Small Town Chinese Life: Example of Joplin, MO.

Early Chinese immigrants initially settled on the west coast, but gradually moved to areas in the middle of the country, partly to escape the violence inflicted on "Chinatowns" during the late 1800s in the western states. In the communities where they settled, they were often the only, or among few, Chinese so that they suffered cultural isolation as well as racial prejudices. Moreover, they were not safe from physical violence as they were robbed, assaulted, and even killed.  

For example, in Joplin, Missouri the 1870 U.S. Federal Census listed no Chinese immigrants but in 1880,  at least one Chinese immigrant,  27 year old Lum Wong lived there was described as, “servant – clerk in store.”    A few years later, in1883, an advertisement appeared in the Joplin Daily Herald for a Chinese Laundry. Soon five other Chinese immigrants are listed as residents of Joplin. Due to anti-Chinese prejudices, they were not allowed to work in the mines and had to eke out their living in whatever activities they could find open to them so most, if not all, worked in the laundry business.

In the following decades the Chinese population in Joplin grew and some moved from laundries to open Chinese restaurants, often bringing relatives from China to work as cooks and waiters.

Life was difficult enough without the additional burden of racial prejudice that sometimes led to violence toward them. Some were robbed, assaulted verbally and physically, and even killed. In 1909 one restaurant owner was working late at his restaurant one evening when four strange men entered and sat down as if they were going to order a meal. Without warning, the men jumped to their feet and attacked the Chinese with a blackjack, beating and choking him into unconsciousness.
One evening in January, 1916, a free-for-all erupted at the Shanghai Low restaurant after a patron refused to pay for his dinner. When confronted by the owner of the restaurant, the man put on a pair of brass knuckles and hit him. Chinese wait staff rushed to the rescue which prompted other diners to join the fray. Brass knuckles, a knife, and several chairs were used in the ensuing melee. Sixty year old Jung Ginn was seriously injured when someone hit him over the right eye with a pair of brass knuckles.

Although this example cites the plight of Chinese in Joplin, Missouri in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it is not intended to single out this town. Similar mistreatment of Chinese occurred in many other small towns. In fact, a current website, Historic Joplin, to its credit, acknowledges this terrible past treatment of Chinese immigrants.

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