Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
Chinese -- Oregon, John Day (Or.) -- History
1 online resource (171 leaves : ill. (part mounted) ; 28 cm.)
More than one hundred years have passed since the Chinese laborers first landed in this country in the mid-nineteenth century. Yet their history remains cloudy. This phenomenon is quite understandable if one considers the facts that most of the laborers were illiterate, did not have the ability, and never intended, to speak for themselves. It is true that many scholarly works have been published, but few were written by Chinese historians. As a matter of fact, Chinese scholars are unaware that a small number of their countrymen played a strange, pitiful role in American history. The published works reflect the viewpoint of only American observers.
The labor of the Chinese workers was indispensable to the development of the frontier West at a time when resources were abundant and labor hands were few. So much work had to be done building railroads and dams, digging mines, clearing farm lands, canning salmon, etc. And the Chinese were welcomed to every line of manual work. There was a time when nearly every family at Astoria of Oregon and Olympia of Washington hired a Chinese as servant, as some writers claim.
When the great number of whites moved in from the east, along with them came the floating laborers and the European immigrants, as well as the labor union. Conditions changed rapidly, the Chinese found themselves not only excluded from all employment, but persecuted everywhere. California was the state which first utilized Chinese labor and first expelled it. This unfavorable circumstance forced the Chinese to flee from California to other states.
The purpose of this paper is not to give an account of how the Chinese were maltreated in a country known as a free, equal land opened widely to the whole world, but rather tries to find out how they survived, what were their daily problems, sorrows, and happiness, if any, and what were their inner feelings, their attitudes toward the white hosts. In short, the paper is written in an attempt to reconstruct their life in an alien land. In addition, the paper tries to answer the question why this oriental group appeared so peculiar in their behavior, as some whites commented, that they were both condemned and contemned.
One of the crucial problems facing the researcher in the field of early Chinese immigration history is the lack of original materials. This is the common defects in all the published works on this subject. Fortunately for the author, by an unique chance, he was able to study numerous objects left in a Chinese grocery store, the Kam Wah Chung Co. at John Day--a small town once a busy mining area in Eastern Oregon. The pioneer artifacts in this town are disappearing, though the gravels of the old gold placers are still visible along the hillsides and canyons. But the queer old building of the Chinese store is still standing stubbornly as it did one hundred years ago, on a road called Canton Street
So many objects were left in the building that the city of John Day is endeavoring to open it as a museum. From a historical point of view, many of these objects are very valuable. Among them are a great number of letters. Some were sent to the laborers from their families, in care of that building. Others were from the laborers to their homes, and for some unknown reason had not been sent to China. They are unique and of special importance to this paper. Perhaps nowhere else in the United States, or in War-torn China, can one find such a number of first hand records about the early Chinese in this country. Although few significant events, romantic affairs, or anything exciting can be expected of them, still, one can reconstruct a plain sketch of their life from these materials.
The paper, though it only presents a small picture of the Chinese group in Eastern Oregon, is aimed to serve, hopefully, as a footnote leading to an understanding of how the early Chinese immigrants once lived in the Pacific Northwest.
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Chen, Chia-lin, "A gold dream in the Blue Mountains : a study of the Chinese immigrants in the John Day area, Oregon, 1870-1910" (1972). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 962.