About Me

After a career of over 40 years as an academic psychologist, I started a new career as a public historian of Chinese American history that led to five Yin & Yang Press books and over 100 book talks about the lives of early Chinese immigrants and their families operating laundries, restaurants, and grocery stores. This blog contains more research of interest to supplement my books.


Li Hung Chang and Chop Suey

     Chinese statesman Li Hung-Chang (1823-1901) was a towering figure in late nineteenth-century Chinese political life, exerting a profound influence over Chinese foreign policy and relations and overseeing China's modernization and development of western-style industrialism. When news of his plans to visit America in 1896, newspapers published extensive information and praise of his achievements, creating crowds in New York wanting to catch a glimpse of this celebrity.

Li visited the U.S. in 1896 on a diplomatic mission but what his visit is most noted for is his connection with a rather pedestrian Chinese dish, chop suey. The legend goes that one night the Viceroy, tired of American banquet fare, wanted Chinese food late one night.  The restaurant was out of most ingredients by that hour but the chef cobbled all the leftover cuttings from vegetables and stir-fried a dish for his distinguished guest. Reporters who were present reported that he enjoyed the dish which was called "chop suey." When this news was reported in newspapers across the country, it generated high curiosity among the "foodies" of the era who ventured in groups to go 'slumming' in the dark and dangerous big city Chinatowns.

Many Chinese restaurants, such as long-running Yee Jun in San Francisco not only added various versions of chop suey to their menus but capitalized on the publicity about the Viceroy's approval of the concoction by including a Li Hung-Chang chop suey.

The publicity about this version of chop suey even encouraged newspapers to publish instructions for Americans to prepare it at home themselves including instructions for properly drinking tea, cooking rice, and information about famous Chinese dishes like bird's nest soup.

When he died in 1901, a San Francisco newspaper published a full-page tribute to him (only half is reproduced here for readability).


"Chinaman," Popular Newspaper Header 1870s-1940s

     Newspaper articles from about 1870 until the 1940s involving a Chinese typically used the term, Chinaman, rather than the person's name, occupation, or other descriptors.  Here is a small sample of the more than 800 articles over this period from the New York Times, many of which were reprinted in newspapers around the country.  Some were short one paragraph incidents while others were extensive articles.  Common topics included robbery, assault, and murders involving a Chinaman at his laundry, as well as smuggling, gambling, and other illegal activities.  

Other common topics were marriages to white women, fights, disputes, and crimes among the Chinese. Other articles were informational, derisive comments and descriptions of some curious customs and traditions of Chinamen.

 (To enlarge the video to full screen, click at bottom right)


Tank Kee (aka George Bailey), China "Expert" Lecture Tour of U.S. 1870s-1890s

    George Bailey1 claimed to have been orphaned and found off the coast of China and raised by the royal family. Bailey’s obituary by his friend, William Payne, in the Evening Times-Republican in 1902 in Marshalltown, Iowa, explaining that Bailey’s family moved to China for business when George was a child. The young couple died of cholera, and Bailey was taken in by a wealthy Chinese family and nicknamed “Tank Kee,” a seemingly Chinese name related to the characters for blue-green and remembrance or record.  


         By the early 1870s, George Bailey had started a traveling lecture career in the United States using the name, Tank Kee, as if he were part of the Chinese diaspora. For over twenty years, he would travel across western, midwestern, and southern states speaking to audiences about China.  Bailey’s performances as Tank Kee was different from that of other white performers at the time who claimed to showcase Asian culture. Unlike these other popular performers, Bailey did not perform in yellowface or pander to white audiences by trafficking in cheap stereotypes. Instead, he used his lectures to push back against rising anti-Chinese racism across the United States, believing that anti-immigrant sentiments stemmed from ignorance. His lectures aimed to educate his audiences on Chinese history and culture in order to change their minds about Chinese immigration, a political message Bailey made explicit both in his public lectures and frequent newspaper articles defending Chinese people against attacks on their morality and character. 

    Tank Kee lectured about China in a tour throughout the United States that featured many “curiosities”—including dresses, statues, coins, and books. He brought these goods to the South and Midwest, including Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul.  As a part of his lectures, Bailey wore these elaborate Chinese costumes to “illustrate” different roles; sometimes he would use objects, including fans, embroidery, statues, and ivory carvings, as a visual reference. Later, he would design more formal exhibits as curator of the American Archaeological and Asiatic Society, which he created in Wichita, Kansas.

