Anti-Chinese Sentiments Not Limited to White Managers

White labor was usually the strongest advocate of Chinese exclusion in the late 19th century, but there were also instances where Chinese were pitted against other Chinese.  In 1895 in San Francisco, Sam Wah wanted Chinese workmen to pay for half the expenses of sewing machine repairs because he felt their carelessness contributed to machine breakdowns.  In protest, the Chinese men walked off the job. Undaunted, Sam Wah did not try to replace them with other Chinese men but instead recruited 41 white women to work under white supervision in their place.

Similarly in 1896, when Chinese women at a blouse-waist factory in San Francisco walked out over low wages, taking their sewing machines with them, the Chinese manager elected to replace them with white women, providing them with steam driven equipment that greatly increased productivity.

The fact that white women were favored because they were willing to work for less is a bit ironic because the Chinese were widely condemned for that very reason by whites in the past.



Detective Foo, A Chinese Sherlock Holmes, Solves A Murder!

In 1885 a Chinese laundryman, Wong Sing Lee, was found brutally murdered in Rome, New York. The laundryman had been stabbed numerous times but there was no sign that he had put up a struggle. The laundry had been ransacked and there was no money or jewelry to be found so it was assumed that robbery was involved as well.

Caucasian police sent from New York learned from witnesses that a foreigner wearing very fancy clothes had been seen a day before the murder arriving by train at Ogdensburg, New York. The evening he had been seen in Sing Lee's cottage. The next evening he had been seen at the Rome train station getting on the train to Montréal.  

Meanwhile, the New York Chinese community dispatched Detective Foo to work on the case, a move that, according to the newspaper reporter, was pooh-poohed by the caucasian police who a week later arrested a Chinaman in Burlington, Iowa, partly using identification by witnesses brought in from Rome.  However, local authorities found that he had a perfect alibi and released him.   

Detective Foo's investigation located two boys who said they had seen the stranger in the laundry on the evening of the day the stranger arrived in town.   Foo also had a surgeon re-examine the wounds on the corpse. His analysis led him to conclude that a left-handed person had inflicted the wounds.

After his investigation, this Chinese Sherlock Holmes concluded that the assassin was a Chinese laundryman who could speak, read, and write English fluently, dressed well in European style clothes, and was left-handed.  Foo surmised that the robbery was a cover-up for the real motive for the murder which was to put the victim out of the way so the assassin could retrieve some documents in his possession.  He concluded that the murderer was strong because the blows that he inflicted required strength, coolness, knowledge of the body's most vulnerable areas, and probably the work of a professional assassin.

Detective Foo sent a circular to all the Chinese friends and relatives of the victim to find out if they knew of any quarrels, lawsuits, business troubles, or love affairs involving the victim. He learned from them that the victim was the chief witness in a bitter lawsuit between two Chinese merchants in Montréal and that his testimony was considered significant because he had in his possession letters and documents harmful to the case for one of the litigants.

Foo assumed that the murderer had come from Montréal so the detective made inquiries at stops along the railroad route. He finally found another Chinese laundryman who told him that around the time of the crime a Chinese man had come and asked him for directions to the address of Wong Sing Lee. The stranger said that he came from Montréal and he was a cousin of a rich merchant there named Hong (that man was the litigant whose case would have been damaged had the murdered laundryman testified).

Foo then went to Montreal summoned the close acquaintances of the merchant, Hong, and gave them a description of the crime. He inquired which of Hong's friends and relatives wore European clothes and they all agreed that Fang Ah You was a likely suspect.  Detective Foo got a search warrant and went to Hong's place of business.  Everyone there denied knowing the whereabouts of Tong Ah You.   However, upon searching the premises thoroughly, the criminal was found hiding in a concealed room in the cellar of the establishment.  So within 48 hours after being on the case, Detective Foo was able to solve the crime.


Viceroy Li Hung Chang's "Smelly Shoes"

Viceroy Li Hong Chang (1896) Source:Wikimedia
In America, Li Hung Chang (also Li Hongzhang) is not a well known historical figure, but he was an influential diplomat for many decades during the Qing dynasty.  That fact is lost sight of as we know him best for his apocryphal role in creating the popularity of chop suey among non Chinese, an incidental outcome of a dinner he had during a diplomatic visit in 1896 to the United States, but one that became a turning point in the wider acceptance of Chinese restaurant cuisine among non-Chinese. 

On the world stage, Li Hung Chang had an impact on international relations. He was a key influence on determining foreign policy that affected the balance of power in Asia among China, Japan, and Korea at the end of the 19th century. Li tried to stop Japanese expansionism in Manchuria and fell from favor after the Chinese loss in the 1894-5 Sino-Japanese War, an outcome that still reverberates today as it led to Japan establishing control over Korea in addition to seizing Taiwan as well as the tiny Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands that led to a confrontation between China and Japan in 2010.

