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

3
Against All Odds: Chinese Female
Migration and Family Formation
on American Soil During the
Early Twentieth Century

SUCHENG CHAN

THIS CHAPTER IS A PROGRESS report on a research project, “In Search of Chinese Women and Girls,” that I started in 1975 and will not complete until 2006 or 2007. The research has spanned decades because few narrative sources can be found on Chinese women and girls who lived in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century and much of what is available is about Chinese prostitutes. While nonnarrative sources such as the manuscript schedules of the U.S. decennial censuses of population are available, they require enormous effort to dig up, collect, and analyze. Even after a scholar has done that, he or she faces the challenge of crafting engaging stories about the individuals whose existence he or she has unearthed. A federal law prohibiting the release of a manuscript census until seventy-two years after it was taken is the main reason that this research project has been so drawn out. When I began, the latest manuscript census available was the 1900 one. To see and analyze the changes that have occurred over time, I had to wait until 1983 to process the information in the 1910 manuscript census, until 1993 to gain access to the 1920 manuscript census, and until 2003 to see the 1930 one.

I have had to be patient for three reasons. First, my research method is inductive to an extreme degree. I believe that when one is studying a grossly underresearched group, it is best to start with as few preconceived notions as possible. Thus, even though I was trained as a social scientist and not a historian, I thought it would not be appropriate to use the positivist scientific method in this research project. That is why I did not begin by formulating hypotheses nor will I try to “test” whether they are correct. Instead, I am trying to collect all the evidence available and will analyze them statistically in order to see what patterns may emerge. Only then will I look for corroborating evidence that helps explain what those patterns may mean. Just because documents such as letters, diaries, and journals—the kind of documents used by many scholars of women's

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