When the Chinese went out for Jews

For the benefit of our Chinese readers, as well as anyone else who has not seen this excellent piece, I would like to introduce Scott Seligman’s “The Night New York’s Chinese Went Out for Jews: How a 1903 Chinatown fundraiser for pogrom victims united two persecuted peoples.” For our Chinese readers I suppose I should explain the joke in the title. Americans went out for Chinese a lot. Chinese restaurants were popular in the U.S. for a long time. Jews in particular went out for Chinese on Christmas. Christmas was the day that every single goy in America had a family meal, and so Jews were left all alone, like Americans in China at Spring Festival. I suppose Jews could have stayed in and had a family meal of their own, but they tended to make a point of going out, and the only place that would be open was a Chinese restaurant.1Not as a rule a place that non-Jews would visit on Christmas, but a place where Jews and Chinese could commiserate on their common lack of American-ness.

Given this bond between Jews and Chinese, it is maybe less surprising than it seems that a sort of Pan-Asian solidarity led Chinese to mobilize in support of the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Chinese donated money, marched through the streets, and attended “a Chinese-language drama entitled The 10 Lost Tribes. Its subject, however, was not the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times, but rather the subjugation of the Chinese by the Manchus in the early years of the Ch’ing Dynasty.” It’s a very good article, and rather than my summarizing it, you should go read it.



  1. Yes, the connection between Jews and Chinese restaurants goes beyond Christmas. It’s just a blog post. []


Source: Chinese Canadian Newspapers

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:07 pm

Historical sources of various kinds are making it online all the time. I recently came across a digital collection of Chinese newspapers from Canada available at the Multicultural Canada website.

Chinese Canadian Community News 加華僑報 (1970s-80s)
Chinese Express 快報 (1970s-80s)
Chinese Times 大漢公報 (1910s-1990s)
Hung Chung She Po 洪鐘時報 (1950s)
Ottawa Chinese Community Newsletter 加京華報 (1970s-80s)

There is also some issues of a Korean newspaper:

Minchung Sinmun

We can read, for example, the report of opening of hostilities in July 1937 on the day after the firing began in the July 8th issue, where the news (中日戰爭爆發) reached page 2. Also of concern that day, was the treatment of Chinese within Japan, which also gets reported on.

Though some years and months are listed, I had trouble finding issues in many of them. It would be nice if they had a list of available issues at the home page for each newspaper. The pages, when opened, are embedded into the site, but are simple JPG files which can be made to open in a new window using contextual menus.

Also, via their collection of links, I noticed there are some interesting materials related to the Chinese in Canada on this site:

Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia: An Electronic Inventory

The site includes access to historical photographs, lists of organizations, and links to other Canadian sites containing historical materials.


Imperial Visits and Attitudes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:02 am

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Chinese Old Man Statue 2 And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.


  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising. []
  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki []
  3. see also []



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:30 pm

早报有好奇怪的文件关于中国得婚姻制度。 作者 叶鹏飞谈到中国的离婚率上升。在一部分时一个建立在史学研究基础上的观点。 他说道国外婚姻制度的改变,特别斯泰芬尼·库茨(Stephanie Coontz) 的书。对我来说这是很有意思,因为在美国的报纸如果有一事可以说有”永恒精神“就是我们的婚姻制度。

但是,他也说道中国文化的最基本的特色。一个 是余英时的“一生为故国招魂”,和“回家过年”的文化精神。


有一部分”日本人論 “的味道。在国外他可以分析历史变成,但在国内(或者文化内)他要识别中华的永恒精神。最有意思是他的文化特点是回家过年。美国的文化是一样。以前我们没有火鸡节,但是在二十世纪我们越来越多“在冰天雪地中艰难跋涉,坚持回家 ”. 是非常现代的文化传统


Fortune Cookie History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:48 am

A grad student from Kanagawa University may have cracked the great riddle of Asian cuisine: the origin of the Fortune Cookie! As the NY Times reports, the original fortune cookies may have been produced by Kyoto-area confectioners in the late 1800s.1 The practice — and the distinctive iron grills used to make the sembei crackers, which are part of the historical puzzle — spread to Japanese-owned Chop Suey houses in San Francisco.2 From there, Chinese-owned restaurants began to offer them, and Chinese-owned bakeries supplied them.

