Chinese to the South 5. Smuggled in.

       Among the earliest Chinese in the Deep South were men recruited to build the Augusta Canal in Georgia in the 1840s. Chinese were recruited by plantation owners to come South as cheap labor in the cotton fields after slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865 but Chinese did not find such work to their liking and in Mississippi they become grocery store merchants.  Other Chinese who moved to the region came to work on regional railroads such as in Alabama after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.  Some of them may have stayed in the region and found other work after railroad work ended.  Remigration led some Chinese who settled first in other parts of the country to come to the South to join relatives or other Chinese from their villages in Guangdong.
        A less well known source of Chinese in the South were those smuggled in from places in the West Indies such as Jamaica. The Mississippi Daily Herald reported on January 6, 1911 that 20 or more Chinese laborers were being smuggled into Mississippi, but that immigration officials knew and would be waiting for them when they arrived from Kingston, Jamaica at Pascagoula and Scranton on the gulf coast of Mississippi.

      Thus, there was no single source of Chinese who immigrated to the American South. Even less is known about the extent to which Chinese in the South remigrated to other parts of the United States or returned to China. but it is reasonable to assume relocation occurred either to join relatives or to find better ways to earn a living.


Small Town Life for Early Chinese in Fort Benton, Montana

It is not surprising that most research on early Chinese immigrants in the United States focused on cities with large Chinese populations. The study of cities with sizable Chinese populations allows an examination of Chinese social structure and interactions that is minimal in areas with only a few Chinese.

Nonetheless, there is also value in examining lives of Chinese in areas where there are few Chinese. It may be easier to conduct more thorough studies where there are a small number of Chinese.  

One example is the history of an important trading town, Fort Benton, Montana. 
Since there were never more than a handful of Chinese there, a virtually complete
description of the Chinese in Fort Benton, their work, and their social lives was possible. 

It should be no surprise that most of them ran laundries or restaurants and that they frequently encountered racial prejudices.

Life in Benton’s “Bloodiest block in the West” often featured humorous reporting on the latest incident in the Chinese quarters located there. In March 1880, the Record reported, “A shooting scrape took place among the disciples of Confucius in the Chinese quarters last Monday. No Asiatic soul was sent to the Flowery Kingdom; but the heathen who attempted to convert a live Celestial into a corpse was curtailed by Judge [John J.] Donnelly to the extent of $100 fine and costs of court. It was a heavy toll on all.

The Fort Benton website curated by local historian Ken Robison documents the history of Fort Benton, located at the head of navigation routes on the Upper Missouri, spanning every era of Montana history! This website includes four detailed posts about the Chinese of the Fort Benton area. Excerpts are reprinted below, with links provided to the full content of these four posts.

All photos and writing are copyrighted by Ken Robison.

The first Chinese resident of Fort Benton is not known, but the early Chinese in the town included 32 year-old Sam Loy who operated a laundry in 1870 with Chang Haw, age 40, and Lee Wang, age 28, working as washermen.

During the 1870s some of the younger Chinese worked as houseboys and cooks in local homes. Some early Chinese worked as gardeners.

The fact is a notorious one that all the Chinese laundries about town do a little business on the side, in letting out opium pipes to smokers at fifty cents a smoke. Before the enactment of the opium law, last winter, the dealers in the drug were able to carry on their frightful trade without any possibility of molestation by the authorities, all attacks upon the business through the nuisance act, since there was no specific law to govern the case, having met with failure.....

The Chinese in Montana in the 1880s were a mobile population ranging out from the larger Chinese centers in Helena and Butte to outlying areas such as Fort Benton, Sun River, and Fort Assinaboine. In addition, the Montana Chinese traveled to and from San Francisco and even to and from China with surprising frequency. 

Most Chinese in Fort Benton were unmarried, and few Chinese women lived there. In April 1884 the more tolerant Fort Benton River Press reported on the marriage of Ah Son, of Benton, and his bride Ah Hou, of Bozeman in Helena at the Mount Helena House. The couple was married “melican fashion” by Judge Sterling. 