His image in China remains controversial, with criticism on one hand for political and military mistakes and praise on the other for his earlier success against the Taiping Rebellion, his diplomatic skills defending Chinese interests in the era of unequal treaties, and his role pioneering China's industrial and military modernization. Critics of Li Hung Chang felt his decisions were faulty, i.e., stunk like 'smelly shoes' as symbolized in the image below found on a wall in San Francisco Chinatown in 1912 showing two Chinese men holding their nostrils in front of 'a pair of shoes worn by by Li Hung Chang in escaping from Japan.'

A mystery surrounds this wall posting making fun at Chang, however. The victory of Japan was in 1895 and Chang died in 1901, but the still photograph from a film of the 2 men mocking Chang was recorded in 1912, over a decade later. Of course, it is not known in what year the image was put on the wall. In any case, the defeat was indeed a bitter pill for this image to still be posted and elicit such interest after so much time.  

And exactly what was the purpose of this wall full of a variety of proverbs and clever epigrams? Who created it, where was it located, and how long did it remain?  


Like Father, Like Son: Two Cagey Chinamen!

Deport me, if you dare!

In 1910, Mow Yong proved that he was smarter than his name, (which could be translated as 'no good, or useless). Threatened with deportation, even though he claimed he was born in the U. S., young Yong welcomed the trip to China at government expense since he wanted to visit relatives there.  Meanwhile, the elder Yong was making plans to get his son's passage back to Michigan paid for by the government as well.  

I couldn't find any followup so we don't know whether their strategies worked, but certainly showed a lot of spunk!


What Chinese Immigrants Had To Do To Visit China?

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.


On The Physical Fitness of Chinese Laborers

When southern planters were considering bringing Chinese laborers to work in cotton and rice fields or on construction projects in the late 1860s and early 1870s, they raised questions about the fitness of Chinese for heavy labor.

In Augusta, Georgia, Chinese were recruited in 1873 to expand the canal to generate power for mill operations. A reporter for the Augusta Chronicle asked the labor contractor, Mr. E. L.Rider, in light of the "small stature and effeminate appearance of the Chinamen," just "how they stood on such severe manual labor as that required upon railways and canals."

Mr. Rider, himself half Chinese, replied:
"the effeminance of the immigrants was in appearance only. They are exceedingly hardy and muscular, and have never failed to beat the six footer with the pick and shovel. Physicians who have occasion to see their naked bodies when attending them for injuries are astonished at their firm flesh, and large and well developed muscles."

Anticipating the general belief of Americans that Chinese were "very filthy and abhored cold as the devil does holy water," Rider went on to reassure them:
"Their habits of personal cleanliness, which are always rigidly adhered to, render them less liable to contract disease than many other classes of laborers."

Rider was anxious to introduce the Chinese laborers upon the rice plantation of the coast.  "He is confident that the results... would be a marked reduction in expenses, and a large increase in production...it would force the colored labor of the coast back into the cotton belt of Middle Georgia."

The Chinese acquitted themselves well in their work on the canal, and when that was completed, it is not known what happened to them.  They must have moved on to find work in other places although it seems plausible that some may have remained in the Augusta area, perhaps operating the small grocery stores in the black neighborhoods.  In the Mississippi Delta, Chinese originally recruited to work in the cotton fields did not find that work suited them and some of them also turned to opening family-run grocery stores in black neighborhoods.


Interracial Marriages of Chinese Men to White Women. I.

Early Chinese immigrant laborers were either unmarried or if married, separated from their wives and children who were still in China. One reason why wives did not accompany their husbands was that the laborers initially planned to return to China after a few years. Other reasons were cultural, i.e., families had wives remain in the villages for diverse reasons. Wives in China would ensure the men would return, care for elderly parents-in-law, and have their children grow up in China.  Economic factors also played a role as many immigrants could not afford to bring wives over.
In addition, after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese laborers were prohibited from bringing their wives from China, a situation that lasted for decades even though the exclusion law was officially repealed in 1943. Consequently, Chinese immigrant men in the U. S. and Canada wanting to marry had few choices but to find non-Chinese wives.

Regional differences existed. In New York City, some Chinese married Irish women, as they lived in nearby neighborhoods and both groups were at the bottom of the social ladder. In the South, some Chinese married black women who were in larger number than Irish women. For example, the census agent responsible for counting the Chinese in Augusta, Georgia reported in 1905 that several of the 34 Chinese men there were married and had families, all with "negro or mulatto wives."  

Miscegenation laws in many states until the middle of the past century prohibited Chinese men from marrying white women, but some marriages and common-law arrangements still occurred but were kept secret as much as possible. The offspring of these mixed marriages were socially ostracized, often rejected by both white and Chinese communities.