Then came WWII, which changed everything.

Ms. Nakamachi is still unsure how exactly fortune cookies made the jump to Chinese restaurants. But during the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. The Umeya bakery distributed fortune cookies to well over 100 such restaurants in southern and central California.

Early on, Chinese-owned restaurants discovered the cookies, too. Ms. Nakamachi speculates that Chinese-owned manufacturers began to take over fortune cookie production during World War II, when Japanese bakeries all over the West Coast closed as Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mr. Wong pointed out: “The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

The war also served to popularize the fortune cookie

they were encountered by military personnel on the way back from the Pacific Theater. When these veterans returned home, they would ask their local Chinese restaurants why they didn’t serve fortune cookies as the San Francisco restaurants did.

The cookies rapidly spread across the country. By the late 1950s, an estimated 250 million fortune cookies were being produced each year by dozens of small Chinese bakeries and fortune cookie companies. One of the larger outfits was Lotus Fortune in San Francisco, whose founder, Edward Louie, invented an automatic fortune cookie machine. By 1960, fortune cookies had become such a mainstay of American culture that they were used in two presidential campaigns: Adlai Stevenson’s and Stuart Symington’s.

It’s such an American tale. It’s all there: entrepreneurship, food, racism, migration, war, marketing, invention, industrialization and orientalism.3 I can’t wait to tell my students.

(Crossposted, of course)

  1. I’m immediately reminded of the rickshaw, which everyone associates with China but which was actually invented as the jinrikisha in Japan at the opening of the Meiji era. There is evidence in the Times article going back to the early 1800s, though. []
  2. Japanese in North America were much more likely to be from Kansai than Japanese in Hawai’i []
  3. Also the obsession with national origins, Japanese-Chinese competition, the value of open archives, the historiography of food culture and the power of media to shape a historical finding. []


The Chinese are way more advanced than the Americans

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:35 pm

Geoff Wade sent a long message to H-Asia detailing the current status of the raising of the Nanhai1, a large Song dynasty (or maybe Ming dynasty, accounts vary) cargo ship being raised off the coast of Guangdong. The thing I find most interesting is the scale of the project, the first bit of underwater archeology done by the Chinese1 We do have underwater archaeologists in the West, but they are poorly funded. This seems to be a huge project, and part of the motivation is keeping the treasures of China’s cultural heritage out of the hands of foreign treasure hunters.

What impresses me most is what they are doing with it. The whole ship is being moved to shore and put in a giant pressurized tank so that it can be displayed and people can watch the underwater archaeologists work on it. China is truly at the forefront of Public History with Chinese Characteristics.

This is a really big tank being built to hold the Nanhai1 in its new exhibit (from the BBC)

NanHai1 tank

  1. Press accounts are not very clear on who is doing this. A university? The state? A special commission? []


It’s not a direct flight

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:41 pm

An account of how one Chinese migrant got to Italy, from Pieke et. al Transnational Chinese

I got out of China with an official passport. A fake one. I mean it had my details, but a snakehead got it for me. We only learned later that he got it in Ningde pre­fecture [north of Fuzhou]. … I spent a week in Hong Kong, in Clear Water Bay. Hong Kong is beautiful. Then I went to the Ukraine. I spent three months in Kiev, then I took a boat from Odessa to … let’s see … Romania.

Question: A big or small boat?

Xu: A small boat. At that time I still had the official Chinese passport, and you didn’t need a visa to Romania with that.

Question: So why did you have to cross the border illegally?

