5/29/16

How Chinese Exclusion May Have "Created "Marital Problems

        Chinese men who emigrated to North America in the late 19th and early 20th century seeking work were mostly unmarried or had left their wives, and in some cases, children in China.  Many hoped to strike it rich and then return.  However, most barely earned a living and could not fulfill that dream.
          The threat of cheap Chinese labor to white workers led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that was eventually extended for decades until 1943. It prohibited the entry of Chinese laborers although it did admit Chinese merchants.  In addition, this exclusion created a huge problem for Chinese laborers already here because they were not allowed to bring their wives and families over.
         Consequently some Chinese managed to enter arranged marriages to American born Chinese, often many years younger than themselves and often still adolescent girls. Others entered marriages with non Chinese women.  In some cases, men already had a wife as well as children back in China but their imposed separation led them to enter new marriages in the U.S. and Canada.
          Some of these marriages proved workable but an unknown percentage of these marriages were foredoomed to fail due to many factors including age differences and cultural conflicts and often difficult financial situations as illustrated by two examples reported in 1910.

          The dubious distinction of being the "first Chinese woman divorcee" was ascribed to Mrs. Josie Hung whose marriage to a wealthy Denver Chinese, W. Q. Hung had been a "May and December" marriage arranged by her parents for the price of $750 when she was only 14 years old and her husband was 20 years older.
              In another example a Chinese doctor, Wing Lee, married a Norwegian woman, but after six year it proved unworkable due to their differences about what kind of food he should provide for her. The wife, age 41, claimed Dr. Lee, age 73, had not given her enough money for food but he claimed he provided her with sufficient amounts of Chinese foods and he should not have to provide money for butter and other foods that "Chinese do not relish."  She was recently jailed for five days after she stole $100 from another Chinese to buy American food because she said her husband was starving her.
              The newspaper headline for the article describing their marital conflict proclaimed, "Chop Suey? Not for me to eat, says white wife."  The judge ruled that Dr. Lee must provide his wife with "substantial food such as white people eat" or else pay her $4 per week,




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