One analysis found that, "After the Emancipation Proclamation, many intermarriages in some states were not recorded and historically, Chinese American men married African American women in high proportions to their total marriage numbers due to few Chinese American women being in the United States. After the Emancipation Proclamation, many Chinese Americans immigrated to the Southern states, particularly Arkansas, to work on plantations. For example, in 1880, the tenth US Census of Louisiana alone counted 57% of interracial marriages between these Chinese Americans to be with African Americans and 43% to be with European American women. [Between 20 and 30 percent of the Chinese who lived in Mississippi married black women before 1940.  In mid 1850s, 70 to 150 Chinese were living in New York City and 11 of them married Irish women. In 1906 the New York Times (6 August) reported that 300 white women (Irish American) were married to Chinese men in New York, with many more cohabited. In 1900, based on Liang research, of the 120,000 men in more than 20 Chinese communities in the United States, he estimated that one out of every twenty Chinese men (Cantonese) was married to white women."[i] [ii]  

Newspaper Accounts of Specific Marriages

Interracial marriages between Chinese men and white women in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century received extensive generally negative coverage in newspapers across the country.  

In 1886 two Chinese laundrymen in Chicago, Sun Wah and Wing Lee, married young German women, Augusta and Lizzie Miller, to bring the total of Chinese laundrymen with German wives in Chicago to five.  The two women were cousins who had come from Milwaukee three years earlier and worked at a restaurant where they became acquainted with the laundrymen who often took their meals there. Both laundrymen were members of a Sunday school where they learned English, but neither believed in the Christian religion. Sun Wah married 22 year old Augusta and another laundryman, Wing Lee, married Lizzie. Neither of the families of the two women objected to the marriages. After the wedding, the bridal party went by street car to Sun's basement laundry on Blue Island Avenue for a party.

In 1889, India Maughan, a Savannah woman married a Chinese laundryman, Long Parke. Two years earlier Wong Lung married a girl name Jennie.  The newspaper report was not optimistic about their future and noted, "Their life was by no means one of unalloyed bliss."

Sunday School Teachers
Chinese-white marriages in cities with large Chinatowns such as New York often involved young white women who taught English to Chinese immigrant men at a Sunday School marrying a pupil.

A marriage between a Chinese Sunday school teacher, 28-year old Miss Lena Blumenshine, and her laundryman pupil, Ching Lung, occurred in 1897 in New York City.  It was reported that Ching Lung discarded his “native costume for a more civilized one, and about four months ago had his queue shaved off.  To further please his fair teacher, Ching had his name changed to Thomas Tome.”  

In San Francisco, Yung Sing, a Chinaman and Miss May Lewis who was his teacher of English as a Sunday School fell in love, but her parents strongly objected to their plans to marry. She threatened to leave home and marry Yung anyway. Then before she could carry out her threat, May decided to move to Philadelphia, which gave her parents a sense of great relief. Before she left, however, May told Yung that if he loved her, he should follow her, and he did.  In Philadelphia he opened a laundry to support himself, and hopefully, his wife to be.
Yung Sing and May Lewis

To their surprise and delight, they soon learned that May's younger sister in San Francisco who also taught English to Chinese at the Sunday School had similarly fallen in love with one of her pupils. Seeing the opposition that their parents had to May's marriage plans, her younger sister avoided a confrontation and eloped with her Chinese lover. Once that happened, her parents, their resistance to having one Chinese son-in-law breached, gave their blessing to May and Yung and acquired a second Chinese son-in-law.

In 1909, the sensational murder of Elsie Sigel, a young white Sunday School teacher of English to Chinese attributed to her lover, Leon Ling, raised alarms over the continuation of such arrangements as discussed on an earlier post on this blog.

Opposition to Chinese-White Marriages
In view of the prevalent anti-Chinese sentiments of the era, it is not surprising that families of white women often opposed their marriages to Chinese men in the late 19th and early 20th century.  When 16-year old Florence Margaret Mark eloped with Charlie Chong Glow in 1900, her parents and brothers were quite upset.  “If I should find that she has married that Chinaman I would kill her,” said Mrs. Mark last night. Her husband and sons expressed the same sentiments.”

Public attitudes toward Chinese marrying white women were reflected as well as intensified by the negative tone of newspaper reports of these unions. In 1898 the Augusta Chronicle reported one such marriage between a Chinese grocer, Li Choy and a 17-year old white woman, a descendant of Governor Pinckney of South Carolina, in these biased terms, "Another of the Augusta colony of Chinese has taken unto himself an American wife in lieu of a cramped-footed daughter of the Celestial empire."  It went on to say that the bride had been "in love with Li Choy for some time, but her mother, who was her only natural protector, was opposed to the match though Li Choy is a devout member of the Chinese mission Sunday school at the First Baptist Church."  The article did allow that "Li Choy is a 'good business man and has accumulated some property."

In 1883, a Chinese, Loo Chang, who opened a store to sell “fans, notions, and other trifles” in Waynesboro, Georgia felt the wrath of many residents, whites as well as blacks.  They attacked him and Ah Sing, his assistant, with blows, driving them out of town one night, and then proceeded to trash his store. Subsequent investigation suggested that Loo Chang, who had married a young white woman from Waynesboro, was encouraging more Chinese to move there. Concern that these Chinamen would be marrying more white women may have triggered the violence toward Chang.

