Chinese Emigrants Essay, Research Paper
Running Head: Chinese Immigrant
Hsu Kin: A Chinese Immigrant’s Story
Tamanee C. Mundy
Hawaii Pacific University
Hsu Kin grew up a poor boy in a small village in southern China. From as young as he could remember, Kin dreamed of journeying to America in search of wealth in the gold-laden streams of California. At age 14, Kin’s dream became reality, and his father granted him permission to leave China in favor of a better life in America. At a cost of $30, Kin traveled to San Francisco by way of a large ship. His trip was not without hardships, but this only made his new life in America that much sweeter. Working odd jobs as a farmer, vegetable seller, and cook, Kin made enough money to repay his $30 debt and live comfortably in the Chinese section of San Francisco called Chinatown. Chinatown, its Buddhist temple, and its associations proved to be safe havens for Kin and his fellow Chinese immigrants from racial prejudice and discrimination. The journey brought Kin full circle in taking him from a poor boy in China to a foreigner in a new land to a leader in the familiar confines of Chinatown.
Hsu Kin: A Chinese Immigrant’s Story
Hsu Kin’s decision to emigrate from China was a difficult one. However, the prospects for wealth outweighed the hardships of leaving his home and extended family behind. Kin spent his first 14 years living in poverty in the southern Kwangtung Province. Being a poor Chinese family, the Hsu’s home was made up of two large rooms which housed not only the Hsu parents and their three children, but also the sacred family cow. The family worked long hours and had no money for shoes, books, or even a doctor’s visit when they were sick. The Hsu family had a very difficult life, but not atypical of a poor rural family living in China in the mid-nineteenth Century.
In 1865, the Hsu Kin emigrated from China to America in the wake of the California Gold Rush. His father too would have left China in favor of America if it were not for his wife and children. Kin was just 14 years old when he left, but already he knew the prospects for success in America. He and his cousins had spent countless hours fantasizing about crossing the “great sea to that magic land where gold was to be had free from river beds and men became rich overnight” (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 19). Just months prior to the emigration exploit, a man who had left China two years earlier a poor man had returned to the village triumphant as a now rich merchant. The man’s success and incredible wealth helped to convince Kin that his dream could become reality, and he got consent from his father to leave the village behind in hopes of finding great wealth in San Francisco.
With the dream of a better life, Kin began his journey to America. He traveled in a small raft from his village to Hong Kong via the Pearl River. Once in Hong Kong, he purchased a ticket to San Francisco at a cost of $30. Kin had to option to pay for the ticket by way of a hui or debt which would be incurred by the Hsu family left back in China (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 23). If Kin did not return with the wealth that he hoped for, his parents, siblings, and extended family would be responsible for working to repay the debt. However, Kin was fortunate that his father was able to borrow the $30 necessary for the ticket from a rich neighbor. Kin’s father thought of the money as a good investment as he too dreamed of wealth for Kin.
Kin boarded the Wing Tung Ki ship and lived on it for two long months thinking only of the people and culture he had left behind. In leaving China, Kin had left a country and a people who lived life in accordance with the teachings of Confucius (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 10). Confucian values included respect for parents and elders, reverence of a male dominated society, and obedience of women to their husbands. In such a male dominated society, women were expected to remain at home to take on all responsibilities for raising children and caring for elderly family members. In the upper class society, women bound their feet to increase their feminine beauty, but the practice left them virtual cripples (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 14). Men were given almost sole authority over all decisions affecting the family including parental authority and control (Schaefer, 2000, pp. 362). Arranged marriages were common in Chinese society with women having no say in who they would marry, however, divorce rates were extremely low. Low divorce rates were not a result of adherence to religious convictions, but rather a result of fear of the disgrace a divorce would cast on individuals and families concerned. In the 19th Century Chinese society, religion was dominated by both Buddhism and Taoism in addition to special religious folk gods for all occasions. All of these aspects of Chinese society unified to form the Chinese way of life that Kin had grown so accustomed to after 14 years of living in China.
Kin arrived in San Francisco 2 months and 22 days after he had left his small village in China. He overcame sickness and hunger in order to endure the long journey to America. Once in San Francisco, Kin took a host of odd jobs in order to make money. These jobs included working as a farm hand in Oakland, a vegetable seller in a mining camp, a cook in a lumber camp, and a label maker in a salmon cannery. Although the jobs seemed menial, the pay was high by Chinese standards (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 11). Of all the jobs that Kin held, he, like many of his fellow Chinese immigrants, was most successful as a farm laborer. Many believed that the Chinese’s success in the farming industry stemmed from fact that they learned quickly and were “accurate, painstaking, and trustworthy (Chen, 1980, pp. 84).
Although he had earned a good job with a sizable salary by Chinese standards, Kin still lacked complete happiness in his new life in America. Ever since he had landed in San Francisco, Kin had endured taunts and prejudice. He and other Chinese immigrants were treated as inferiors. The severity of the taunts even led to physical abuse as some men threw stones at Kin and his fellow Chinese workers as they walked to and from work. Governmental interdiction only made the situation worse as exemplified by the Immigrant Tax which was designed to monetarily discourage Chinese men from immigrating to the state of California (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 62). Similarly, the 1879 New California Constitution declared that foreigners were “dangerous to the well-being of the State, and the Legislature shall discourage their immigration by all the means within its power” (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 62). To counter this prejudice, Kin sought refuge by settling in the Chinese section of San Francisco. In this secluded section of the city, Kin felt comfort in being able to hear and speak the Chinese dialect, eat Chinese-style food, buy imported Chinese articles, and follow the customs and traditions that he remembered from his boyhood. This section of the city soon became known as Chinatown, revered by Kin and other Chinese immigrants. In add
When Kin arrived in San Francisco, he also saw that many of his religious beliefs were challenged by American mainstream religious ideals. The majority of Americans were Christian so Kin’s Buddhist beliefs religiously isolated him from most of the Americans. Kin found a Buddhist temple, the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, on the outskirts of Chinatown that soon became his religious safe haven (Chan, 1991, pp. 73). In addition to fulfilling his religious needs, Kin’s new church helped to meet his political and social needs as well. The other church members provided social ties that eventually led him to meet his wife. Similarly, the church became a vehicle through which Kin and its other members could raise money and discuss political issues that were important to them. In effect, the Buddhist church helped to further link Kin to his Chinese homeland.
Like other immigrant groups, the Chinese organized ethnically oriented associations designed to unify the ethnic community. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) was such a group. Kin joined the CCBA during its infancy and helped to see the association grow into one of the most powerful and respected Chinese organizations (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 70). Kin started simply as a member of the CCBA in 1867 and progressed up the association ranks, eventually becoming one of its San Francisco-based leaders. Like other CCBA leaders, Kin eventually served as one of the leaders in the Chinatown government. With the help of men like Kin, the CCBA effectively organized opposition to discriminatory laws against the Chinese immigrants at both the state and federal level (Hoobler, 1994, pp. 70). Holding a leadership position in the CCBA turned out to be one of Kin’s most successful and memorable endeavors of his journey in America.
Hsu Kin grew to love America. The once foreign land became a familiar home to him after just a few years. The tight-knit Chinese community of Chinatown helped to fulfill Kin’s need for the people, language, and customs that he had left behind in China. The Buddhist temple satiated his need for religious practice amid a predominately Christian country. His ties to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associated solidified his ties to a country and community which learned to call his own.
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Chen, Jack. The Chinese of America. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980.
Hoobler, Dorothy and Hoobler, Thomas. The Chinese American Family Album. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1994.