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The Diplomacy of Nationalism

The Six Companies and China’s Policy toward Exclusion

Yucheng Qin

Publication Year: 2009

This is a striking, original portrait of the Chinese Six Companies (Zhonghua huiguan), or Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the most prominent support organization for Chinese immigrants in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. As a federation of "native-place associations" (huiguan) in California, the Six Companies responded to racist acts and legislation by organizing immigrant communities and employing effective diplomatic strategies against exclusion. Yucheng Qin substantiates recent arguments that Chinese immigrants were resourceful in fighting for their rights and, more importantly, he argues that through the Six Companies they created a political rhetoric and civic agenda that were then officially adopted by Qing court officials, who at first were unprepared for modern diplomacy. Out of necessity, these officials turned to the Six Companies for assistance and would in time adopt the tone and format of its programs during China’s turbulent transition from a tributary system to that of a modern nation-state.

Eventually the Six Companies and Qing diplomats were defeated by a coalition of anti-Chinese interest groups, but their struggle produced a template for modern Chinese nationalism—a political identity that transcends native place—in nineteenth-century America. By redirecting our gaze beyond China to the Six Companies in California and back again, Yucheng Qin redefines the historical significance of the huiguan. The ingenuity of his approach lies in his close attention to the transnational experience of the Six Companies, which provides a feasible framework for linking its diplomatic activism with Chinese history as well as the history of Chinese Americans and Sino-American relations.

The Diplomacy of Nationalism enlarges our view of the immigrant experience of Chinese in the U.S. by examining early Sino-American relations through the structure of Six Companies diplomacy as well as providing a better understanding of modern Chinese nationalism.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

The original spark of this study came from a sentence in William Speer’s “Democracy of the Chinese,” an article published by Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1868, which read: “The Six Companies have been a continual puzzle to Americans.” My curiosity was aroused, and I began to pay more attention ...

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pp. 1-12

This is the transnational story of how the Chinese Six Companies in California responded to racist challenges by organizing its own community, developing modern nationalism, and teaching the Qing dynasty how modern nationalism should be pursued diplomatically. The Six Companies, or the Chinese ...

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Chapter 1. A Meeting of Market Economies: The Arrival of the Gold Mountain Guests

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pp. 13-22

When the Chinese arrived on the west coast of the United States in the nineteenth century, these men, who came without bringing their families,1 called themselves “jinshan ke” (gold mountain [San Francisco] guests). Despite their residence in the United States, they did not alter their Chinese identity. So what was the ...

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Chapter 2. Continuity and Change: The Chinese Huiguan Tradition Crosses the Pacific, 1850s

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pp. 23-37

These strangers from a different shore met a reception that ranged from warm to cold. In an address in 1852 Governor John McDougal of California declared that more Chinese migrants would be needed to help drain the state’s swamps. As “one of the most worthy of our newly adopted citizens,” he found them “peculiarly ...

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Chapter 3. Toward a New Chinese Self-image: The Beginning of Modern Chinese Nationalism in California, 1860s

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pp. 38-56

In late April 1868 the Gangzhou huiguan, dressed in its holiday best, displayed the following poetic couplets inside its building: “Wandering aimlessly in a strange land, under the canopy of the moon and the stars, we were without the blessing of the throne; Meeting [the Qing officials] in a foreign country, why not present wine with all respect to share the affection for ...

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Chapter 4. Becoming the Chief Target: The Six Companies in the 1870s

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pp. 57-77

One question, which first arose at the beginning of the Chinese immigration but has persisted to the present, is whether the Six Companies acted as the chief labor broker for the Chinese during the late nineteenth century. In 1987, for example, Patricia Cloud and David Galenson used the records ...

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Chapter 5. Setting the Tone and Format: The Six Companies as Spokesman, 1870–1878

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pp. 78-97

As the representative of all the Chinese in the United States and the chief target of the anti-Chinese movement in the 1870s, the Six Companies was clearly pushed to its limits. As a federation of huiguan, the Six Companies had an obligation, among other services, to defend its members. This practice ...

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Chapter 6. “Superseding the Six Companies”: The Qing Legation, 1878–1890

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pp. 98-118

On July 26, 1878, San Francisco’s Chinatown was aglow with excitement. Chen Lanbin, the first minister plenipotentiary from China, accompanied by a full diplomatic corps, was about to arrive. The news was received with outbursts of delight among the Chinese in the city and rapidly ...

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Chapter 7. “As Skilled in Dialectics”: The Qing Legation, 1890–1906

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pp. 119-138

After a decade’s practice in modern diplomacy, the Qing legation finally won acclaim from Americans as this chapter’s epigraph from the New York Times demonstrates. Unlike the Indians, the Chinese diplomats were “as skilled in dialectics as the officials of the United States,” and “as keenly aware ...

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pp. 139-145

The diplomacy of the Six Companies provides a framework for connecting the elements that made up one of the most important developments in nineteenth-century Chinese-American history, modern Chinese history, and the early history of Sino-American relations. It is evident that modern Chinese ...


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pp. 147-189


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pp. 191-205


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pp. 207-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837570
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832742

Publication Year: 2009