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  • Performing Exclusion and ResistanceAnti-Chinese League and Chee Kung Tong Parades in Territorial Arizona
  • Floyd Cheung (bio)

After San Franciscans learned of California's admission to U.S. statehood in 1850, they rejoiced by parading.1 City marshals in crimson scarves marched down Market Street with a brass band of buglers. During this moment of ecstatic celebration, even Chinese immigrants were invited to participate, and they did, flying bright blue silk banners (California Historical Society 2000). Only two years later, as a result of many factors—racism chief among them—Euro-American Californians began persecuting their fellow settlers by passing anti-Chinese ordinances and performing acts of violence against them.2 The amity that their joint parading once demonstrated had disintegrated. Groups began to parade separately in order to construct a sense of their own identity and to communicate their political agenda. For the Chinese, the parades also reinforced their transnational and trans-historical connections to a simultaneously real and mythical China from which they had emigrated.

Performances of exclusion and resistance took place not only in California but also throughout the American West wherever significant numbers of both Euro Americans and Chinese settled. For instance, along with their Euro-American counterparts, Chinese first came to the Arizona Territory between 1877 and 1880 to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad and later to undertake occupations from which they were not excluded (Keane, Rogge, and Luckingham 1992:15). Thanks to the meticulous work of archaeologists like James Ayres and archival librarians like Riva Dean, texts and materials about the performances of these groups have survived with particular grace.3 Working from these sources, augmented by descriptions of similar performances,4 I examine in this essay how some Euro-Americans and Chinese presented and imagined themselves in the liminal space of Territorial Arizona. [End Page 39]

Commanding Space

Flags, parasols, shields and spears in the bushels are placed; […]And on all sides are placed numberless soldiers.

from the Chee Kung Tong initiation ritual (in Schlegal [1866] 1973:239)

On the streets of Territorial Arizona during the late 19th century, groups of Euro-American men occasionally paraded from storefront to storefront calling for the expulsion of Chinese laborers from local employment. Just around the corner, many Chinese men appeared to go silently about their business. However, despite appearances, an anxious vulnerability surrounded Euro-American parades and a smoldering resolve permeated Chinese silence. While Euro-American groups like the Anti-Chinese League of Tombstone confidently marched and made speeches, their anxiety revealed itself in fabricated newspaper reports, cartoons, and novels alleging Chinese plans for anti-Euro-American violence. Euro American martial pomp and reserve was underwritten by anxious fear-mongering, which in turn seemed to justify coercive actions against Chinese.

For their part, many Chinese men may have appeared silently passive when out in the city streets, but at the closed-door meetings of the Chee Kung Tong (Active Justice Society)5 of Tucson, these same men acted as warriors during elaborate martial rituals that involved parading in their meeting hall. Outside, the hall may have looked like any other building, but inside, handmade representations of banner-topped walls and well-guarded gates transformed the hall into a self-contained and expansive world of its own. During initiation ceremonies, for instance, new recruits marched two-by-two through a series of gates, each a threshold separating one part of the world from the next, one state of being from the next (plate 1).6 Excluded from participating in mainstream America's economic, political, and social life, and victimized by attacks on their manliness that amounted to what critic David Eng calls "racial castration" (2001), members of the Chee Kung Tong retreated—but they did so in order to resist and advance, following the dictates of their founder.

Hundreds of years prior, Ch'en Chin-nan surmised that since he and his men lacked sufficient means necessary for combating the Manchus at the time, they ought to scatter far and wide to gather support for their cause and coordinate attack later under more favorable conditions. Counseling patience and resolve, he instructed them to establish splinter lodges of their secret fraternity to recruit new soldiers...


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