       Under the byline Tank Kee, Bailey wrote many opinion pieces strongly criticizing America’s growing anti-Chinese sentiment, which put him in direct opposition with Dennis Kearney, the champion of  "The Chinese Must Go" campaigns. During his tour of the Southeast, he wrote what came to be known as the “Mississippi Letters,” which shared his critical thoughts on race and culture in the Jim Crow South that made him many enemies in the South.

   Eventually, as visitors to see his collections declined by1890, Bailey sought a permanent home for his extensive Chinese collections. In 1891 he offered to donate everything to the University of Texas if the following terms were met: the university would build a suitable building to preserve the books; the professors would be its trustees; Bailey’s mark would be stamped on all the books; the objects would be repaired; the library would be preserved intact; and, lastly, the building would be named the Tank Kee Library. 

    The Dallas Morning News estimated that the 33,000 volumes were valued at around $120,000 to $150,000, a massive sum for the time, and the university wanted the collection. A month later, none of the books had been delivered, however. A reporter asked Bailey why he was delaying, and Bailey said that the University of Texas would not build a fireproof building and wanted only to add his books to the general library, a proposition he would not accept.   But there was never any agreement about the building, and the deal collapsed.  

    Bailey contacted the renowned Newberry Library in Chicago. which was actively seeking to expand its holdings. Instead of trying to donate the entire collection and negotiating payments for transportation and other costs, Bailey offered to sell many of the English books on China, the Chinese encyclopedia, seventeenth-century Jesuit texts, Chinese paintings, and military maps. He told the Newberry that he had acquired most of his books during his thirty years living in China.  The Chicago Sunday Tribune reported that the most treasured “curiosity” was the 239-volume “imperial encyclopedia, used only by the mandarins, and held by them under the government, to which in the end it must be returned, and but one other copy exists outside the empire.” While his entire collection was valued at more than $100,000, he sold these volumes for $12,000 to the Newberry, more than recovering the costs incurred from his Masonic misadventure. He continued to travel throughout the Midwest and Southeast and lecture about China until his death in 1902.

1 Not to be confused with the George Bailey character made famous by James Stewart in the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life."





Mississippi Triangle: Relation of black, white and Chinese in the Delta

    Almost all discussions about problems in race relations historically have focused on a binary, black versus white, and give little or no attention to other groups. In the Mississippi Delta, such a focus misses the unique situation which has existed there for over a century. The Chinese, although small in number, played a significant role as a group situated physically and socially between the larger black and white communities.              

    There is no lack of information about the dominant relationship that whites held in the Delta with respect to blacks. Much less is known about how blacks and whites regard and treat the Chinese?  And how did the Chinese view and react to the black and the white communities?

    Whites had the most power and dominated the blacks in the Delta as throughout the racially segregated South.  The Chinese had less status than the whites but more than the blacks. They were in an in-between status, higher than blacks, but not as high as whites. The Chinese made their living for decades almost entirely operating small grocery stores in black neighborhoods of small rural towns in the Delta. They provided invaluable services to blacks, even extending goods to them on credit until payday, which was not possible in white grocery stores that were less welcoming to black customers. So, while the Chinese benefited financially from serving blacks, they wanted to have the social privileges of whites, not the least of which was access for their children to white schools which were better financed than schools for blacks. Some Chinese children attended mission schools provided by the Baptist church in Cleveland, MS. even though some had to board at the school because it was not within commuting distance.  The Chinese could not attend white schools until a few years after WWII, with one of the main reasons being white fears that some Chinese children were not "pure" Chinese but may have had a black mother.

      Blacks benefited from the better treatment from Chinese grocers than from white stores, but some blacks felt some Chinese overpriced merchandise. Chinese also had cause for tensions with some blacks, and over the years there were many assaults, robberies, thefts, and even homicides committed by blacks against Chinese. Although most black customers were innocent of such offenses, the Chinese had to be vigilant and wary of the dangers they faced from some black residents. Newspaper clippings of some of the many attacks on the Chinese over the decades document the dangers they faced constantly.