By the mid 1880s attitudes toward Chinese in some communities in Montana were hardening. From its founding in 1884, workingmen in Great Falls, with support of town leaders, had established a “don’t let the sun set on you in our town” Chinese exclusion policy. That harsh policy prevailed in Great Falls prohibiting settlement of any Chinese in the city until the mid-1930s. ...

Throughout the 1890s the Chinese in Fort Benton and Choteau County grew in numbers and persevered. In June 1891 an unusual marriage license was issued in Fort Benton for Lee Pack Foet, “formerly of China, and Miss Long Hair, a native American, one of the first families of the Gros Ventre reservation.” The bride, Miss Longhair, 19 year-old daughter of Gros Ventres parents Bad Dog and Nice Woman, married 22 year-old Lee Pack Foet, son of Lee Foet. The wedding took place in Chinook, then part of Choteau County, with Justice of the Peace William T. Richey officiating and his wife, Fannie Richey, and Chinese Sum Land witnessing the ceremony. Lee Pack Foet lived at Fort Belknap at the time.

The Great Falls Leader provided insight into these smuggling operations when it reported, “It has been common talk on this frontier for some time that the Chinese were coming into the British possessions to the north of us and were securing entry into the United States through Montana teams. The Celestials being well provided with money were able to pay handsomely for their overland trip and it is reported that $75 per head [the price was elsewhere reported as $15] is what it is worth to a teamster and guide who will undertake to pilot the Chinamen past the custom officers and deliver them at some point on the line of the railroad traversing the central portions of the state.” 

By the dawn of the 20th century, the attitude in Fort Benton toward the Chinese was mixed with some advocates and many detractors. An insightful report by a special correspondent of the Great Falls Tribune is fascinating, “The ministers of Great Falls are losing a whole lot of good material by the dictum of the labor unions excluding Chinese. The Benton Chinese have begun to take kindly to the gospel and both the Episcopal and Methodist churches have flourishing China Sunday school classes. ...

In one of the few positive articles on the Chinese ever to appear in the Great Falls Tribune, the January 4, 1893 edition carried this editorial: “The Chinese have a beautiful custom which they religiously observe on New Year ...

... By 1910 the Chinese presence in Chouteau County had decreased to 40 with just 12 in Fort Benton, 18 in Havre, 2 in Chinook, 6 at Harlem, 1 on the lower Teton, and 1 on Eagle Creek. Dick Lee, a 49 year-old single man born in China and in the U.S. since 1876 served as cook on a ranch near Eagle Creek, probably the McMillan Ranch. Lewis Luna, a 63 year-old man born in China and in the U.S. since 1865 worked as cook on the sheep ranch where Charles Schwandt was manager...

A Chinese Temple, Virginia City, Montana

Chinese burial site, location not identified.
Montana attitudes toward the Chinese ranged from total exclusion in Great Falls to toleration in Helena, Butte, and Fort Benton. The prevailing feeling in Fort Benton seemed most influenced by economic conditions and by 1920 Chouteau County homesteads was suffering hard times. By then the Chinese population in Fort Benton had declined to six, although they were still in demand as cooks. In that year young 27-year-old China-born Owen G. Fat owned and operated a restaurant on Front Street with Lew Shu as cook...


Were These "Mississippi Chinese" Actually from Colorado?

     In my research on Chinese in the Mississippi Delta, I have seen many photographs of early Chinese men who settled there so I was very interested to find a post from a U. K. blog on slavery in the U. S. with a formal photographic portrait of five well-dressed Chinese men with the caption, "Coming to Mississippi."

The blog had an accurate overview of the history of Chinese in Mississippi that was excerpted from an article on the web by a noted Southern history scholar, Charles Reagan Wilson.

