Chinese Exclusion Continued Within U. S. Borders

Chinese Exclusion is usually viewed as the prevention of Chinese laborers from entering the United States based on the laws passed by Congress in 1882 for a decade, renewed for another decade in 1892, and made permanent in 1902 until its repeal in 1943.

However, Chinese who succeeded in gaining entry still faced other forms of exclusion for many years.  A sample of Oakland, California newspaper ads at the end of the 19th century did not hide policies of Chinese exclusion. Some white hotels and rooming houses excluded Chinese employees and lodgers, some white laundries would not hire Chinese, and a shirt manufacturer would not employ Chinese sewers or launderers.


1860s Doubts About Chinese Coming to Deep South Despite Positive Views

A contradictory situation existed in Southern thinking in the mid 19th century with respect to the merits of bringing Chinese immigrants to the region.  On one hand, many aspects of the Chinese work ethic, earned respect if not admiration, as expressed below in a Nashville newspaper article written on the eve of attempts to recruit Chinese labor to come to Memphis en route to other parts of the Deep South.

Despite the high praise bestowed by the writer on the Chinese, he cautioned that "it remained to be seen how John Chinaman will be received in the South." His doubts and xenophobia led him to
wonder, "how the Oriental will stand the stern Anglo Saxon test of labor, capacity and availability." 

Now, 150 years or so later, his fears have proved unwarranted as the Chinese have made major contributions to the South.


Colman’s Mustard and Chinese white cut chicken   白斬雞

The Colman brand of mustard is an iconic product with a long and celebrated  history in England. 

It is also a popular condiment among Chinese and as common as soy sauce in Chinese restaurants, which made me wonder how Chinese immigrants in America discovered or came to use mustard as a condiment, and whether they preferred the Colman brand.
Did they only discover it after coming to America or was it possible that they knew about it in China when the British came to control Hong Kong following the opium wars in the middle of the 19th century. Perhaps the British introduced mustard, or at least the Colman brand, to the Chinese.  Or did the Chinese already use mustard in their cuisine before the British came but adopted the Colman brand introduced to them by the British?

Some food for thought.

On A Personal Note

Sundays were a special day for our Chinese immigrant family for it was our one day of rest from operating our laundry during the rest of the week. It was the only time we could enjoy having a meal with the whole family, my parents and three siblings. 

Mom would often buy a live chicken a day or two before Sunday and keep it in a small crate with wood slats.  I would “play with it” before Sunday morning when mom would grab it by the feet with one hand while holding a cleaver in the other.  Held upside down, the fowl would flap its wings desperately before mom deftly used the cleaver to ‘slit its throat’ and quickly drop it into a galvanized tin pail.  I can still ‘hear’ the sound of its toenails scratching against the pail as its life ended. After draining all the blood, mom would pluck its feathers before cooking it in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes.  I was only about 4 years old, but mom didn’t hide this process from me, or make any fuss over it so I was not particularly bothered watching how our Sunday dinner came to be.

It just seemed natural.  Mom was just doing what she did or saw done back in her Hoiping village in China. But thinking back about it, I am surprised that I was not at all bothered by it.

The fresh chicken was then poached, usually in a broth with cellophane-like chewy but delicious seaweed.  We kids would often fight over getting the “innards” (eggs, liver, heart, gizzards), which today you don’t get in the chickens from the supermarket. Mom gave us the best parts, slices of the white meat, while she and father would chew on the parts with bones.

We loved to dip our pieces of chicken in a dish of soy sauce first and then in a dish of mustard made by mixing Colman’s mustard powder with water.  This mustard was so spicy that if you used too much you would feel the top of your brain tingle or even feel numb for a moment or two. It was a scary, but also exciting, sensation.


One day I happened to read the label on the tin Colman container, or somewhere, how Colman mustard powder could be used as a foot bath for people with colds.  I was horrified to learn that something we loved to put on our chicken was the same stuff that other people applied to their feet!  I never heard of Chinese using it that way so I inferred that only non-Chinese were so barbaric.



Donaldina Cameron, Rescuer of Chinese Sex Slaves

Most accounts of victimization of Chinese involve white perpetrators.  However, it must be recognized that sometimes it was other Chinese who ruthlessly exploited the plight of early Chinese immigrants to their own advantage. For example, the shortage of Chinese women immigrants which was exacerbated by the Chinese Exclusion Acts that started in 1882 provided an opportunity for profit from Chinese women forced into prostitution.

In San Francisco, Donaldina Cameron of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission became a legendary crusader who devoted her life to locating and rescuing, at great risk to her own safety, countless Chinese women who had been trapped into becoming sex slaves.

A description of her role was published in 1922 in a Portland, Oregon, newspaper when she made a visit there. The sensational headline highlights how Chinese used 'dark and tricky' ways to enslave young Chinese girls.