Marriages to Daughters of Chinese Merchants 
An alternative to interracial marriages developed when Chinese merchants began to have children.  Some of their American born daughters as well as those born and living in China married Chinese immigrant laborers either in arranged matches or via traditional American courtship.  Accounts of these marriages were not reported in newspapers because marriages of Chinese men to Chinese women were not as newsworthy as mixed Chinese-white unions.

[ii] Some of the statistics can be questioned as to accuracy as in the following analysis:

“We have even more problems with the notion that in 1900 one out of every twenty American Chinese men had white wives.  The statistic comes from Observations on a Trip to America (1903) by Liang Qichao: 

"There are more [Chinese] women and children on the West Coast than on the East Coast.  But in America, most Chinese try to make a living and then to return [to China], which is quite different from those [Chinese] in Hawaii and Southeast Asia.  Because so few families are here, those who marry western women are approximately one in twenty. . . I estimate that there are not more than 120,000 Chinese in America." [editors' translation]

Liang was a founder of the Baohuanghui and a brilliant intellectual and keen observer.  One observer noted, "However, his figures seem to us incredible. According to the1900 U.S. Census, half of all American Chinese (45,000 of 90,000) lived in California, and almost a quarter of the rest (10,000 of 45,000) were in Oregon.   If Liang's figures are valid, this would mean that in 1900 there were 2,750 white Chinese wives in those two states.  But neither state permitted Chinese-white weddings to be performed within their borders.  The same was true of Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah.  Some couples could have gone elsewhere to be married: to Washington, Canada, Mexico, or on the high seas beyond state jurisdiction.  But so many?  When West Coast newspapers still treated such marriages as interesting novelties and yet never reported more than ten or twenty in any one year?"

We find it easier to believe that Liang was making a rhetorical point rather than reporting a statistical fact.  Generally critical of Chinese Americans, on one occasion he commented that some had married American women, "and thus their sense of Chinese patriotism had faded."As this threatened support for his program of radical reform in China, he may have been exaggerating the intermarriage problem in order to instill a sense of urgency in his readers.


Pioneer Chinese Immigrants in the Mississippi Delta

Chinese Merchants in the Delta

 The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 subjected Chinese all over the U. S. to investigation by Immigration officers as they searched for Chinese immigrant laborers who were not admissible. The extension of this act in 1892, Geary Act, for another decade added  the stipulation that all Chinese merchants now had to carry a Certificate of Residence or "choc chee," as Chinese called it, or they would be deported.

For example, Chang Kam in Gunnison, Mississippi was investigated by an immigration officer in 1903. Chang testified that he had been a merchant in partnership in Gunnison for about three years following a dozen years as a merchant in Rosedale. 

His assertion was insufficient evidence and he was referred to as an "alleged merchant"in the investigation. Like other Chinese, he had to find 2 white witnesses who would testify that they knew him and that he had lived and worked in the area.  Since the Chinese Exclusion Act singled out Chinese laborers, witnesses had to testify specifically that they had never seen the Chinese person do any "manual labor," which was another way of establishing that he was a merchant, not a laborer, and eligible to be here.

Origins of Chinese in the Mississippi Delta
Many people are surprised to learn that Chinese immigrant communities existed in the Mississippi River Delta regions in Arkansas and Mississippi for many decades, and are curious about how they came there.

An account by an elder member of the Arkansas Chinese community, Mr. Chao, included in a 1951 Master's Thesis by Pao Yun Liao provides a typical story of how Chinese came to the Delta and how they earned a living.  It generally involved chain migration in which a relative already in the Delta recruited a new young immigrant to join him in running a grocery store. In the case of Mr. Chao, he came over in 1904 at the age of 17 to join, and eventually replace, an uncle who had already been there since around 1890. He described how isolated it was for Chinese in the region as there were few other Chinese in the area and they were scattered in different towns.

Mr. Chao further describes how Chinese helped each other establish and open new grocery stores and how they encouraged other relatives to come to the region to open grocery stores.


Chinese To "Strike" Over Possible Ban of Their White Women English Tutors After Elsie Sigel Murder

 The wisdom of allowing young white women to help immigrant Chinese men learn English at Sunday Schools was seriously questioned following the discovery in New York City in June, 1909 that one such teacher, 19 year old Elsie Sigel, had disappeared. She was found murdered and stuffed in a steamer trunk in the apartment of a Chinese, Leon Ling, a restaurant waiter with whom she had had a love affair.  Jealousy was thought to be a possible motive as police found love letters from Sigel to another Chinese restaurateur, Chu Gain. 

The incident created considerable anxiety over the ever present dangers that Chinese men presented for white women. 

Newspapers inflamed the panic with articles and depictions such as the one above from the Brooklyn Eagle on June 25, 1909 that branded all Chinese men as predators lurking to attack white women.

One church in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, decided to consider using males in place of the females who had been tutoring Chinese men in English on a one-to-one basis.  In protest, in August, 1909, the 7 or 8 Chinese attending the Sunday School at this church threatened to "strike" or boycott the classes if the plan was implemented, a threat which led the church council to reverse their decision.