While Wilson's article did contain the phrase "Coming to Mississippi,"  it did NOT include the photograph of the 5 well-dressed Chinese men as the segment reproduced below demonstrates.

  The U.K.blogger implied that this photograph showed Mississippi Chinese. I felt a sense of deja vu about this image. I felt fairly certain I had seen it previously but not in relation to Mississippi Chinese. But just where had I seen it and who were these men?

Using a tool that is a reverse image search called tin eye , I uploaded the photograph to tin eye, which revealed that this image is in a Denver Archive which identifies these men as Chinese in Georgetown, Colorado as indicated below.

This discrepancy might seem to some as a minor error, but it is one that could have easily been avoided.  It distorts history and discredits the overall post.


Why There Will Always Be Chinatowns

Many Chinatowns across the U. S. and Canada have been physically reduced and replaced by redevelopment and gentrification. One wonders whether historic Chinatowns will continue to disappear from the landscape or at least relocate to different parts of cities.

Unfortunately, the "idea" of Chinatowns is alive and well through the societal perpetuation of a stereotype of Chinese as forever foreign, strangers in a strange land, oriental and exotic.

Consider the iconic 1910 song, Chinatown, My Chinatown,

When the town is fast asleep, and it's midnight in the sky, 
That's the time the festive chink starts to wink his other eye, 
Starts to wink his dreamy eye, lazily you'll hear him sigh.

Strangers taking in the sights, pigtails flying here and there. 
See that broken wall street sport, still thinks he's a millionaire. 
Still thinks he's a millionaire, pipe dreams banish every care.  

Chinatown, my Chinatown,
When the lights are low
Hearts that know no other land, 
Drifting to and fro
Dreamy, dreamy Chinatown
Almond eyes of brown
Hearts are light and lights are bright
In dreamy Chinatown
Chinatown, my Chinatown

The lyrics of the main verse may seem upon to be a song of endearment but a closer reading shows that the "dreamy dreamy Chinatown" refers to how pervasive opium smoking in Chinatown leads to "Hearts are light and lights are bright." This imagery casts Chinatown in a negative light.

A 1929 sing-along cartoon entitled Chinatown, My Chinatown by Max Fleisher also mocks the Chinese and at the 2:35 mark, uses the song's lyrics to accompany his ridicule.

Another popular image of Chinatowns focuses on tong wars. In the 1920s, rival Chinese tongs fought bloody battles on the streets of Chinatowns. Hollywood and pulp fiction writers often seized on this aspect of Chinese gangs, which both frightened and captivated the public. In 1929, a movie, Tong War, exploited these sensational activities.

The description of the plot emphasizes that the story involves "a white woman among yellow men." She is supposedly "mysteriously attracted to Chinatown," which is of course, "sinister and secretive." The audience is encouraged to come see if "she is ever seen or heard of again by her uptown society friends." No unemployed high school dropout is she, but rather a member of the upper crust who has succumbed to the temptations of the evil yellow men.

The story line bears a strong resemblance to the unsolved murder of a young white woman, Elsie Sigel, who taught English to Chinese men in New York Chinatown.  In 1909, her dead body was found stuffed in a trunk in the living quarters of a Chinese man, Leon Ling, who was the prime suspect. but never apprehended. This tragic case led to public suspicion of Chinese men all over the country,

Of course, much has changed since the 1920s, and Chinese have gained respect through their achievements and contributions in many fields over the almost 100 years since the Tong wars ended. But the theme of evil yellow men, tong wars, and chop suey is down but by no means dead.
A pulp fiction mystery, with the inappropriate title, Chop Suey, of recent vintage continues to exploit the tong wars.

Although the plot has nothing to do with American Chinese food, the title Chop Suey, is used to evoke a long standing but now antiquated association with Chinese people.  Incidentally, judging from the photograph below, it appears that the restaurant sign on the book cover was based on one from a vintage Chinese restaurant in Kingston, New York.

