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Children of Chinatown

Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

Wendy Rouse Jorae

Publication Year: 2009

Wendy Jorae challenges long-held notions of early Chinatown as a bachelor community by showing that families--and particularly children--played important roles in its daily life. She explores the wide-ranging images of Chinatown's youth created by competing interests with their own agendas--from anti-immigrant depictions of Chinese children as filthy and culturally inferior to exotic and Orientalized images that catered to the tourist's ideal of Chinatown. All of these representations, Jorae notes, tended to further isolate Chinatown at a time when American-born Chinese children were attempting to define themselves as Chinese American. Facing barriers of immigration exclusion, cultural dislocation, child labor, segregated schooling, crime, and violence, Chinese American children attempted to build a world for themselves on the margins of two cultures. Their story is part of the larger American story of the struggle to overcome racism and realize the ideal of equality.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xvi

I have accumulated many debts throughout this project, and there are numerous individuals and institutions whose support was instrumental in the completion of the final manuscript...

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INTRODUCTION: Constructing Childhood in Early Chinatown: Image versus Reality

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pp. 1-8

When one imagines San Francisco’s nineteenth-century Chinatown, Chinese children do not usually figure prominently in the picture. Scholars of Chinese American history have focused primarily on the story of male Chinese immigrants; only within the last two decades...

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CHAPTER 1: The Immigration of Chinese Children and the Chinese Question

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pp. 9-41

Lee Him arrived in San Francisco on the Steamer Rio De Janeiro on January 7, 1888.1 The boy was only one of thousands of Chinese children who had passed through the port of San Francisco since the 1850s. Immigrants arriving from China in the 1850s and 1860s...

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CHAPTER 2: Recentering the Chinese Family in Early Chinese American History

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pp. 42-77

Zona Gale, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1903, described her visit to the home of Foo Tai, a Christian Chinese woman and president of the Woman’s Society of the Baptist Mission. Curiosity about the home life of Christianized Chinese prompted Gale’s visit...

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CHAPTER 3: For the Family Back Home: Chinese Children at Work

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pp. 78-109

San Francisco journalist and photographer Louis Stellman frequented Chinatown in the early twentieth century and attempted to capture images of daily life among its inhabitants. One of his photographs shows a young girl walking down the road carrying two pails of dried shrimp...

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CHAPTER 4: Challenging Segregation: Chinese Children at School

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pp. 110-139

Ah Beng was a student at the Presbyterian mission school in 1886 and his reference to the Bible and Jesus in this letter reflected the Christian emphasis of his education. At first glance, Ah Beng’s letter, written at the request of his schoolteacher, appears as a child’s simple...

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CHAPTER 5: Articles of Contention: Chinese Children in the Missions and Courts

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pp. 140-175

Sensational articles about urban vice were common journalistic fare in American newspapers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and San Francisco’s newspapers were no exception. Tales of white slavery, detailing the sexual exploitation of women...

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CHAPTER 6: Children of the New Chinatown

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pp. 176-214

In a 1902 article in the San Francisco Chronicle titled ‘‘How to Show Your Eastern Cousins through Chinatown,’’ the reporter painted contrasting images of the children in Chinatown, beginning with a description of the following scene at Fish Alley...

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CONCLUSION: Constructing the Future

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pp. 215-230

This book chronicles the various ways that the children of early Chinatown found themselves caught in political and societal battles over immigration restriction, segregation, cultural identity, crime and violence, child labor, and other momentous personal and communal crises...


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pp. 231-264


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pp. 265-284


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pp. 285-295

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605371
E-ISBN-10: 1469605376
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833131
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833134

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.) -- History.
  • Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.) -- Social conditions.
  • Chinese Americans -- California -- San Francisco -- History.
  • Chinese American children -- California -- San Francisco -- History.
  • Children -- California -- San Francisco -- History.
  • Chinese American families -- California -- San Francisco -- History.
  • San Francisco (Calif.) -- History.
  • San Francisco (Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
  • San Francisco (Calif.) -- Ethnic relations.
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