HomeTopicsRegionsSecret SocietiesTemples-1Temples-2AssociationsHistoryViolence
Violence 2DeathReburialWomenWomen-2IntermarriageOpiumOpium 2Opium-3
About UsLinksBibliographyPropertyArtifactsCINARC Book(s)

Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee (CINARC)
This page was last updated: April 21, 2022
金山西北角 - 华裔研究中心
Coming Home in Gold Brocade: Chinese in Early Northwest America

The “Northwest America” of the title was the name of a ship built by Chinese craftsmen on Vancouver Island in 1788—the first Chinese artifact known to have been made in the Western Hemisphere.  We chose to use the term in the title because it refers unambiguously to the area covered by the book: southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, western Montana, and Oregon.  Another name for the same region, “Pacific Northwest,” is time-honored in the U.S. but likely to confuse Canadians, for whom the same region is the West and Southwest.  And to Asians and Europeans it is wrongheadedly Americentric.  For them, the Pacific Northwest is Siberia and perhaps Korea and Japan.  

Early Chinese immigrants seem to have viewed the northwestern part of North America as a single geographical unit: different from California, internally similar in terms of climate and topography, and more accessible than other parts of the North and South American continents.  The majority of those immigrants, especially those who arrived before 1882, seem not to have paid undue attention to national, provincial, or state boundaries.  They moved around as freely as they could, being always on the lookout for greener pastures like any other pioneers.  We have tried to look at the region in the same way as those early immigrants saw it, tracing their successes and failures on as large a screen as possible. 

We considered including the northern part of California but decided that another volume would be needed to extend that far south.   We also decided that it might be better to distinguish the history of Chinese in California from that of Chinese in other parts of the New World.  Writers on Chinese America tend to treat California as the norm, with Chinese culture in other regions representing watered-down versions of that of San Francisco.   That is certainly how San Franciscan Chinese felt.  And yet for other Chinese there were major differences between the Bay Area and the rest of the continent.  Living outside Dai Fow, the “Great Port City,” needed not only courage but an innovative attitude.  The challenges of living north and east of California required new institutions and economic patterns which did not much resemble those of the Bay Area.  It is an error to see the rest of North America as the tail and San Francisco the dog.

We have focused here on the early decades of the Chinese presence on the Northwest, with 1911—the year of the Chinese Revolution—as the cutoff point.  Those first decades are crucially important but poorly studied.  Published information about them is hard to get even though understanding them is essential for studies of later developments in the American Chinese world.  With several notable exceptions, the historiography of the Chinese American Northwest tends to be focused on single places or issues, based largely on secondary sources, and assembled by writers who had overly tight deadlines, limited access to original data, and an imperfect command of nineteenth century written Chinese.  

We have tried to remedy those defects.  For one thing, we have relied mainly on primary, first-hand sources.  We have visited most of the archives that hold relevant English- and Chinese-language materials as well as most of the museums and traditional organizatios that own relevant objects with American Chinese inscriptions.  Further, for us as for other researchers, the availability of on-line, searchable versions of historical newspapers and magazines has not only yielded vast quantities of new primary data but has also made it possible for the first time to draw conclusions based on negative evidence.  Before the digital revolution, the seeming absence of an institution or individual from a given period or place meant only that one could not find relevant information.  But now, with these vast and easily searchable databases, negative evidence has become logically valid.  One is justified, for instance, in concluding that someone who often appeared in newspapers before 1890, but never afterward, either had left the country or was dead.  

It has long been fashionable among writers on early Chinese Americans to view them in terms of victimization, emphasizing the negative effects of dehumanizing immigration laws, anti-Chinese attitudes, threats, insults,  and outright violence.  We agree that those were indeed pervasive, deep-seated problems.  We also feel the need to remind our fellow Northwesterners that our liberal, ethnically sensitive, politically correct region has not always been that way.  Instead, in the late 19th century, it was in the forefront of American intolerance and vicious persecution of Chinese as well as other non-white peoples.  This needs to be said.  Yet we find ourselves tiring of victim narratives and think that Chinese-American historiography is not greatly in need of more.  

For that reason, we have sought to see the early generations of Chinese immigrants as much more than victims.  We have included the winners as well as the losers, the successful businessmen as well as the oppressed workers, and the respectable housewives along with the prostitutes.  Moreover, we are not convinced that the oppressed workers were always to be pitied rather than admired.  Many showed extraordinary strength, courage, and skill at adapting to an alien land.  The story of their survival and eventual success deserves more space than that of their occasional misery.

This volume cannot explore any one topic in depth.   A number of existing publications are more detailed, although sometimes out of date, in their coverage of Chinese in particular places or industries.  Our purpose here is to work toward a broad perspective covering the whole Northwest and its connections with other regions and China itself.  Readers wanting more information on the topics discussed here are urged to consult the website of the Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee, www.cinarc.org.  Created in 2008 and edited by the present authors, the website has grown to a point where it now holds much more information than any single book.  

The fact that this book has Internet roots explains several of its special features.  It uses many more pictures than the majority of academic works, and places those pictures closer to the part of the text that they illustrate.  It has a fuller table of contents and index than do most present-day books.  And it seeks to make the usual scholarly apparatus more efficient and less burdensome.  The endnotes are numbered in a single series to avoid the confusion caused by having notes with the same number from different chapters.  References have been streamlined.  In an age when extensive bibliographic data is available with a few computer keystrokes, it seems pointless always to include the names of the publisher, city, and series, or lengthy titles for all books and articles.  Instead, unless a more detailed citation is needed for clarity, the endnotes give only the author’s name, date, shortened title, and page number of the work in question.  Also in the interests of streamlining, we have not included a conventional bibliography of works cited.  In place of such a bibliography is a separate index of authors and informants keyed to individual endnotes.  

Various themes in the current book deserve a more in-depth treatment.  The CINARC website has begun to do that.  However, within the next few years we hope to produce other books on more closely targeted subjects: Chinese temples, tongs or secret societies, burials and the repatriation of bones, cannery work and contracting, Chinese gold mining, and so forth.  Until then, we trust that the present reader will find interest in what we have written here.  

A note on Chinese characters.  We have deliberately used a mixture of traditional and simplified forms in deference to individual preferences with regard to personal names and because simplified versions of certain place names are incomprehensible to those with traditional educations.

1. Cover  The Front and back covers, plus the spine.  
2. Paperback.  Amazon.com price: US$12.75.  Canadian$15.96. ISBN-13: 978-1505228021, ISBN-10: 1505228026. 
3. Preface  The book's preface in final form.
4.Table of Contents.  Ditto.
5. Chapter 1, without pictures and notes.  Thoze would would take up too many megabytes of website space.


  1.0. Introduction: Why They Came       
  1.1. The View from the Villages        
  1.2. Perceived Benefits               
  1.3. Official Attitudes    
Government Suspicion
Government Support
  1.4. North American Chinese View Themselves 
Countering Perceptions of Cultural Inferiority 
Public Displays of Cultural Pride   
Asserting Rights

  2.0. Introduction: Six Phases       
  2.1. Before 1850: Early Adventurers  
Vancouver Island:  Chinese with Meares, 1788
Cape Flattery, Washington: First Chinese on U. S. Soil?
Vancouver Island: Chinese with Colnett, 1789
Chinese on Other Western Ships, 1790s  
Haida Gwaii or Alaska –Xie Qinggao’s Account    
Other Possible Arrivals before 1850        
  2.2. 1850s-1870: Miners and Merchants in the First 
Northwestern Chinatowns     
Chinese Mining Settlements in the Interior     
Chinese Commercial Settlements on the Coast    
Chinese in Coastal Industries
First Signs of Prejudice and Violence
  2.3. 1870-1885: A Demographic and Economic Peak  
Chinese Flourish in the Northwest      
Influence of Railroad, Cannery, and Mining Work 
Influence of Farming and Fishing Work      
Rise of Anti-Chinese Violence     
  2.4. 1885-1887: Hostility, Chaos, and Flight 
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882    
Organized Violence Begins: Anaconda, April 1885
Rock Springs, September 1885  
Squak and Coal Creek, September 1885   
The Conspirators, 1885-1886        
The “Tacoma Method,” November 1885 
The Seattle Riot, February 1886          
Portland, March 1886
Violence Elsewhere in the Northwest, 1885-1886
Snake River/Deep Creek, May 1887
  2.5. 1888-1900:  Chinese Concentrate in Cities
A Slow Recovery
Renewed Racism and Violence East of the Cascades
Increasing Urbanization in Coastal Areas
  2.6. After 1900: Future Trends