A teaser for the book is the following "recipe."

Add one lovable dope looking for love.
Layer in a vicious serial killer.
Throw in a couple of gang members. 
Mix in a pair of Chinatown detectives.
Combine it with Ling Chi, death by 1,000 cuts.
And you have the perfect recipe for Chop Suey.

Stereotypes may fade, but they never seem to die.


Boston Chinese Welcome Reformer in 1903

History acknowledges the importance of Sun Yat Sen in leading the Chinese revolution in 1911 that overthrew the Emperor Dowager, Cixi. Little attention is given to her other opposition, the Empire Reform Association which also wanted to promote societal changes to develop a modern China, but it also wanted to restore the monarchy to the rightful Emperor Guangsu, rather than abolish it.

Many Chinese in Canada and the U. S. were supporters of this rival to Sun Yat Sen's movement. Several hundred chapters of the Empire Reform Association (Bao haunghui, Protect the Emperor Society) were established in North America.

One indication of the strong support from Overseas Chinese was an enthusiastic reception that one of its principal leaders, Leong Kai Chew (aka Liang Qichao) received on his 1903 visit to Boston.

This is another instance where historians recognize the winners and relegate the losers to the 'dustbin of history.'


Chinese Americans Do Not All Look, Think, or Act Alike

         What exactly defines a "Chinese American?"  The term is generally used, and accepted, as if people labelled as such are very homogenous. Compared to the distant past, say, the 1930s, the variety of people who could be categorized as, or call themselves, "Chinese Americans" has become increasingly more varied as the "face" of Chinese in America has changed greatly since the liberalized 1965 immigration law.

        Accordingly, one might think the content of Chinese American history would be more varied to reflect the many subgroups of Chinese coming from different parts of China and other parts of the world. Compared with the earlier immigrants from Guangdong, mostly poor, less educated, and speakers of dialects of Cantonese, many of the recent immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China are wealthy, educated, Mandarin speaking professionals.  There are also growing numbers of Fujianese immigrants at the other end of the socioeconomic ladder. These groups are arguably all Chinese. To what extent do these groups interact with each other socially, politically, culturally? How well do they get along with each other, how much are they aware of each other? Why or why not? My observations suggest they do not mingle much and may even not feel much respect toward each other.

           Most non-Chinese are unaware of these differences and generally see all of these groups as Chinese or Chinese Americans.  There are many social, political, and psychological aspects of these differences that should be researched, but don't yet seem to be adequately reflected in the historical analyses of Chinese America.  We may all "look the same" to outsiders, but looks can be deceiving.

        A different, but related issue of importance, is the relationship between Chinese in China and  Chinese in America, especially those born or long time residents in the U. S.  Although the Chinese in America and those in China are worlds apart in many respects, many non-Chinese tend to see us as members of one large group, Chinese.  And, while most American Born Chinese (ABCs) and even some Fresh Off the Plane (FOPs) and older Fresh Off the Boat (FOBs) experience some pride in many aspects of China's improved world status, we recognize that many policies and practices of Chinese in China are deplorable and dangerous.  And, what is worse, is that as U. S.- China relationships go, so will the way that we Chinese in America will be treated, or mistreated. If you doubt, just recall what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. History is known to repeat itself.

       The important impact of history can also be seen in our daily personal lives.  Many of us of a certain age have or had parents who were immigrants from China who came during the Great Depression and lived during World War II, and the Cold War, etc.   A"generation gap" existed between them and us that involved differences of values, facility with English and Chinese language, etc.  Now we have grown up, and most have become parents, (and for many, grandparents), we can see that there is still a "generation gap" between us and our adult, or adolescent, offspring but it is qualitatively different from the one that existed between us and our parents. Why? Because the historical era during which each generation grows up is typically quite different.  My parents grew up in difficult times in China while I grew up during the prosperous post WW II boom times.  My children, in turn, grew up in the 70s and 80s, which were markedly different from the 50s.