News of this decision stirred a heightened outburst of anti-Chinese rhetoric. A letter in an Atlanta newspaper proclaimed, "These carrot-faced little opium fiends are as treacherous as a be hog, and care no more for the Christian religion than a monkey cares for rhetoric," and argued there should be a lunatic asylum for the person responsible for "furnishing every lousy Chink who sneaks into this country with a special young female to teach him how to get to heaven."

The editor added a note for good measure:  "Greensburg's need is not peculiar to itself. These lunatics are not all in Pennsylvania."
 "Echoes of the Sigel Murder"   Jeffersonian (Atlanta, GA) February 3, 1910   Volume  7   Issue   5 Page 16

An intense nationwide manhunt ensued for several years and Leon Ling sightings occurred across the nation when an unfamiliar young Chinese man was spotted in a region. A month later, reports circulated that the Chinese government had officially approved for the Denver Chinese Free Masons, labelled 'Denver Chinks' in the newspaper, to conceal Leon Ling, a rumor denied by the Chinese consul in New York.

Two years after the murder, in June, 1911, it was reported that the Chinese Lothario had been apprehended in a chop suey joint in upstate New York and that a speedy resolution to the case would occur."

That news proved overly optimistic, and the search continued.  Several months later news came on November 23, 1911 that another Chinese assumed to be Leon Ling was sighted in Texas.  
However, this lead, like several others, was false. Leon Ling was never found, and the murder remained unsolved.  

Historian Mary Ting Yi Lui examines the case and its implications for social and sexual relations between Chinese and non-Chinese in depth in her book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City

Postscript: Sept. 17, 1919

A chivalrous Chinatown offered a white woman an umbrella during a rainstorm because he said "New York Missions taught him to be courteous to white women."  To which the judge who fined him $50. commented, "The Sigel murder would have never  occurred if Chinese were not allowed to address white women."

Postscript 2: July 6, 1909

The Sigil murder put all Chinese laundrymen under the eye of suspicion.  In New York Chinese secret societies took the precaution of posting warnings (in Chinese) in Chinese laundries warning  Chinese men not to engage in conversation with white women.


Over Count of Chinese in the Census: Part 2

In an earlier and lengthy post on this blog about how to use the newly released 1940 Census to search for Chinese immigrants, about halfway through the entry under the heading, "Some Strange Findings" I noted that I had found a few instances of a serious over-count of the number of Chinese in a few communities where I was searching for some other purpose.

As noted in that earlier post, the Census uses classification codes for recording information during face to face visits to households.  Thus, in recording the race of the respondent, a code of C2 stood for Colored and C4 for Chinese.  However, I found several instances where the count given for Chinese did not seem valid.  Checking the original census record sheets online, I discovered that the codes had been accidentally reversed, and C2's got counted as Chinese and C4's as Colored, thus inflating the number of Chinese.  

Recently, while on a search for a different reason, I found yet another example in the 1940 Census for Perry County, Alabama.  As shown below, there were about 40 names, none of which "appear" to be Chinese, a suspicion confirmed by examination of the actual online record sheets that revealed they were all African American or in the term used in 1940, Colored.

This problem did not begin with the 1940 Census as I also recently found the same error had occurred in a much earlier census.  The 1910 Census listing for Summerville, Georgia, shown below indicated there were 21 Chinese (only labelled as C on this summary table, but the names in the list do not 'appear' to be Chinese. An online check of the actual record sheets confirmed that none of the 21 were Chinese but were Colored.

I did not check samples from the 1920 or 1930 census, but given that this over count of Chinese occurred in some locales for 1910 and 1940, it is reasonable to assume that the same error may have occurred in those intervening Censuses, and possibly even in some prior to 1910.   I only found the tip of the iceberg, but the exact size of the unseen part of the iceberg remains to be determined. 


Categorizing Chinese

People of Chinese ancestry... are they white? colored? oriental? mongoloid? The categorical labels placed on them have varied over time, place, and purpose.

Consider a study by Jian Li of the Chinese in Charleston, South Carolina at the beginning of the 20th century as an illustration. Chinese were listed in the white section of the Charleston City Directory but Census enumerators most often listed them as Chinese, but sometimes as Mon (Mongolian) or white.

There were only 3 marriages for which certificates could be found although there were probably common-law arrangements between Chinese men and women of other races. Of the three marriage licenses found, one involved a Chinese married to a white woman (1901), another a Chinese married to a black woman (1913) and  one with a Chinese, described on the license as "brown," married to a "brown" woman (1919).

Children of mixed race parentage were considered white if they had Chinese fathers and white mothers and they attended white schools. In contrast if the fathers were Chinese and the mothers were racially mixed, they were classified as black and attended private black schools.  However, children of mixed parentage varied in their self- identification, with some seeing themselves as black, others as mixed, and still others as Oriental or Chinese.

When they died, the death certificate identified them as either white or Chinese but they were buried in the white cemeteries.