  3.0. Introduction: Employment in the Early Northwest
  3.1. Merchants and Contractors
Individual Merchant Contractors
Corporate Contractors
  3.2. Cannery Workers
The Columbia River Canneries
The Alaska Canneries
Ethnicity and Wages at Canneries
The Only First-Hand Account by a Chinese Cannery
Worker before WWII    
  3.3. Railroad Workers
Why Chinese Railroad Builders Got No Credit for their Work
Chinese as Railroad Maintenance Workers
  3.4. Chinese in Lumber Mills
  3.5. Gold and Coal Miners 
  3.6. The Canadian Opium Industry
Opium Factories  
Opium as a Business: The 1886 Price War 
Smuggling Opium
  3.7. Chinese in the Restaurant Trade
  3.8. Laundrymen
  3.9. Chinese in Domestic Service
  3.10. Fishermen
  3.11. Farmers and Gardeners
  3.12. Commercial Services and Factory Work

  4.0. Introduction: Associations and Records
  4.1. Tongs
The Hongmen Society
The Chinese Masons
The Chee Kung Tong
The Bing Kung & Bow Leong Tongs  
The Hip Sing Tong
Other Tongs
Tong Wars
  4.2. County/District Associations
Huiguan and Shantang
Shantang in Victoria and Vancouver
County/District Associations beyond Victoria and Vancouver
The Hakka Speech Group Association
  4.3. Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations
Roles of CCBAs in the Northwest
Portland’s Jong Wah & Co.
CCBAs in Victoria and Vancouver
Seattle’s Chong Wa Benevolent Association
  4.4. Clan or Surname Associations
Clan Associations in Victoria and Vancouver
The Lee Associations
The Chens/Chins and the Oak Tin in Seattle and Portland
Clan Associations outside the Main Urban Centers
  4.5. Temples in Northwest America
Independent Multi-Deity Temples
Independent Temples for Suijing Bo
An Independent Hakka Temple
Tong Shrines
Clan Association Shrines
Shrines of County/District Associations
The Decline of Traditional Shrines and Temples
  4.6. Non-Traditional Organizations
The Chinese Empire Reform Association or Baohuanghui
The American-Born Chinese Brigade
Other Progressive Non-Traditional Groups
  4.7. Christian Churches and Mission Schools

  5.0. Introduction: Picturing Individuals in the Past
  5.1. Chinese Menin the Northwest
The Born Rich
The Self-Made
The Working Classes
  5.2. Chinese Women in the Northwest
The China-Born: Prostitutes/Entertainers
The China-Born: Respectable Women
The Native-Born
  5.3. Marriage and Intermarriage
  5.4. Civil and Property Rights
  5.5. Diet and Health
  5.6. Opium Use
  5.7. Illness and Death
  5.8. Funerals, Burials, Memorials, and Repatriation
Wakes and Funerals in the Northwest
Repatriation and Reburial
Contrasting Lives and Deaths: Lee Yau Kan vs Moy Back Hin

  1.  How Many Chinese Died in Building the First transcontinental
  2.  Chinese Populations in Inland and Coastal Areas, 1870 & 1880
  3.  Chinese Women in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington from 1880
and 1900 Censuses
  4.  Chung Sai Yat Po on Substituting for the Authority of Absent










Chapter 1 without quotes, images, and notes
As a sample here is Chapter 1 of Coming Home in Giold Brocade.  Images, etc.,have been omitted due to a lack of space and the difficulty of translating a PDF file to a format usable by this web-authoring program.  Readers who are curious about sources or who disagree with statements made here should contact the authors or, if they haven't already, buy the book to see how we justify those statements.  At $12.75, the book is not expensive. 

1.0. Introduction: Why They Came

One is often told that the first Chinese came to America because of famine or war in southern China, or in desperation due to abject poverty.   But this is a Western perspective.  While such motives may have been true of certain European immigrants—for instance, of Irish fleeing the Potato Famine—it was not true of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.  Most came from homes well above the contemporary Chinese poverty level.  Few were in fact poverty-stricken, landless laborers.  Moreover, their districts had been sending temporary emigrants—sojourners—overseas for centuries before the first would-be gold miners arrived in California in 1849.  

Among the first Chinese miners to go abroad seeking gold were Hakkas, most if not all from Guangdong province, who began to develop the gold fields of Borneo during the eighteenth century.   The first Chinese tin miners in southern Thailand,  West Malaysia, and Belitung in Indonesia, using techniques similar to those of gold miners, left China in the late eighteenth century or perhaps before.  Most were Cantonese, Taishanese, and Hakkas, also from Guangdong, as well as Hokkiens from southern Fujian.   The two earliest county/district associations (huiguan) in Singapore, the Ning Yeung and Kong Chow Associations, were founded in the 1820s by migrants from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong.   Two of the most important huiguan in San Francisco, founded in 1853 and 1867, had the same names: the Ning Yung and Kong Chow Associations. Their members came from the same Taishanese-speaking districts in the Pearl River Delta, and often from the same towns and villages, as earlier emigrants from Guangdong to Southeast Asia.  

It seems, therefore, that the earliest Chinese immigrants to North America cannot have been driven to emigrate by emergency conditions back home—that is, unless one assumes that the delta region of Guangdong was in a constant state of emergency from the eighteenth century onward.  But that is simply untrue.  By and large, the Pearl River Delta was well above the poverty line by international standards of those days: houses were large, diet was good, and most Delta residents were adequately clothed.  One of the main reasons for this prosperity was the local tradition of sending young men to work overseas, much as South and Southeast Asian nations do nowadays. 

Why did these youthful migrants go abroad and why did so many come to North America?  Those are the main issues to be addressed in this chapter.  Only rarely can we hear the migrants’ actual voices, for few of their words survive and in any case are drowned out by the strongly held opinions of early Western observers and modern commentators, Chinese and white alike.  What were the migrants thinking when they left home?  Did their wishes matter, or were they no more than pawns of greedy recruiters and callous contractors backed by secret society criminals?  Were most of them ignorant bumpkins who knew nothing about the cold, hunger, and hatred they would face in the Gold Mountain, before it was too late?  Did they realize that, as some aver, they would be living almost like animals, crowded into tiny quarters and given inadequate food, in desperate efforts to save enough from their coolies’ pay to feed their hungry families back home?  Did they think this was actually true?  Was it, or have those problems been exaggerated by modern commentators?  Greatly exaggerated or only somewhat?

Such questions are not often asked, and yet we think they are central to one’s understanding of early North American Chinese.  The real issue is the extent to which those Chinese could determine their own fates.  Historians of nineteenth century immigration sometimes treat the Chinese involved as passive victims, subject to forces beyond their control and profoundly ignorant of the systems in which they were trapped.  And yet, as we can see from interviews and surviving letters, many immigrants were far from stupid, and they and their fellow villagers were not at all naive about the outside world.  Although early Chinese workers in some places—for instance, Peru and Cuba—often had been kidnapped and sold like slaves, in North America almost all males (and a good many females as well) came voluntarily with open eyes.  They knew what they were getting into.  So did their families.  As we said above, conditions at home were not so bad that they had to come.  Yet they came anyway. 

1.1. The View from the Villages

One way of looking at Chinese emigration is to put oneself in the place of a villager in one of the many Pearl River communities that had long specialized in sending its sons abroad.  Historians call such communities qiaoxiang.  Residents of these were not landless laborers or “coolies” of the kind who frequented seaport cities and were too often kidnapped by recruiters for the mines and plantations of South America and the Caribbean.  Instead, they probably owned or had rights to enough land to produce much of the family’s food, a spouse (sometimes more than one), several children who survived into adulthood, a few meat animals and a regular supply of vegetables and fish, houses that were not smaller or less comfortable than the homes of contemporary farmers and factory workers in Europe, large extended families, and even larger clans.  

Both extended family and clan would have been based in the immediate vicinity, the latter in several neighboring hamlets and the former in the same hamlet.  Hamlet clusters and small to medium sized villages were often dominated by single clans, so that everyone there had the same surname.  Because marrying a person with the same surname was considered incest and because residence was virilocal, with married couples expected to live in the husband’s village, wives invariably came from outside.  Elsewhere in China, this meant that married women had little support from their own families and thus little authority until their sons, if any, reached maturity.  In a qiaoxiang, however, many husbands and most of their male kin worked abroad for years on end.  It followed that even a very young wife could find herself in charge of a substantial household, subject to the general authority of her husband’s extended family and clan but otherwise independent. 