     Awareness and memories of these harmful actions by blacks on the Chinese is a sensitive topic that the Chinese do not like to discuss. They have been "sitting targets" for decades with incidents as far back as 1892. They have little control over the situation and prefer to brag about their success as grocers and the academic achievements of their children.

    One of the first attempt to film interviews and interactions with Chinese, whites, and blacks in the Delta, aptly named, Mississippi Triangle, was in 1982-3 by a trio of filmmakers led by Christine Choy, a Korean American from New York along with Worth Long, a black, and  Allan Siegel, a Jew.  Hoping to get more honest answers about racial attitudes, the filmmakers matched the race of the respondent with that of the interviewer. Although several Chinese were interviewed, one elderly woman, Arlee Hen, who was part Chinese and part black, clearly was interviewed more extensively and presented in short snippets throughout the film.

    The Chinese were very sensitive to any insinuation that they were racist and unhappy to have so much focus on an unrepresentative member of their community and felt the film sometimes depicted Chinese negatively.  The rumor, which was not confirmed, was that after the filmmakers ended their interviews and departed, they secretly returned to continue their interview with Arlee Hen. The Chinese were quite upset with the film and felt they had been deceived about the purpose of the film. Mississippi Triangle examined the attitudes of each of the three communities toward each other but some Delta Chinese assumed the film would call attention to the many successes of the Delta Chinese. At a Clarksdale screening of the film and discussion with the filmmakers attended by about 200 Chinese, the reaction was negative because they felt the film gave a negative view of the Delta Chinese, one that might have been valid decades ago but did not reflect the present.

Here is a  trailer for the film.

    I learned about the film and its controversy a decade or more ago but had never seen it until recently with I discovered it can be rented for online viewing on vimeo.com.

      I also unearthed a podcast on Soundcloud where two commentators discuss their reactions to Mississippi Triangle on a series that covers Asian American topics on Saturday School.  The above link I provided skips the opening chit chat of 8:45 before they get down to business discussing the film.

You will note the podcast audio screen below includes a photo of Arlee Hen.

    The podcast raises some worthwhile points illustrated with audio clips from the film.  Unfortunately, the two podcasters are a bit too jovial and "amused" in their discussion in my view, which detracts from their analysis.
A difficult to locate but a more detailed discussion of the film and its reception  by Renee Tajima and Adria Bernardi is in the July/August 1984 issue of Southern Exposure, pp 17-23, "The Chinese: 100 years in the South."


Rare 1930s Chinese American family home movies: A Story of Lost, Found, Restored, and Interpretation


    Silas Fung, a Chinese American artist from a family with two other artists, Paul and Timothy, was a successful commercial artist in Chicago. He was fascinated by the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and collected artifacts from the exhibition.  Fung’s “Miniature Fair House” was a subject of Ripley’s “Believe It or Not!” on September 6, 1937.

His wife, Edythe Julius Shum, proved to a highly successful Sun Life Assurance of Canada sales agent who traveled all over Canada and much of the U.S. to sell life insurance to Chinese immigrants. (We were the only Chinese in Macon, Georgia during the 1930s-1950s and had Sun Life insurance and while I do not know if she sold it to my father, it would not surprise me if she was the one who sold it to him).

    In the 1930s home movie cameras were becoming increasingly affordable and Silas made many 16 mm. home movies of his family in often candid scenes in and out of their home. Eventually, the movie collection went missing for decades until one day they suddenly were listed for sale on eBay!

    An Indian-Canadian filmmaker, Ali Kazimi, was excited to learn of the availability although he did not know who made the home movies. He wanted non-portrait images of Asian Americans, but few, if any, home movies of Asian Americans probably existed. He had to bid for the films in an online auction and paid about $2,000 for the collection, sight unseen. It appears that he had been bidding against Fung's descendants for the films. In any event, the films were in terrible condition and appeared to be unsalvagable but he decided to run the risk of restoring the films at great expense, which would risk being destroyed or incinerated in the attempt. For film historians, this link goes to his interview about the entire ordeal of restoration.

Ali Kazari's restored home movies combined with his interpretive commentary and help from Fung's daughter, Irena Lum, in providing descriptions of the photographed activities, locations, dates, and identification of the family members created his documentary, Random Acts of Legacy, an award-winning best documentary at CAAMFEST, 2017. This link is to the trailer for the film.

