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The Chinese Experience in America

Shih-shan Henry Tsai

        New Haven, Conn.: HRAF, 1994. CD-ROM(s)

         Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. xv, 223 p.: ill., maps


A guest from the Gold Mountain, if he has
not one thousand dollars, at least he has
eight hundred.  -- Gazetteer of Kaiping District

To stay in a distant foreign country is a
tragedy long grieved since our forefathers.
--General Li Ling of the Han Dynasty

1. Chinese Culture Transplanted to America

The Chinese who came to America in the late nineteenth century were mainly poor peasants and workers who had to struggle to survive in the destitute circumstances of their times. The well-to-do Chinese gentry class--scholars, officials, and landowners--were the elite of Chinee society and had no need to leave their ancestral homes to pan for gold or to work in rail gangs in a distant land. But whether they were poor or rich, the Chinese rarely abandoned their homeland to search for another. When they went abroad, a wife and children frequently were left behind. Almost all emigrants hoped to return after having accumulated a fortune by trade or by labor in a foreign country. In America a Chinese laborer who could save up a few hundred dollars would consider it a small fortune and would usually retire to his native village in Guangdong. He could expect to spend his declining years surrounded by his filial sons and grandchildren, and when he died be laid to rest among the honored dead of a long ancestral line. Such a "situation-centered" Chinese culture, as cultural anthropologist Francis L.K. Hsu has called it, is quite different from the "individual-centered" American culture. 1 This cultural gulf was the source of much of the subsequent friction between Chinese immigrants and white Americans.

In spite of their strong ties to the homeland, Chinese immigrants did not establish a miniature replica of traditional Chinese society in America. They lived in an abnormal society full of young males, wandering sojourners, whose dream was to put in a few years of hard labor and to return home wealthy and respected "Gold Mountain Guests." This "sojourner's mentality" had deep roots in Chinese cultural tradition. Nineteenth-century China was an unsophisticated agrarian society. The great majority of the Chinese people still embraced both Confucianism and Taoism, religious systems which, to a great extent, reflected the inspirations and aspirations of peasants. A typical peasant, who lived in a small rural village, rarely traveled, and had insufficient knowledge of geography to go far unless he was directed or accompanied by someone else. He idolized Lao Tze's famed Utopia in which "the next place might be so near at hand that one could hear the cocks crowing in it, the dogs barking; but the people would grow old and die without ever having been there." 2 He observed Confucian filial duties as binding restrictions: "While father and mother are alive, a good son does not wander far afield." 3 Emigration was generally looked upon as banishment, a severe punishment next only to death. Out of these beliefs grew the concept of sojourning, an idea that stressed the temporary nature of one's absence from home.

The Chinese sojourner's society in America was markedly different from the home country in two ways. First, the population was almost totally transient and, second, there was a great scarcity of females. Mainly because of the seasonal or temporary nature of available work, there was scarcely a Chinese laborer in America who had not lived in several places along the coast. The fluidity of Chinese society was best demonstrated by the phenomenal increase in the Chinese population in the 187os and by the fact that every year hundreds of Chinese returned to their native land because of seasonal unemployment. As a result, relatively few Chinese owned property, real or personal, in America, a situation that often led to the complaint of American local governments that the Chinese did not pay a fair share of taxes. 4

This social instability also made possible the rise of Chinese quarters or Chinatowns in American cities. In the late 1870s, between onefifth and one-fourth of all Chinese in the United States were in San Francisco; most of them resided in seven or eight blocks of that city. The situation was more or less the same in Sacramento and in other urban communities. In these small and often crowded quarters, the Chinese built temples and public halls, established stores and businesses, and opened restaurants and wash houses. They retained their native customs and formed a nation within a nation; a tendency characteristic of all immigrant groups in America. The men continued to wear their hair in queues--a peculiar hairstyle imposed on them since the seventeenth century by their Manchu conquerers--while most of their women practiced the tradition of foot-binding. They also retained their national habits in food, reading, and mode of life, a capsule of which was the popular reader titled Mirror of Mind.

This book was made up of selections from a great number of Confucian writers. It also contained anonymous sayings and proverbs that had been handed down by tradition. A work of twenty chapters, its subjects included: "The Practice of Virtue," "Heaven by Rules," "Filial Duties," "On Restraining the Passions," "Diligence in Study," "Peace and Righteousness," and "On Sincerity." The book was much studied by all classes of Chinese; a quotation from it was generally recognized and applauded in whatever company the quotation might be repeated. 5

Confucian emphasis on reciprocity and righteousness undoubtedly had exerted great influence on the Chinese immigrants, some of whom frequently formed close and respectful personal relationships with Americans. During the Civil War, Leland Stanford employed a 15-year-old Chinese, Moy Jin Mun, as a garden boy. During his three years' service, Moy won the affection of Mrs. Stanford, who wanted to adopt him. But Moy's older brother, who had also cooked for the Stanfords, objected on the grounds that it would violate Chinese custom. The brother sent young Moy away, but before Moy departed the Stanfords gave him a gold ring as a token of remembrance. Moy Jin Mun carefully kept the ring until his death in 1936. 6

A similar story is that of Dean Lung, who was a long-time servant of General Horace Walpole Carpentier, a Columbia University graduate and a successful California entrepreneur. Carpentier retired in New York, taking with him his Chinese house servant Dean Lung. One evening, in a drunken frenzy, Carpentier beat his servant into unconsciousness. The next morning, when he regained his senses he was surprised to find Dean Lung attending to his usual household chores. Carpentier asked how he could prove his gratitude for Dean Lung's impeccable loyalty? Dean Lung replied that he wished the general would do something to help the American people understand Chinese culture and history. Carpentier subsequently donated $10,000 to his alma mater in the name of Dean Lung. Dean Lung also contributed his lifetime savings of $14,000, and in 1901 Columbia University established a Chinese Department and a Dean Lung Professor-ship of Chinese Studies. 7 Typical products of Chinese culture, Moy Jin Mun and Dean Lung won the respect of their American employers and displayed their strong sense of righteousness and their fidelity, which were among several virtues the Chinese brought to America.