The reverse side of this coin was loneliness.  The wife of a temporary emigrant or sojourner to a foreign country might have lived with her husband for only a few months after their wedding and seen him for only one or two short periods before he returned to his home village for good, perhaps in middle age if he had been lucky and made enough money to retire early, perhaps in old age if he had survived and accumulated at least modest savings, or perhaps in death if he had not.  In some cases, wives and husbands may have hardly known each other at all.  This eased the pain of nearly life-long separation.  In other cases, though, the couple had found the love that often followed an arranged marriage and missed each other sorely.  Numerous poems known as Gold Mountain Songs survive, testifying to the suffering of lonely male sojourners and of their wives back home.   For instance,

Since my departure in Hong Kong, 
She and I are each in different places. 
A long separation makes a person even more miserable. 
How can one ever forget home, sweet home? 
Stranded in a foreign country, 
In dreams my soul encircles my village home. 
Words to wife and children: don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long. 
Once I amass the gold, I will be on my way.

from the University of North Carolina School of Education website, 

The key, as the song says, was money.  Remittances from overseas workers made a major difference to the wellbeing of families and villages.  A modern example comes from recent studies of Jianglian, a qiaoxiang in Taishan [or Toisan] County, long the home base of many overseas workers in North America and Malaysia.   It will be seen from the following graph (Fig. 1) that the incomes of households getting remittances from overseas sojourners were between 45% and 111% higher than households without such remittances.

.The obligation to remit is shown in the following exchange between a Customs inspector and Ng Gwong, a cook in Port Townsend, Washington, preserved in the files of the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle. 

  On May 6, 1907: 
     Inspector:   How much wages do you get a month?
     Ng Gwong:  $40 a month.
    Inspector:  Then why don’t you save any money?
    Ng Gwong:  Because I send all my money back to China.  

  Several months later in 1908.
    Inspector:  What did you do with the [borrowed] money?
     Ng Gwong:  I sent it back to China to build a house. 

In the nineteenth century, when exchange rates and prices were such that a few American dollars would support a Chinese family for several months, the income gap between households with and without overseas sojourners was even wider than in modern Jianglian.  If a railroad worker in the Northwest earned one U.S. dollar per day and if he spent a third of that on subsistence and half of the rest on recreation, he would still have been able to send a monthly remittance of ten U.S. dollars back to his family in Guangdong. 

Considering that ten U.S. dollar coins equaled 240 grams of silver and that in 1880-1910 an unskilled urban worker in Guangzhou made the equivalent of only 100 grams of silver each month, a monthly remittance of just ten U.S. dollars was very good money.    For many families, that much extra income would have been decisively important in terms of lifestyle and social status.  It made the difference between being a common peasant and joining the rural middle class. 

A moderately successful sojourner, of course, could remit much more than 100 grams of silver per month and could, if all went well, return with enough to make his extended family fabulously rich.  Most such families cannot realistically have expected this.  But, one imagines, some did, and this must have added to family pressure on young men to seek their fortunes overseas.

All this meant that residents of qiaoxiang did not think of themselves as subsisting on the voluntary gifts of sojourners inspired by love of family and innate generosity.  Rather, families and fellow villagers must often have seen their overseas kin not as free agents but as investments, representing major sacrifices on the part of parents and clan.  They might have subsidized a young relative’s outfitting and transportation costs.  They certainly had not only paid for his upbringing but also had suffered the loss of his labor power and, perhaps, fighting skills during the long years of his absence.  Centuries-old, deeply held social values came into play.  To the sojourner’s family, remittances were a right, not a charity.  He or she owed it to them, and failure to remit was tantamount to reneging on a debt.

This helps to explain, incidentally, the insistent demands and lack of gratitude formerly said to be experienced by second-and third-generation overseas Chinese on returning to their ancestral villages.  What modern visitors saw as aggressive panhandling was viewed by their hometown relatives simply as a reminder of obligations.  The death of a first-generation emigrant did not extinguish such obligations.  The memories of the villages were long, and they did not feel that a male relative’s marriage overseas and his raising a family there gave him any right to sever ancestral bonds.  In fact, marrying overseas may have seemed in some ways to be a willful rejection of those bonds.  The family back home felt betrayed.

The threat of overseas marriages was always present, even in places like North America and Australia where racist laws against miscegenation were common and where, one would have thought, the higher status of available women, most but not all of them white, should have prevented their marrying lower-status Chinese.  A later chapter points out that in fact not all white women or their families were so snobbish, but that is beside the point.  What matters is that it was very much in a qiaoxiang family’s interest to make sure that its sons and nephews did not acquire other families, and consequent emotional and financial obligations, while working overseas.

One way of doing this was to marry the boys off before sending them away and to keep the young wives back home. Modern Chinese writers sometimes complain bitterly about historic U.S. and Canadian immigration laws that they say barred Chinese wives from joining their husbands.  But even when it was possible for wives to go abroad with their husbands and no matter what the couple themselves might have wished, the fact is that their elders in China were dead set against it.  Wives were strongly discouraged from leaving, although for many years there were no legal obstacles to their accompanying their husbands.  Chinese women could enter the United States freely until the 1882 Exclusion Act but very few came anyway.  They remained scarce in Canada throughout the nineteenth century in spite of the fact that immigration was easy until the notorious but gender-neutral Head Tax became too costly in 1903.  Chinese women were scarce even in Malaysia, which was inexpensive to reach from China by ship and where British colonial authorities actually encouraged them to come in the belief that married men with wives and families present made better, more law-abiding residents.

Thus, one key to retaining control of migrant boys was to keep the girls from leaving.  It might be noted that southern Chinese emigrant villages were not the only ones to adopt this strategy.  According to the website of Chicago's Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center,  

Greek immigration to the U.S. has been overwhelmingly male. During 1890-1900, one of the decades of the most 
intense immigration, only four women arrived for every 100 men. Those who emigrated at this time often did so to
earn money to repay family debts, provide dowries for their sisters, and return to Greece with sufficient funds to live

This explanation, given by Greeks writing about Greeks, is confirmed by Fairchild, writing in 1911. In that year, he says, New York’s Greek population consisted of 20,000 men and only 150 “unmixed” Greek families.  The indicated ratio of fewer than one women to every 100 men was as extreme as in any early Chinatown. 
Other factors too ensured that sojourners would send money while abroad and return when successful.  Love for families played an important role.  So did an upbringing that inculcated respect for such values as filial piety and loyalty to one’s home village and town.  Moreover, as young villagers could see, adhering to those values was rewarded.  Wealthier returnees were glorified, receiving local praise, honored places in their clans’ temples and genealogies, and special titles from the imperial government—see the example of Chin Gee Hee below (page 10).  Hope for such happy outcomes must have kept many overseas sojourners working and remitting even when their living conditions and work environments were worse than anything back home.

Yet another way to ensure the loyalty of temporarily expatriated men was to provide a permanent resting place in the village cemetery.  As pointed out in Chapter 5.8, Chinese sojourners in North America, though perhaps not in Southeast Asia, felt it was imperative to be buried in the soil of one’s home county and, if at all possible, of one’s home village.  Was this only because it ensured that the deceased would receive the appropriate offerings from family members in memorial ceremonies? Or did most Chinese in those days believe that they had to be buried in China, irrespective of family considerations?  

Although there is little evidence that Chinese held such abstract beliefs before or after the period covered by this book (1850-1910), one does not doubt that workers newly arriving in North America were told that this was so, and that one of the main services to be provided to them in return for the dues exacted by the district associations, tongs, and other sojourner organizations was to send their bodies home in case of death.  The elaborate system put in place to facilitate the repatriation of the dead is discussed in a later chapter (see pages 224-6).  It is enough for now to point to the existence of that system.  Sojourners of all ages must have felt encouraged to know that if they died while working in an alien land, their bones would be repatriated without fail, no matter how high the cost.

1.2. Perceived Benefits 

Advantages to the qiaoxiang included not only money for individual families but improvements in facilities and living conditions for the village as a whole.  Successful overseas sojourners built better houses for themselves and their extended families.  The more successful sojourners built houses that could be not only very large but in innovative styles, giving rise to a more sophisticated building industry.    