The journalist begins his account with a quote from Bret Harte that reinforces this depiction of the "heathen Chinee"

The article summarizes two cases of young Chinese women that Donaldina Cameron snatched from the clutches of their slave masters.

The mission house in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown where Donaldina Cameron hid and protected rescued girls and women is named in her honor. Its function has changed since her time and serves as an active community resource center serving Chinese of all ages and backgrounds, especially youth, elderly, and victims of domestic abuse.

Although her work was in the San Francisco Chinatown, Miss Cameron is buried in southern California. http://chineseamericanhistorian.blogspot.com/2012/04/ching-ming-remembrance-in-los-angeles.html


Chop Suey Before Li Huang Chuang's 1898 Endorsement

One popular "legend" about chop suey is that the dish was unknown in America before a Chinese chef created it for Viceroy Li Huang Chuang during his visit to New York in 1898. However, evidence exists that chop suey was already known in America before his diplomatic visit. For example, a 1892 article in the San Francisco Chronicle described the dish, chow chop suey, as a popular dish at Chinese restaurant banquets.

Before Li Huang Chuang was introduced to chop suey, judging from grocery store ads the dish was already known in America. A 1895 grocery store ad in Centralia, Wisconsin offered a 16. oz package of vegetable chop suey for 35 cents.

An advertisement in 1898 for the A & P grocery chain store in Laredo, Texas, offered pork cubes for chop suey for $1.89 lb. Clearly, these ads show that chop suey was already familiar to Americans prior to Li Huang Chang having his 1898 chop suey dinner.

Of course, because the celebrity status of Li Huang Chuang attracted large crowds to his public appearances in New York and Philadelphia, newspapers across the country publicized his visit and his approval of chop suey, which doubtless increased American curiosity and acceptance of this 'toothsome dish.  
For more information about American views of chop suey:


Was there a Chinese "slave" in pre-civil war Virginia?

Historian Krystyn Moon traced the story of Tom Jefferson, a Chinese boy purchased in Canton in the mid 1850s by a Captain of a clipper ship that sailed from China to America.  He presented the Chinese boy, along with a chimpanzee, as part of his wedding gifts to his daughter in Alexandria, Virginia.

Moon discovered more details about the life of the boy, given the American name, Tom Jefferson.

Jefferson became a machinist, probably working for the Orange, Alexandria, and Manassas Railroad, and later for the Southern Railroad.  Interestingly, the 1860 census taker initially listed Tom's  race as “C” for Chinese but then he crossed it out and put “W” for white.  He did not marry or have descendants, dying from a stroke in Alexandria in 1899.


What Did Early Chinese Immigrants Get Fed Crossing the Pacific?

The accounts of the month-long journeys of Chinese immigrants sailing from Hong Kong by steamers to North American ports in the late 19th century tell of crowded quarters in steerage but do not give much detail about what food was provided, or its quality and quantity.  One article reprinted in the Louisiana Democrat in 1889 was revealing in a steamship company's description on this matter, although it may not be entirely truthful.

A spokesman for the Trans-Pacific steamers described the meals as consisting mostly of rice, a variety of beans, some orange peel as a relish, dried fish, occasional dried abalone as a dessert, and "chow-chows" defined as different sauces.  For a trip of 30 days, the estimated cost to feed one passenger was $1.18. He bragged that "immigrants get as good food on ship board as they get at home."


Did the Chinese have equivalents of Columbus' "Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina"?

       As a school kid, I was taught that Columbus sailed across the Atlantic with three ships, the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina.  But what do we know about the vessels that brought the Chinese immigrants of the 19th century to North America?  I certainly learned nothing about this in school.  There is much historical research about what happened to Chinese once they crossed the Pacific to reach North America, but detailed information about the operations of the ships that transported them has been ignored, as if this process was unimportant.  

      Fortunately, a scholar in Hong Kong, Elizabeth Sinn, published a monumental work last year, Pacific Crossing, that fills this gap admirably. It is the most fascinating and enlightening book I've run across in recent years about Chinese immigration to North America. Scholarly, but highly readable, this masterpiece by  Elizabeth Sinn examines the huge economic and social impact of the business of transporting immigrants back and forth on ships between China and North America.  These developments, she holds, helped transform Hong Kong into its significant place linking the East and West.
     Sinn coins the term, in-between places, to describe the transitory and fluctuating domiciles of many immigrants who were neither here nor there for long periods.  She not only details the economic and trade profits of shipping human cargo to and from China, but also material goods including gold, granite, opium, flour, sugar, and Chinese food and spices.  She provides rich details of the traffic in prostitutes and slave girls as well as the transport of bones of Chinese who died overseas.