Empress of China fan, ca. 1784. Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection. This fan depicts the Empress of China—the first American merchant vessel to trade with China. The ship departed from New York harbor in 1784 and returned the following year, laden with porcelains, silks, and teas.
Chinese American, 1883. New-York Historical Society. Activist Wong Chin Foo published this newspaper, entitled Chinese American, in New York in 1883—possibly the first public use of the term “Chinese American.” In the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong intended the title as an assertion of identity and a challenge to anti-Chinese sentiment.
Jake Lee, Laborers Working on Central Pacific Railroad, ca. 1950s. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA). © Chinese Historical Society of America. Chinese settled throughout the rapidly developing American West, making their living as small business owners and laborers. These workers laid the transcontinental railroad track through the Sierra Nevada mountains.
China in N.Y. 4th of July Parade, 1911. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-B2-2302-15]. The large and prosperous community of Chinese residents in Marysville, California acquired this ceremonial dragon from China in the 1880s. The majestic “Moo Lung” appeared in parades and celebrations nationwide, including the July 4th, 1911 “Parade of Nations” in New York City.
Anna May Wong Certificate of Identity, August 28, 1924. National Archives at San Francisco (54099). Starting in 1909, Chinese entering or residing in the U.S. were required to carry a government-issued Certificate of Identity at all times. Even movie stars like Anna May Wong were subject to the law.
The Ging Hawk Club, Thanksgiving, Hotel Sheraton, NYC, ca. 1933-1952. Courtesy of Alice Lee Chun, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection. American-born Chinese youth gravitated to the Ging Hawk Club, which began in the 1930s as a YWCA-affiliated group. Drawing upon family life, home village traditions, and business interests, such clubs helped structure public life for Chinese in America.
Hazel Ying Lee and Virginia Wong, ca. 1932–33. Courtesy of Frances M. Tong, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection. During WWII, many Chinese Americans served in either the U.S. Armed Forces or civilian volunteer organizations that aided in the war effort. Hazel Ying Lee joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and flew planes to warfront embarkation points. She died in a plane crash in 1944.
Joyce Chen. Private Collection. © WGBH Educational Foundation. Joyce Chen left Shanghai in 1949, settling in Cambridge, MA. Capitalizing on her culinary skills, she opened a Mandarin-style restaurant in 1958. Her growing reputation and subsequent cookbook landed her a nationally televised cooking show—the first TV series with an Asian host—and her own Chinese cookware line.
“Write Your Congressman,” in Chinese Press, September 10, 1943. Courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA). During WWII, Chinese Americans and their supporters petitioned Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. Their campaign was successful—the 60-year statute was overturned in 1943. However, Chinese immigration remained subject to severe quotas.
Low family portrait, ca. 1961, Courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection. Adapting to the immigration laws that kept them apart, a local photography studio helped the Low family of New York create an impossible family portrait by pasting in the faces of missing relatives.