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Title: China in America - A study in the social life of the Chinese in the eastern - cities of the United States
Author: Culin, Stewart
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Map of the Province of Kwantung]

China in America:

  Social Life of the Chinese
  Eastern Cities of the United States.




Social Life of the Chinese


The Chinese laborers in America all come from the departments of Kwangchau
and Shauking, in the province of Kwantung.

They describe themselves as _Púntí_ or "natives," as distinguished from
the tribes called _Hákká_ or "strangers," and divide themselves into
the people of the _Sam Yup_ ("Three Towns") and those of the _Sz' Yup_
("Four Towns"), the former from the three districts of Nánhái (1),[1]
Pw'anyú (2), and Shunteh (3), and the latter from the four districts
of Sinhwui (4), Sinning (5), Kaiping (6), and Ngánping (7). Others from
the district of Hohshan (8) include themselves with those from the
_Sz' Yup_, and there are a few from each of the districts of Tungkwán
(9), Hiángshán (10), Sánshwui (11), and Sinngán (12).

The tract embraced in these districts is little more than 100 miles
square, but it exhibits much diversity in its natural features, the
northern and western parts being high and mountainous, while those
approaching the coast are low and covered with small hills, and the
entire region is well watered by numerous large rivers and tributary
streams. Large towns and cities, many of them the seat of important
manufactures, are found within its limits. The coast is studded with
numerous small islands and furnished with safe and commodious harbors.

The people of the different districts show distinctive peculiarities,
both in speech and customs. Those from Nánhái and Pw'anyú, the
districts within which the city of Canton is situated, partake of the
manners of its inhabitants, although few here are from the capital
itself, and their language differs little from the dialect of Canton as
transcribed by Dr. Williams. The _Sz' Yup_ people, particularly those
from the maritime district of Sinning, who comprise the greater part,
are ruder and more adventurous than those from nearer the capital, and
their speech can only be understood with difficulty by the inhabitants
of the Provincial City.

The immigrants are much influenced by local traditions and those from
different sections keep much to themselves. They establish separate
shops when their numbers warrant it, as well as assembly-rooms and
guild-halls. The Six Companies in San Francisco, under which nearly all
of the Chinese in the United States are enrolled, are the guilds formed
in this manner by the emigrants from different parts of the province.

The ties of kindred, preserved with so much care in China, are recognized
here, and many of the immigrants claim relationship. People of the
same village naturally drift together, and as all the inhabitants of a
Chinese village frequently belong to the same clan and bear the same
name, it happens that many members of the same family are often found
associated here, the numbers of any particular family varying much,
however, in different localities. Some thirty or forty of these clans
only are represented among the Chinese in our Eastern cities. A Chinese
storekeeper in Philadelphia has furnished me with the following list
of the names and numbers of each clan among some four hundred and fifty
of his acquaintances in that city. It will be observed that the _Lí_
clan outnumbers any other. In New York city, the Chiús predominate,
numbering some five hundred souls.

  區  _Au_, 4 or 5.
  陳  _Ch'an_, 30.
  周  _Chau_, 15.
  張  _Chéung_, 20.
  鄭  _Ching_, 2 or 3.
  趙  _Chiu_, 10.
  鍾  _Chung_, 30.
  馮  _Fung_, 10.
  何  _Ho_, 20.
  林  _Lam_, 10.
  李  _Lí_, 120.
  羅  _Lo_, 2 or 3.
  呂  _Lü_, 10.
  馬  _Má_, 4 or 5.
  麥  _Mak_, 15.
  梅  _Múi_, 80.
  吳  _'Ng_, 4 or 5.
  伍  _'Ng_, 4 or 5.
  譚  _T'ám_, 6.
  鄧  _Tang_, 6.
  胡  _Ú_, 4 or 5.
  余  _Ü_, 10.
  王  _Wong_, 10.
  黃  _Wong_, 20.
  顏  _Yan_, 1 or 2.
  楊  _Yéung_, 4 or 5.
  易  _Yik_, 1 or 2.

The members of a clan unite when necessary for mutual defense or to
redress a wrong done to one of their number; the ties and obligations of
the clan, however, are much stronger among the Sinning people than those
of the northern districts. Very slight disagreements between individuals
among them are frequently taken up by their respective families and made
the subjects of long and bitter quarrels--meetings are held, large sums
of money subscribed, and feuds perpetuated that may have been carried
on for ages at home.

The immigrants are nearly all agriculturists, with a small sprinkling
of artisans and shopkeepers, some of whom have served an apprenticeship
in Canton or Hong Kong after leaving their native villages. They are
nearly all single men, who left their homes at an early age before the
usual time among them for contracting marriages.[2] Some have wives and
children in China, and many of the more successful go home to marry and
then return again to America; but wives and children are never brought
with them, and there are few native women among them, except in San
Francisco and the cities of the western coast.

