Chinese American Transnationalism: The Flow of People, Resources, and Ideas between China and America during the Exclusion Era

By Sucheng Chan | Go to book overview

2
Trading with Gold Mountain:
Jinshanzhuang and Networks
of Kinship and Native Place

MADELINE HSU

ON NOVEMBER 21, 1853, the Daily Alta California described a wide array of Chinese goods available in San Francisco's Chinatown. “The majority of the houses were of Chinese importation, and were stores, stocked with hams, tea, dried fish, dried ducks and other … Chinese eatables, besides copper pots and kettles, fans, shawls, chessmen, and all sorts of curiosities.” The presence of such a wide variety of Chinese goods in the young state of California was due in no small part to a handful of businessmen who had fled the economic depression of 1847 in Guangzhou (often Anglicized as Canton) to start anew in California the following year. They established the first outposts of a Chinese network of trade that by 1930 would provide overseas Chinese with groceries, newspapers and magazines, clothing, and tools, as well as postal and banking services in urban centers throughout North America, including Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Hobart, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Houston in the United States, and Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada. Hong Kong–based import-export firms called jinshanzhuang (Gam Saan Chung in Cantonese, meaning Gold Mountain firms) formed the backbone of this extensive trade network.

Jinshanzhuang began as Chinese grocery exporters but grew in response to the desire of customers overseas to maintain contact with their families and native places. The businesses expanded their range of services to include postal, remittance, and banking activities in an age when government-run institutions did not yet provide connections across vast distances. Cantonese businessmen employed networks of native place and mutual trust to develop secure and reliable communications channels that bridged the Pacific Ocean long before the era of telephones, jet airplanes, or the Internet. An examination of the functioning and development of jinshanzhuang reveals the flexible nature of the social and cultural resources that Chinese brought to their encounters with Western cultures,

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