The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America

By Joseph Andrew Orser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Asiatic Americans

Many in the United States were not entirely sure what to make of Chang and Eng. The itinerant Oriental curiosities had become nested southern farmers, the formerly bonded laborers had transformed into the owners of men, the conjoined brothers were now conjoined brothers-in-law. The young “boys” who had arrived as eighteen-year-olds in 1829 were now aging men and fathers, and in 1849, they hit the road again, with their sons and daughters, branding themselves the “Siamese Twins and children.” Their ability to adapt to new circumstances, to mold themselves again and again into new roles, meant that people who had last seen them years before might be surprised at what they saw at the next opportunity.

In 1853, on their way north for a summer exhibition with two of their children in tow, the twins passed through North Carolina’s capital city, allowing the local newspaper to comment on the celebrities. “It is a phenomenon, not, perhaps, to be witnessed again in the Country, to see Asiatics transformed to good American citizens, not only in language but in feeling,” the Raleigh Register reported. “They have lost every vestige of their native tongue…. In fact, they speak English fluently, and almost without foreign accent. A few words seem to be impracticable, but they are chatty and communicative, and hence their perfection in our language. They are altogether American in feeling.”1

But even as the twins changed, the country around them was transforming too. Debates over abolitionism, sectionalism, and nativism dominated the public discourse, and the growing Chinese population in the West raised questions about Chang and Eng’s position. “I think I noticed, by a decision of the Supreme Court of California, that Chinese are not considered to be citizens of that State, and can neither vote nor give testimony against a white person in certain cases,” a reader of the Washington-based National Era newspaper wrote from York Springs, Pennsylvania, in December 1854. “I would like to know how it is with the Siamese Twins in North Carolina. I

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The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Monster Now before Us 1
  • Chapter One - In and Chun 9
  • Chapter Two - Under Their Own Direction 37
  • Chapter Three - The Connected Twins 76
  • Chapter Four - Asiatic Americans 105
  • Chapter Five - Southern Curiosities 147
  • Chapter Six - Over Their Dead Bodies 174
  • Epilogue - The Past Rears Its Head 193
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 253
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