Chinese festivals and seasonal celebrations became important social events for the Chinese living in America. The Chinese Lunar New Year, which usually falls in late January or early February, was the occasion of a gala atmosphere in every Chinese-American community. A thorough cleaning of the household ushered in each new year. Workers, craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and professionals collected debts, paid their bills, and settled all accounts in order to begin the year with a clean slate. On New Year's Eve, a rich dinner which symbolized the hope for abundance for the forthcoming year was attended, in cases where that was possible, by every member of the family, and presents of money in red envelopes were exchanged. But the height of the celebration took place on New Year's Day when people put on their best clothes and offered greetings to relatives, friends, and acquaintances. A dragon or lion parade was staged in the midst of thundering firecrackers, designed to chase away evil spirits and bring good luck in the new year. For several days, Chinatown would bloom with colorful lanterns and bright banners; its inhabitants were aglow with smiles and optimism.

The Chinese also celebrated lesser festivals while sojourning in America, although some observances have been slightly modified. One favorite was Spring Festival, known also as Qingming or Pure and Bright. This festival took place in early April; in it the Chinese paid respect to the dead by visiting and sweeping the tombs. They also offered meat, vegetables, cakes, fruit, and the like to the spirits of the dead. Flowers and make-believe paper money were laid on the graves and, if the dead were cremated and ashes preserved in a temple, incense was burned in front of the urns containing the remains. Another popular festival was the May Fete, known also as the Dragon Boat Festival. It occurred on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The May Fete commemorated the patriotic deeds of an ancient poet named Ch'Ł YŁan (343-290 b.c.) who, after losing favor with his prince, drowned himself in a river. Ever since, Chinese people have wrapped cooked rice in leaves, rowed their boats out, and thrown this food into the river so that hungry fish and spirits would not bother their dead hero. Finally, there was the Mid-Autumn Festival, which took place on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. It was a time for making and eating moon-cakes and for family reunions. Women took this occasion to offer peanuts, melon seeds, water chestnuts, sugarcane and other gifts to the Moon Goddess while men prayed for prosperity and bright futures for their careers.

Between the more elaborate festivals, Chinese immigrants took time from their work to enjoy opera and other forms of Oriental music and to play chess. Chinese opera, a dramatic art form that possesses the elements of action, dialogue, and singing, was the most popular pastime among the Chinese working class. Most of the opera plots were based on familiar stories, hence the audience could actually learn a few lines from the actors and actresses; female roles were usually played by beardless males. As San Francisco's Chinatown grew, several theaters were built; one was called the Ascending Luminous Dragon, another claimed to be the Newest Phoenix. Later, when opera became increasingly in demand, traveling troupes were brought from China and regularly visited small Chinatowns across the country. Chinese chess, which has 16 pieces on each side and is quite similar to Western chess in rules and strategy, was widely played. Any game was likely to draw a crowd of spectators. For those who did not like chess, mah-jong was often an alternative amusement. Still a few others, who brought Chinese musical instruments across the Pacific, could play moon guitar, gong, harp, flute, and drum.

Life in Chinatown was bustling, noisy, and colorful. A typical street included signs advertising fortune tellers, barber shops, butcher shops, doctors' clinics, and a variety of stores. For a few cents, a fortune-teller would predict a customer's destiny, dissect the characters forming the customer's name, or read his palms. For a few more cents, the fortune-teller could even decipher the "eight diagrams" for his customer and could conjure up his dead relatives to talk with him. Not far from the fortune-teller was a barber shop, whose trade emblem was a washstand and basin placed just outside the doors. On the same block, Chinese doctors and druggists abounded. Some specialized in feeling the pulse and dispersing herbal prescriptions; others claimed to be experts in curing wounds and fixing broken bones. Inside a typical Chinatown store were scrolls hanging on the walls and Chinese characters written upon red papers which were pasted on doors or over money chests. On the scrolls were quotations from the classics and famous poets, while on the red papers were popular rhymed verse, such as "Wealth Arising Like Bubbling Spring," and "Customers Coming Like Clouds." Chinese merchants and customers frequently began their bargaining with polite conversations about the quality of the scrolls and the philosophical meaning of the verses.

2. The Dark Side of the Old Chinatowns

Most Chinatowns also included narrow streets or alleys given over to shabby apartments, dens for opium smoking, gambling joints, and brothels. From these unsanitary areas came the Chinese criminals; their existence had an important negative impact on the image of the broader Chinese community. According to San Francisco police records, which are probably typical, during the period from 1879 to 1910, Chinese arrested on criminal charges constituted 8.8 percent of all arrests. Of the Chinese arrested, only 11 out of 100 were convicted, the majority for violations of municipal health and fire ordinances. The San Francisco Board of Health was controlled by anti-Chinese physicians who credited "Chinatown with introducing and disseminating every epidemic outbreak to hit San Francisco." To them, Chinatown was more than a slum, it was "a laboratory of infection, peopled by lying and treacherous aliens who had minimal regard for the health of the American people." 8 But Dr. Joan B. Trauner has argued that the pronouncements by the Board of Health were often characterized by political and social expedience, rather than by social insight. The Chinese were made medical scapegoats in San Francisco. 9

Chinese wage earners, while holding or looking for jobs, usually sought temporary accommodation in the most inexpensive place possible. It was not uncommon for 15 or 20 bachelors to share a small room. In San Francisco's Globe Hotel in the 1860s, some 300 to 400 transient Chinese laborers were housed in extremely congested conditions, highlighting for the authorities their housing problems. In 1870, the California legislature passed a "Cubic Air" law which required a lodging house to provide at least 500 cubic feet of clear atmosphere for each adult person in an apartment. When the Chinese landlords and lodgers resisted complying with the law they were put into prison en masse. Later, the Cubic Air Board adopted the notorious "Queue Ordinance" whereby every male prisoner was required to have his hair cut by a clipper to a uniform length of one inch from the scalp. In carrying out the ordinance, a San Francisco policeman named Matthew Noonan cut the queue of Ho Ah-kow, a Chinese prisoner, to the very inch prescribed in the ordinance. The Circuit Court in California in 1879 ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional and that Ho be awarded a $10,000 compensation by Noonan and the San Francisco city government. 10

