7/17/16

Interracial Marriages of Chinese Men to White Women: II

 The majority of Chinese laborers who came to the U. S. in the late 19th and early 20th century were bachelors, or if married, left the wives in China.  There were very few Chinese women in the U. S. especially after the Page Act of 1875 restricting entry of Chinese women other than those smuggled in by Chinatown tongs and forced into being sex slaves.  Under these circumstances, only a small number of Chinese men married, and among the few who did, most married white women.  A previous post described several instances of marriages between Chinese men and white women in the late 19th and early 20th century and the reactions, often negative, of the mothers of the white women and of the American public. These reactions varied in different regions of the country. While such marriages in the West or South met strong disapproval, in New York City and parts of New England, they faced less criticism.  A look at two mixed race marriages below illustrates how different the reactions could be.

Example of Wong Suey and Sarah Burke (1883)

In 1883 Wong Suey, a Chinese laundryman in Santa Cruz, California and an adolescent white girl, Sarah Burke, who worked as a domestic in a hotel. They wanted to marry but local opposition was so strong, they decided to seek a marriage license in San Francisco. Arriving in San Francisco Chinatown they rented a room in a brothel for the night intending to get married the next day.  Police, however,  discovered Sarah and Wong there and arrested them. Wong was charged with a felony in having lodged a girl under age in a house of ill-fame, while Sarah was booked for residing in a house of prostitution. San Francisco newspapers covered the case extensively for several days.  

The San Francisco newspaper reporter wrote: 
"Sarah is an orphan without any competent advisers or guardians, .... there was opposition of the people of Santa Cruz to the union of a Chinese with a Caucasian. ...The girl claims to be 20 years of age, though the police discredit the statement. In appearance she is rather pretty, her large black eyes strangely illuminating her somewhat expressionless face. Her figure shows more plainly than her words why she is unable to take care of herself, being with child some five months....Wong Suey has strong Caucasian features, and is by no means a poor specimen of his race. 

A few days later, Sarah Burke had to appear before before the Commissioners of Insanity. She had been arraigned on the complaint of her father, Winifred Burke, who deemed the fact of her infatuation for a repulsive Chinese sufficient grounds for believing that she had lost her reason. The Commissioners weighed the evidence and concluded that while she was evidently suffering from a moral eclipse,  her mental trouble did not, in their opinion, come within the meaning of the law. A report to that effect was made to Judge Finn, who had been asked to conduct this examination, and thereupon she was discharged. 

The young couple still faced the problem that the law forbade marriages between Caucasians and Mongolians, and they were advised to execute a civil marriage contract in writing.

Example of Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg (1875)

Yung Wing was a highly educated man and was the first Chinese graduate of Yale University.  He later headed the Chinese Educational Mission, an experimental project to bring 30 young Chinese boys to study in New England in hopes that they could return to China and bring Western ideas to help China enter the modern world.
in the spring of 1875 Yung Wing married a white woman, Mary Kellogg, who came from a well-to-do family in Connecticut. Their marriage was well-accepted and even lauded by many. The account of the nuptials that appeared in newspapers across the country read much the same as it would have been for marriages involving white couples, complete with a description of the attire of the bride and groom, who attended, who officiated, and what foods were served, and honeymoon plans.



Although these two mixed race marriages took place within a few years of each other, they met with completely opposite reactions. Yung Wing was well respected and Mary Kellogg came from a prominent Connecticut family.  On the other hand, Wong Suey was only a laundryman and Sarah Burke was an adolescent girl of humble origin. During this era, the Yung Wing marriage to Mary Kellogg was the exception rather than the rule.

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