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Journal of Asian American Studies 3.2 (2000) 260-262

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Book Review

If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration before Exclusion

If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration before Exclusion. By George Anthony Peffer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

George Anthony Peffer's If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration before Exclusion is a significant and welcome addition to the growing scholarship on Chinese American history in the recent decades, which emphasizes that Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans were not merely victims of their American experiences but also agents who helped to shape their own history. In a tightly knit organization, Peffer unfolds the "untold stories" of the early Chinese [End Page 260] immigrant women and analyzes and synthesizes the multi-facets of Chinese female immigration during the pre-exclusion period.

Peffer first distinguishes Chinese female exodus from the general Chinese immigration by dividing it into the following periodization: 1852-68, the period of male sojourning; 1869-74, the period of unrestricted family immigration; 1875-82, the period of female exclusion; and post-1882, the period of general exclusion. (p. xi) This division challenges the widely employed Chinese Exclusion Act as a watershed of unrestricted Chinese immigration prior to 1882 and Chinese exclusion after 1882, reflects the experiences of Chinese female immigrants in a more accurate light, and echoes similar periodizations in other scholarly works of Chinese American women's history (see, for example, Huping Ling, Surviving on the Gold Mountain: A History of Chinese American Women and Their Lives. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998, pp. 11-12). To help establish the framework, Peffer compares the Chinese immigrant communities in Singapore, Penang, Malacca, Hawai'i, Australia, and the United States from 1861 to 1911, and points out the different immigration patterns existed in Australia and the United States: an extremely low female-to-male ratio. Next, Peffer argues that Page Law of 1875 was designed and executed as a Chinese female exclusion act by California legislators, American consuls in Hong Kong, San Francisco port authorities, and judges of the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The Page Law not only ignited Chinese female exclusion, Peffer further asserts, but also served as a significant step on the road to a general Chinese exclusion, which was promulgated in seven years. "Placed within the context of America's historic movement toward Chinese exclusion," Peffer claims, "the Page Law united economic, moral, and public health concerns to achieve the exclusionists' first sustained triumph, thereby erecting the foundation upon which they transformed the Chinese question into a national political issue." (p. 42)

Peffer also attempts to reconstruct the stories of the early Chinese immigrant women through archival documents, census data, contemporary newspapers, and historical literature. Here, much of Peffer's discussions reinforce the themes dealt with by the existing literature on Chinese American history. For instance, factors preventing Chinese female immigrants from entering the country, Peffer believes, include "joint family," "sojourner mentality," (p. 5) and more importantly, the Chinese exclusion laws. As a direct result of the shortage of Chinese female immigrants, Peffer agrees with Lucie Cheng Hirata and Benson Tong, the sexual industry became one of the "most lucrative Chinese American enterprises" during the third quarter of the nineteenth century. (p. 106) [End Page 261]

The coverage on Hong Kong consuls, census enumerators, and the San Francisco press largely dependent on primary sources, however, provide readers with refreshing and detailed documentation of the irregularities and malpractice of American consuls, the limitations and prejudice of census takers, and the media's manipulations of the public mood, thus further demonstrating the deliberate intention of American legal enforcement to exclude Chinese female immigrants. The three successive Hong Kong consuls after passage of Page Law, David H. Bailey (1875-77), H. Sheldon Loring (1877-79), and John S. Mosby (1879-82), were mostly greedy money extorters and zealous enforcers of the law. The extra fees imposed on prospective female immigrants by...


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