The story of Lou Lin Dock, a Chinese grocer in Coahoma, Mississippi, illustrates what was involved when a Chinese wanted to make a visit to China and then return. Dock came from Tung How village in Hoy Ping District, China in 1908, entering at San Francisco but a month later he migrated to Lula, Mississippi to work in a grocery store, Lou John Bros., with his older brother Lou Wing Yim. Yim later moved to a store in Sunflower. Both brothers had wives and children left back in China in the household of Yim’s family. In fact, Dock had 5 children, 2 by his first wife and 3 by his second wife. Both wives died at an early age.
Dock moved to Coahama in 1910 where he ran a grocery store, Fong Lee & Co. with a partner, Fong Lee. In 1913, under the name C. E. Kong, he married a Bertha Quo, daughter of a Chinese father and a colored mother. This marriage produced two sons, and a third child was about to born in 1913, when a huge fire destroyed the store, and its contents including his immigration documents. The following year he opened the Dock Lee store in Coahama.
In 1918, Dock wanted to take his two young American-born sons back to his native village where they could learn Chinese. They would join Dock’s other five children in China and live with the family of his older brother, Lou Wing Yim. In order for him to be allowed to re-enter the United States, Dock had to apply for return privileges, a process that required disclosures about his family and business background. During an interview with an immigration officer, Dock testified that he was 41 years old, had made no previous trips to China, and he had an investment of $2000 in the Dock Lee & Co. store in Coahama, where he was assisted by Lou Yen. He further stated that he had done no laboring work of any kind since he came to the U. S. except as necessary in connection with the different stores. He asserted that he planned to return to this business and he provided two white witnesses, as required, to testify on his behalf.
The extension of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in 1892 (Geary Act) for another decade imposed an onerous new requirement in Section 6. All Chinese, even U. S. citizens, had to have in their possession at all times a Certificate of Residence, called 'choc chee' in Chinese, or be deported. An example of a choc chee is shown below.
If you wanted to make a visit to China and be able to re-enter the U. S. you had to have such a certificate. Upon departure you had to deposit your Certificate with the Chinese Bureau; when you returned, they would confirm your right to re-enter by checking their file for your Certificate.
Note: If you failed to return within the allotted two years, the Certificates were cancelled and you could not re-enter, as stated in the memorandum below in 1902 concerning cancellation of return privileges for 267 Chinese who failed to return within two years.
Chinese in the U. S. who did not have a Certificate of Residence were subject to deportation because they were considered illegal immigrants. After they were apprehended, they received a court hearing and if they had a lawyer, might be able to delay or prevent deportation. Some, like Wong Yuk, jumped ship just before it was to return him to China. The poster offered a reward of $20, although it is not clear what you had to do to claim it.
In Dock's case, he would have had a Certificate of Residence that he would leave with the Chinese Bureau when he was leaving the U. S. When he returned, authorities would check for his Certificate before allowing him to re-enter.
Dock's life in the United States involved operating several grocery stores in different towns in the Mississippi delta, and while the specific details might differ, his story is similar to that of many other Chinese immigrants not only in the South but throughout the country. He left his family in China, and undoubtedly remitted money to support them. His decision to have his young children go to China to learn Chinese was not uncommon. In all likelihood, when they reached adolescence or sooner, he would have brought, or tried to, them to the delta to help him run his store.