University of Virginia Library

Search this document 


expand section 




OF course there was a large Chinese population in Virginia
—it is the case with every town and city on the Pacific
coast. They are a harmless race when white men either let
them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact they are
almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting
the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are
quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they
are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman
is rare, and a lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman
has strength to use his hands he needs no support from anybody;
white men often complain of want of work, but a Chinaman
offers no such complaint; he always manages to find
something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody—
even to the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of
their sins, suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment
for their robberies, and death for their murders. Any white
man can swear a Chinaman's life away in the courts, but no
Chinaman can testify against a white man. Ours is the “land
of the free”—nobody denies that—nobody challenges it.
[Maybe it is because we won't let other people testify.] As I
write, news comes that in broad daylight in San Francisco,
some boys have stoned an inoffensive Chinaman to death, and
that although a large crowd witnessed the shameful deed, no
one interfered.

There are seventy thousand (and possibly one hundred
thousand) Chinamen on the Pacific coast. There were about


Page 392
a thousand in Virginia. They were penned into a “Chinese
quarter”—a thing which they do not particularly object to, as
they are fond of herding together. Their buildings were of
wood; usually only one story high, and set thickly together
along streets scarcely wide enough for a wagon to pass through.
Their quarter was a little removed from the rest of the town.
The chief employment of Chinamen in towns is to wash
clothing. They always send a bill, like this below, pinned to
the clothes. It is mere ceremony, for it does not enlighten
the customer much. Their price for washing
was $2.50 per dozen—rather cheaper than white
people could afford to wash for at that time. A
very common sign on the Chinese houses was:
“See Yup, Washer and Ironer”; “Hong Wo,
Washer”; “Sam Sing & Ah Hop, Washing.”
The house servants, cooks, etc., in California and
Nevada, were chiefly Chinamen. There were
few white servants and no Chinawomen so employed.
Chinamen make good house servants,
being quick, obedient, patient, quick to learn
and tirelessly industrious. They do not need to
be taught a thing twice, as a general thing. They
are imitative. If a Chinaman were to see his
master break up a centre table, in a passion, and
kindle a fire with it, that Chinaman would be
likely to resort to the furniture for fuel forever

All Chinamen can read, write and cipher
with easy facility—pity but all our petted voters
could. In California they rent little patches
of ground and do a deal of gardening. They
will raise surprising crops of vegetables on a
sand pile. They waste nothing. What is rubbish
to a Christian, a Chinaman carefully preserves and makes
useful in one way or another. He gathers up all the old oyster
and sardine cans that white people throw away, and procures
marketable tin and solder from them by melting.


Page 393


[Description: 504EAF. Page 393. In-line image of man with a hatchet about to chop up a chair in a parlor.]
He gathers up old bones and turns them into manure.
In California he gets a living out of old mining claims
that white men have
abandoned as exhausted
and worthless—and
then the
officers come down
on him once a month
with an exorbitant
swindle to which the
legislature has given
the broad, general
name of “foreign”
mining tax, but it is
usually inflicted on
no foreigners but
Chinamen. This
swindle has in some
cases been repeated
once or twice on the same victim in the course of the same
month—but the public treasury was not additionally enriched
by it, probably.

Chinamen hold their dead in great reverence—they worship
their departed ancestors, in fact. Hence, in China, a man's front
yard, back yard, or any other part of his premises, is made his
family burying ground, in order that he may visit the graves
at any and all times. Therefore that huge empire is one
mighty cemetery; it is ridged and wringled from its centre to
its circumference with graves—and inasmuch as every foot of
ground must be made to do its utmost, in China, lest the swarming
population suffer for food, the very graves are cultivated
and yield a harvest, custom holding this to be no dishonor to
the dead. Since the departed are held in such worshipful
reverence, a Chinaman cannot bear that any indignity be
offered the places where they sleep. Mr. Burlingame said that
herein lay China's bitter opposition to railroads; a road
could not be built anywhere in the empire without disturbing
the graves of their ancestors or friends.


Page 394

A Chinaman hardly believes he could enjoy the hereafter
except his body lay in his beloved China; also, he desires to
receive, himself, after death, that worship with which he has
honored his dead that preceded him. Therefore, if he visits a
foreign country, he makes arrangements to have his bones returned
to China in case he dies; if he hires to go to a foreign
country on a labor contract, there is always a stipulation that
his body shall be taken back to China if he dies; if the government
sells a gang of Coolies to a foreigner for the usual five-year
term, it is specified in the contract that their bodies shall
be restored to China in case of death. On the Pacific coast
the Chinamen all belong to one or another of several great
companies or organizations, and these companies keep track of
their members, register their names, and ship their bodies home
when they die. The See Yup Company is held to be the
largest of these. The Ning Yeong Company is next, and
numbers eighteen thousand members on the coast. Its headquarters
are at San Francisco, where it has a costly temple,
several great officers (one of whom keeps regal state in seclusion
and cannot be approached by common humanity), and a
numerous priesthood. In it I was shown a register of its members,
with the dead and the date of their shipment to China
duly marked. Every ship that sails from San Francisco carries
away a heavy freight of Chinese corpses—or did, at least, until
the legislature, with an ingenious refinement of Christian
cruelty, forbade the shipments, as a neat underhanded way of
deterring Chinese immigration. The bill was offered, whether
it passed or not. It is my impression that it passed. There
was another bill—it became a law—compelling every incoming
Chinaman to be vaccinated on the wharf and pay a duly appointed
quack (no decent doctor would defile himself with
such legalized robbery) ten dollars for it. As few importers
of Chinese would want to go to an expense like that, the law-makers
thought this would be another heavy blow to Chinese