The first considerable emigration of Chinese to America occurred at the
time of the discovery of gold in California in 1849. Many then sought
their fortunes there, and the stream of emigration, once started, was
much increased by the disturbed condition of the southern provinces
during the next decade. The Triad Society, a secret order opposed to
the present Manchu dynasty, seized upon the time when the government was
engaged in combating the Tai Ping rebellion in the north and raised an
insurrection. This was subdued, but with much bloodshed, and thousands
of the rebels sought refuge in America, with many others who were ruined
by the outbreak.

The first appearance of the Chinese in any numbers in our Eastern cities
dates from about the year 1870. Before that time an occasional Chinaman
found his way here as cook or steward on some incoming vessel, and a
little colony of such waifs had already established itself in the city
of New York.

Upon the completion of the Union Pacific Railway, thousands of Chinese
were thrown out of employment. In the absence of women in the mining
camps they found a remunerative occupation in the laundry business, and
before 1869 they had obtained almost a monopoly of that occupation in the
West. Shortly before this time, a Mr. Thomas engaged fifty San Francisco
Chinese to work in his laundry at Belleville, New Jersey. They quickly
discovered, upon their arrival, the field presented by the neighboring
cities for their work, and the news spread rapidly to California and
even to China itself.[3] Thousands of Chinese came to the East, until at
present there is scarcely a town throughout the whole extent of country
where one or more may not be found, while in the large cities colonies
have been formed, in which much of their primitive life has been
re-established, and an opportunity presented for the observation and study
of these interesting people at our very doors.

Little capital is required to start a laundry, one hundred dollars being
usually sufficient, and several men frequently associate themselves
together and share the profits between them. The owners should each
clear from twenty-five to seventy dollars per month, while the hired
laborers are paid from twenty-five to thirty dollars per month, with
their board and lodging. They rise at daybreak and work until their
task is finished, often until far into the night. Two meals a day are
provided for them, one at about nine in the morning and another between
four and five in the afternoon. These consist of rice, fish and pork,
and certain vegetables, and are abundant and palatable. One of the men
in the laundry acts as cook, an avocation for which all the immigrants
seem to show much aptitude. Sunday and Monday are generally observed as
holidays, work being resumed on Monday night. The Chinese New Year is
the season for a holiday lasting for nearly a week, and at this time,
as upon the occasion of several other principal Chinese festivals,
employers are expected to provide a special dinner for their laborers.

The occupation of the laundrymen, both as owner and employee, is a
profitable one, but their incessant toil, with their aptitude for
combination and freedom from many of the expenses which the family
relation entails upon all other classes, may be regarded as the secrets
of this success.

The store is the centre around which life in a Chinese colony revolves.
As soon as several men have collected in a town or city, one of them will
send to the nearest place of supply and purchase such Chinese groceries
and other wares as may be needed by the colony. These he will sell to
his comrades, without at first discontinuing his usual avocation. If
the colony increases in numbers he may rent a small store and with the
assistance of some of his friends form a store company. Several men
are usually associated in such enterprises, one of whom will be placed
in charge as manager. A general assortment of Chinese merchandise is
obtained, either from New York or San Francisco or direct from China
itself, and an auspicious name is selected for the company and prominently
displayed without the store door.

In a short time this place becomes the resort of all the Chinese in the
colony, many of whom may have a small money interest in the concern. They
have provisions and clothes to buy; news of the outside world and of
their own homes may be learned here; and, besides, there is a couch
provided for opium smoking, which the immigrant, with newly acquired money
to spend, readily practices as the first dissipation at hand. In time
the shop-keeper, knowing the advantage of increasing the attractions of
his place, may procure a tolerably skillful cook and open a restaurant
in an upper story of his building; but at first this will only be kept
open on Sundays and holidays.

Other opportunities for making money will not be lost sight of. The
cellar will be fitted up with bunks for opium smoking, and tables covered
with matting for the convenience of those who desire to play dominoes;
and the profit on the opium consumed and the portion of the winnings
set aside for the use of the tables soon constitute a more important
source of revenue than the store itself.

Thus many interests besides those of the dealer in clothes and
provisions grow up under the roof of the little shop. Often a doctor,
some poor and broken-down student, dispenses medicines from a supply
of drugs ranged along one side of the store; the itinerant barber,
an indispensable personage, makes it a place of call; letters for the
colony are directed in care of the store; public notices are written
on tablets of red paper and pasted beside the door; Chinese newspapers,
both of San Francisco and the native ports, are received; and here,
too, interpreters are to be found, who conduct negotiations and adjust
differences with the outside world.

As the colony increases in numbers, a kind of society reorganizes,
and though at first it may have been composed of laborers engaged as
laundrymen or cigar-makers, many of them in time find other employments
tributary to the mass, and take up their former occupations or new ones
most congenial to them. The modifications and divergences of this society
from that of the Chinese at home, due to the absence of native women and
the influence of the different and aggressive civilization around it,
present an interesting field for study.

Time will not permit me to dwell upon even the characteristic features
of the social life of the Chinese in our cities, but there are certain
questions connected with their mental characteristics and religious
belief which a somewhat prolonged contact with those people enables me,
more or less imperfectly, to answer.