"Intertwining a first-person narrative as an outside witness with family accounts and other commentators, Kazimi weaves a rich tapestry of the life of an unusually wealthy family of colour from the Depression era. The retrieved footage offers an intimate and radically different visual perspective on the Chinese American community in Chicago – with a surprising feminist twist. Visually rich and textured, unafraid to show the decaying patina of a family archive, Random Acts of Legacy revels in the making of home movies and memory.


"Extraordinary for its unvarnished representation of family life, at home, church, and play, Fung’s moving pictures offer a surprising counter-narrative to stereotypes of Chinese Americans in his day. His films captured birthday celebrations with cake and candles, gatherings and picnics in the park, as well as family fishing and boating outings. Silas Fung's images celebrate the everyday life of his first-generation, upwardly-mobile, Chinese American family; a portrait of lives otherwise omitted from moving-image history."     America Reframed


Underground Chinese Tunnels: Facts, Fantasies, and Finances

Underground Chinese Tunnels, Pendleton, Oregon     

     Pendleton, Oregon, a small town located in a remote area about 200 miles east of Portland, attracts many visitors to take tours of underground “tunnels” in the part of town where Chinese immigrants lived in the late 1890s and early 20th century.  The 1910 U.S. Census listed 83 Chinese, almost all men who were laborers, a few cooks and domestics, and several laundrymen. During that period anti-Chinese feelings were strong and the Chinese were often victims of assault, robbery, and even homicide.  It was especially dangerous for the Chinese to be in public spaces after sundown.  

    Did these conditions prompt the Chinese to dig underground tunnels to enable safe after-dark movement from one Chinese-owned business to another, especially for illegal activities like gambling and for businesses such as opium dens and brothels. Tunnels were thought to have concealed entrances through which escape was possible in the event of a police raid. The tunnels were a Chinese community secret until the city began to repair potholes on sidewalks in front of Chinese stores in the 1980s, long after the Chinese occupied these buildings.

    For many years popular commercial tours of these tunnels have existed that are promoted as having an “actual historian” as a guide. They are a lucrative source of tourist spending in Pendleton. The photos below do not represent the original condition of the underground tunnels but involve some "prettying-up" by the tour company.  Although many other towns in western states are thought to have also had underground tunnels, the physical evidence is weak and none of them have reconstructed an actual underground space as Pendleton has.


Is There Evidence That Underground Spaces Were Part Of A Tunnel?

Ideas that early Chinese dug tunnels to provide hidden living and working spaces fascinate the general public and are in keeping with the widespread view that the "heathen Chinee" were mysterious or inscrutable. Despite the attraction of underground Chinese tunnels to tourists,  Priscilla Wegars, an authority on the archeological study of Chinese communities in the northwest,  indicated that she has never found any documentation or substantiation for these rumored "Chinese tunnels." In cities where the Chinese owned buildings, they utilized the basements for storage, as living quarters, or as opium dens. There were interconnecting hallways between adjacent buildings, but these spaces were not part of a larger system that would warrant them being called "tunnels."

There were indeed passageways under the sidewalk for buildings with stores that were once used for delivery access, or to admit light into the basements. The architectural term for these passageways is "sidewalk vaults,” and they can be found in the sidewalks of many towns throughout the West. The passageways underneath them are simply access channels and have no connection with early Chinese residents. The same can be said for the so-called "Chinese tunnels" rumored to exist in Boise and Pocatello, Idaho; Baker City, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Victoria, BC, and many other places.

These basements were not dug by the Chinese occupants but were created when the building was constructed.  The fact or idea that the Chinese used these spaces does not prove the Chinese dug the interconnecting passages between adjacent buildings to create "tunnels."  If the Chinese dug tunnels, what did they do with all the earth they had to dig through? How could it be disposed of without anyone noticing.  Moreover, with such a small Chinese population of 83 mostly older men at its peak in 1910, it doesn't seem possible they could have constructed any underground tunnel.


Underground Tunnels in Fresno Chinatown? 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1mrGZU5Hpk  A local Fresno tv news story about the “underground Chinese tunnels” complete with 'spooky' background music.” 