         This is a long-winded way of raising this question:  How was the relationship that you had with your parents different from the one you have (had) with your children? Implicit in this comparison is the impact of history.  That is, what was going on in the world when you were growing up is quite different from the world in which your children grew up.  History tries to explain the past, but not always accurately, since it is continually rewritten, but my real question is whether we can use history to predict the characteristics of Chinese in America in the future.


Foo Lee, A Chinese laundryman "Lance Armstrong"?

Most Chinese laundrymen probably did not have the time, skills, or inclination to compete in bicycle races but in 1897 Foo Lee of Niles, Michigan, not only competed against "Americans" in a race but he beat them handily.  The New York Times article concluded: "Sporting men are trying to induce Foo Lee to give up the laundry business and devote himself to racing."

News of Foo Lee's feat was spread across the country in newspapers in large as well as small towns across the United States.  Many of the headers referred to him as "Chinaman" and some had a condescending tone such as "No More Washee."
There was no further news about Foo Lee and subsequent cycling triumphs so it might be assumed that he resumed his occupation as a laundryman in Niles, Michigan after his brief moment of "Linsanity."


Chinese Exclusion Continued Within U. S. Borders

Chinese Exclusion is usually viewed as the prevention of Chinese laborers from entering the United States based on the laws passed by Congress in 1882 for a decade, renewed for another decade in 1892, and made permanent in 1902 until its repeal in 1943.

However, Chinese who succeeded in gaining entry still faced other forms of exclusion for many years.  A sample of Oakland, California newspaper ads at the end of the 19th century did not hide policies of Chinese exclusion. Some white hotels and rooming houses excluded Chinese employees and lodgers, some white laundries would not hire Chinese, and a shirt manufacturer would not employ Chinese sewers or launderers.


1860s Doubts About Chinese Coming to Deep South Despite Positive Views

A contradictory situation existed in Southern thinking in the mid 19th century with respect to the merits of bringing Chinese immigrants to the region.  On one hand, many aspects of the Chinese work ethic, earned respect if not admiration, as expressed below in a Nashville newspaper article written on the eve of attempts to recruit Chinese labor to come to Memphis en route to other parts of the Deep South.

Despite the high praise bestowed by the writer on the Chinese, he cautioned that "it remained to be seen how John Chinaman will be received in the South." His doubts and xenophobia led him to
wonder, "how the Oriental will stand the stern Anglo Saxon test of labor, capacity and availability." 

Now, 150 years or so later, his fears have proved unwarranted as the Chinese have made major contributions to the South.


Colman’s Mustard and Chinese white cut chicken   白斬雞

The Colman brand of mustard is an iconic product with a long and celebrated  history in England. 

It is also a popular condiment among Chinese and as common as soy sauce in Chinese restaurants, which made me wonder how Chinese immigrants in America discovered or came to use mustard as a condiment, and whether they preferred the Colman brand.
Did they only discover it after coming to America or was it possible that they knew about it in China when the British came to control Hong Kong following the opium wars in the middle of the 19th century. Perhaps the British introduced mustard, or at least the Colman brand, to the Chinese.  Or did the Chinese already use mustard in their cuisine before the British came but adopted the Colman brand introduced to them by the British?

Some food for thought.

On A Personal Note

Sundays were a special day for our Chinese immigrant family for it was our one day of rest from operating our laundry during the rest of the week. It was the only time we could enjoy having a meal with the whole family, my parents and three siblings. 

Mom would often buy a live chicken a day or two before Sunday and keep it in a small crate with wood slats.  I would “play with it” before Sunday morning when mom would grab it by the feet with one hand while holding a cleaver in the other.  Held upside down, the fowl would flap its wings desperately before mom deftly used the cleaver to ‘slit its throat’ and quickly drop it into a galvanized tin pail.  I can still ‘hear’ the sound of its toenails scratching against the pail as its life ended. After draining all the blood, mom would pluck its feathers before cooking it in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes.  I was only about 4 years old, but mom didn’t hide this process from me, or make any fuss over it so I was not particularly bothered watching how our Sunday dinner came to be.

