Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Changing Roles and Status among Prominent Chinese in Hawai'i

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Changing Roles and Status among Prominent Chinese in Hawai'i

Article excerpt

This article presents profiles of three generational groups of prominent Chinese in Hawai'i. It analyzes changes in group membership and sources of status as revealed in the biographies of Hawai'i Chinese included in three publications dated 1929, 1957, and 1983. The first group is made up of members of the migrant generation, born in China but with many years' residence in Hawai'i, whose biographies were published in 1929. The second group consists of Hawai'i-born Chinese of migrant parentage, the "second generation," included in a 1957 publication. The third is composed of third- and fourth-generation Hawai'i-born descendants of migrants, with biographies published in 1983. Data in these biographies are used to trace changes in occupations, educational status, organizational participation, leadership roles, and other indicators of status from generation to generation.

The 1929 publication was issued by a small group of Chinese writers in Honolulu, the Overseas Penman Club (Tan Shan Wah Kiu Yun Say). Its Chinese title was Tan Shan Wah Kiu (Hawai'i Overseas Chinese), its English title The Chinese of Hawaii. (1) Over two hundred pages of this book present information about mun yun ("distinguished people" or mingren in Mandarin) in the Hawai'i Chinese community. In contrast to a 1925 "who's who" published in Hawai'i by Caucasian entrepreneurs, (2) which included only eight Chinese men (one China-born and seven Hawai'i-born), The Chinese of Hawaii contained 198 biographies of Chinese men, 129 China-born and 69 Hawai'i-born. Most of the biographies included a wide range of information such as year and place of birth, year of arrival in Hawai'i, occupational history, wife, year of marriage, children, bringing of wife and children to Hawai'i, place of residence, membership and offices in organizations, trips to China, charitable and civic donations, and other public activities.

In 1957, nearly thirty years later, the same Chinese writers' club published a similar book. The Chinese title was the same but the English title was expanded to The Chinese of Hawaii: Who's Who, 1956-57. (3) It gives the biographies of 196 men and 4 women. More than half--110--of them were born in Hawai'i, the others in China.

Another thirty years have passed since the 1957 edition was published. The Overseas Penmen Club no longer exists and no similar work has been published by Chinese. For comparison, however, we have used a 1983 publication, Leaders of Hawaii, which includes biographies of 124 Chinese men and women, most of whom were born in Hawai'i. (4)

Admittedly our data have certain limitations: none of the publications give the criteria used in selecting the persons to be included; there may well have been bias in the selection; and there were variations in the types of information included. Nevertheless, analysis does reveal some strikingly consistent trends among Hawai'i Chinese from generation to generation.


The 126 China-born men whose biographies were in English (5) in the 1929 publication were from thirty to seventyseven years old, the average age being fifty-six. All but five mention having families with children. Most had had long experience in the Islands--seventeen had come fifty or more years before 1929 and the average time since their arrival was thirty-seven years, suggesting that most had indeed become settlers. For several decades leadership of the Chinese community had been in the hands of migrants--including many of the men in this study--who had come to Hawai'i before annexation in 1898. By 1929 this leadership was passing to the sons of migrants, the second generation.

The first item in each biography is a title indicating occupation. As Table 1 shows, most of the men were regarded as businessmen, with the majority having the title "merchant." However, those who came to Hawai'i later than others, especially those brought to Hawai'i as children or youths, had more specific titles such as "corporation official," "financier," and "business manager. …

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