To villagers in insecure areas, which included large parts of the Four Counties or Si Yap on the west side of the Delta, an added benefit of the influx of overseas money was an increase in defensive capabilities.  Many and perhaps most of that region’s diaolou 碉楼, homes with fortified towers, were built with overseas money.  Although the syncretic Western-Chinese styles of many diaolou date them to the 1920s-30s, the first examples of such structures appeared in the 1890s-1900s or perhaps earlier. 

Successful sojourners often engaged in conspicuous charities aimed at populations larger than their families.  The noted Portland-Seattle merchant
Goon Dip, for instance, not only contributed toward a family shrine in his village, Shangge, Meinam, Doushan, in southern Taishan County, but also had the village’s main street paved with concrete. Goon seems not to have been over-fond of Shangge.  He left it as a boy, returned once to acquire a wife, and never came back again, directing that he be buried in Seattle rather than in the village cemetery. Yet he felt obliged to show loyalty anyway. The pavement and shrine he donated to the village ensured that his memory would be preserved in the clan records, which still survive.  Younger villagers do not know his name.  However, even they are vaguely aware that the pavement was financed by a fellow villager who became a success in “Gold Mountain.”

A much more spectacular and costly quasi-charitable effort was that of Chin Gee Hee of Seattle, who devoted the last decades of his long life to building a railroad connecting his native city, Taishan, with the Pearl River estuary and the sea.  He had learned the railroad business working as a labor contractor for the Northern Pacific and various smaller lines.  During his last years in America he seems to have felt that he knew enough to bill himself as a “railroad, mining, and telephone engineer.”   

Chin’s self-confidence was justified.  Although only modestly educated in a formal sense, his exceptional intelligence and business acumen made his Sun Ning Railway a success.  It not only turned an occasional profit and helped to develop Taishan and its environs but also showed the world that Chinese could finance and build such major projects themselves, at a time when all other railroads in China were designed and owned by foreigners.  

These two images sum up the rewards available to overseas sojourners who showed truly generous concern for their home towns.  On the left is a statue of Chin Gee Hee, placed at a major intersection in downtown Taishan.  On the right is a photograph of Chin wearing the surcoat and accessories to which he was entitled after becoming an honorary third-rank imperial official—one of the highest ranks achieved by any sojourner in North America. 

1.3. Official Attitudes

For ordinary people in the sojourner villages, the benefits of sending their young men abroad were obvious.  However, for district and province-level officials in those parts of China, not to mention officials in the palace and ministries of Beijing, the situation was not so simple.

In the first place, the emigrants seemed to pose security risks.  As noted in the next section, the old idea that all Chinese outside China were rebels or criminals proved to be hard to eradicate.   Many officials, especially those from the North and other insular parts of China, continued to doubt the loyalty of all emigrants. 

In the second place, the difficulties faced by overseas Chinese became an increasing distraction to an overworked, hidebound bureaucracy.  Once the Qing government had accepted that emigrants could not just be dismissed as stateless outcasts, it became necessary to take at least minimal steps to protect them.  Officials had to be trained to handle the diplomatic complexities involved, protecting national interests while dealing with racist, jingoistic attitudes in both China and the West.  It did not help that career civil servants, still chosen through an exceptionally rigorous examination system, had high IQs but narrowly focused educations.  Many came from parts of China where no one had seen a Westerner, had ever heard or seen a Western language, or knew anything at all about Western countries.  The learning curve must often have been impossibly steep.

Government Suspicion

Chinese governments had long regarded Chinese outside China as security threats.  Historians recognize that the Qing government, from 1850 through 1911, went through several stages of policy changes toward overseas Chinese, from negligence, to involvement, to protectiveness.   Yet the suspicious attitude of officials toward Chinese abroad continued until the end of the regime. This view was not entirely unjustified.  

Whereas the great majority of emigrants were personally apolitical, they often belonged to secret societies with anti-Manchu agendas.  The popular revolts that shook Guangdong province in the mid-nineteenth century, the Taiping Rebellion太平天囯 (1850-64) and the Red Turban Rebellion紅巾起義 (1854-56) had not only radicalized individuals but sharpened the long-standing anti-regime sentiments of the old secret societies.  The imperial government believed that those societies had supported the fighting.  In the case of the Red Turbans, officials were convinced that the Tiandi Hui 天地會 (Heaven and Earth Society) had both instigated the rebellion and provided much of its leadership.   They also were well aware that the Tiandi Hui, also known as the Hong Society, had established itself in overseas areas like western North America.  Some writers have suggested that the first secret societies—soon to be called “tongs”—in North America were founded by refugees from the fighting in Guangdong.  But the Hong Society was first recorded in San Francisco by local newspapers in January, 1854, before the Red Turban Rebellion began.   

Interesting evidence of official suspicion that overseas Chinese communities were hotbeds of subversion is the letter reproduced on the next page, written by Yang Yu 杨儒, Chinese Minister (Ambassador) to the U.S. in 1897.   Yang’s understanding of recent Chinese subversion seems to have focused on Shek Tat Hoy (石达开, Shi Dakai), a leader in the Taiping Rebellion.  Yang was wrong, however, in thinking that Shi’s followers could have founded the Chee Kung Tong (致公堂, Zhigongtang, or CKT).  That secret organization was present in California as the Hong Society long before “remnants” of the Taipings can have reached North America.  However, Yang was quite right that Chan Manwai and Lee Hon (Cantonese: Lai Mon Hoy and Lee Cheuk Yon), both prominent in San Francisco’s Chinatown, were Chee Kung Tong leaders and that Sun Man (孫文,better known as Sun Yat-sen) was a seditious conspirator.  Indeed, Sun, the first president of the Chinese Republic, was one of the most successful seditious conspirators in modern history. Yang was also right about Sun being associated with the Chee Kung Tong (although not the later Chinese Empire Reform Association—see page 172) as early as 1897, even though he is often said not to have joined the CKT until 1904.

Ambassador Yang Yu on the Threat Posed by Chinese Emigrants, 1897 

'California was formerly the refuge of the remnant of Shek Tat Hoy's long-haired rebels, who clandestinely 
established the Chee Kung Tong and distributed heretical books, their idea being to plan revenge.  Recently
there also came the rebel Sun Man from Canton to America, and illicitly established the China Reform
Association, printing rules calling people to join and take shares for the purpose of getting ready munitions 
of war to send to Canton and again raise the standard of revolt.  Chan Man Wai, Lee Hon You, that kind of
people have been for a  long time residing beyond the seas with no law before their eyes.  Whatever rebel-
lious footprints of the Chee Kung Tong were exposed they have constantly followed and practiced.  When
once Sun Man appeared they took rank as leaders.  Sun Man has now gone to England, and this band of
seditious conspirators cannot legally be extradited from any  country where there is an extradition treaty. 
Moreover, to scatter their followers, the wings of the tongs must first be clipped.  I, the Embassador, have
taken the Chee Kung Tong's villainous and heretical books and the China Reform Association's rules, 
made an official examination and prepared this letter.

In any case, there can be no doubt that Yang was following the lead of his superiors in Beijing when he labeled the Chee Kung Tong as villainous and heretical.  The 1890s saw a concerted effort by Chinese government representatives in California to wipe out all tongs. Most American Chinese belonged to one or another of those societies.  The majority of their members did indeed harbor subversive ideas, adhering to the ancient Tiandi Hui motto, “Destroy the Qing, restore the Ming.”  The average Chee Kung Tong member may not have been serious about restoring the Ming dynasty.  But, as it turned out, the CKT would make major sacrifices to depose China’s Qing rulers and replace them with a western-style democratic government (see pages 172-173 and Chapter 4.1).  

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Empress Dowager’s faction in the Chinese government had another reason to be suspicious about overseas Chinese.  Since 1896, some members of the reformist faction of the government had begun openly to support the powerless Emperor over the Empress Dowager.  This was going too far.  The reformers fled abroad to preserve their heads.  The founders of this group, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, made their way to Canada where they established the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA), seen as a major threat by the Empress’s regime. That many Chinese leaders in North America and Southeast Asia joined the CERA with enthusiasm did not endear any emigrant to conservatives in Beijing.