It just seemed natural.  Mom was just doing what she did or saw done back in her Hoiping village in China. But thinking back about it, I am surprised that I was not at all bothered by it.

The fresh chicken was then poached, usually in a broth with cellophane-like chewy but delicious seaweed.  We kids would often fight over getting the “innards” (eggs, liver, heart, gizzards), which today you don’t get in the chickens from the supermarket. Mom gave us the best parts, slices of the white meat, while she and father would chew on the parts with bones.

We loved to dip our pieces of chicken in a dish of soy sauce first and then in a dish of mustard made by mixing Colman’s mustard powder with water.  This mustard was so spicy that if you used too much you would feel the top of your brain tingle or even feel numb for a moment or two. It was a scary, but also exciting, sensation.


One day I happened to read the label on the tin Colman container, or somewhere, how Colman mustard powder could be used as a foot bath for people with colds.  I was horrified to learn that something we loved to put on our chicken was the same stuff that other people applied to their feet!  I never heard of Chinese using it that way so I inferred that only non-Chinese were so barbaric.



Donaldina Cameron, Rescuer of Chinese Sex Slaves

Most accounts of victimization of Chinese involve white perpetrators.  However, it must be recognized that sometimes it was other Chinese who ruthlessly exploited the plight of early Chinese immigrants to their own advantage. For example, the shortage of Chinese women immigrants which was exacerbated by the Chinese Exclusion Acts that started in 1882 provided an opportunity for profit from Chinese women forced into prostitution.

In San Francisco, Donaldina Cameron of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission became a legendary crusader who devoted her life to locating and rescuing, at great risk to her own safety, countless Chinese women who had been trapped into becoming sex slaves.

A description of her role was published in 1922 in a Portland, Oregon, newspaper when she made a visit there. The sensational headline highlights how Chinese used 'dark and tricky' ways to enslave young Chinese girls.

The journalist begins his account with a quote from Bret Harte that reinforces this depiction of the "heathen Chinee"

The article summarizes two cases of young Chinese women that Donaldina Cameron snatched from the clutches of their slave masters.

The mission house in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown where Donaldina Cameron hid and protected rescued girls and women is named in her honor. Its function has changed since her time and serves as an active community resource center serving Chinese of all ages and backgrounds, especially youth, elderly, and victims of domestic abuse.

Although her work was in the San Francisco Chinatown, Miss Cameron is buried in southern California. http://chineseamericanhistorian.blogspot.com/2012/04/ching-ming-remembrance-in-los-angeles.html


Chop Suey Before Li Huang Chuang's 1898 Endorsement

One popular "legend" about chop suey is that the dish was unknown in America before a Chinese chef created it for Viceroy Li Huang Chuang during his visit to New York in 1898. However, evidence exists that chop suey was already known in America before his diplomatic visit. For example, a 1892 article in the San Francisco Chronicle described the dish, chow chop suey, as a popular dish at Chinese restaurant banquets.

Before Li Huang Chuang was introduced to chop suey, judging from grocery store ads the dish was already known in America. A 1895 grocery store ad in Centralia, Wisconsin offered a 16. oz package of vegetable chop suey for 35 cents.

An advertisement in 1898 for the A & P grocery chain store in Laredo, Texas, offered pork cubes for chop suey for $1.89 lb. Clearly, these ads show that chop suey was already familiar to Americans prior to Li Huang Chang having his 1898 chop suey dinner.

Of course, because the celebrity status of Li Huang Chuang attracted large crowds to his public appearances in New York and Philadelphia, newspapers across the country publicized his visit and his approval of chop suey, which doubtless increased American curiosity and acceptance of this 'toothsome dish.  
For more information about American views of chop suey:

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