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

8
Writing a Place in American Life: The
Sensibilities of American-born Chinese
as Reflected in Life Stories from the
Exclusion Era

XIAO-HUANG YIN

Jade Snow thought that he [Richard, a white boy] was tiresome and igno-
rant. Everybody knew that the Chinese people had a superior culture. Her
ancestors had created a great art heritage and had made inventions impor-
tant to world civilization—the compass, gunpowder, paper, and a host of
other essentials … Mama said they [white people] hadn't even learned how
to peel a clove of garlic the way the Chinese did.

Jade Snow Wong, Fifth Chinese Daughter1

THE IMPACT OF THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACTS on Chinese Americans has long been a major topic in Asian American studies.2 The wide range of scholarly works on this issue, especially those published since the late 1980s, has significantly enhanced our understanding of the Chinese experience in this extremely difficult phase of Asian American history. Most of the scholarship, however, tends to focus on the lives and minds of Chinese immigrants; there is relatively little written about how the views and sensibilities of American-born Chinese, or “ABC” as they are more commonly called,3 were shaped and affected by their unique status during the exclusion era.

This lacuna is understandable because the population of Americanborn Chinese in those years was very small due to legal barriers and discriminatory immigration acts such as the Page Law (1875), which specifically targeted “Mongolian women” and made it well nigh impossible for Chinese immigrants to bring their families to the United States. The notorious 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act further closed America's gates to Chinese women.4 Asa result, the Chinese American community remained predominantly a “bachelor society” with an extremely unbalanced sex ratio in subsequent decades. In 1900 the sex ratio of Chinese men to women was 12:1 in California, 36:1 in Boston, 50:1 in New York, and 19:1 in the continental United States as a whole.5 Lee Chew, a Chinese laundryman in New York, complained bitterly in 1906: “In all New York there are less

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