The historic Chinatown in Fresno was approximately six blocks just west of the railroad tracks.  In 2007, most of the buildings were gone but Sanborn fire insurance maps from the 1880s show it was once a densely populated area, home to the Chinese laborers who laid Fresno’s foundations, and to successive layers of immigrants from other ethnic groups The area had family-run stores, temples, churches, Chinese and Japanese schools, but also provided hidden spaces under street level for illicit activities of gambling, prostitution, and drinking during Prohibition.

Many business establishments had basements, some of them interconnected. Of those that can still be seen today, some end in bricked-off walls that longtime residents say hide tunnel entrances. Archaeologists believe the tunnels may have been built to provide cool underground storage in a region known for the sweltering summer heat.  Although the archaeological study was just beginning in 2007, there appears to be some evidence of underground “linear structures” that could have been tunnels or simply large drainage pipes. Locals believe if Chinatown and its excavated tunnels can be developed for heritage tourism, it could bring some income to an impoverished area.


Bakersfield Chinese Underground

     Despite many stories about underground tunnels in Bakersfield, California, many Chinese immigrants remain skeptical. Most of the so-called tunnels, some argue, were simply extended basements that were sometimes connected to neighboring basements. In the days before air conditioning, underground rooms provided much-needed relief from the valley’s notorious summer heat, and also provided storage space for businesses.
        In the view of one Chinese resident, “We didn’t go into any tunnels; it was just a basement not connected to any other basements or passageways. It was simply a back door. There were no tunnels. Just cellars,”  


Napa, CA. Chinese Underground

The evidence in support of underground tunnels is no more compelling in Napa, California, than in other cities with similar stories, leaving one to wonder if they exist mainly in the fantasies many people hold about the Chinese, and the hope by towns that tours of these tunnels would bring financial income to cash strapped towns.

A Napa television station video looked at the possibility that tunnels once existed under the stores in Chinatown. 



Missionaries in China: Help versus Harm

    Until well into the twentieth century few Americans living beyond the western and northeastern United States ever met or interacted in person with Chinese immigrants.  One reason was there were few Chinese in part due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned the entry of Chinese laborers, a group that had been previously welcomed by capitalists as a large supply of cheap labor.  Moreover, the majority of Chinese immigrants did not speak English well, if at all.  

    Despite Americans lacking much direct contact with the Chinese people, they nonetheless held strong impressions, often incorrect or demeaning about these “Celestials” as they were often called in the 19th century, that they formed from accounts of explorers, merchants, and missionaries. Another popular epithet, heathen, focused on the uncivilized aspects of Chinese, worship of idols, and their uncleanliness.
    The earliest views of Chinese held in the West, which was generally positive and respectful, came from anecdotal accounts provided by explorers (Marco Polo), American merchants in the early19th century        
              (  Empress of China. (see Lee, Before Chinatown)   

    Later in the mid-19th century, China was in turmoil and disarray after being defeated and humiliated in two costly Opium Wars with Great Britain who had introduced opium from India to China to pay for its own 'addiction' to China's tea that caused a trade imbalance of silver payments. 
    This uncertain situation provided a golden opportunity in China for Christian missionaries to engage in medical as well as evangelical missions.
     Many missionaries regarded Britain’s victories in the Opium Wars as a sign that God was readying China for the arrival of the Word. “ Roberts added, we are willing to see anything which has a tendency to accomplish these desirable ends”— the opening of China to Christ. 
 .  (See Minden)  

Chinese Anti-missionary Sentiment due to the Harm of Opium

    Much of the Chinese opposition to Christian missionaries arose from the fact that opium was a harmful and illegal commodity, and that despite their vigorous advocacy of the rule of law, Westerners were the chief importers of the drug. Indeed, the connection drawn in the minds of many Chinese between the missionaries and the illegal activities of their countrymen was discrediting all missionary claims of benevolent intent and undermining their assertion that Christianity represented a superior foundation for moral behavior.  Many missionaries began to hold the view that the opium trade, or rather the stigma of lawlessness that was associated with it, was becoming a major obstacle to the spread of the gospel in China.

