The village where I was born is situated in the province of Canton,
on one of the banks of the Si Kiang River. It is called a village,
altho it is really as big as a city, for there are about 5,000
men in it over eighteen years of age women and children and even
youths are not counted in our villages.
All in the village belonged to the tribe of Lee. They did not
intermarry with one another, but the men went to other villages
for their wives and brought them home to their fathers' houses,
and men from other villages -Wus and Wings and Sings and Fongs,
etc. -chose wives from among our girls.
When I was a baby I was kept in our house all the time with my
mother, but when I was a boy of seven I had to sleep at nights
with other boys of the village about thirty of them in one house.
The girls are separated the same way thirty or forty of them sleeping
together in one house away from their parents and the widows have
houses where they work and sleep, tho they go to their fathers'
houses to eat.
My father's house is built of fine blue brick, better than the
brick in the houses here in the United States. It is only one
story high, roofed with red tiles and surrounded by a stone wall
which also incloses the yard There are four rooms in the house,
one large living room which serves for a parlor and three private
rooms, one occupied by my grandfather, who is very old and very
honorable; another by my father and mother, and the third by my
oldest brother and his wife and two little children There are
no windows, but the door is left open all day.
All the men of the village have farms, but they don't live on
them as the farmers do here; they live in the village, but go
out during the day time and work their farms, coming home before
dark My father has a farm of about ten acres, on which he grows
a great abundance of things sweet potatoes, rice, beans, peas,
yams, sugar cane, pine¬apples, bananas, lychee nuts and palms.
The palm leaves are useful and can be sold Men make fans of the
lower part of each leaf near the stem, and water proof coats and
hats, and awnings for boats, of the parts that are left when the
fans are cut out.
So many different things can be grown on one small farm, because
we bring plenty of water in a canal from the mountains thirty
miles away, and every farmer takes as much as he wants for his
fields by means of drains. He can give each crop the right amount
Our people all working together make these things, the mandarin
has nothing to do with it, and we pay no taxes, except a small
one on the land We have our own Government, consisting of the
elders of our tribe the honorable men When a man gets to be sixty
years of age he begins to have honor and to become a leader, and
then the older he grows the more he is honored We had some men
who were nearly one hundred years, but very few of them.
In spite of the fact that any man may correct them for a fault,
Chinese boys have good times and plenty of play. We played games
like tag, and other games like shinny and a sort of football called
We had dogs to play with plenty of dogs and good dogs that understand
Chinese as well as American dogs understand American language.
We hunted with them, and we also went fishing and had as good
a time as American boys, perhaps better, as we were almost always
together in our house, which was a sort of boys' club house, so
we had many playmates. Whatever we did we did all together, and
our rivals were the boys of other club houses, with whom we sometimes
competed in the games. But all our play outdoors was in the daylight,
because there were many graveyards about and after dark, so it
was said, black ghosts with flaming mouths and eyes and long claws
and teeth would come from these and tear to pieces and devour
any one whom they might meet.
It was not all play for us boys, however. We had to go to school,
where we learned to read and write and to recite the precepts
of Kong¬foo tsze and the other Sages and stories about the
great Emperors of China, who ruled with the wisdom of gods and
gave to the whole world the light of high civilization and the
culture of our literature, which is the admiration of all nations.
I went to my parents' house for meals, approaching my grandfather
with awe, my father and mother with veneration and my elder brother
with respect I never spoke unless spoken to, but I listened and
heard much concerning the red haired, green eyed foreign devils
with the hairy faces, who had lately come out of the sea and clustered
on our shores. They were wild and fierce and wicked, and paid
no regard to the moral precepts of Kong foo tsze and the Sages;
neither did they worship their ancestors, but pretended to be
wiser than their fathers and grandfathers. They loved to beat
people and to rob and murder. In the streets of Hong Kong many
of them could be seen reeling drunk Their speech was a savage
roar, like the voice of the tiger or the buffalo, and they wanted
to take the land away from the Chinese. Their men and women lived
together like animals, without any marriage or faithfulness and
even were shameless enought to walk the streets arm in arm in
daylight So the old men said: All this was very shocking and disgusting,
as our women seldom were on the street, except in the evenings,
when they went with the water jars to the three wells that supplied
all the people. Then if they met a man they stood still, with
their faced turned to the wall, while he looked the other way
when he passed them A man who spoke to a woman in the street in
a Chinese village would be beaten, perhaps killed.
