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Lotus among the Magnolias

Lotus among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chinese

Robert Seto Quan
In Collaboration with Julian B. Roebuck
Foreword by Stanford M. Lyman
Copyright Date: 1982
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  • Book Info
    Lotus among the Magnolias
    Book Description:

    Unlike most Chinese-American studies which focus on large urban concentrations sustained by continuous immigration, this study centers on a small Chinese enclave located in a rural Southern biracial society. It focuses upon three generations of Chinese undergoing social change in an area within the state of Mississippi known as the Delta. This isolated group of people, having little contact with other U.S. Chinese communities, remained nearly intact through the first two generations. Now great changes have caused the third generation to leave the enclave and to relinquish many ethnic traditions.

    Lotus Among the Magnolias, a story recorded first-hand by a Chinese scholar who lived among the Mississippi Delta Chinese, is an ethnography about how the Chinese were initially classified by the whites as "colored," and later came to be viewed as a people with a separate identity. As their image has changed, so too have many values and traditions in their lives. This study shows how these Chinese have been able to expand their social and economic potential and are now moving away from their restrictive beginnings.

    "Lotus Among the Magnolias: The Mississippi Chineseis a valuable study of how an isolated group of Chinese Americans maintain a vital community, and of the compromises they make with black people and white people in a society where there are strict rules according to race. As a Chinese American living in the West, I find it fascinating to read about Southerners, who have their own distinct cultural identity. To see how we are alike and unlike is to understand how we are shaped by America."--Maxine Hong Kingston

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-909-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Stanford M. Lyman

    The Chinese of the Mississippi Delta comprise one of the far-flung outposts of the Chinese diaspora. Scattered over most of the world in the last four centuries, a portion of the Chinese people is separated—probably forever—from the mainland of China. Chinese communities are to be found from Annam to Zanzibar and in almost all lands and islands in between. Their settlements are cultural islands as well; for the immigrant Chinese and their descendants are remarkable for their collective independence, preservation of homeland customs, and maintenance of traditional social organization in a variety of alien environments. Accused of refusing...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
    Robert Seto Quan and Julian B. Roebuck
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    The Mississippi Delta, a rich alluvial plain formed by the flood deposits of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, is located in the northwest corner of the state. It is usually considered to stretch over a 185-mile distance from the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, to Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi (though neither of these two cities is included in a strict geographical description of the Delta). The area extends sixty miles east of the Mississippi River and includes approximately a sixth of the state’s land and a fifth of its population.

    The white planter still sits at...

  6. CHAPTER TWO: LO NEN GA: The Old People
    (pp. 12-67)

    The Delta Chinese define old people as individuals over sixty years. Of the aged, then, most were born in China and grew up as children on peasant farms in Kwangtung Province. A few claimed to be the children of petty merchants in the city of Canton. Most old people had at one time worked as peasants in China, where they had received only three to five years of grammar school education. Higher education was available only to the wealthy. All of the individuals I met and talked to could read and write Chinese. They had learned English in the United...

  7. CHAPTER THREE: SEN GA: The Businessmen
    (pp. 68-99)

    Businessmen occupy the second position in the Mississippi Chinese community’s deference hierarchy. The majority of these property owners, the sons, relatives, and friends of first-generation members, range in age from the mid-thirties to the late fifties. Businessmen see themselves as educated, successful owneroperators of grocery stores, self-service markets, liquor stores, and restaurants in the Mississippi Delta. Though a few started their own businesses, most inherited capital or property from their fathers. Some have accumulated enough money to invest in new business ventures involving real estate, farms, gift shops, art supplies, electronics shops, and occasionally the stockmarket. Wives and children help...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR: JEN GA: The Professionals
    (pp. 100-114)

    Professionals hold the third position in the Delta Chinese community’s deference hierarchy. With parents who are now old people and businessmen in the Delta, they range in age from the mid-twenties to the mid-forties. Professionals form a group of educated, successful, and mobile people. The Chinese community defines a professional as anyone with a college degree who has a good white-collar job. This group includes bank employees, business managers, bookkeepers, accountants, sales managers, insurance salesmen, radiotelevision personnel, computer scientists, commercial artists, and personnel clerks. Some Chinese are also teachers, chemists, nurses, architects, engineers, pharmacists, professors, and medical technicians. Most are...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE: HOK SAN: The College Students
    (pp. 115-131)

    College students occupy the fourth position in the Mississippi Chinese community’s deference hierarchy. Most of them are businessmen’s children and range in age from the late teens to the mid-twenties. They were born in the middle class and, like the professionals, are pencil-and-paper oriented. Unlike professionals, their older brothers, sisters and relatives, they speak little Cantonese, though they understand it fairly well. They speak Delta Southern English at home and in other settings, even when questions are put to them in Chinese by their parents and grandparents. When the elderly demand conversational exchange in Cantonese, they respond with pidgin Cantonese....

  10. CHAPTER SIX: CHING NEN: The Young People
    (pp. 132-145)

    Young people hold the fifth position in the Mississippi Chinese community’s deference hierarchy. The children (and some grandchildren) of businessmen and professionals, they range in age from infancy through high school—those years when they are under the aegis of parents. The older young people of high school age, businessmen’s children, attend public and private junior high and high schools in the Delta. Most of the younger children, professionals’ children, are enrolled in private academy schools. Products of the middle to upper-middle class, all are sensitized to Delta Chinese culture by their grandmothers, parents, aunts, and uncles in the Chinese...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion: Dispersion
    (pp. 146-154)

    Much has been written about the efforts of various ethnic groups to retain a meaningful collective identity that encompasses a past, a present, and an uncertain future. People fashion, negotiate, and alter ethnic identities in relation to their aspirations, the views of other groups they must deal with, and the social and economic realities they face. The Mississippi Delta Chinese are no exception. Their community reference groups and identities are not based on idle dreams and wishes but rather have evolved from a history, from group experiences, expectations, and hard work—all related to the changing conditions they encounter.¹


  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 155-160)
  13. Index
    (pp. 161-162)