1927 Historic Gong Lum v. Rice Mississippi School Segregation Case

Long before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the U. S. Supreme Court overturned school segregation, there was the Gong Lum v. Rice case decision in which the 1927 U. S. Supreme Court upheld Mississippi's exclusion of a Chinese American girl, Martha Lum, from attending a white school in Rosedale, MS.

Also pre-dating Brown v Board of Education was the 1941 School Board in Clarksdale, MS. denial of a petition supported by the Clarksdale Baptist Church pastor and 88 citizens for admission of the 7-yr old daughter, May (Magen) of Henry and Edith Jue to a white school for the 1941-2 school year. However, the School Board reconsidered and in the fall granted her conditional admission to a white school in Rosedale.

These two Mississippi cases were not the first instances where a Chinese American child was denied the right to attend a white school.

As far back as 1859, Chinese in San Francisco were not allowed to attend white schools.  In fact, San Francisco did not fund any schools at all for Chinese until the landmark 1885 Tape v. Hurley case.  The city lost the case but managed to still exclude Chinese from white schools by building them the Oriental School, a segregated "Chinese Primary School." 

In 1913, objections arose in Covington, Kentucky when Pong Dock applied to attend a white school.

The Hartford, Kentucky paper wrote on Nov. 12, 1913, "The little chubby fellow is an oriental, who, with his brother, intends to make the city of Covington their home in America.  He is fourteen years old... born in America, but his parents took him to China when he was three years old....Two months ago they sent him back to America...He is the first Chinese youth ever to apply for admission to the public schools of Coving.  But to what school does her belong?"  In the end, the Attorney General decided over objections of some white parents that Pong could attend a white school.

And prior to that case in 1910, a young girl from China, Mei Ling Soong, in Macon, Georgia, was denied admission to a white public school.
Interestingly, 33 years later, in 1943 she returned to Macon, as Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, to receive an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan Women's College before throngs of admirers. She was in the U.S. to speak to the U.S. Congress to gain support against Japan during WWII, and to visit Chinatowns to raise money for China.



Challenges in Obtaining and Using Census Records of Chinese

 Census records are valuable for many reasons. For governments, they are essential for planning.  For historians, demographers, and sociologists, they provide data for research.  And for genealogists, they can inform family histories. But Census records are only as useful as they are complete and accurate or they may lead to faulty conclusions.

Today, most Americans are somewhat familiar with and accepting of the importance of cooperating with census takers.  But in the early years, people were unaccustomed to such procedures and may also have been suspicious and reluctant to answer questions from strangers at their doors.

In 1880, the New York Tribune described some of the experiences in gaining cooperation from residents in answering questions from census enumerators, especially among groups such as the Chinese, many who did not speak or understand English. (Note the often patronizing side comments)

 "The Chinese as a class jealously guard against intrusions into their habitations but the Census Commission, however, opened all the doors yesterday. A person unacquainted in the district might easily enough ask one of the Chinamen all the questions and then 10 minutes afterwards, meeting the same Celestial in another house, innocently endeavor to repeat the examination.  They all look alike.  Most of them were dressed in blue blouses and trousers some more black gowns of material resembling cambric;  and others had discarded entirely the blouse for the costume and short hair,  “Allee samee Melican man.”  Nearly all the Chinese live in basements or first floors. If a door happened to be unlocked the proprietor usually appeared with the proprietor appeared with a gruff, “what wantee.”

A census enumerator in New York Chinatown, 1930. (He may only be asking directions, not counting heads).

"Upon showing him the formidable, official looking book, however, and explaining the object of the visit in very “pigeon English,” the callers were invariably treated with distinguished consideration and in many places were escorted through the house. Some places were plainly furnished, most of them were shockingly dirty, and nearly all were pervaded with the sickening odor of opium smoke. Some of the dialogues with Chinamen were very amusing. When asked if they were married, many of them would answer first, “No,” and then qualify the answer by adding, "not married in America, married in China.”  None of them appeared to be particularly lonesome, however, but nearly everyone of them expressed his intention to return to China as soon as he made "plenty money.”

When asked how enumerators were selected to count Chinese, an official pointed out in another newspaper article in 1880 how difficult it was finding people who could speak Chinese. One Chinese-speaking applicant was not hired because he could not write English even though he could speak it. Also, since the district where most Chinese lived also had many white people, he felt that a Chinese enumerator would not be able to get good cooperation from whites.

While his concerns were probably valid, the use of non-Chinese enumerators evoked the same problems counting Chinese. Moreover, they often confused the given and surnames since they are in reverse order to American names and the phonetic transcription of Chinese names was inconsistent. These problems, in addition to occasional poor pensmanship, make it difficult for genealogical and family history research which require names, and not just demographics and counts, of the residents.


Chinese to the South 3. As Cheap Labor Replacement

A leading labor contractor, Cornelius Koopmanschap, who had earlier success importing Chinese to help build the Central Pacific Railroad made a proposal in 1869 at a Memphis convention of Southern planters to bring Chinese farm laborers to the South to replace black labor lost when slavery ended. He maintained that the Chinese were not only cheaper, but also more reliable workers, but there was also opposition that feared a large influx of Orientals.

