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from bringing their wives from China, a situation that lasted for decades even though the exclusion law was officially repealed in 1943.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


  1. I got the idea that mixed marriages between asians and whites were more tolerated in the South than in the West where anti-chinese attitudes became hardened early on. The above article doesn't distinguish in terms of region. My understanding is that some of the Chinese who migrated to build railroads in the west, went east to Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and elsewhere in the South partially because the Chinese were not large enough in number to be seen as a threat by whites to their economic interests. Any thoughts?

    1. the phenomena caused a paranoia for the racist white pigs or white men

    2. http://hotntubes.com/top/amwf
      the racist white pigs are the most sad puppet in this planet. they just cannot stand to view that their white sisters are fucked up by the smarter asian men! get a real life dude or seek a professional help treatment

  2. I see your point, thanks. Conclusion about regional differences, I think, are too sweeping as within regions, tolerance of white-Chinese marriages varied from town to town especially in the "hinterlands." Chinese did flee the west for other regions other than the South (where most were in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, but very few to Tennessee or Kentucky). In the SOuth, due to demographics, black-Chinese "marriages" occurred but since they were not official, and they were stigmatized among CHinese, it is hard to know how many did occur.

  3. Thanks for the research, I have finally found evidence of my Great Grandmother, and Great great grandmother, Nina Eldrid(descendant of Pinckney) married Lee Choy . If you need more information contact me

    1. Thanks for sharing news of your successful ancestral discoveries! This is very exciting for you and it is rewarding for me to learn that I might have helped you in some small way. Pls share details with me: jrjung at yahoo dot com

  4. There is evidence of Black-Chinese marriages in Union County, Arkansas where Chinese men immigrated to build the railroad.

  5. There is evidence of Black-Chinese marriages in Union County, Arkansas where Chinese men immigrated to build the railroad.

  6. Thanks, that seems plausible..can you give any more info,please

  7. Doing research for a book. Historical fiction. From what I understand on this site, it would have been possible for a young white woman to legally marry a Chinese man in 1909 in Seattle. Correct or not?


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