Two Opposing Views of Chinese in early 1900s

Among the many problems faced by immigration officers in processing Chinese immigrants was the language barrier. They did not speak or understand Chinese and most of the immigrants did not speak or understand English.  Hiring Chinese as translators was necessary but the immigration officers were unsure if  they would give accurate or honest translations during interrogations. They worried that some Chinese translators would help a Chinese immigrant pass the interrogation either out of compassion or even bribery.

An extreme example, perhaps, of the suspicion that Immigration officials had of Chinese is found in this 1900 letter in which an official in upstate New York despairs that an "honest Chinaman" interpreter can ever be found, even if we go to Heaven to search for one.

In marked contrast, is the praise a newspaper article heaped upon Chinese children in their native attire, many wearing queues, at the Oriental School in San Francisco in 1908 (at that time Chinese were not permitted to attend white schools).  The journalist fairly gushes over the adorable, intelligent, and polite little Chinese children who show great respect for their teacher.

Today, over a century later, in some respects these opposing attitudes persist. Incoming Chinese immigrants are still looked upon with some suspicion but Chinese school children are admired as model students.


  1. After 20 days of learning, Tokumei showed his skill and corrected the harelip of a 13-year-old man before his teacher. Beijing Translator

  2. I read good things from your blog. That made my day.


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