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from bringing their wives from China, a situation that lasted for decades even though the exclusion law was officially repealed in 1943.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.


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