In addition to housing-ordinance violations, Chinatowns were notorious gambling havens. The most common forms of Chinese gambling were fan-tan and lottery. Fan-tan players guessed the exact coins or cards left under a cup after the pile of cards had been counted off four at a time. Fan-tan later became very popular among the Japanese and Filipinos; some lost all their hard-earned money before they could return to their native lands. The same consequences befell many a Chinese worker; many were so impoverished they could not pay for their ashes to be sent to their native villages in China for permanent burial. The lottery game was also known as the white dover card sweepstakes. Any person who wished to enter the game bought a randomly assigned sweepstakes number. In the lottery saloons, about ten of which existed in 1868, drawings were held twice a day; and the odds of winning were probably about the same as in modernday "keno" in a Las Vegas casino. Many white Americans were attracted to the lotteries; but the unquestioned winners were the saloon owners. There are indications that the gambling-house operators received protection from corrupt police officers. In his testimony before the California Senate Committee in 1876, a Chinese witness estimated that there were about 200 Chinese gambling houses in San Francisco and probably a dozen in Sacramento. He indicated that fantan gambling operators were required to pay police officers $5 in "hush money" each week and lottery owners $8 a month for the privilege of keeping their businesses open. 11

Another factor that contributed to a negative Chinatown image was opium smoking. Originally introduced to China by English merchants from India in the late eighteenth century, this vice not only drained gold and silver out of China but enfeebled the Chinese population and demoralized their society. When pressed by the English to legalize the opium trade, the Chinese Emperor Daoguang (1821-1850) was reported to have vehemently exclaimed: "I know that wicked and designing men, for purpose of lust and profit, will clandestinely introduce the poisonous drug, but nothing under heaven shall ever induce me to legalize the certain ruin of my people." 12 Chinese refusal to legalize the opium trade ultimately led to the infamous Opium War, in which China suffered her first defeat at the hands of a European nation. But the war did not solve the opium issue and for several years opium was not contraband in the newly annexed British colony of Hong Kong, from where the Chinese carried opium into the United States.

The biggest supplier of opium was Hong Kong's Fook Hung Company, which annually paid an opium monopoly tax of between 200,000 and 300,000 dollars to the British authorities. Since the United States did not have specific laws against opium, the drug was sold openly in the streets. Opium dealers did not advertise their business, but smoking dens could easily be located by their red cards, which announced: "Pipes and Lamps Always Convenient!" An 1876 estimate noted more than 200 opium dens operating in San Francisco's Chinatown; the addicts, mostly Chinese, exceeded 3,000. 13 Although opium was not declared illegal until 1909, it was listed as "special merchandise" on which the United States Customs imposed a heavy import duty. In 1887 a Chinese minister reported that, of the tariff revenues levied on Chinese imports by the United States Customs, 840,000 Chinese silver dollars were for rice, 150,000 for silk and cloth, and more than 750,000 for opium. 14 The high duty rate on opium encouraged smuggling. In 1886, the San Francisco Customs authorities broke a smuggling ring and confiscated $750,000 worth of opium. When the United States Congress finally banned opium, the price per pound jumped from $12 to $70. The high price caused most of the opium dens to close their doors; nevertheless, illicit activities continued because desperate dealers knew how to operate around the law and squeeze profits from die-hard addicts.

Another Chinatown social evil, prostitution, was exacerbated by the shortage of Chinese women in America as Table 3 shows.




Number of Chinese males per 100 females











This skewed sex ratio of the Chinese population existed even in Hawaii; there, in 1890, of the 16,752 Chinese, only 1,409 were females and, in 1900, among the 25,767 Chinese, only 3,471 were females. 15 "There were more monks than rice porridge," as the Chinese described the situation; prostitution was inevitable.

Prostitution, the world's oldest profession, was, of course, not a unique Chinese vice All seriously deprived classes in American society have been plagued by this evil. But anti-Chinese agitators in the late nineteenth century nonetheless held the Chinese particularly culpable. They charged that Chinese prostitutes, who demanded less money for their services, spread the practice among young white males, exerting a bad influence on the entire community. Whether such charges were true or not, government investigations made clear that the Chinese were not solely responsible. Prostitutes received protection from corrupt policemen and other officials and could not have operated without such cooperation. 16

Chinese prostitutes were mostly imported from Hong Kong and held under contract by underworld figures. The Reverend Otis Gibson, who provided shelter for runaway Chinese prostitutes, testified in 1876 before a special Congressional committee that he had seen some of the contracts and found them to be replete with false promises and outright fraud. Once in America, the girls were quartered in the small alleys of Chinatowns, notably on Jackson Street of San Francisco and I Street of Sacramento. They lived in small filthy rooms of 10 by 10 or 12 by 12 feet. 17 If the girls failed to attract customers, or refused to receive company because of illness or other reasons, they were beaten with sticks. When such punishment did not work, the house mistress tortured them in a variety of sadistic and cruel ways. A great many, terrified by such savage treatment, ran away before the expiration of their contracts. Some slipped back to China, others went to the country for temporary hiding; the most fortunate found shelter in the Gibson station-house. However, countless numbers of unfortunate girls were passed from owner to owner, never escaping their vicious captivity.

It was impossible to ascertain the exact number of the Chinese prostitutes in America. Conservative estimates put the figure between 1,500 and 2,000 in 1870, but a Chinese official who visited California in 1876 reported that there were approximately 6,000 Chinese women in the United States and that 80 to 90 percent were "daughters of joy." 18 Although some municipal laws were passed and sporadic enforcement measures were taken, the problems remained, mainly from police corruption and the ease with which brothels were moved from place to place. Since there was no local supply of Chinese women, some reformers hoped to end the evil by cutting off the supply from Hong Kong and other Chinese ports. Consequently, in 1875 the United States Congress passed the Page Law to stop women "of disreputable character" from coming to America. Nevertheless, pimps continued to find ways to elude the authorities, and prostitution, like opium, remained a problem in Chinatowns.

In order to protect the interests of brothel owners, an association of Chinese villains, known in San Francisco as "the highbinders," was formed. The highbinders, who lived off the prostitutes by levying upon each girl a weekly fee, left behind them a trail of mayhem, blackmail, and murder. It was this lawless element in Chinese society which led many Americans, such as Frank M. Pixley, spokesman for the municipality of San Francisco, to conclude: "I believe that the Chinese have no souls to save, and if they have, they are not worth saving." Pixley's ethnocentric view of the Chinese was typical of nineteenthcentury America; it was echoed in a special Congressional committee report: "Upon the point of morals, there is no Aryan or European race which is not far superior to the Chinese as a class." 19 Of course, such racist expressions were not unlike those of the chauvinistic mandarins who, as late as the 1870s, continued to call the Europeans and Americans "Western barbarians."