    By the mid-1850s, the attitudes of American missionaries toward the opium question had undergone a fundamental transformation. Humanitarian concern for the impact of opium on the health and welfare of the Chinese people was supplanted by a greater concern over the impact of its illegality on the reputation of Westerners in general, and thus on the winning of greater numbers of converts to Christianity. There was no greater proof of this change than the influential contribution made by American missionaries to the agreements associated with the Treaty of Tianjin negotiated in 1858.  70

    Thus, for the sake of easing their own consciences, and, perhaps, to more effectively spread the Gospel in China, missionaries helped to open the country more widely to the importation of opium. After the signing of the Treaties of Tianjin, the importation of the drug increased dramatically and opium addiction became one of the most devastating scourges ever to afflict the Chinese people.
To save the heathen Chinese, it was first necessary to demonize them.

  see john pomfret

The first Protestant missionary, Robert Morrison, arrived in 1807, but during the first twenty-seven years in China, Protestant missionaries claimed only ten converts. 

In 1830, E. C. Bridgman arrived in Canton with the evangelical zeal of the Second Great Awakening.  He was one of the first Americans to acquire a mastery of the Chinese language, earning wide recognition as the foremost American expert on Chinese society and politics.3 

From May 1836 to April 1837, Bridgman and Williams? printed seventeen articles on the history and present state of the opium trade in China, most of which illustrated the various ways that the drug was exerting an evil influence on the moral, commercial, and political life of the nation. 

p 44

Peter Parker, the fourth American Protestant preacher in China, arrived in Guangzhou in 1834. A graduate of both Yale’s medical college and its divinity school, he was the first medical missionary in China. Parker and the other early Protestants shared some similarities with the Catholic Jesuits who had been coming to China since the sixteenth century. Through good works, they sought to convince the Chinese of the superiority of their faith.  In his application to the American Board, Parker described dual goals: disseminating “the blessings of science and Christianity all over the globe.” 

    Issachar Roberts arrived in China in 1837 after mortgaging his Mississippi farm and preaching in Macao. While the first group of Western missionaries studied Chinese and hobnobbed with the upper classes, Roberts was drawn to the masses.  Roberts moved to Hong Kong and then in May 1844 to Guangzhou 

     Peter Parker and Issachar Roberts disagreed about how to change China. Parker and others sent out by the American Board believed that long years of study, an additional specialization, and a healthy respect for the culture were the keys to China’s kingdom. They were scholars, not bomb-throwers. They wanted, in Parker’s words, to “heal” China, to help it become stronger.

      James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was a British Protestant Christian missionary who spent 51 years in China and founded the China Inland Mission (CIM, now OMF International) which was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to China who established 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.
    Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture, even wearing Chinese clothing, and for his zeal for evangelism. Under his leadership, the CIM was non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class, and single women as well as multinational recruits. Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century.

    While it can hardly be disputed that the medical mission was of great benefit for the Chinese, the evangelical mission was a much less successful endeavor, with few converts. Evangelical efforts became an increasingly frustrating and fruitless effort given the unsavory connection drawn by the Chinese between Western opium smugglers and Christian missionaries.   Missionaries were accused of hypocrisy by the Chinese to whom they preached their message of Christian salvation and benevolence.

    Most missionaries were white men, and although many came with a white wife and children, their effectiveness with Chinese women was limited. By the late 1890s, Baptist churches approved of sending white women missionaries to China.

    The resistance and hostility among Chinese, described as 'yellow demons,' toward Christian missionaries attempting to convert them to Christian religious beliefs and practices is illustrated in an article published in 1900 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune which reported that Chinese made crudely drawn but pointed cartoon images that dramatically conveyed their negative feelings toward missionaries. The illustration below shows the hostility and resistance toward western missionaries and their attempt to convert them to Christianity.

    The missionary, represented on the left by a hog tied to a cross, is being skewered with arrows shot by little Chinese demons at the command of a mandarin.   The legend on the cartoon reads, "Ask the beast if he is still thinking of coming (to China)."


    Missionaries may have had biases in their reports in seeking continued financial support.  They had to convince their churches of a need for the Chinese to be saved i.e, poverty, drug abuse, crime, child abuse.  The worse the picture that missionaries presented about the Chinese, the more likely they were to receive financial backing from their churches. Moreover, they had to show progress or success in the conversion of the Chinese to Christianity. 
    Furthermore, they did not deal with a cross-section of the Chinese population. Missionaries dealt with the Chinese who were receptive to evangelical outreach and/or in need of medical care and treatment. In contrast, they had little contact with more affluent segments of the population so their reports to the American public painted an inaccurate picture of the Chinese overall.


