The Children of Chinatown

The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

WENDY ROUSE JORAE
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807898581_jorae
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  • Book Info
    The Children of Chinatown
    Book Description:

    Revealing the untold stories of a pioneer generation of young Chinese Americans, this book places the children and families of early Chinatown in the middle of efforts to combat American policies of exclusion and segregation.Wendy Jorae challenges long-held notions of early Chinatown as a bachelor community by showing that families--and particularly children--played important roles in its daily life. She explores the wide-ranging images of Chinatown's youth created by competing interests with their own agendas--from anti-immigrant depictions of Chinese children as filthy and culturally inferior to exotic and Orientalized images that catered to the tourist's ideal of Chinatown. All of these representations, Jorae notes, tended to further isolate Chinatown at a time when American-born Chinese children were attempting to define themselves as Chinese American. Facing barriers of immigration exclusion, cultural dislocation, child labor, segregated schooling, crime, and violence, Chinese American children attempted to build a world for themselves on the margins of two cultures. Their story is part of the larger American story of the struggle to overcome racism and realize the ideal of equality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0537-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION CONSTRUCTING CHILDHOOD IN EARLY CHINATOWN IMAGE VERSUS REALITY
    (pp. 1-8)

    When one imagines San Francisco’s nineteenth-century Chinatown, Chinese children do not usually figure prominently in the picture. Scholars of Chinese American history have focused primarily on the story of male Chinese immigrants; only within the last two decades have significant studies examining the stories of Chinese American females emerged. Chinese children appear only sporadically in the histories. Yet an examination of the historical record reveals important evidence of the existence of Chinese children in America and offers scattered glimpses into their daily lives. The narrow designation of San Francisco’s early Chinatown (1850–1920) as a “bachelor society,” or more recently...

  5. 1 THE IMMIGRATION OF CHINESE CHILDREN AND THE CHINESE QUESTION
    (pp. 9-41)

    Lee Him arrived in San Francisco on the SteamerRio De Janeiroon January 7, 1888.¹ The boy was only one of thousands of Chinese children who had passed through the port of San Francisco since the 1850s. Immigrants arriving from China in the 1850s and 1860s easily gained entry into the country. However, with the passage of the Page Act in 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the government erected substantial barriers to try to stop the immigration of Chinese prostitutes and laborers into the country. According to the 1882 law, only teachers, travelers, students, diplomats, and...

  6. 2 RECENTERING THE CHINESE FAMILY IN EARLY CHINESE AMERICAN HISTORY
    (pp. 42-77)

    Zona Gale, writing for theSan Francisco Chroniclein 1903, described her visit to the home of Foo Tai, a Christian Chinese woman and president of the Woman’s Society of the Baptist Mission. Curiosity about the home life of Christianized Chinese prompted Gale’s visit: “I longed to know Foo Tai, in her own home, and to try to break the silence that hangs over homes like hers. It was possible that, within its walls she simply swept and cooked and gossiped, like the rest of the Christianized world, but I doubted it. For some way there seemed to cling to...

  7. 3 FOR THE FAMILY BACK HOME CHINESE CHILDREN AT WORK
    (pp. 78-109)

    San Francisco journalist and photographer Louis Stellman frequented China-town in the early twentieth century and attempted to capture images of daily life among its inhabitants. One of his photographs shows a young girl walking down the road carrying two pails of dried shrimp, bamboo, and beansprout stew. Stellman wrote in his notes that the girl was carrying dinner to the Chinese men in the goldsmith shops. She may have worked in the family restaurant or labored as a domestic servant in the home of a Chinese family. Included among Stellman’s other photographs are images of child domestic servants weighed down...

  8. 4 CHALLENGING SEGREGATION CHINESE CHILDREN AT SCHOOL
    (pp. 110-139)

    Ah Beng was a student at the Presbyterian mission school in 1886 and his reference to the Bible and Jesus in this letter reflected the Christian emphasis of his education. At first glance, Ah Beng’s letter, written at the request of his schoolteacher, appears as a child’s simple recitation of the day’s events. However, upon closer examination, this letter reveals the variety of competing interests at work in San Francisco’s early Chinatown and hints at the impact of a segregated society on Chinese children. Mission schools arose to meet the Chinese American community’s desire for education. Public education for Chinese...

  9. 5 ARTICLES OF CONTENTION CHINESE CHILDREN IN THE MISSIONS AND COURTS
    (pp. 140-175)

    Sensational articles about urban vice were common journalistic fare in American newspapers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and San Francisco’s newspapers were no exception. Tales of white slavery, detailing the sexual exploitation of women, proved especially popular.¹ Crime in San Francisco’s Chinatown seemed even more lurid and exotic, as articles appeared almost daily with scandalous new details to entice eager readers. This chapter focuses on some of Chinatown’s exceptional and rare cases by examining the experiences of Chinese children in the missions and the justice system. Once again, various groups manipulated the facts to further their own...

  10. 6 CHILDREN OF THE NEW CHINATOWN
    (pp. 176-214)

    In a 1902 article in theSan Francisco Chronicletitled “How to Show Your Eastern Cousins through Chinatown,” the reporter painted contrasting images of the children in Chinatown, beginning with a description of the following scene at Fish Alley: “[L]ittle groups of grotesquely decorated children scurry about among the horrid odors and heaps of decaying fruits, vegetables and fish. . . . And a howling mob of cats and dogs are fighting and chasing one another, the children and themselves in a sort of wild dance among the heaps of refuse.”¹ In this bit of imagery, the reporter relies on...

  11. CONCLUSION CONSTRUCTING THE FUTURE
    (pp. 215-230)

    This book chronicles the various ways that the children of early Chinatown found themselves caught in political and societal battles over immigration restriction, segregation, cultural identity, crime and violence, child labor, and other momentous personal and communal crises. Through it all, a medley of adults—ranging from Chinese parents and community leaders to white reformers, missionaries, politicians, journalists, and anti-Chinese activists—evaluated and framed the conditions of Chinese children in order to reach their own particular objectives, directly influencing the children’s day-to-day lives in the process. While the adults advocated, quarreled, and maneuvered, the children struggled with the consequences of...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 231-264)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 265-284)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 285-295)