Government Support

Not all influential Chinese concurred with the imperial government’s suspicion of emigrants.  Particularly in the South, certain merchants and officials were making fortunes from foreign trade, and many undoubtedly realized that it was not enough to sit passively in Canton (Guangzhou) waiting for foreign traders to come to them.  This meant, according to an already-ancient principle, that some Chinese had to go abroad in order to facilitate the import and export businesses.  Hence, the immensely wealthy and politically powerful traders of Guangzhou, whose fortunes depended on as much on Chinese miners and merchants in Southeast Asia, Australia, and America as on Europeans bringing goods like opium and cotton to China, were whole-heartedly in favor of emigration.  

The same was true of the officials, northerners as well as southerners, who shared in the traders’ wealth.  Until almost the end of the dynasty, the officials, often brilliant but conservatively educated intellectuals, considered themselves superior to mere merchants.  However, especially in Guangzhou and elsewhere in the Pearl River Delta, those officials had become accustomed to accept large favors from merchants and thus were forced to adopt a more positive attitude toward Chinese who resided and worked abroad.

Differences of opinion within the Chinese government about the treatment of emigrants had mostly been resolved by the time the North American gold rushes began.  Whereas emigrants may still have been called traitors in the eighteenth century and regarded with suspicion in the early nineteenth, by the 1850s and 1860s no one except perhaps a few crusty conservatives in Beijing thought that there was anything wrong with sojourning abroad or that no sojourner deserved protection by the Chinese government.   A key to such protection in the United States was the Burlingame Treaty between that country and China in 1868, which provided legal status to foreign-born Chinese in America.  The following decades saw increasing efforts by the Chinese Foreign Service to protect the interests of its overseas citizens by setting up embassies and consulates, protesting treaty infractions, and actively negotiating rights for Chinese in both the U. S. and Canada.   

Interestingly, foreign observers often did not recognize this.  Still a century behind in their understanding of China, such foreigners tended to think that the Chinese government was indifferent to its overseas subjects and would never intervene to protect them.  Indeed, this belief may well have encouraged Caucasian racists in North America to pass anti-Chinese laws and to engage in violence against East Asians.  Then as now, there were elements of the North American majority that found it irresistibly appealing to attack seemingly unprotected minorities.  

Contradicting this notion of indifference are many surviving documents by Chinese ambassadors and consuls protesting anti-Chinese legislation and violence.  A typical example is a diplomatic note sent by Chang Yen Hoon (張蔭桓, Zhang Yinhuan), the Chinese Minister to the United States, to Thomas F. Bayard, U. S.  Secretary of State, to protest the killings of Chinese miners on the Snake River, Oregon, in 1887. 

Ambassador Chang Yen Hoon Protests the Snake River Massacre, 1887

It is with great regret that I have to bring to your attention another case of outrage inflicted upon my
countrymen which resulted in the murder of ten Chinese laborers in the most horrible manner…  As the
character of this case, wherein ten lives were murdered and their bodies mutilated in a most shocking 
manner and thrown away … differs greatly from a common case of homicide, it is feared other wicked 
persons may, from their hatred of the Chinese, follow the examples of the murderers it they are not 
arrested and punished, which will affect the interest and safety of the Chinese resident there and 
elsewhere in the United States; I have, therefore, sent you the enclosed copies of the correspondence 
and documents connected in the case, hoping that you will kindly communicate with the local authorities, 
and urge that the murderers may be speedily apprehended and punished, to serve as a warning

Contemporary evidence shows that Chang did indeed initiate the investigation and that he and his colleagues showed anxious, continuing concern about the safety and wellbeing of American Chinese.   At least from the mid-nineteenth century onward, the Chinese government accepted responsibility for Chinese citizens in other countries and consistently sought to protect them.  The difficulty was the absence not of will but of means.  Whereas European governments could and often did intervene militarily to protect their citizens in China and other parts of Asia and Africa, the Chinese government had few modern warships and no ability to send troops abroad.  As a result, Chinese diplomats were forced to limit themselves to carefully worded protests, to implied threats against foreign interests in China, and to varyingly effective public relations efforts aimed at foreign businessmen, missionaries, academics, and news media.  

Evidence that concern for overseas Chinese existed at the Palace level in Beijing can be seen in the government’s choice of its ambassadors to the U.S., called “ministers plenipotentiary” in those days.  Before the 1911 revolution, there were eight in all:

Ambassador’s name and dates  Home Province

Chen Lanbin 陈兰彬, 1878-81     Guangdong
Zheng Zaoru  鄭藻如, 1881-84     Guangdong
Zhang Yinhuan/Chang Yen Hoon 張蔭桓, 1885–9Guangdong
Cui Guoyin崔国因, 1889-93 Anhui
Yang Ru/Yang Yu 杨儒, 1893–96Liaoning
Wu Tingfang 伍廷芳, 1896–1902, 1907-09Guangdong
Liang Cheng 梁诚, 1902–07Guangdong
Zhang Yintang 张荫棠, 1909–11  Guangdong

It will be seen that six of the eight (Chen, Zheng, both Zhangs, Wu and Liang) were southerners from Guangdong who spoke Cantonese as well as, of course, the Mandarin language used by all officials.  A seventh (Cui), although from Anhui Province, had close Guangdong connections.  The only one who could not talk directly to American Chinese, almost all of whom spoke mainly Cantonese and/or Taishanese, was Yang, a monolingual Mandarin speaker from far northern Liaoning Province.  He was not a success from a Chinese American point of view.  An especially grave fault, according to local critics, was his accepting without serious protest the 1892 Geary Act that extended the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  

That concern for its overseas citizens was felt at the highest levels of the Chinese government became clear in 1896, when the great viceroy Li Hung Chang 李鸿章passed through New York on an around-the-earth diplomatic tour.   The visit of one of the most powerful men in the world naturally caused excitement among American newspapermen, who flooded the newsstands with minute descriptions of his clothes, meals, habits, entourage, and opinions about his host country, which he proved to know a good deal about.  As expected, he commented favorably on America’s technological progress and natural beauty.  But reporters were surprised at his forthright criticism of racism in the American labor movement and the resulting anti-Chinese laws.  

According to the New York Times, Li stated explicitly that he would return to China by way of Vancouver, not San Francisco, because of the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and 1892: 

“He is ashamed to meet his countrymen [in California] who have heretofore petitioned him to protect them in their 
treaty rights and whom he has failed to protect.”  

The Times went on to comment,
“How much more ought Americans to be ashamed when they consider that it is against their cruelty and perfidy that 
a Chinese Viceroy has been unable to protect the Chinese in America!”  
The brief visit of Li to Vancouver was a momentous occasion for Chinese in the Northwest.   Naturally, word had already reached workers that the famed viceroy had expressed concern about their welfare, and members of the merchant class—who back in China would never have been allowed to approach such a high official—were permitted to don whatever formal costumes they owned and to walk behind his carriage.   They naturally would not have expected to speak to the great man, any more than if he had been the British prime minister or the American president.  However, many Chinese in British Columbia and Washington must have felt satisfied.

An even more concrete instance of Chinese government support took place on February 28, 1906, when three Imperial Commissioners led by Prince Tsai Tseh (Dai Ze, 戴泽), a favorite of Dowager Empress Cixi, arrived at Port Townsend and Seattle en route to the East Coast.  The commissioners would be touring the U.S. to study its educational system.   Their two-day stopover in Seattle was the highest-level Chinese visit to that city made thus far, and would remain so for decades to come.   

Many formalities ensued, featuring important white and Chinese leaders from Northwestern cities.  On the second evening of the visit, while the Prince rested, the other two commissioners, Shang Qiheng 尚其亨 and Li Shengduo 李盛鐸, made a surprising move. They attended a meeting of the banned Baohuanghui 保皇会, the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA), organized jointly by the Association’s Seattle, Victoria, and Portland chapters.  This gave local Chinese a chance to communicate directly with highly placed officials from China.  Additionally, it showed Seattle’s white elite that local Chinese were treated with respect by those officials.   Contemporary Americans often claimed that the Chinese who came to the United States were no more than coolies, despised by the educated upper classes back in China. Yet here were American Chinese who evidently were not despised at all.  Even the Prince would talk to them, although perhaps a bit condescendingly, and the other two commissioners, one a former cabinet minister and the other a veteran ambassador, were seen to chat with local Chinese in quite a democratic way.