(Similarly, see C.K. Marshall admission blog post in Blue Gray civil war site)

           see MGM Cartoons: 

Pearl Buck views

    Currently, more than a century later, despite the formidable resistance to Christianity for decades, millions of Chinese in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and North America identify or affiliate with Christianity.

How Americans Acquired Their "knowledge" about Chinese

The accounts of the Chinese that Christian missionaries sent back to America were one of the primary sources of information about the Chinese for the American public and highly influential on how Americans perceived the Chinese. 

       As Lazrich (2006) observed: “Christian missionaries, deeply motivated by the zeal of their convictions and the imperative force of their religious ideology, served as the vanguard of Western cultural penetration wherever they ventured to establish themselves. And while their methods and goals were not always in harmony with those of their profit-seeking countrymen, missionaries would come to serve a predominant role in shaping the earliest formal diplomatic relations between the Western powers and the traditional societies and governments of the non-Western world.”

    Missionaries had great influence in shaping the first U.S. treaties with the Chinese since their mastery of the Chinese language and experience in dealing with Qing officials were indispensable to the diplomats representing the United States.

Missionaries in China attracted some Chinese to study in the U.S, and some became Christians who wanted to return to China as missionaries,  Being fluent in Chinese, and being Chinese, in many ways they could establish better rapport with the Chinese which facilitated their conversion rates.

Missionary Work with Chinese in the U.S.

    Historian Derek Chang analyzed how the Baptist Home Mission approached conversion attempts among the growing number of immigrant Chinese around 1869, an increase due largely to the 10 to 20,000 Chinese brought from China to work on building the Central Pacific portion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Using Portland for his analysis, Chang noted that although evangelical Christians made extensive efforts to convert the Chinese, they depicted the Chinese in a negative light, as heathens who worshipped false gods,  engaged in opium smoking, and brought Chinese women over as virtual slaves who were forced into prostitution.  
    Chang also noted the simultaneous goal of Baptist missionaries toward converting black Americans in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Although both the Chinese and blacks were viewed in a negative light and hence in need of conversion to Christianity, there was an important difference between the two populations.  Most of the Chinese were unacquainted with Christianity and also found it acceptable to hold more than one belief system such as Buddhism and Taoism. In contrast, even before slavery was abolished, blacks already were practicing their own version of Christianity.  Chang pointed out that white missionaries wanted to retain power in the churches involving Chinese and blacks, but found that these groups wanted autonomy and self-control.
    Missionaries were much more successful in converting Chinese immigrants living in the U.S. than those in China. One attraction was the opportunity for the Chinese to learn English from missionaries and Sunday School teachers. Being in the U.S., the Chinese wanted to acquire better acceptance from the American public, and becoming Christians was a major means at a time when Chinese were generally disparaged and regarded as "heathens" who would never assimilate to American values.

   A 1903 newspaper account of the Chinese in Birmingham, Alabama, showed that despite the harsh and discriminatory treatment of Chinese across the country in 1903 that began much earlier and continued for many subsequent decades, there were efforts by Christian churches in the highly segregated Deep South, to convert these "heathens" to Christianity through Sunday School classes.

    The Second Presbyterian Church provided 15 teachers for 15 Chinese students of unspecified ages.  It was felt that the 1:1 ratio would expedite their acquisition of English.  It is questionable if there were as many as 15 Chinese children in Birmingham at all!  The 1900 census showed only 5 Chinese, all adult males, and the 1910 census showed only 10 Chinese adult males. No women or children were listed in either census. This discrepancy probably is due to poor enumeration that failed to record any Chinese children, or women, if there were any.

   The pastor cited the importance of this outreach "because the Chinese are subject to many temptations peculiar to American cities." He did not cite specific temptations but implied that Sunday School experiences would protect them. As an aside, he did not seem to recognize how effectively Chinese parents discipline their children to behave.

    A final argument by the pastor for the value of Sunday School experiences for Chinese children was that when they retire and return to China, they may play a role in the evangelical goal of spreading the Gospel in China.    


     The evangelical mission in Birmingham was by no means an isolated one, but one that could be found increasingly in towns, large and small, across the country by 1900.