The problem was that opportunistic American politicians could easily portray the Chinese opium smokers, hookers, gamblers, and highbinders in San Francisco as typical representatives of the Chinese race, just as the narrow-minded mandarins' perception of Westerners was limited to a handful of European drunken sailors, greedy American merchants, and unscrupulous vagabonds lurking in China's treaty ports. In actual fact, the Chinese community in America consistently denounced prostitution, gambling, and other vices which they knew gave Chinatown an unsavory reputation. When Mayor Andrew J. Bryant of San Francisco childed the Chinese leaders about prostitution problems, the president of one of the Six Companies replied: "Yes, yes, Chinese prostitution is bad. What do you think of German prostitutes, French prostitutes, Spanish prostitutes, and American prostitutes? Do you think them very good?" 20 Realizing the harm prostitution had done to their community, several Chinese civic groups, such as the Chinese Society of English Education, the Chinese Students' Alliance, Chinese Native Sons, and Chinese Cadet Corps, took steps in the late 1890s to drive the practice out of Chinatowns. Leaders of these organizations monitored the wharfs to prevent suspicious Chinese women from landing, while young students went directly to the brothels, destroying buildings and furnishings, to drive out the offenders. Such actions were dubiously legal and probably inefficient, but fair-minded Americans could not deny that most Chinese immigrants were as opposed to corruption and vice in their communities as was anyone else. Furthermore, Chinese lawless activities, which were part of the unsettled frontier society, were more of an American than a Chinese phenomenon.

3. Chinese Religious Life

As soon as the Chinese arrived in America, church workers sought to convert them to Christianity, but the majority of nineteenth century Chinese retained their religious traditions, which were syncretic, tolerant, and nondogmatic. Chinese religious concepts pictured the universe as a trinity of heaven, earth, and man; heaven directs, earth produces, and man cooperates. When man cooperates, he prospers; on the other hand, if man does not cooperate, he destroys the harmonious arrangements of the universe and suffers the consequences in the form of natural disasters, such as floods, droughts, and famines. Heaven replaces the Judeo-Christian concept of God. In Confucianism, one of the most important duties of the Chinese emperor was to maintain the proper relationship beween himself and heaven. By moral conduct, he set an example and maintained harmony between the processes of heaven and of mankind. Hence, the emperor was called the Son of Heaven; his life had cosmic, universal significance, not merely national, and he ruled with the Mandate of Heaven. Within this general context, a Confucian could be an agnostic or even an atheist, or he might worship a variety of local deities.

Confucianism allowed the widest individual discretion in matters of personal belief, and paid little attention to matters of God and afterlife. This tolerance was difficult for Christians to understand because they generally demanded an unflinching faith in a fixed creed. 21

The Chinese also practiced Taoism, a religious idea centering around a search for a long and serene life, to be attained through simplicity, tranquility, and harmony with nature. Some Taoists pursued not only health but immortality, or at least longevity, by means of physical exercise, breathing control, diet, alchemy, the use of medicine, and good deeds. Having no sense of orderly divine revelation, Chinese Taoists resorted to extreme means to ascertain the future. Various kinds of divination developed, such as the use of phrenologists, geomancy readers, physiognomists, mediums, and fortunetellers. Taoists also promoted the multiplication of gods and goddesses, and believed that famous people enter their pantheon after death. Accordingly, most Taoists did not have an overpowering attachment to any one deity. 22

Many Chinese were also influenced by yet another religion, Buddhism. The fundamental truths on which Buddhism was founded are not metaphysical or theological, but rather psychological. Buddha taught that suffering results from desire; therefore, the goal of his religion is the extinction of desire, the end of pain, and entry into nirvana. After its Sinicization, Buddhism played down its foreign elements and made itself as Chinese as possible. The abstract concept of nirvana was replaced by a concrete idea of happiness, hence the Western Heaven of Amida Buddha was given prominence. 23 Chinese Buddhism increasingly accommodated itself to the already present Confucian and Taoist beliefs by the Later Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) and the three great religions survived and generally mingled peacefully into modern times. It was entirely possible for a Chinese to consider himself a loyal adherent to all three systems. The Chinese call this the harmony of the Three Teachings; they developed a classical, syncretic religious tradition. Many Chinese therefore had a Confucian cap, wore a Taoist robe, and put on a Buddhist sandal.

With such a seemingly rational religious tradition in China, it is understandable that American missionaries had difficulty in converting the Chinese to the more exclusive and dogmatic Christianity. But they quickly seized the opportunities afforded by racial discrimination and social injustice as issues to make their Christian God omnipresent to the Chinese immigrants, and to act as liaison between Chinatowns and white society. Among the more prominent early Christian workers were the Speers, the Loomises, and the Gibsons. In 1852 Dr. and Mrs. William Speer, who had been Presbyterian missionaries in Canton from 1846 to 1850, established a medical clinic in their San Francisco mission to try to gain influence in the Chinese community. They also established a newspaper called The Oriental, a bilingual periodical with printed matter suited to American readers on one side of the paper and the other side printed in Chinese for Chinese readers. They worked hard to allay prejudice and to help the Chinese and the Americans better understand each other. Because of Speer's poor health, the paper operated for only two years; the clinic was closed after four years. 24

In 1859, the Speers' mission was reestablished under leadership of the Reverend A. W. Loomis and his wife, also former missionaries to China. They set up a free school to teach the Chinese the English language and the gospel. Their activities set a precedent that was followed by most of the Chinese Christian churches. In 1868 the Reverend Otis Gibson organized a Methodist Episcopal Church in the San Francisco Chinatown with a social-welfare program to aid the poor; similar mission programs were also established by the Reverend W. C. Pond for the Congregational Church and by the Reverend John Francis of the Baptist Church. Social programs, however, did not result in mass conversions of Chinese to Christianity, but did slowly expand church influence in the Chinese community. By 1892 Chinese were listed as members of 11 denominations in North America and had established 10 independent congregations and 271 Sunday Schools in 31 states of the Union. The expansion of Chinese Christian faith was accompanied by the appearance of numerous denominational associations. By the turn of the century, the Association of the Presbyterian Mission, for instance, claimed to have a membership of more than 1,000 in 12 states. 25 Impressive as these gains seemed, many Chinese Christians continued to hold syncretic religious views; Christians frequently practiced ancestor worship, followed traditional Chinese wedding and funeral rituals, and paid occasional respect to Taoist gods in Chinese temples. Before World War II, except among the native-born, orthodox Chinese Christians in America were still scarce.