        The initial enthusiasm soon waned as Chinese who came did not like to work in the fields, preferring to start their own businesses in grocery stores in the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the South such as Augusta, Georgia. Other Chinese opened hand laundries in many towns in the region.  Competing sources of labor, both black and white, complained about the flood of cheap Chinese labor.
      A Savannah Georgia newspaper article in 1869 indicated that another contractor already had orders for over 600 Chinese for the region around Savannah. In 1874, another article confirmed that 14 Chinese laborers had arrived recently and were working in the rice plantations.

       Resentment was evident among competing sources of labor at the arrival of the Chinese.  In 1884, the Chinese in Augusta tried to defuse the tension by denying that the number of Chinese in their city was in the hundreds as the opposition claimed and insisting that there were no more than 30 Chinamen in the area.

        The Chinese population in the Deep South up until well beyond the middle of the 20th century was never very large.  Some moved to other parts of the country where there were larger Chinese communities, but other Chinese came to the South from northern states and as far away as California seeking economic opportunities.  In many cases, later arrivals were relatives of the earlier generation recruited to come help in the family grocery stores, laundries, and eventually restaurants.


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.


Far Reaching Impact of Gong Lum v. Rice (1927) Supreme Court Ruling

Although this landmark U. S. Supreme Court case, Gong Lum v. Rice (1927) dealt with a challenge to the exclusion of Chinese children from a white school in Mississippi, it had an impact that extended far beyond Chinese or Mississippi.

As reported in the Trenton Evening Times on Nov. 21, 1927, the high court decision had implications for policies at a school in Toms River, New Jersey. Only a few months earlier in June, the State Commissioner of Education had ordered that "colored children of the district who had been grouped in special classes at South Toms River" be readmitted to the school at Toms River. He maintained that special grouping should be imposed only on criteria other than religion, nationality, or color.

However, in the wake of the adverse outcome of the Gong Lum v. Rice case, the new School Commissioner immediately stated on Nov. 27 that the court ruling would permit local school boards "to exercise the right of segregation if they so desire."

Although this article dealt with only one instance, in all likelihood, the Supreme Court ruling for Mississippi encouraged consideration of and, in many places, implementation of restrictions on equal access to schools in many other communities.  It would not be until a quarter of a century later that the U. S. Supreme Court would finally rule against school desegregation in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision.


A 1929 Mississippi Miracle Revived By Social Media

A tornado ripped through the tiny town of Duncan, MS. in 1929, "wiping it off the map," according to one newspaper account.  At least 35 deaths occurred including everyone in the Fong grocery store family, save a 4-year old boy, William Joe Fong, who miraculously survived.  Several Chinese grocery store families came to the rescue and helped raise him.  He attended and lived at the Chinese Mission School in Cleveland, MS., went on to serve in the Navy, and settled in California where he married and started a family.  After a successful career as a pharmacist, he enjoyed his retirement in Sunnyvale, CA. until he died in 2007.

Now out of the blue, a long-time Delta resident, Linda Gatewood Bassie,* posted on Facebook the photograph below that was found on the street after the 1929 Duncan tornado.  I was familiar with the story of the orphan Chinese survivor of Duncan from prior research and knew it had to be William Joe Fong. As seen in the chain of posts below, Chinese who grew up in the Delta confirmed the identification and filled in details. Eventually, Carol Fong, William's widow, was informed of the discovery of this photograph, which she gratefully acknowledged, noting it was one that her family had never previously seen.

Facebook has many criticisms, some of which are valid, but here is one example of a positive outcome that was generated through it that would not have otherwise likely to have occurred.

* Linda Gatewood Bassie is the same sharp-eyed person who located, and posted on Facebook,  the 1924 Rosedale School 3rd-4th grade photograph showing Berda and Martha Lum, who were denied admission to a white public school, as described in an earlier post on this blog, an incident that led to the 1927 Gong Lum v. Rice U. S. Supreme Court case.


Small Town Chinese Life: Example of Joplin, MO.

Early Chinese immigrants initially settled on the west coast, but gradually moved to areas in the middle of the country, partly to escape the violence inflicted on "Chinatowns" during the late 1800s in the western states. In the communities where they settled, they were often the only, or among few, Chinese so that they suffered cultural isolation as well as racial prejudices. Moreover, they were not safe from physical violence as they were robbed, assaulted, and even killed.  

For example, in Joplin, Missouri the 1870 U.S. Federal Census listed no Chinese immigrants but in 1880,  at least one Chinese immigrant,  27 year old Lum Wong lived there was described as, “servant – clerk in store.”    A few years later, in1883, an advertisement appeared in the Joplin Daily Herald for a Chinese Laundry. Soon five other Chinese immigrants are listed as residents of Joplin. Due to anti-Chinese prejudices, they were not allowed to work in the mines and had to eke out their living in whatever activities they could find open to them so most, if not all, worked in the laundry business.

In the following decades the Chinese population in Joplin grew and some moved from laundries to open Chinese restaurants, often bringing relatives from China to work as cooks and waiters.