My grandfather told how the English foreign devils had made wicked
war on the Emperor, and by means of their enchantments and spells
had defeated his armies and forced him to admit their opium, so
that the Chinese might smoke and become weakened and the foreign
devils might rob them of their land
My grandfather said that it was well known that the Chinese were
always the greatest and wisest among men They had invented and
discovered everything that was good Therefore the things which
the foreign devils had and the Chinese had not must be evil Some
of these things were very wonderful, enabling the red haired savages
to talk with one another, tho they might be thousands of miles
They had suns that made darkness like day, their ships carried
earthquakes and volcanoes to fight for them, and thousands of
demons that lived in iron and steel houses spun their cotton and
silk, pushed their boats, pulled their cars, printed their newspapers
and did other work for them. They were constantly showing disrespect
for their ancestors by getting new things to take the place of
I heard about the American foreign devils, that they were false,
having made a treaty by which it was agreed that they could freely
come to China, and the Chinese as freely go to their country.
After this treaty was made China opened its doors to them and
then they broke the treaty that they had asked for by shutting
the Chinese out of their country.
When I was ten years of age I worked on my father's farm, digging,
hoeing, manuring, gathering and carrying the crop. We had no horses,
as nobody under the rank of an official is allowed to have a horse
in China, and horses do not work on farms there, which is the
reason why the roads there are so bad The people cannot use roads
as they are used here, and so they do not make them.
I worked on my father's farm till I was about sixteen years of
age, when a man of our tribe came back from America and took ground
as large as four city blocks and made a paradise of it He put
a large stone wall around and led some streams through and built
a palace and summer house and about twenty other structures, with
beautiful bridges over the streams and walks and roads. Trees
and flowers, singing birds, water fowl and curious animals were
within the walls.
The man had gone away from our village a poor boy. Now he returned
with unlimited wealth, which he had obtained in the country of
the American wizards. After many amazing adventures he had become
a merchant in a city called Mott Street so it was said.
When his palace and grounds were completed he gave a dinner to
all the people who assembled to be his guests. One hundred pigs
roasted whole were served on the tables, with chickens, ducks,
geese and such an abundance of dainties that our villagers even
now lick their fingers when they think of it. He had the best
actors from Hong Kong performing, and every musician for miles
around was playing and singing. At night the blaze of the lanterns
could be seen for many miles.
Having made his wealth among the barbarians this man had faithfully
returned to pour it out among his tribesmen, and he is living
in our village now very happy, and a pillar of strength to the
The wealth of this man filled my mind with the idea that I, too,
would like to go to the country of the wizards and gain some of
their wealth, and after a long time my father consented, and gave
me his blessing, and my mother took leave of me with tears, while
my grandfather laid his hand upon my head and told me to remember
and live up to the admonitions of the Sages, to avoid gambling,
bad women and men of evil minds, and so to govern my conduct that
when I died my ancestors might rejoice to welcome me as a guest
My father gave me $100, and I went to Hong Kong with five other
boys from our place and we got steerage passage on a steamer,
paying $50 each Everything was new to me. All my life I had been
used to sleeping on a board bed with a wooden pillow, and I found
the steamer's bunk very uncomfortable, because it was so soft.
The food was different from that which I had been used to, and
I did not like it at all. I was afraid of the stews, for the thought
of what they might be made of by the wicked wizards of the ship
made me ill. Of the great power of these people I saw many signs.
The engines that moved the ship were wonderful monsters, strong
enough to lift mountains. When I got to San Francisco, which was
before the passage of the Exclusion act, I was half starved, because
I was afraid to eat the provisions of the barbarians, but a few
days' living in the Chinese quarter made me happy again. A man
got me work as a house servant in an American family, and my start
was the same as that of almost all the Chinese in this country.
The Chinese laundryman does not learn his trade in China; there
are no laundries in China. The women there do the washing in tubs
and have no washboards or flat irons. All the Chinese laundrymen
here were taught in the first place by American women just as
I was taught.
When I went to work for that American family I could not speak
a word of English, and I did not know anything about housework.
The family consisted of husband, wife and two children They were
very good to me and paid me $3.50 a week, of which I could save
I did not know how to do anything, and I did not understand what
the lady said to me, but she showed me how to cook, wash, iron,
sweep, dust, make beds, wash dishes, clean windows, paint and
brass, polish the knives and forks, etc., by doing the things
herself and then overseeing my efforts to imitate her. She would
take my hands and show them how to do things. She and her husband
and children laughed at me a great deal, but it was all good natured.
I was not confined to the house in the way servants are confined
here, but when my work was done in the morning I was allowed to
go out till lunch time. People in California are more generous
than they are here.
In six months I had learned how to do the work of our house quite
well, and I was getting $5 a week and board, and putting away
about $4.25 a week. I had also learned some English, and by going
to a Sunday school I learned more English and something about
Jesus, who was a great Sage, and whose precepts are like those
of Kong foo¬tsze.
It was twenty years ago when I came to this country, and I worked
for two years as a servant, getting at the last$35 a month. I
sent money home to comfort my parents, but tho I dressed well
and lived well and had pleasure, going quite often to the Chinese
theater and to dinner parties in Chinatown, I saved $50 in the
first six months, $90 in the second, $120 in the third and $150
in the fourth. So I had $410 at the end of two years, and I was
now ready to start in business.