In addition to loyalty to their own religious traditions, Chinese resisted Christianity because of sojourner mentality, American racism, and community pressure. For a sojourner, his mind, heart, and soul remained in China, and he satisfied his social and psychological needs through clan/family organizations and community activities. This mentality was reinforced by flagrant anti-Chinese racism. If the Chinese were encouraged to go to the white man's heaven, why could they not freely immigrate to the white man's country? In his reasoning, the Chinese immigrant could discern a patent hypocrisy among white Christians whose Bible taught justice and love but whose deeds against the Chinese were a shameful and undeniable record of injustice and violence. Finally, community pressure was also an important reason for the church's failure to convert large numbers of Chinese immigrants. Leaders of the Six Companies, for example, viewed Christianity as a threat to Chinese culture and Chinese social institutions. On a few occasions they made desperate moves, using harassment and social ostracism to discourage the increase of Chinese Christians. 26

4. The Six Companies

The Six Companies' attempt to dissuade early Chinese immigrants from becoming Christians was only one of the hundreds of incidents that placed this powerful organization at the center of controversy. Chinese immigrants were not only socially and economically divided, they also represented a variety of regions, cultures, and languages. The rich and more respectable merchants were generally the San-yi (from the three districts of Nanhai, Panyu, and Shunde), the petty merchants, craftsmen, and agriculturalists were mainly among the Si-yi (from the four districts of Enping, Kaiping, Taishan or Xinning, and Xinhui) while the laboring class came from a variety of regions. For example, the San-yi people at times controlled wholesale merchandising, the garment industry, and overall manufacturing. The Hakkas (Guest Settlers) dominated the barber business; the tenant farmers engaging in fruit growing in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were mostly Zhongshan immigrants. 27

Each region spoke its own local variation of Cantonese, so there was a basic correspondence between Chinese class structure and dialect groups. The people from Guangzhou (Canton) and the San-yi spoke Cantonese, and that dialect came to be considered standard. Most people from Zhongshan district, about 30 miles south of Guangzhou, spoke a dialect closely resembling the standard Cantonese, but the surrounding countryside spoke a dialect akin to Amoy. Except in the Sacramento Delta and Hawaii, the Zhongshan immigrants have always been a minority in America's Chinese communities. On the other hand, the Si-yi people, who made up the bulk of Chinese immigrants, spoke a dialect almost totally incomprehensible to the city dwellers. Finally, among these heterogeneous groups were the Hakkas. Originally migrating from North China, the Hakkas were quite scattered with strong concentrations in Jiaying and Chaozhou and other districts of Guangdong province and Fujian province. They spoke a dialect more akin to Mandarin than the other groups. Though the Hakkas never comprised more than 10 percent of the Chinese population in the continental United States, they made up about 25 percent of the Chinese in Hawaii. 28 Among these dialect groups there was a long history of rivalry, and sometimes conflict. The Cantonese called themselves Puntis, which meant "the natives," and considered the Hakkas invaders. The Hakkas and the Puntis had long felt hostile to each other in China, and a dreadful internecine strife between them had taken place in the southwestern districts of Guangdong from 1864 to 1868. Both parties procured arms and even armed steamers from Hong Kong, and inflicted heavy casualties on each other.

The instability of the bachelor society and the dialect/regional divisions in America were cornerstones of the social organizations that emerged. In China, social organizations were normally formed on the basis of a common regional origin. One of the most important types of organization was the huiguan. A huiguan was a traditional and lawful association of fellow-provincials away from home, either visiting or on business. In the nineteenth century, when mercantile pursuit was not encouraged by Confucian ethics, the status of merchants was much lower than that of scholars, officials, and landowners. Since there were no specific laws to protect their interests, merchants needed patronage from officials, who could benefit from certain financial arrangements the merchants might consider it wise to make. As a result, in major Chinese cities all kinds of huiguan were organized by merchants. In Shanghai, for example, one could find the Canton Huiguan, the Ningpo Huiguan, the Fijian Huiguan, and the like.

A second basis of social organization in China, and a much tighter one, rested on a coincidence between blood and region. In an agrarian society, the people of any one clan, those claiming a common ancestor, usually inhabited a village or cluster of adjacent villages. Agnatic descendants maintained these lineage alignments by keeping a common estate and by forming a clan association for the control, protection, and general welfare of their kinsmen. Another basis of organization, again agnatically defined, was the blood-ties association. Chinese who have the same surname, though they might come from different parts of China, could organize a huiguan on the grounds that they had a common ancestor in the distant past. In the modern city of Taibei, Chinese mainlanders have formed many such associations since 1949. The same situation existed when the Chinese emigrated to America.

When a Chinese laborer arrived in the United States, the first thing he did was to seek people who spoke his dialect, and a bond of solidarity soon arose. This tendency was naturally strengthened by his inability to communicate with Americans and those speaking other Chinese dialects. The linguistic bond accounted to a great degree for the rise of so many huiguans in Chinese communities. It is believed that in 1851 an influential Si-yi leader named Yu Laoji founded the first huiguan, the Kong Chow Company (or Gangzhou Huiguan), in San Francisco with membership open to all Chinese except San-yi and Hakkas. Within a year, the more affluent San-yi immigrants organized their Sam Yup Company (or Sanyi Huiguan) with branches in San Francisco and Stockton. 29