Xu: There are safety considerations for the snakehead…. From Romania I went to Greece, and from Greece with a large boat to Italy. That was dangerous because [by then] I had a Japanese passport. The Italians caught me at the bor­der and returned me to Greece. Then they put me in prison for four months. I was there together with two Englishmen, Mark and Michael. There were very good, really very good. To this day, it is them that I thank most. Even from Prato, I have called them. I learned some colloquial English from them. So my boss [in Prato] asked me whether I used to teach English. He noticed that I could talk a bit in English when I was dealing with Italian customers. He thought I had taught English. . . . Michael and Mark were drug smugglers. They told me that they had traveled between Hong Kong, Greece, and Britain smuggling drugs. But in Greece they were caught and sentenced to six years. At that time they were going to be released. The father of one of them had already come to Greece to take him home…. Eventually the Greek police took me to the Turkish border at night and told me to go to the other side. I didn’t know what was happening; they were pointing their guns at me. Then it turned out they were helping me cross into Turkey!

Question: Why do you think they did that?

Xu: We didn’t know! We still don’t know! The Greeks had some conflict with the Turks, maybe that’s why. On the Turkish side I got caught, returned to Greece, then the Greeks returned me to Turkey again. For three days I was there wandering in the mountains without eating. Finally I ran into an Iraqi who was in the human smuggling business. He told me how to take a bus to Ankara. In Ankara, we felt very ragged and were very hungry. Finally we found a run­down hotel. We explained to the owner that we were tourists, and all our money and tickets had been stolen, and the owner let us stay. Then we started asking around where there was a Chinese restaurant, because usually Chinese restaurants are in touch with snakeheads. Eventually we found one, but in that restaurant they didn’t know any snakeheads.

Question: Who ran that restaurant?

Xu: Someone from Harbin. He had been living there for fifteen years or so. He told us to go to a restaurant in Istanbul; there we would find snakeheads. With that new group of “human snakes” (renshe, smuggled migrants) we went to Egypt. When we left Turkey we used a Chinese passport, but when we ar­rived in Egypt we used a Korean one, because with that one you didn’t need a visa.

Question: So you had two passports with you?

Xu: Yes. But in Egypt there was some trouble. We didn’t get caught, but there was some trouble with the snakehead, it became dangerous, and we had to go back to Turkey. For the second time it was OK, and we flew from Egypt to Aus­tria, and then from there to Italy. My older sister’s husband came to Venice to fetch me. It took me eleven months to arrive here.

Besides making me feel bad for all the whining I do about long layovers this is story makes me realize that a lot of the simplicity in history is based on lack of data. This guy was in China. He is now in Italy. But the story is a bit more complex than that. I was also struck by both how porous borders are1 and how powerful they still are.

  1. although different borders are porous in different ways. I assume our hero would have had more trouble getting into Singapore posing as a Korean than he did in Egypt []


(A Little) Chinese History at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:14 am

There was, I’ll admit, a lot of Chinese content at ASPAC which I didn’t see. Such is life. I did see two papers which I want to discuss here briefly, though, from the “Globalization and Cultural Links” panel: on Qing “Dragon Robes” and transnational adoption.



Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]


Globalized Chinese Culture

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:48 pm

Chinese culture is global culture. Though Hawai’i is, in some ways, not a good sample, nonetheless there’s an awful lot of Chinese culture which has been nativized here, well beyond the presence of significant Chinese communities. Actually, this island has the lowest ratio of Chinese of any of the well-populated ones in the state, but the influences are unmistakable.

We just had our own Chinese New Year celebrations here in Hilo, for example, complete with firecrackers, and the usual downtown festival with fried foods and local crafts:

The tradition of firecrackers at New Year’s has been adopted by the State for the secular New Year, as well, producing hours of smoke-filled, eardrum-threatening fun at the turning of the calendar, regular reports of injuries and fires, and ever-so-slowly-tightening regulations about purchase and use of fireworks.

The annual visit by the Shanghai Circus (not the one based in Branson, MO, but I’m not sure which troupe exactly it is) is another big cultural event in Hilo, bringing out a huge population of children and parents:

In spite of that, the Chinese food in this town is terrible. On the up side, we have at least half a dozen decent-to-great Thai restaraunts (no, I don’t know why?, and fantastic Japanese food (that’s an easy one).

Update: to be fair, I should point out that Hilo does have a Chinese diaspora community, though it’s not as large as it has been. They used to have a church, though it no longer serves a purely ethnic constituency.

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