What the Chinese quarter of Virginia was like—or, indeed,
what the Chinese quarter of any Pacific coast town was and is


Page 395
like—may be gathered from this item which I printed in the
Enterprise while reporting for that paper:

Chinatown.—Accompanied by a fellow reporter, we made a trip through
our Chinese quarter the other night. The Chinese have built their portion
of the city to suit themselves; and as they keep neither carriages nor
wagons, their streets are not wide enough, as a general thing, to admit of
the passage of vehicles. At ten o'clock at night the Chinaman may be seen
in all his glory. In every little cooped-up, dingy cavern of a hut, faint with
the odor of burning Josh-lights and with nothing to see the gloom by save
the sickly, guttering tallow candle, were two or three yellow, long-tailed
vagabonds, coiled up on a sort of short truckle-bed, smoking opium, motionless
and with their lustreless eyes turned inward from excess of satisfaction
—or rather the recent smoker looks thus, immediately after having passed
the pipe to his neighbor—for opium-smoking is a comfortless operation, and
requires constant attention. A lamp sits on the bed, the length of the long
pipe-stem from the smoker's mouth; he puts a pellet of opium on the end of
a wire, sets it on fire, and plasters it into the pipe much as a Christian would
fill a hole with putty; then he applies the bowl to the lamp and proceeds to
smoke—and the stewing and frying of the drug and the gurgling of the
juices in the stem would wellnigh turn the stomach of a statue. John
likes it, though; it soothes him, he takes about two dozen whiffs, and then
rolls over to dream, Heaven only knows what, for we could not imagine by
looking at the soggy creature. Possibly in his visions he travels far away
from the gross world and his regular washing, and feasts on succulent rats
and birds'-nests in Paradise.

Mr. Ah Sing keeps a general grocery and provision store at No. 13 Wang
street. He lavished his hospitality upon our party in the friendliest way.
He had various kinds of colored and colorless wines and brandies, with unpronouncable
names, imported from China in little crockery jugs, and which
he offered to us in dainty little miniature wash-basins of porcelain. He
offered us a mess of birds'-nests; also, small, neat sausages, of which we
could have swallowed several yards if we had chosen to try, but we suspected
that each link contained the corpse of a mouse, and therefore
refrained. Mr. Sing had in his store a thousand articles of merchandise,
curious to behold, impossible to imagine the uses of, and beyond our ability
to describe.

His ducks, however, and his eggs, we could understand; the former were
split open and flattened out like codfish, and came from China in that
shape, and the latter were plastered over with some kind of paste which
kept them fresh and palatable through the long voyage.

We found Mr. Hong Wo, No. 37 Chow-chow street, making up a lottery
scheme—in fact we found a dozen others occupied in the same way in various
parts of the quarter, for about every third Chinaman runs a lottery, and
the balance of the tribe “buck” at it. “Tom,” who speaks faultless English,
and used to be chief and only cook to the Territorial Enterprise, when the


Page 396
establishment kept bachelor's hall two years ago, said that “Sometime
Chinaman buy ticket one dollar hap, ketch um two tree hundred, sometime
no ketch um anyting; lottery like one man fight um seventy—may-be he
whip, may-be he get whip heself, welly good.” However, the percentage
being sixty-nine against him, the chances are, as a general thing, that “he
get whip heself.” We could not see that these lotteries differed in any
respect from our own, save that the figures being Chinese, no ignorant white
man might ever hope to succeed in telling “t'other from which;” the manner
of drawing is similar to ours.

Mr. See Yup keeps a fancy store on Live Fox street. He sold us fans of
white feathers, gorgeously ornamented; perfumery that smelled like Limburger
cheese, Chinese pens, and watch-charms made of a stone unscratchable
with steel instruments, yet polished and tinted like the inner coat of a
sea-shell.[1] As tokens of his esteem, See Yup presented the party with
gaudy plumes made of gold tinsel and trimmed with peacocks' feathers.

We ate chow-chow with chop-sticks in the celestial restaurants; our comrade
chided the moon-eyed damsels in front of the houses for their want of feminine
reserve; we received protecting Josh-lights from our hosts and “dickered”


Page 397
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 504EAF. Page 397. Tail-piece image of a Chinese person carrying a stick with papers hanging off of it.] for a pagan God or two. Finally, we were impressed with the genius
of a Chinese book-keeper; he figured up his accounts on a machine like a gridiron
with buttons strung on its bars; the different rows represented units,
tens, hundreds and thousands. He fingered them with incredible rapidity—
in fact, he pushed them from place to place as fast as a musical professor's
fingers travel over the keys of a piano.

They are a kindly disposed, well-meaning race, and are
respected and well treated by the upper classes, all over the
Pacific coast. No Californian gentleman or lady ever abuses
or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances, an explanation
that seems to be much needed in the East. Only the scum
of the population do it—they and their children; they, and,
naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise,
for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the
scum, there as well as elsewhere in America.


A peculiar species of the “jade-stone”—to a Chinaman peculiarly