A banquet for the visitors, jointly organized by Chinese and Western business associations, was attended by high-ranking Chinese from Seattle and neighboring cities.  Those whose names were recorded all appear elsewhere in this book: the merchants Ah King阿倾, Lew King刘乾, Goon Dip阮洽, Chin Chow Too 陈秋涛, Moy Back Hin梅伯显and Lee Hong李乔弈, as well as two young American-born Chinese who gave welcoming speeches in fluent English, Lew King’s son, Lew Kay, and Moy Back Hin’s son, Moy Bow Wing. 

1.4. North American Chinese View Themselves

The chapters that follow all are concerned, directly or indirectly, with how early Chinese in the northwestern United States and Canada saw their situation, experienced it, reacted to it, and found ways to cope with it.  This section will simply summarize what those immigrants thought.  Very few of them wrote about their experiences during the nineteenth century, and non-Chinese rarely bothered to interview them.  However, through indirect evidence one can glimpse the opinions and priorities of at least some Chinese immigrants.

Countering Perceptions of Cultural Inferiority

A central difficulty for those immigrants was that they were the first of any overseas Chinese to find themselves in a historically novel situation: they were trying to build a community within a society that felt itself to be culturally and economically superior to China.  Even the immigrants themselves must have had their doubts.  Unlike their counterparts in Southeast Asia, they were not richer than the locals.  Unlike Chinese in Korea and Japan, those in North America were not treated with the respect due to their ancient culture.  In fact, most white Americans believed that Chinese were poor, backward, superstitious, and ignorant.  The immigrants’ insistence on wearing Chinese rather than American clothes was seen as an irrational fixation, not as cultural pride.  The same was true of their religion, their literature, and their system of governance.  The average American or Canadian may have believed that the Chinese elite were civilized, if hopelessly ignorant about modern progress.  But the average Chinese immigrants to North America obviously did not belong to that elite.  Even cultured, wealthy merchants were seen as jumped-up members of the coolie class: people so essentially degraded that no decent white person, even the most illiterate and dirt-poor refugee from the slums of Europe, would consider competing with or living next to them.

Chinese immigrants naturally were aware of these attitudes, although they may not have fully understood the uniqueness of their situation compared to that of Chinese in Asia outside China.  Many did realize that they had an image problem.  Part of this was the apparent backwardness and weakness of China itself, which seemed to be making less progress than Japan in adopting Western technological culture, even though thoughtful Westerners attributed this to isolationism and corruption rather than Chinese inability to accept new ideas.  The other part of the image problem was the notion that the fault lay not with China but with Chinese immigrants: that they were too backward and low on the social scale ever to be the equals of real, white, North Americans.  The Chinese themselves objected, however.  A number of immigrants, especially those who spoke and read English, recognized that this perception was used to justify much anti-Chinese prejudice.  It had to be confronted head-on.

Among the first to do so was Norman Asing (a.k.a. Sang Yuen), already a long-time American resident, in response to an anti-Chinese diatribe published by John Bigler, Governor of California, in 1852.  Asing’s reply appeared in San Francisco’s leading newspaper and thus reached a wide audience. 

It has been asserted with authority that some countries are reserved exclusively for the white races, and 
with this object in view laws have been enacted prohibiting the natives of Asia from becoming naturalized
citizens . . . Those who support such a policy hold that they, the white people, are superior to the yellow
people in intellect, in education, in taste, and in habits, and that the yellow people are unworthy to 
associate with them.  Yet in China we have manners, we have arts, we have morals, and we have 
managed a fairly large society for thousands of years without the bitter class hatreds, class divisions, 
and class struggles that have marred the fair progress of the West.  

An outstandingly articulate defense of Chinese culture came in 1914 from Wu Tingfang伍廷芳, twice the Chinese Ambassador in Washington. 

But we would beg to remind you that when your nation was a wilderness, and the nation from which you
sprung barbarous, we exercised most of the arts and virtues of civilized life; that we are possessed of a
language and a literature, and that men skilled in science and the arts are numerous among us; that the
productions of our manufactories, our sail, and workshops, form no small share of the commerce of the 
world; and that for centuries, colleges, schools, charitable institutions, asylums, and hospitals, have been 
as common as in your own land. That our people cannot be reproved for their idleness, and that your 
historians have given them due credit for the variety and richness of their works of art, and for their 
simplicity of manners, and particularly their industry.

One does not doubt that American Chinese often said the same things to each other.  And yet neither Chinese defiance nor English-language assertions of cultural equality made much difference to the more resolute racists in California and the Northwest.  What mattered in their eyes were jobs and political power for those who felt they had neither.  That meant, many thought, that the Chinese had to go.  The next chapter describes the horrifying anti-Chinese violence of the 1880s and 1890s, which was as bad in the American Northwest as anywhere else in the Euro-American world.  One of the keys to Chinese survival was the same pride in their heritage that Norman Asing and Wu Tingfang expressed.  

Public Displays of Cultural Pride

Like Chinese elsewhere in North America, those in the Northwest settled very early on traditional festivals, particularly New Year celebrations, as vehicles for major efforts to build bridges to other communities and to improve the image of Chinese in the eyes of the white majority.

Newspapers’ coverage of New Year celebrations was almost always favorable.   Chinese leaders in most Chinatowns seem to have accepted that they should budget for should generous gifts to white politicians and newspapermen as well as to fellow Chinese.   Perhaps influenced by the abundance of free alcohol and cigars, reporters tended to comment with genuine interest on Chinese hospitality, parade dragons, costumes, and of course fireworks.   

Perhaps the most important venues for such displays were the major regional and world fairs held in various American cities from 1876 onward.   China’s government, although always invited, usually declined to take part in those fairs, at times in protest over U.S. policies on Chinese immigration and also for economic reasons.  Resources were limited, and the great European fairs of those days, in London, Paris, Vienna, etc., had a higher priority than fairs in obscure places like Atlanta and Buffalo, which no one outside North America had ever heard of.  A third reason may have been the preferences of high officials who might have to accompany or visit official Chinese pavilions in such expositions.  Many Chinese officials knew a good deal about the outside world in the 1890s-1910s, when the majority of the greatest world’s fairs took place.  Even the most unworldly official must have been aware that Paris would be more fun to visit than Omaha.

But Chinese in North America disagreed with their rulers in Beijing.  Taking their cue from the success of the Chinese Village at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, they regularly spent their own money to build and staff Chinese pavilions at American world’s fairs.  They seem often to have seen this as taking the place of the Chinese government, though without official recognition, feeling that China had to be represented even if Beijing refused to participate.

Ng Poon Chew 伍盘照expressed that idea in an editorial for his paper, Chung Sai Yat Po, in connection with the 1909 Portola Fair in San Francisco,  

The Portola Fair Committee invited China, but China turned both these appeals down.  Other Americans 
will feel discouraged and this will affect Sino-American relationships.  This event will be watched by people 
all over the world.  We American Chinese cannot let this chance go and be laughed at for having missed it.

Not being laughed at was one reason why American Chinese invested in producing their own World’s Fair exhibits, usually called “Chinese Villages.” All such exhibits showcased Chinese culture, included local concessions, and were entirely financed and controlled by Chinese residents of the United States. 

Chinese in the Northwest shared the enthusiasm for world’s fairs shown by their peers in the East and Midwest.  While they never succeeded in getting an exhibit together for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, they did make a serious effort to attract fairgoers to the local Chinatown.  Part of that effort was the book on Chinatown customs and institutions shown on the opposite page.  It was authored by Seid Back Jr., the American-born son of one of Portland’s leading Chinese businessmen.  He aimed explicitly at improving the image of Chinese in the eyes of non-Chinese readers.

In Seattle, local Chinese succeeded impressively when they took part in that city’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.  Their exhibit turned a profit, offered a platform for Chinese claims to civil rights, and attracted much favorable publicity.  An example is this description of the China Day parade by the correspondent of a newspaper in western Montana,  not at that time a hotbed of pro-Chinese sentiment:

The Chinese Dragon at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909

. . . such elegant costumes worn by the rich Chinese merchants and their wives I never expect to see 
again.  Then there were the floats and designs and banners.  Every device in the parade had its especial
significance, and it told a story to those who understood Chinese lore. The thing which struck me most
favorably was a monster dragon.  It was all gilt and tinsel and it was most imposing, being a full city block
in length . . . it surely was so realistic that it almost frightened many of the women spectators.