Much misconception exists as to character of the Chinese who emigrate
to America. They are generally described as the dregs of their people,
given up to gambling and opium smoking and distinguished only by their
vices. Some, however, who have observed their constant toil, the readiness
with which they accept instruction in our language, and their willingness
to profess a belief in such religious teaching as is at the same time
offered to them, have greatly exaggerated their moral and mental
qualities; while others who have questioned them, in the spirit of
philosophical inquiry, concerning their religious belief and their
knowledge of Confucius and the sages of antiquity, usually in terms quite
unintelligible to them, have declared that the popular opinion as to their
ignorance is well founded, and that they have little in common with
the class of scholars and philosophers who have dignified and adorned
the pages of Chinese history from the dawn of their civilization down
to the present time.

Nearly all the Chinese in America have passed some of their early years
at school, where they learned to write a few of the many characters of
their language, and to read it with more or less facility. This is the
case even among the Sinning people, few of whom go up at home to the
district examinations, and among whom, even in China, there are few
literary graduates or persons of distinction--a condition due not so
much to their lack of natural ability, as to the extreme and grinding
poverty to which they are subjected.

Among those from Hohshan and the country adjacent to the city of
Canton are found many of considerable attainments; not men who would be
considered scholars at home, or who have even obtained the degree of
_siu-tsai_ that constitutes the first step to advancement, but clerks
who are able to read and understand much of the abstruse classical
literature of their country, and whose sympathies and traditions are
allied with those of the great literary aristocracy by which their
nation is dominated. Many of their country people have attained eminence
in the past, and the lists of the successful graduates at the Triennial
Examinations at Canton, which are received and posted in the shops here,
frequently contain names not only of students from their native villages,
but of their own cousins and kindred.

This class forms a small part, however, of the great mass of the
immigrants, and their literary ambitions are soon lost here in the
struggle for existence, for which they seem less fitted than many of
their ruder neighbors.

The latter appear to be little influenced by the classical instruction
of the schools. While the books of the sages and philosophers constitute
the literature, _par excellence_, of China, there exists a vast popular
literature, quasi-historical, imaginative, and romantic, which is read
by the mass of the people and more directly controls their minds than
the teachings of Confucius and his disciples. Within it are enshrined
the popular traditions and folk-tales, in many other countries as yet
handed down orally, here amplified and embellished, and although written
in the vulgar tongue, receiving many charms from their beauties of style
and literary execution. Stories of the magician _Chau Kung_, of the
heroic _Kwán Kung_, long since deified as the God of War; of _Muk Kwai
Ying_, that martial heroine of Chinese historical romance, with tales of
the _Pát Sín_ (the Eight Genii), and Buddhist legends without number,
all go to make up this intermingled mass of romance and tradition.

These wonder tales have fallen upon no incredulous ears in the
past. Accustomed to attribute almost every phenomenon of nature to the
intervention of supernatural powers, to people every rock and tree with
its familiar spirit, "to hear the menace of a god in the thunder, and
see the beneficence of a deity in the rain," they have had little reason
to question the truth of stories in which the occult and supernatural
plays little greater part than it daily appears to in the course of
their own lives.

Their religion is not a system which we can define as that of Tao,
Buddha, or Confucius, although all these have contributed to give form
to ceremonies and observances; the worship of the spirits of the dead,
with a kind of fetichism even more primitive, constitutes the principal
element of their belief.

We may discover traces of Buddhistic teachings in their worship of Kwan
Yin, in their ideas as to the transmigration of souls, and in their
abstinence from eating beef; of Taoism, in the spiritual hierarchy under
which all of their gods, buddhas, and demons are made to find a place,
and of the Literary Cult, in those methods of divination and forms of
worship, still practiced as in the times of Confucius and the sages,
by whom they were recorded; but deeper and stronger than these is their
belief in the continued presence of the spirits of the dead and their
controlling influence upon the fortune and destiny of the living. Such
ceremonies as are observed by the Chinese here have for their object the
propitiation and expulsion of these phantoms; prayers and offerings are
made to higher powers, but their aid is invoked for protection against
the spirits of the dead and those malignant forces in nature with which
they are believed to be often associated.

Contact with our civilization must bring with it a more correct conception
of the physical universe and dissipate many of these illusions. A
knowledge of our sciences will give China a new place in history, and
we cannot fail to look with interest upon these first representatives
of its capable and extraordinary people among us, who may some day play
no small part in the awakening of their country to a knowledge of the
resources of the Western World.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Footnote 1: The accompanying map of the province of Kwantung is reproduced
from the Ho Hoh T'ung Shú ("the Concord Almanac") for the year 1855. The
situations of the several districts mentioned in the text are indicated
by corresponding figures in red upon the map. The scale of the map is
about eighty-five miles to the inch.]

[Footnote 2: Hon. George F. Seward, _Chinese Immigration in its Social
and Economical Aspects_, New York, 1881, p. 191.]

[Footnote 3: _The Chinese in New York, The New York Daily Tribune, June
21, 1885._]

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