When I first opened a laundry it was in company with a partner,
who had been in the business for some years. We went to a town
about 500 miles inland, where a railroad was building. We got
a board shanty and worked for the men employed by the railroads.
Our rent cost us $10 a month and food nearly $5 a week each, for
all food was dear and we wanted the best of everything -we lived
principally on rice, chickens, ducks and pork, and did our own
cooking. The Chinese take naturally to cooking. It cost us about
$50 for our furniture and apparatus, and we made close upon $60
a week, which we divided between us. We had to put up with many
insults and some frauds, as men would come in and claim parcels
that did not belong to them, saying they had lost their tickets,
and would fight if they did not get what they asked for. Sometimes
we were taken before Magistrates and fined for losing shirts that
we had never seen. On the other hand, we were making money, and
even after sending home $3 a week I was able to save about $15.
When the railroad construction gang moved on we went with them.
The men were rough and prejudiced against us, but not more so
than in the big Eastern cities. It is only lately in New York
that the Chinese have been able to discontinue putting wire screens
in front of their windows, and at the present time the street
boys are still breaking the windows of Chinese laundries all over
the city, while the police seem to think it a joke.
We were three years with the railroad, and then went to the mines,
where we made plenty of money in gold dust, but had a hard time,
for many of the miners were wild men who carried revolvers and
after drinking would come into our place to shoot and steal shirts,
for which we had to pay. One of these men hit his head hard against
a flat iron and all the miners came and broke up our laundry,
chasing us out of town. They were going to hang us. We lost all
our property and $365 in money, which members of the mob must
Luckily most of our money was in the hands of Chinese bankers
in San Francisco. I drew $500 and went East to Chicago, where
I had a laundry for three years, during which I increased my capital
to $2,500. After that I was four years in Detroit I went home
to China in 1897, but returned in 1898, and began a laundry business
in Buffalo. But Chinese laundry business now is not as good as
it was ten years ago.
American cheap labor in the steam laundries has hurt it. So I
determined to become a general merchant, and with this idea I
came to New York and opened a shop in the Chinese quarter, keeping
silks, teas, porcelain, clothes, shoes, hats and Chinese provisions,
which include sharks' fins and nuts, lily bulbs and lily flowers,
lychee nuts and other Chinese dainties, but do not include rats,
because it would be too expensive to import them. The rat which
is eaten by the Chinese is a field animal which lives on rice,
grain and sugar cane. Its flesh is delicious. Many Americans who
have tasted shark's fin and bird's nest soup and tiger lily flowers
and bulbs are firm friends of Chinese cookery. If they could enjoy
one of our fine rats they would go to China to live, so as to
get some more.
American people eat ground hogs, which are very like these Chinese
rats, and they also eat many sorts of food that our people would
not touch. Those that have dined with us know that we understand
how to live well.
The ordinary laundry shop is generally divided into three rooms.
In front is the room where the customers are received, behind
that a bedroom and in the back the work shop, which is also the
dining room and kitchen. The stove and cooking utensils are the
same as those of the Americans.
Work in a laundry begins early on Monday morning about seven
o'clock. There are generally two men, one of whom washes while
the other does the ironing. The man who irons does not start in
till Tuesday, as the clothes are not ready for him to begin till
that time. So he has Sundays and Mondays as holidays. The man
who does the washing finishes up on Friday night, and so he has
Saturday and Sunday. Each works only five days a week, but those
are long days¬from seven o'clock in the morning till midnight.
During his holidays the Chinaman gets a good deal of fun out of
life. There's a good deal of gambling and some opium smoking,
but not so much as Americans imagine. Only a few of New York's
Chinamen smoke opium. The habit is very general among rich men
and officials in China, but not so much among poor men. I don't
think it does as much harm as the liquor that the Americans drink
There's nothing so bad as a drunken man Opium doesn't make people
Gambling is mostly fan tan, but there is a good deal of poker,
which the Chinese have learned from Americans and can play very
well. They also gamble with dominoes and dice.
The fights among the Chinese and the operations of the hatchet
men are all due to gambling. Newspapers often say that they are
feuds be¬tween the six companies, but that is a mistake. The
six companies are purely benevolent societies, which look after
the Chinaman when he first lands here. They represent the six
southern provinces of China, where most of our people are from,
and they are like the German, Swedish, English, Irish and Italian
societies which assist emigrants. When the Chinese keep clear
of gambling and opium they are not blackmailed, and they have
no trouble with hatchet men or any others.
About 500 of New York's Chinese are Christians, the others are
Buddhists, Taoists, etc., all mixed up. These haven't any Sunday
of their own, but keep New Year s Day and the first and fifteenth
days of each month, when they go to the temple in Mott Street.