Asserting Rights

Perhaps the first America-based Chinese to create a civil rights organization was Wong Chin Foo 王清福, who in 1884 assembled a group of “naturalized” Chinese in New York to oppose the Exclusion Act of 1882.   Wong and other Eastern and Midwestern Chinese continued to take the lead in agitating for rights, culminating in the formation of the Chinese Civil Rights League of America in 1892.  The League received wide publicity among English-speaking European- and Chinese-Americans in the Northwest.  For instance, the Oregonian quoted Wong extensively:  

We want . . . to do for the Chinese what the North did for the negroes.  Why should we not have a voice in
municipal and national affairs like other foreigners?  There are 50,000 Chinese in this country who are 
desirous of becoming citizens.  In 1882 an outrageous law was passed by Congress.  By that law the 
rights and liberties of nearly 250,000 lawful and industrious citizens were swept away.  We will now ask
Congress to restore to us the sovereign rights we once enjoyed, which are held by every other race who 
come here.

Yet the Northwest did not follow Wong’s and others’ lead in pressing for general Chinese civil rights.  Although Chinese in British Columbia often protested against the notorious Head Tax, and although Chinese on the American side of the border sometimes objected strongly to specific laws or administrative rulings that affected them adversely, few Chinese in the region chose to make broader demands.  Nowhere in the Northwest did they agitate for a path to citizenship, the right to vote, or full equality before the law.  The lack of local Chinese-language newspapers, unlike San Francisco, may have been an obstacle.  Another was an apparent lack of vision from those local residents who should have known better. 

Particularly disappointing was the American-Born Chinese Association (ABCA) and its would-be military arm, the American-Born Chinese Brigade (see page 175), founded in Portland in 1898 by two university-educated Chinese Americans, Seid Back Jr. and Law John.   The ABCA clearly was conceived as the Northwestern version of California’s Native Sons of the Golden State, founded in 1895.   However, Seid’s followers seem to have been more interested in socializing than in working on legal aid, legislation, or community problems.  Unlike the Native Sons, which later became the Chinese American Citizens’ Alliance and a leading exponent of Chinese civil rights, the ABCA was not at all rights-oriented.  During its brief existence, it never sought to reach beyond Portland and showed little interest in the rights or other concerns of Chinese-born Chinese, even though in Portland at that time immigrants from China outnumbered the American-born by about 40 to 1.    

The one area where Northwestern Chinese did take the lead in pressing for legal rights was in hosting the first headquarters, in British Columbia, of an international organization that would have a profound indirect influence on Chinese rights in and outside China.  This was the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA) or Baohuanghui, the “Protect the Emperor Association,” founded in Victoria in 1898.  The rise of the CERA as an organization is described below (pages 173-175).  What we wish to discuss here are its paradoxical goals: a movement theoretically focused on politics within China but, as it turned out, with a strong interest in the rights of Chinese outside China, perhaps especially in the United States.

This may have been simply an accident of history, because the founder of the CERA, Kang Youwei, had fled to Canada to escape arrest in China, and because both Kang and his chief lieutenant, Liang Qichao, had not only spent a good deal of time in North America but also had extensive interactions with Chinese in the U.S.  That the two leaders belonged to the highly educated aristocracy of imperial China seems not to have kept them from socializing with the lower-status merchants who led American Chinese communities. For one thing, Kang and Liang could speak to a local audience in Cantonese and Taishanese, their respective birth languages, even if they might have been more at ease in Mandarin, the northern tongue used by most Chinese officials.  For another, although aristocrats themselves, Kang and Liang knew they needed those lower-status merchants, who may have been deficient in the finer points of etiquette but who were rich in spite of that.  Overseas funding was seen as absolutely necessary for any successful dissident movement within China in those days.  The reformist CERA/Baohuanghui, like the revolutionary groups founded by Sun Yat-sen, recognized this fact and devoted much effort to cultivating wealthy overseas Chinese. 

Evidence of the CERA’s interest in the well-being of Chinese in North America took several forms.  It invested extensively in various Chinatowns.  In 1902, it persuaded Senator Foster of Washington State to introduce a bill in Congress that would ban previously legal opium imports to the U. S.   In 1905, the CERA took a leading role in orchestrating the most effective action ever taken by Chinese in China to protect Chinese in America, a comprehensive boycott of American products as imported by Guangzhou, Shanghai, Tianjin, and all other Chinese coastal cities.  Even in Canada, members of the CERA were advised to not to buy American goods.     

The boycott was aided by the surprising fact that American ill-treatment of Chinese had gained real traction as an issue in other overseas Chinese communities as well as in China itself.   An example is shown on the preceding page, from a handbill printed by the Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) chapter of the CERA in June 1905.   The handbill includes verses from a poem describing the feelings of American Chinese about the fact that the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and 1892 had just been made permanent by the United States Congress.  The verses, perhaps composed by Kang Youwei himself, can be translated as follows:  
Verse 1:
/Vast is the Pacific Ocean, 
/Prosperous is America. 
/Turn the ship sideways, 
/Waves running high. 
/Look back at the motherland, 
/It's now far, far away. 
/Being barred from entering [the US] 
/We are very grieved.

Verse 2:
/See Europeans disembark, 
/Husband's hand on the shoulder of his wife. 
/See Japanese disembark, 
/Beaming with pride. 
/Alas, innocent are we Chinese, 
/Not allowed to return to the ship, 
/Imprisoned, but why? 
/Tears shed into the Pacific Ocean.

Verse 3:
/See Koreans and Siamese whose countries used to be China's vassals. 
/See Indians whose country is ruled by the British. 
/See Jews who do not even have a country. 
/They all pass easily and quickly
/Carrying their baggage, they walk with ease. 
/Oh, our large country, as vast as 10,000 miles, 
/Unable to measure up to them, why? 
/We stare at the tall buildings in San Francisco, in despair.

Verse 4:
/Watch a European with a dog wagging its tail, both allowed to land, walking away  slowly.
/Chinese should be grieving, lower than a dog. 
/Why so despicable, so disgraced? 
/Our own country is too weak, no good, 
/Tears come down like rain when viewing the situation and our fatherland . . . 

Boycotting American goods by Chinese in China and elsewhere did have a significant effect in lessening administrative obstacles to the entry of Chinese of the “exempt classes” (merchants, officials, wealthy tourists, bona fide students) to the U.S.  It may also have helped to persuade Theodore Roosevelt’s administration to liberalize the use of the so-called Boxer Indemnity, money exacted from China to compensate foreign nations for the expense of conducting a military expedition to Beijing so as to protect foreign diplomats and missionaries from the Boxer Rebels in 1900.  Roosevelt decided to convert a large part of the Indemnity into a Chinese government-funded scholarship program for Chinese students at American universities.  The decision was to have a profound effect on the future of China.  However, because the scholarships were for students chosen by the Imperial government, they did little for those Chinese already in America. 

The same was true of the boycott itself in terms of effects on working-class American Chinese.  Unlike their exempt countrymen, ordinary Chinese like laundrymen, restaurant workers, servants, and general laborers still had many difficulties with American officialdom.  Discrimination continued.  Education was hard to get, and white-collar jobs even harder.  And the civil rights accorded to other immigrants remained a distant dream.

The lot of American and Canadian Chinese did improve somewhat as the twentieth century progressed, but this was a gradual process and owed at least as much to international developments—including a steady growth in Western and Chinese suspicions of Japan—as to domestic political efforts in North America.  In both the U.S. and Canada, Chinese populations fell to a low point in the 1920s and 1930s at the same time as native-born Chinese not only made progress in getting western educations but also (in the U.S. although not in Canada) began to vote in local and national elections without much controversy.  By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, the native-born had started to overcome the obstacles that Chinese had faced historically.  They did well in universities, belying their peasant forebears’ supposed fitness for nothing except manual labor.  Without fanfare many joined the middle class that had long been the exclusive province of the white North Americans who had formerly excluded them.  

Three Chinese Temples in California: Weaverville, Oroville, Marysville

Authors: Chuimei Ho, Bennet Bronson
List Price: $24.99
8" x 10" (20.32 x 25.4 cm)
Full Color on White paper
104 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1519517135 
ISBN-10: 1519517130
LCCN: 2016901276
BISAC: History / United States / 19th Century
Published by CINARC, Seattle

Publicity Blurb

Remarkably, the three nineteenth-century Chinese temples featured in this book, all located in former gold-mining towns in Northern California, are unique on this continent in that they are in their original locations, with their original furnishings. Those furnishings—sacred images, gilded carvings, censers, ritual implements, and gold-embroidered textiles—are culturally interesting, colorful, and as high in artistic quality as those found in many Asian temples and art museums.
Visit these beautifully furnished temples on the pages of the most authoritative book yet produced about the three oldest Chinese temples in the United States. 