In 1853, the Si-yi immigrants felt that the Kong Chow Company could no longer accommodate their needs, so more than 10,000 of them organized a new huiguan called the Sze Yup Company (or Siyi Huiguan). Shortly thereafter, the Zhongshan immigrants founded their own Yeong Wo Company (Yanghe Huiguan) and the Hakkas their Yan Wo Company (or Renhe Huiguan). 30 With the founding of these last two organizations a huiguan existed for all Chinese in America. Near the end of 1853 the presidents of these various organizations (Kong Chow Company excluded) met to form a federal association called the Four Houses. Then, in 1854, over 3,000 Taishan natives left the Sze Yup Company in order to form a more exclusive huiguan, the Ning Yeung Company (or Ningyang Huiguan). The Ning Yeung Company proved so successful that the rest of the Taishan people soon joined it, leaving the Sze Yup Company defunct; ultimately the Sze Yup Company lost its representation on the council of the Four Houses to the Kong Chow Company. 31 The spin-off process continued when, early in 1862, the remaining Kaiping and Enping Chinese left the Sze Yup Company to form yet another huiguan called the Hop Wo Company (or Hehe Huiguan). Soon after that, both the Ning Yeung Company and the Hop Wo Company joined the four Houses, which changed its Chinese name to the Zhonghua Huiguan and its English name to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association; it was widely known to Americans as the Chinese Six Companies. A similar evolution took place in the Hawaiian Islands among the Chinese plantation workers, who also established a Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. When the Chinese in America ventured farther to the East Coast, they carried their huiguan identifications with them and quickly founded clan/district associations in Boston, New York, and other cities.

In addition to the Six Companies, the Chinese established the Zhonghua Gongsuo, Congress of the Six Companies, consisting of elected officials of the huiguan organizations. Housed in a building at 709 Commercial Street in San Francisco, this congress had a permanent he adquarters and full-time officials, as with each of the six companies. All matters affecting the general interests of the Chinese in America were referred to this body. It settled disputes between individuals and the companies, decided strategies for contesting or seeking relief from unconstitutional or burdensome laws, devised ways to curb the importation of prostitutes, and arranged for public dinners and other celebrations. 32

Anti-Chinese partisans claimed that the Six Companies extended oriental despotism to the United States, placing Chinese laborers under tyrannical control. They accused the Six Companies of importing "coolies" and prostitutes under contract; of operating gambling and opium dens; of establishing secret tribunals and codes of laws; and of illegally extorting money from Chinese immigrants. A. W. Loomis, who worked in the Chinese community for years, branded such charges "popular fallacies" and "groundless assertions." 33 In fact, the huiguan was designed to protect newly arrived kinsmen and fellow-provincials from those who otherwise might take advantage of them. The company building, therefore, served the same functions as the caravansary of Eastern countries in the Middle Ages.

As soon as an immigrant ship arrived from China, the company sent an interpreter to the wharf to welcome the arrivals. In the company headquarters, the new immigrants were furnished water, fuel for cooking, and a room in which to spread their mats. Chinese laborers from inland towns and mining camps, embarking for return to China, often stayed in the company houses instead of in the more expensive boarding houses. The sick and indigent were also welcomed; the idle and irresponsible, however, were quickly weeded out. The company houses forbade the concealment of stolen goods. No strangers could be brought to lodge; no gunpowder or other combustible material stored. Gambling, accumulation of baggage, drunkenness, storage of victuals, and disposal of garbage were not allowed. Serious offenders were turned over to the police of the city; lesser offenses could result in expulsion from the company. For all except transients and invalids, the membership fee was $10, in the 1850s. Finally, members intending to return to China were required to make that fact known, so their accounts could be examined and measures taken to prevent their departure if debts remained unpaid. 34

In most of the company buildings there were special sections devoted to religious purposes. These areas were furnished by voluntary contributions and were not usually provided for in the constitutions of the companies. However, as a means of gaining prestige among their fellow-provincials, wealthy merchants, whether or not they were believers in idols, gave money to religious causes. Some individuals obtained the privilege of taking care of the idols and earned money from the sale of incense sticks, candles, and charms, and from donations and fees from worshippers. In some company buildings an apartment was devoted to worship of the spirits of deceased members. In it was an altar before which a light was constantly kept burning. Friends

and relatives of the deceased made offerings on the altar, behind which was the list of names of the company members who had died. Because of religious beliefs and strong ties to China, bones of the deceased were usually exhumed as soon as possible and sent home for permanent burial. But gathering bones of the dead and sending them back to China was not a part of the work undertaken by the company. Clan or blood-ties groups represented in America in some instances undertook separately the performance of this obligation; but very many remains were sent home by personal friends in America, the expenses being paid by relatives in Guangdong. 35

The Six Companies kept a register of names and addresses of all the Chinese in the United States; in 1876, for instance, it listed a total of 150,130. Li Gui, a Chinese official on his return trip from the Philadelphia Exposition, interviewed leaders of the Six Companies, and noted in his travel journal: "The Chinese of both sexes in America amount to a total of about 160,000, of which roughly 40,000 reside in San Francisco, 100,000 in other cities, and the rest spread out in the hinterlands . . . Only about 2,000 non-Cantonese do not belong to the Six Companies." 36 Two years after Li Gui's visit, the first Chinese minister to arrive in San Francisco recorded these population statistics in his diary: "Sam Yup Company has 12,000 members, Yeong Wo 13,000, Kong Chow 16,000, Yan Hop a few thousands, Hop Wo Company has 40,000, and Ning Yeung 70,000." 37

The leaders of the Six Companies were mostly successful businessmen who were wealthier and better educated than most of their fellow immigrants; many occupied positions of honor and power. However, realizing that in the old country they would not have a high social status, these merchant huiguan leaders promoted Confucian ideology, stressing the importance of clan/regional ties and choosing the company president from among those members who had obtained the best Chinese education. By the 1890s the huiguan made efforts to bring from China scholars who had successfully passed the Chinese civil-service examinations, to serve as company officials. In 1906, for example, there were four Juren (holder of the second examination degree) among the company presidents and they were paid handsomely for coming to America. Of the 14 presidents of the Sam Yup Company from 1881 to 1927, three had Jinshi degrees (holder of the first examination degree), nine had Juren degrees, and one had a Gongsheng degree (holder of the third examination degree). 38