Two Opposing Views About Chinese Exclusion

 The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which lasted until 1943, was passed to prevent cheap Chinese labor from depriving Americans of work. Additional justifications included racist xenophobic views that the Chinese were inferior, unassimilable, devious, unhygienic, and immoral, to name a few.

However, there were notable defenses of the Chinese such as Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll's argument in 1899 against the unjust exclusion that fell on deaf ears. Green was a free thinker, abolitionist, and considered the foremost orator and political speechmaker of late 19th century America.

    In contrast to Ingersoll's defense of the Chinese, an article published in the Birmingham newspaper on January 3, 1911, p.17 argued for continuing the exclusion of Chinese. Using the caricature of the Chinese as a cheater who outmaneuvers two white men trying to cheat him in a card game in a poem written in 1870 by Bret Harte, Plain Language From Truthful James that was more widely known as The Heathen Chinee. The 1911Birmingham article invoked the image of the devious untrustworthy "heathen Chinee" created way back in 1870 to depicts the many sneaky ways the Chinese devised to gain entry illegally into the country. 



Many of the arguments were specious. If the Chinese were 'unassimilable,' it was not an inherent trait of the Chinese but a condition imposed by the racist barriers that denied Chinese naturalization, opportunity to testify in court, and the denial of their bringing wives and children from China, among other impediments. The closing claim, without evidence, that the Chinese had 10,000 copies made of landmarks to aid immigrants in answering questions from immigration officials was a smear against the Chinese.


Chinese Sunday School in Birmingham, Alabama, 1903


   This 1903 newspaper account of the Chinese in Birmingham, Alabama, caught my attention for several reasons. It showed that despite the harsh and discriminatory treatment of Chinese across the country in 1903 that began decades earlier and continued for many subsequent decades, there were efforts by Christian churches, even in the Deep South, to convert these "heathens" to Christianity through Sunday School classes.

    The Second Presbyterian Church provided 15 teachers for  15 Chinese students of unspecified ages.  It was felt that the 1:1 ratio would expedite their acquisition of English.  That might be a valid point but, I was surprised that there were as many as 15 Chinese children in Birmingham at all!  The 1900 census showed only 5 Chinese, all adult males, and the 1910 census showed only 10 Chinese adult males. No women or children were listed in either census. This discrepancy probably is due to poor enumeration that failed to record any Chinese children, or women, if there were any.

   The pastor cited the importance of this outreach "because the Chinese are subject to many temptations peculiar to American cities." He did not cite specific temptations but implied that Sunday School experiences would protect them. As an aside, he did not seem to recognize how effectively Chinese parents discipline their children to behave.

    A final argument by the pastor for the value of Sunday School experiences for Chinese children was that when they retire and return to China, they may play a role in the evangelical goal of spreading the Gospel in China. 

     The evangelical mission in Birmingham was by no means an isolated one, but one that could be found increasingly in towns, large and small, across the country by 1900.


El Paso Chinese

    By the early 1870s, a great depression hit the United States and unemployed Americans blamed the cheap labor of the rapidly growing number of Chinese immigrants. Consequently, the  Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 barred Chinese laborers from entering, and for those already in the country from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. 

    The Chinese in El Paso found illegal means to bring in their countrymen. Chinese were thought to have built tunnels to smuggle Chinese across the Mexican border from Juarez into El Paso. 

       In 1881, the first 1200 Chinese arrived in El  Paso to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad connecting El Paso and California.  After construction was completed, some workers moved on to work in other places in the U.S., some returned home to China, but others remained in El Paso.  Evidence that a large Chinese community developed in El Paso is seen at the Concordia Cemetery, which has a sizable section for burials of Chinese.

      Sam Hing was a Chinese operating in El Paso as a labor contractor recruiting Chinese laborers looking for work on the  Southern Pacific work crews. Hing became one of the most prominent, influential, and successful Chinese.  By 1900, Hing, having moved to Mexico, was reputed to be worth as much as $15 million.  

     Hing attributed his financial success to his dedication to work and smart investments. However,  he is alleged to have treated the Chinese laborers he hired like slaves so his financial gains were at their expense.  Two laborers about to be deported testified about the horrible treatment they received working for Hing.

An El Paso newspaper article written in 1940 about the early days of Chinese in El Paso did not cite the year but noted that Sam Hing eventually moved from El Paso to Mexico with his fortune and married a Mexican woman.