Written for average readers and illustrated with over 150 color images, Three Chinese Temples in California provides unprecedented access to these important religious buildings. Based on familiarity with Chinese folk religion and on original research into English and Chinese language documents and inscriptions, many of them previously neglected, the book offers new, insightful views of Chinese American temples, religious art, and worship. 
The familiarity of authors Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson with Chinese temples in Asia and their knowledge of the specialized Chinese terms used in ritual inscriptions makes this volume a unique resource for anyone interested in American ethnic history, Asian culture, or exploring extraordinary places.
Authors' Comment

Although aimed at non-specialists, we mean the book to be taken seriously. Just about everything in it comes from primary sources: newspapers, Chinese-language documents in temple records, and the Chinese inscriptions on temple furnishings.  Many of these sources have not been used in other writings on California temples.

The only Chinese temple in the U.S. that rivals these in age is San Francisco's Kong Chow Temple, and the 1906 Earthquake destroyed everyhting in that temple except a single undated statue of Guandi, which makes these three the oldest and by far the most complete in North America.

130 of the 150 images in the book belong to us.  Those may be freely used for nonprofit purposes as long as appropriate credits are given.
C. Chinese Traditional Religion and Temples in North America, 1849-1920.   

Authors: Chumei Ho & Bennet Bronon with editorial oversight by Ng Choy
March, 2022.  Paperback.  Amazon.com price  $29.99.  522 pages, 351 b&w illustratons  .
ISBN 9781723851469.  
LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number): 2016901276

Notes for Three Temples

The book itself, being intended for tourists and other general readers, omits the usual scholarly apparatus, including foot/end notes.  Most of the issues raised in the text are addressed there.  However, some need further discussion,  Among them are the following.

Other Bomb Days

For bomb festivals in China, see: W. P. Morgan, 1960, Triad Societies in Hong Kong, pp 68-9;  “Horde of the Rings,” South China Morning Post 2015-04-22.  
For bomb festivals in the U.S., see Salt Lake Herald 1891-02-24; Salt Lake Herald 1900-02-19; Idaho Semi-weekly World 1876-08-11;Trinity Journal 1891-02-28, 1892-02-20;   Los Angeles Herald 1879-02-12; Marysville Daily Appeal 1873-02-28; 1874-03-06 & 1874-03-A mention to “bomb throwing” in the Appeal (1869-02-29) could refer to a bomb festival; if so it is the earliest such mention in the western hemisphere. 

Mud Gods

"here they were almost ready to be worshipped, baking hard in that bright morn-ing sun of our Christian land.”-(1)
"mud patriarch who stands guard at the outer door and informs Josh of the good, bad or indifferent behavior of the worshippers.”-(2)  
"they [Chinese] paid homage to the different gods (made from Weaver Creek slickens [that is, clay]).”-(3)

(1) The Home Missionary (New York, vol 49, April 1877: pp 15-16) . 
(2) Trinity Journal (April 18, 1874)
(3) Trinity Journal (Feb 28, 1891)

Earlier Temples in Marysville

At least five public and semi-public temples existed before the present Bok Kai Temple (#6) was built in 1880.  

“1854 Temple”  Often mentioned, but no contemporary reference seems to exist.
1863.  Chinese temples exist in Grass Valley (Appeal 1863-02-071864) and Oroville (inscription illustrated in book; see also Appeal
“1865 Temple.” Mentoned in a Friends of Marysville pamphlet, but no reference is cited.
1866.  Temple #1.  Inscription in Bo Kai Temple illustrated in book.
1867.  No major temple in Marysville yet (Appeal 1867-02-05).  
1869.  Temple #2.  Chinese “purchase” [actually, lease] “brick former bathing house at D St. & Front St. and are engaged in
       reconstructing it into a Heathen Temple” (Appeal 1869-03-23) (See also Appeal 1869-04-21, -05-07, -05-15; SF Chronicle 1869-
       04-23).  [Three inscription boards now in Temple #6, the modern Bok Kai Temple, bear 1870 dates.  Those originally must have
       come from Temple #2.]
1871.  Temple #3. “The Old Turner [German Turnverein] Hall on 1st St. is now leased to Chinese “who have fitted it up as a Josh
      House” [temple].  (Appeal 1871-12-05)  
1871, Tan Ren Qian of the Tom clan donates an altar façade and inscription board to an unnamed temple, probably Temple #3.  Both
       items still exist in Temple #6, Bok Kai Temple. 
Late 1872. Temple #2 is evicted “The old bath house building is being fixed up by White owners as a grocery store.  Chinese
       occupants have been routed.” (Appeal 1872-11-04).  
1873-4.  Temple #4, perhaps a replacement for Temple #2, is mentioned as being on C street (Appeal 1874-03-18).  
1874.  Temple #5, at corner of B and Front Sts, leased by Chinese Masons.  In full semi-public operation by 1876. (Appeal 1874-05-
       10, 1876-02-07)  
1880. Temple #6, the present Bok Kai Temple, is dedicated (Appeal 1880-03-26, -04-02) with support from Chinese Masons and
       others.  Many temple inscriptions from this year.

Acknowledgements and Image Credits
-Why are These Temples Unique? 
-Why are They Endangered?
-Why do They Matter Now?
Map: California Cities with Chinese Temples

Early Chinese Religion in California
-The Gods of Chinese America 
-Where is Laozi?  And the Temple Priests?  
-Bomb Day Contests
-Finding Dates on Objects in Chinese Temples
-Temple Bells and Drums: So the Gods Can Hear You
Marysville: Bok Kai Temple 
-Plan: Bok Kai Temple
-The Lost Temples of Marysville
-Wall Paintings Above the Temple Door
-Where Did They Get the Money?
-A Mighty Dragon in Misty Clouds
-Who Are These Gods? Not Everyone Agrees
-Guan Di’s Green Dragon Halberd
-Weapons in Racks.  Are They Real?
-Marysville’s Iron Bell
-Telling Fortunes with Bamboo Sticks, Paper Tickets, & Crescent Blocks
-Divine Pig Offerings
-Marysville’s Famed Bomb Day: The Last of its Kind
-The Best-travelled Dragon in America
-Map: Approximate location of early temples in Marysville
Oroville: The Temple Museum Complex
-Plan: Temple of Many Gods (Lie Sheng Gong)
-Three Temples in One Chinatown
-The Emperor’s Tripod?
-Oroville’s Temple of Many Gods
-The Second Oldest Chinese American Temple Object Anywhere
-An Altar That Tells a Tragic Story
-Moon Room: The Oldest Buddhist Shrine in America?
-The Pacifying Duke of the Chans: Suijing Bo
-Did a Bride Ever Ride in This Sedan Chair?
-Large Triangular Flags
-Splendid Portable Shrines
-Gold and Silk for Oroville’s Gods
Weaverville: Won Lim Temple 
-Plan: Won Lim Temple
-The Temple’s Birth and Long, Slow Decline
-Secret Dates and the Hidden Meaning of “Won-Lim”
-Passing the “Middle Door” Spirit Screen
-Boat-shaped Hanging Plaques
-The Many Deities of a Mining Town
-Making Gods from Mud
-What are Those Things on the Altar?
-The Oldest Chinese American Temple Artifact
-Colorful and Brilliant:  Paintings on Glass
-Containers for Incense and Wine
-The Earth God’s Shrine
-Bomb Day Trophies: Gunpowder and Gorgeous Embroideries
-Quarters for a Temple Keeper, Not a Priest
Further Reading

Chinese Summary

Index of Proper Names

A. Coming Home in Gold Brocade: Chinese in Early Northwest America.  

Authors: Bennet Bronson & Chuimei Ho
March 2015. Paperback. Amazon.com price: US$12.75.  285 pages, 222 b&w illustrations
ISBN-13: 978-1505228021,
B. Three Chinese Temples in California: Weaverville, Oroville, Marysville.  

Authors: Chuimei Ho & Bennet Bronson
February 2016.  Paperback.  Amazon.com price  $24.99..  99 pages, 144 color illustrations   .
ISBN-13  978-1518517135/ ISBN-10 1519517130.  
LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number): 2016901276