The Six Companies were often viewed as secretive, extralegal organizations because they arbitrated cases of misunderstanding or quarrels among the Chinese. The fact that thousands of Chinese acquiesced in the huiguan arbitration decisions led many white Americans to believe that the Chinese in America feared jurisdiction of the companies more than they did American laws or courts. Such Americans did not understand the strong Chinese tradition of respect for elders, superiors, and all those who occupied positions of authority and honor. Moreover, since Chinese laborers were frequently represented in economic matters by the Six Companies, those officials became the natural representatives to resist, in any possible way, legal impositions and social indignities imposed upon the Chinese immigrants. Accordingly, the huiguan officials often attended to cases in the civil courts, hiring American lawyers and assuming responsibilities for legal costs. Thus many poor and illiterate Chinese laborers who could not afford to retain an attorney were defended in the courts. One of the leading scholars on the Chinese Americans, Stanford M. Lyman, correctly characterized the Six Companies as "an official government inside Chinatown and . . . the most important voice of the Chinese immigrants speaking to American officials." 39

Before the establishment of the Chinese legation at Washington, D.C., in 1878, the Six Companies functioned as representatives for the whole Chinese population in America. After the Qing emperor sent diplomatic agents to this country, the Six Companies and the Chinese legation worked together and continued to control the internal affairs of the Chinatowns. Whenever a high-ranking official visited or passed through California, the Six Companies leaders seized the opportunity to entertain and consult with him. As a matter of fact, the Qing imperial decrees and proclamations were, in most cases, conveyed to the Chinese through the Six Companies. Nevertheless, the leadership of the Six Companies began to shift its allegiance to the anti-Manchu forces in 1911.

San Francisco early became and long remained the cultural center of Chinese Americans. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, there were communities of Chinese in other American cities, and these communities, because of their small sizes and sectional characteristics, did not always follow the pattern of San Francisco. Clan competition was characteristic of the larger Chinese communities in such cities as San Francisco and Honolulu, but small Chinatowns were usually dominated by a single clan/regional association and, therefore, had fewer conflicts. Although such communities maintained close political, economic, and social ties to San Francisco's Chinatown, they enjoyed a local autonomy. For instance, theoretically, all Chinese clan/regional associations in America belonged to an umbrella organization called the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) with headquarters in San Francisco. The CCBA in Honolulu or in New York, however, probably paid only lipservice to San Francisco's CCBA. On certain controversial issues they functioned as autonomous and holistic entities.

5. Other Chinese Community Organizations

Although the Six Companies were the most important and most famous, Chinese immigrants designed a wide variety of other organizations to meet their needs in the new world. Typical were benevolent societies, clan/family groups, trade and craft guilds, and several secret societies. In 1903 the eminent Chinese scholar Liang Qichao visited San Francisco and reported the existence within Chinatown of 10 public Chinese organizations (including the Six Companies), 2 trade organizations, 9 benevolent organizations, 24 clan organizations, 9 combined clan (blood-ties) organizations, 25 secret societies, and 5 cultural societies. 40 Most of these organizations were called longs, which means hall or parlor. Because of the proliferation of tongs, there was much confusion about the use of the word. The American public often identified a tong as a group of criminals who lived off the opium smugglers, gamblers, and prostitutes. But the clandestine organizations of the so-called highbinders or hatchet men actually constituted only a small percent of the Chinese tongs in America. Furthermore, even these martial tongs had religious aspects and political origins as distinctively Chinese as the Six Companies.

In traditional China the secret society was an underground seditious organization directed against unpopular government authority. The societies constantly changed their names to divert the attention of the authorities. In the nineteenth century the most prominent included the Pure Water Society, Small Dagger Society, Big Sword Society, and Copper Coins Society. The origins of these societies are shrouded in mystery, but it is generally believed that Chinese secret societies in America stem from the notorious Triad Society of South China. The Triad Society was originally a quasireligious fraternity established in the seventeenth century by a sect of militant Buddhist monks of the Shaolin Monastery in the Fuzhou area. The name Triad, or Three United Society, is apparently derived from the trinity of Heaven, Earth, and Man; hence, it was also known as the Society of the Three Dots and as the Heaven and Earth Society. Because of its connection with the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) founded by the Emperor Hongwu, it also received the names Sect of Hong, Family of Hong, and Red League. 41

The Triad Society, or the Hong League, was in some ways like Freemasonry, professing such virtuous aims as obeying heaven and acting righteously. Bound by oaths of blood-brotherhood, the members pledged to overthrow the Manchus and restore the Ming house to the throne. This goal was captured in such slogans as "By patriotism and loyalty we support the Han House, with unity and cooperation let us annihilate the Qing Dynasty." The Hong League led several rebellions against the Qing regime in the late seventeenth century, but was defeated by the superior forces of the government. Many members paid with their lives for their audacity; others went underground or escaped abroad. In spite of these setbacks, Hong League loyalists embraced the idea of nationalism and preached it, handing it down from generation to generation. 42

When transplanted overseas, the Hong League generally lost its religious and political significance and became rather a fraternal order which offered aid to travelers and the indigent. In America secret societies were sometimes organized to unite members of minority family clans against economic exploitation, including the invasion of their business interests by a major family group. Since the American West lacked effective legal institutions, the secret societies grew into mafiatype organizations, using violence and intimidation to punishing enemies and to accumulate wealth. Emphasizing fraternity and mutual assistance, the secret society had a three-point code: secrecy, help in time of trouble, and respect for one another's womenfolk. This code had its legendary origin in the third century a.d., when China was divided into Three Kingdoms. Three strangers, named Liu Bei, Guan Gong, and Zhang Fei, met in a peach garden and bound themselves under an oath of brotherhood to be loyal to each other until death, to save the declining Han Dynasty and to serve the people. Guan Gong was later idolized as the God of War and as the symbol of loyalty and integrity. The Shaolin monks and Ming loyalists of the seventeenth century perpetuated the code when they founded the Triad Society. 43

According to Liang Qichao, many members of the Hong League went overseas after the defeat of the Taipings in 1864. 44 Taiping historian Ling Shanqing wrote:

Yang Fuqing, the younger brother of Eastern King Yang Xiuqing . . . in the seventh month of 1864, changed clothes and escaped out of the fallen city of Huzhou with a foreigner. He went to Shanghai, then Hong Kong, and from there he emigrated to San Francisco. After selling his jewels he got more than a hundred thousand dollars. Using this fortune, he started the Three United Society, a secret society aiming to rebuild the Taipings . . . Through this secret society, he supported many Chinese who came to America. 45

