "a Chinese emigrant agency."

      Kwong, Chong, Wing and Co. supplied "steady, active, and intelligent
      Chinamen" to act as strikebreakers. But were the Chinese shoemakers
      of San Francisco "coolies" in the pejorative sense of that word that
      the white workingmen and Gyory favor? Rather than acquiescing to the
      white workingmen's protest and praising those among the latter who
      differentiated between favoring the coming of individual Chinese
      workmen and opposing Chinese contractees, a distinction that was not
      made by the National Labor Union in its resolution of 1869

      Gyory might have inquired into the nature and workings of the
      Chinese boot and shoe industry in San Francisco, from which the
      strikebreakers were drawn. Had he done so, he would have discovered,
      as Joel Franks's well-researched history of that city's 19th-century
      Chinese shoemakers shows, that "neither a trade union tradition nor
      labor militancy were foreign to their experiences."

      In fact, before the 1870s Chinese shoemakers had formed their own
      labor guild, the Li- Sheng Tang. In 1876 Chinese shoemakers engaged
      in a violent job action, demanding, among other things, a return of
      the money given to a contractor who had placed 750 of their fellow
      workers with two Euroamerican firms. In this action the Chinese
      strikers not only went out in open defiance of Yee Chung and Co.,
      the contractors, but also directly opposed the actions taken by
      the "Chinese Six Companies," i.e., the community-wide confederation
      of traditional associations that held sway over Chinatown's denizens
      for decades and that supposedly kept all Chinese in supine thralldom.

      During the 1880s there was more strike activity by Chinese
      shoemakers. "In the summer of 1887, 300 Chinese initiated a work
      stoppage in many Chinese-run firms . . . [seeking a daily] pay raise
      of $1.15 to $1.40 . . . full wages without being compelled to pay
      board to their employers," and, in some cases, cessation of the
      practice of fining workers for failing to meet the daily production
      quota, an end to night work, and the right to work in production
      groups composed of fellows from their own clan, village, or region.
      Of these demands, the compromise eventually reached allowed the
      workers to board themselves, but neither a wage increase nor the end
      of "mixed" work crews, nor any of the other demands were granted.

      To break the strike, it should be noted, one of the Chinese firms
      brought in white strikebreakers. Franks likens these Chinese
      shoemakers to the more poverty-stricken members of the English
      working classes celebrated by E. P. Thompson; Gyory, who as a
      disciple of Gutman is supposedly inspired by Thompson's pathbreaking
      work, makes no mention of them.

      If Gyory would have followed Gutman's precept, which the latter
      borrowed from Sartre and associated with a similar statement by
      Thompson, viz., that "the essential question . . . is not what has
      been done to men and women but what men and women do with what is
      done to them," he, that is, Gyory, might have looked much more
      closely into Paul C. P. Siu's magnificent, posthumously published
      monograph, The Chinese Laundryman: A Study in Social Isolation,148
      wherein he would have discovered the deeper meaning and the long-
      lasting effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act on those Chinese
      classified as excludable aliens and declared ineligible for U.S.
      citizenship, i.e., those who had to make a life in the face of
      organized white labor's extraordinary hostility to them.

      In confining his effective establishment of the boundary of the
      working class to white laborers, Gyory has moved labor history
      retrogressively to what David Roediger calls the "unexamined and
      indefensible proposition that the white males under consideration
      were somehow the 'American working class'." He thus has imposed one
      more exclusion on the Chinese in addition to that inflicted by the
      Exclusion Act ejection from membership in, as well as the history
      of, the American working class.
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