Life was difficult enough without the additional burden of racial prejudice that sometimes led to violence toward them. Some were robbed, assaulted verbally and physically, and even killed. In 1909 one restaurant owner was working late at his restaurant one evening when four strange men entered and sat down as if they were going to order a meal. Without warning, the men jumped to their feet and attacked the Chinese with a blackjack, beating and choking him into unconsciousness.
One evening in January, 1916, a free-for-all erupted at the Shanghai Low restaurant after a patron refused to pay for his dinner. When confronted by the owner of the restaurant, the man put on a pair of brass knuckles and hit him. Chinese wait staff rushed to the rescue which prompted other diners to join the fray. Brass knuckles, a knife, and several chairs were used in the ensuing melee. Sixty year old Jung Ginn was seriously injured when someone hit him over the right eye with a pair of brass knuckles.

Although this example cites the plight of Chinese in Joplin, Missouri in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it is not intended to single out this town. Similar mistreatment of Chinese occurred in many other small towns. In fact, a current website, Historic Joplin, to its credit, acknowledges this terrible past treatment of Chinese immigrants.


Could Chinese Attend White Schools in Mississippi in the 1950s?

Jin Jue, a Chinese who was born in and grew up in Mississippi during the 1950s shared his observations about how it was determined whether Chinese children could attend white public schools. Although Mississippi law at that time was unfavorable toward Chinese, he pointed out that the situation was not handled the same way in different communities:

Chinese rights to attend a white school were determined on a county by county basis. While my family attended a white school, my sister's husband was not allowed in the county he lived in, and he had to travel 40 miles to another county (to attend school).

One summer, my parents moved from Cary, Mississippi, where the Chinese attended a white school, to Warren County where there were no Chinese attending the local school. My dad asked a local customer when the local school was starting and where the bus stop was.

That morning of the first day of school, my dad sent my older brother and sisters out to stand at the bus stop to see what would happen. The bus came by, and my brother and sisters boarded the bus with the other (white) kids. As was common in those days, the Chinese parents never went with their kids to school. The kids had to fend for themselves and somehow were enrolled in their proper classes.

The bus driver, who most likely, never saw an Asian in his whole life, didn't know what to do about these strange looking (Chinese) kids boarding his bus. He could have refused to let them on (anyone can say no), but figured it was none of his business to decide what to do with these kids.

My brother and sisters arrived at school, and the teachers didn't know what to do, so probably the Principal was called and the matter placed in his hands. The Principal called the Superintendent of Education for the County and some time after much debate, a decision was made to let them enroll.

So the first integration of Chinese in (a) white school in Warren County was allowed because a bus driver was passive enough not to get involved, or wasn't "redneck" enough to say "No way they getting on my bus!!!,” which in turn started the chain of event that led to their eventual enrollment.

My discussions with other Chinese who grew up in the Delta between the 1940s and 1960s confirm Jin Jue's experience that in some towns Chinese were accepted into white schools with little difficulty while they were denied admission in other nearby towns. His cousin, Lillie, in fact, who stayed in Cary was able to attend white schools. Apparently if your father was well-regarded and or knew the 'right people' his kids found little opposition in attending white schools.


Were "Chinese Abused" in Rosedale, Mississpipi, in 1900?

Jean Pfaelzer's Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans amply documents the violent expulsion of Chinese from many communities on the west coast during the late 19th and early 20th century.  Fears that Chinese were taking away jobs from whites and sending money back to China rather than spending it here were major motivators.  

However, such hostile and aggressive actions were not limited to that region of the country as reports of anti-Chinese violence came from places where the Chinese were so few in number that they could hardly have posed an economic threat. On Aug. 16, 1900, the Pawtucket Times in Rhode Island published an report, CHINESE ABUSED, originating from New Orleans that violent attacks against Chinese had occurred in Rosedale, Mississippi and that the beating of one "Chinaman" at Mellowdale had led to the arrest of several white men. 

These attacks prompted a delegation of Chinese merchants to seek a meeting with Mississippi Govenor Longino requesting protection as all Chinese in Bolivar County had been ordered to leave the country within 5 days, notwithstanding the fact that they would have to abandon their property.  The Governor wrote leaders of Bolivar calling their attention to the problems and urging them "to take hold of it."*

No subsequent reports seem to exist about the aftermath of the 1900 incidents. Given that Chinese merchants operated grocery stores in the following years in Rosedale and other parts of the Delta, calmer heads must have prevailed. Although the efforts to expel the Chinese failed, they were not exactly welcomed either.  Rosedale was the same town where Gong Lum, a Chinese grocer, tried without success in the mid 1920s to enroll his daughters in the segregated white school in a case that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, Gong Lum v. Rice, 1927 that was denied.

*However, the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper, the alleged source of the Aug. 16, 1900 article about problems faced by Rosedale Chinese, published the article below on Aug. 17, 1900 in which it stated the earlier article was in error and that the three Chinese merchants in Rosedale "enjoy all the privileges, and have the same potection as any other law-abiding citizen."

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