The date of the founding of the first Hong League in America is still debated. It is generally believed that even before Yang Fuqing came to America, followers of another Taiping general, Chen Jingang of Guangdong, had founded the first Hong League lodge at Barkerville, Canada. But the celebrated San Francisco Chee Kung Tong, or I Hsing or Patriotic Rising Society, was probably not founded until 1863, by either Lin Yin or Luo Yi. Others maintain that the lodge of the Hong League began in the Rocky Mountain mining communities and subsequently moved to Chinese settlements in northern Montana and Canada. It is even possible that an authentic Hong League organization was in full operation in British Vancouver as early as 1858. 46

It is not clear, then, whether the secret societies in America were simply different branches of the parent Triad of China or emanated from one branch of the Triad which first came to the New World. It is evident, however, that the American Hong League was never a united body; it developed as several separate societies, each claiming membership in the Triad family and acting independently of the others. American ethnologist Stewart Culin notes that by the 1880s Hong League organizations were active not only along the Pacific Coast but in most major American cities. There was the Yi Xing or Righteous Rise in Philadelphia, which adopted the name Hongshun Tong, or Hall of Obedience to Hong, for its lodge. The New York Triad group called its headquarters Lianyi Tong or Hall of United Righteousness, while the lodges in Boston and Baltimore, which were handsomely decorated with votive tablets, were said to have been founded by the same elderly man. In the mid-West the Triad societies, notably those in St. Louis and Chicago, chose Hongshun Tong as their names. 47

One interesting aspect of the secret society was its unique Cantonese origins, a fact that has long intrigued Chinese officials and American writers. According to Ji Ying, the Chinese Imperial Commissioner who concluded a treaty in 1842 with the British to end the Opium War, the Cantonese were "violent and obstinate," and "all classes were fond of brawls and made light of their lives." He also characterized them as a people who "loved to display their spirit and bravery," making them "habitual disturbers of the peace." 48 Other Chinese officials, such as Minister Zhang Yinhuan, noted the same Cantonese qualities--clannishness, courage, and alertness--qualities which had in the past fitted them as leaders of rebellion and underworld activities. When these qualities were transplanted overseas, combined with racial solidarity and tightly guarded directorates, the secret societies became powerful organizations. They commanded allegiance, collected money, and controlled external relations of the overseas Chinese. Indeed, secret societies reflected the peculiar genius of the Cantonese for political organization and social control. The secret societies confined their interests exclusively to the Chinese population and rarely terrorized non-Chinese residents. Their intersociety feuds, however, were so frequent that the so-called tong wars were viewed with alarm by outsiders.

It is not clear when true tong wars began in America, but, by the late 1880s, the word "tong" had come to have negative connotations outside of Chinatowns. Actually, in the long list of Chinese tong organizations a large number remained altogether free from intersociety feuds and unlawful activities. These were often referred to as the nonfighting tongs. 49 Even so, it was difficult for outsiders to distinguish a militant tong from a pacific one. This difficulty was compounded by overlapping membership, since many people belonged to more than one tong. A respectable merchant, for instance, had automatic membership in one of the Six Companies; he probably held membership also in one or two benevolent tongs and at least one clan tong. He might also join a secret society tong for protection against fighting tongs. Economic motives and the preservation of clan prestige were the most important causes of tong violence. Accounts of battles arising from these causes were indeed numerous. In early May, 1869, for example, a battle occurred between two rival groups of Chinese railroad workers near Camp Victory in Utah. The dispute erupted over a $15 debt owed by a member of one tong to a member of a rival tong. After the usual braggadocio, both parties sailed in, at a given signal, armed with every conceivable weapon. Several shots were fired and all indications of the outbreak of a riot appeared until a superintendent of the Central Pacific restored order and averted a major disturbance. 50

The tong wars began escalating in the 1880s. For several years the Six Companies attempted to make peace among the tongs, but to no avail. The problems eventually drew the attention of Chinese officials when a vicious San Francisco tong feud in 1886 resulted in heavy loss of lives and property. The Chinese legation in Washington issued a proclamation warning that if "gangsters" continued these senseless feuds, the guilty would be deported to China and their relatives in Guangdong would also be held responsible. 51 The proclamation did little to quell the increasing violence in Chinatowns; more and more Chinese were jailed because of their involvement in the intertong strife. One consul-general named Zuo Geng decided to spy on the troublemakers and tipped off American officials to aid in arrests and quick convictions. Another, named He You, resorted to the radical method, which authorized Chinese officials to jail the gangsters' relatives in Guangdong for crimes allegedly committed in America. Measures such as these helped to combat the tong wars and, by 1900, violence in America's Chinatowns had declined dramatically. 52 Furthermore, by the turn of the century, there were more native-born Chinese Americans and they were less easily intimidated by criminal elements. Since 1921, tong wars have been practically nonexistent in American Chinese communities. 53 With the passing of the fighting tongs, a new era of healthier growth in Chinatowns had begun.

Looking at these community organizations, it is clear that the Chinese sojourners tried to maintain indigenous Chinese culture in a hostile new land. Chinese values, norms and historically derived beliefs were distinctly expressed in their political, social and religious behavior. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz, in relating culture to behavior, wrote: "Culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns. . . but as a set of control mechanisms--plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call 'programs')--for the governing of behavior." 54 Chinese informal political organization of the Six Companies, the subterranean social structure of the tongs, and the fact that the Chinese embraced traditional Chinese religions instead of Christianity set them off from the American mainstream.

These community organizations were designed to meet all the needs of Chinese residents and to promote their interests. But because they were based exclusively on Chinese ethnicity, the Chinese ended up exploiting themselves and pitting one group against another; for the most part, the organizations failed to bring about planned social change for group development. They failed to deal with the issues most vital to the improvement of Chinese life in America. Efforts to stop anti-Chinese exclusion laws, on which they expended so much energy and money, proved to be impractical and misdirected. Chinese Americans did not have the power to change the direction of United States policy to any significant degree. In the final analysis, their lofty effort to maintain Chinese heritage, language, and religion in America retarded the acculturation of the first and second generations of Chinese in the New World.

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