In all New York there are only thirty four Chinese women, and
it is impossible to get a Chinese woman out here unless one goes
to China and marries her there, and then he must collect affidavits
to prove that she really is his wife. That is in case of a merchant
A laundryman can't bring his wife here under any circumstances,
and even the women of the Chinese Ambassador's family had trouble
getting in lately.
Is it any wonder, therefore, or any proof of the demoralization
of our people if some of the white women in Chinatown are not
of good character? What other set of men so isolated and so surrounded
by alien and prejudiced people are more moral? Men, wherever they
may be, need the society of women, and among the white women of
Chinatown are many excellent and faithful wives and mothers.
Recently there has been organized among us the Oriental Club,
composed of our most intelligent and influential men. We hope
for a great improvement in social conditions by its means, as
it will discuss matters that concern us, bring us in closer touch
with Americans and speak for us in something like an official
Some fault is found with us for sticking to our old customs here,
especially in the matter of clothes, but the reason is that we
find American clothes much inferior, so far as comfort and warmth
go. The Chinaman's coat for the winter is very durable, very light
and very warm. It is easy and not in the way. If he wants to work
he slips out of it in a moment and can put it on again as quickly.
Our shoes and hats also are better, we think, for our purposes,
than the American clothes. Most of us have tried the American
clothes, and they make us feel as if we were in the stocks.
I have found out, during my residence in this country, that much
of the Chinese prejudice against Americans is unfounded, and I
no longer put faith in the wild tales that were told about them
in our village, tho some of the Chinese, who have been here twenty
years and who are learned men, still believe that there is no
marriage in this country, that the land is infested with demons
and that all the people are given over to general wickedness.
I know better. Americans are not all bad, nor are they wicked
wizards. Still, they have their faults, and their treatment of
us is outrageous.
The reason why so many Chinese go into the laundry business in
this country is because it requires little capital and is one
of the few opportunities that are open. Men of other nationalities
who are jealous of the Chinese, because he is a more faithful
worker than one of their people, have raised such a great outcry
about Chinese cheap labor that they have shut him out of working
on farms or in factories or building railroads or making streets
or digging sewers. He cannot practice any trade, and his opportunities
to do business are limited to his own countrymen. So he opens
a laundry when he quits domestic service.
The treatment of the Chinese in this country is all wrong and
mean. It is persisted in merely because China is not a fighting
The Americans would not dare to treat Germans, English, Italians
or even Japanese as they treat the Chinese, because if they did
there would be a war.
There is no reason for the prejudice against the Chinese. The
cheap labor cry was always a falsehood. Their labor was never
cheap, and is not cheap now. It has always commanded the highest
market price. But the trouble is that the Chinese are such excellent
and faithful workers that bosses will have no others when they
can get them. If you look at men working on the street you will
find an overseer for every four or five of them. That watching
is not necessary for Chinese. They work as well when left to themselves
as they do when some one is looking at them.
It was the jealousy of laboring men of other nationalities¬
especially the Irish that raised all the outcry against the Chinese.
No one would hire an Irishman, German, Englishman or Italian when
he could get a Chinese, because our countrymen are so much more
honest, industrious, steady, sober and painstaking. Chinese were
persecuted, not for their vices, but for their virtues. There
never was any honesty in the pretended fear of leprosy or in the
cheap labor scare, and the persecution continues still, because
Americans make a mere practice of loving justice. They are all
for money making, and they want to be on the strongest side always.
They treat you as a friend while you are prosperous, but if you
have a misfortune they don't know you. There is nothing substantial
in their friendship.
Wu Ting Fang talked very plainly to Americans about their ill
treatment of our countrymen, but we don't see any good results.
We hoped for good from Roosevelt, we thought him a brave and good
man, but yet he has continued the exclusion of our countrymen,
tho all other nations are allowed to pour in here Irish, Italians,
Jews, Poles, Greeks, Hungarians, etc. It would not have been so
if Mr. McKinley had lived.
Irish fill the almshouses and prisons and orphan asylums, Italians
are among the most dangerous of men, Jews are unclean and ignorant
Yet they are all let in, while Chinese, who are sober, or duly
law abiding, clean, educated and industrious, are shut out. There
are few Chinamen in jails and none in the poor houses. There are
no Chinese tramps or drunkards. Many Chinese here have become
sincere Christians, in spite of the persecution which they have
to endure from their heathen countrymen. More than half the Chinese
in this country would become citizens if allowed to do so, and
would be patriotic Americans. But how can they make this country
their home as matters now are! They are not allowed to bring wives
here from China, and if they marry American women there is a great
All Congressmen acknowledge the injustice of the treatment of
my people, yet they continue it. They have no backbone.
Under the circumstances, how can I call this my home, and how
can any one blame me if I take my money and go back to my village