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The Start of American Accommodation of the Chinese: Afong Moy's Experience from 1834 to 1850

  • TAO ZHANG
Abstract

Afong Moy came to the United States in 1834 as a popular attraction, and remained in the public spotlight until 1850. Her very presence as the first recorded Chinese woman on American soil prompted a heated national discussion regarding how to accommodate the Chinese living among Americans. A two-tiered paradigm that emerged from this dialogue disparaged Chinese culture while extending paternalistic care to Moy, pushing her toward acculturation, which was to be realized in a symbolic way after her disappearance from the exhibition stage. The pattern was not exclusive to Moy; rather, it was a general strategy that Americans had adopted to deal with the small but growing number of Chinese present in the United States prior to the widespread and virulent anti-Chinese sentiment that later engulfed American society. This study therefore sheds light on the oft-neglected early stage of Sino-American relations occurring within American borders.

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1 Chang, Iris, The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (New York: Penguin, 2003), 26.

2 Chan, Jennifer Leah, Transgressive Babymaking: Narratives of Reproduction and the Asian American Subject (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 49.

3 Bogdan, Robert, Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988), 25.

4 Yung, Judy, “Moy Afong,” in Wing-chung Ho, Clara, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: The Qing Period, 1644–1911 (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), 158; Huping, Ling, Surviving on the Gold Mountain: A History of Chinese American Women and Their Lives (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998), 1; Moy, James S., Marginal Sights: Staging Chinese in America (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993), 12; Lee, Robert G., Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 30.

5 Corbett, Christopher, The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010), 1920.

6 Bonner, Arthur, Alas! What Brought Thee Hither? The Chinese in New York 1800–1950 (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997), 2.

7 Moon, Krystyn R., Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in Popular Music and Performance, 1850s–1920s (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 5962.

8 Wei Tchen, John Kuo, New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture 1776–1882 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 101–6.

9 Ling, 1; Milner, Clyde A. and Bogue, Allan G., A New Significance: Re-envisioning the History of the American West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5960; Hayter-Menzies, Grant, Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008), 29; Ling, Huping, “Surviving on the Gold Mountain: A Review of Sources about Chinese American Women,” History Teacher, 26 (Aug. 1993), 465–66; Wong, Sau-ling C. and Santa Ana, Jeffrey J., “Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Literature,” Signs, 25 (Autumn 1999), 171226, 185.

10 Bevis, Teresa Brawner, A History of Higher Education Exchange: China and America (New York: Routledge, 2014), 20.

11 Moy, 12–13; Pfaelzer, Jean, “Hanging Out: A Research Methodology,” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 27 (2010), 140–59, 142; Feng, Pin-Chia, Diasporic Representations: Reading Chinese American Women's Fiction (Berlin: LIT Verlag Munster, 2012), 25.

12 Martin, Scott C., Killing Time: Leisure and Culture in Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1800–1850 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), 166; Dave, Shilpa et al. , eds., East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2005), xiii.

13 Rubin, Rachel and Melnik, Jeffrey, Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 136–37.

14 The Lotus Blossom/Madam Butterfly image describes Asian American women as sexually attractive, passive, obedient, self-sacrificial, and supplicant, whereas a Dragon Lady refers to a sinister and surreptitious female, “the feminized version of yellow peril.” See Ono, Kent A. and Pham, Vincent, Asian Americans and the Media (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), 66.

15 Moon, 59.

16 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 10 Nov. 1834, 2.

17 Smith, Bradley A., Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 19; Olson, Greg, The Ioway in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008), 112; US Census Bureau, “Table 648. Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers – Number and Earnings: 2000 to 2010,” at www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0649.pdf, accessed 21 April 2014; Dombroski, Thomas W. and Dombroski, Ronald, How America Was Financed: The True Story of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Contribution to the Financial and Economic Greatness of the United States (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2011), 97.

18 “Miss Afong Moy – Second Visit,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 22 Nov. 1834, 2; Easton Gazette, 29 Nov. 1834, 1–2.

19 “Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Farmer's Gazette, 28 Nov. 1834, 2; Massachusetts Spy, 3 Dec. 1834, 2.

20 “Miss Afong Moy,” Alexandria Gazette, 15 Jan. 1835, 3.

21 “The Chinese Lady,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Advertiser, 19 Jan. 1835, 2.

22 “Miss Afong Moy,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Advertiser, 26 Jan. 1835, 2.

23 “Miss Afong Moy,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Advertiser, 11 Feb. 1835, 2.

24 “Unprecedented Novelty!”, Daily National Intelligencer, 25 Feb. 1835, 2; 2 March 1835, 4; 5 March 1835, 1; 6 March 1835, 1; 9–11 March 1835.

25 “The Chinese Lady,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 17 March 1835, 2.

26 “Museum,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 14–20 March 1835.

27 “Last Week,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 24–26 March 1835.

28 “For a Very Short Time Only,” Charleston Courier, 20 April 1835, 3.

29 “Will Positively Close on Saturday, May 2,” Charleston Courier, 30 April 1835, 3; “Will Positively Close Tomorrow,” Southern Patriot, 1 May 1835, 3.

30 “The Chinese Lady,” Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, 19 May 1835, 1.

31 “Miss Afong Moy,” Essex Gazette, 18 July 1835, 2–3.

32 “For the Accommodation of Ladies,” American Traveller, 31 July 1835, 2.

33 “Miss Afong Moy,” Saturday Morning Transcript, 18 July 1835, 3; “Boston,” New-Hampshire Sentinel, 30 July 1835, 4.

34 “Museum,” Albany Argus, 13 Nov. 1835, 2; “The Oriental Stranger,” Albany Journal, 17 Nov. 1835, 2.

35 “The Chinese Lady,” Alexandria Gazette, 19 Nov. 1835, 3.

36 “For One Week Only,” Broadsides, American Antiquarian Society (AAS), Worcester, MA. The playbill only says that the exhibition would commence on Monday, 28 March, with no year information. Assuming that Moy's activities were confined to New York from 1834 to 1837, the AAS catalogue record takes the missing year as 1842, when 28 March fell on a Monday for the first time after 1837 (http://catalog.mwa.org/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=1001&recCount=10&recPointer=1&bibId=207260). But as this essay shows, the Chinese Lady had already traveled to many places beyond New York before 1837, and would remain inactive between 1838 and 1847. Therefore she should have visited New Orleans in a pre-1838 year, which had a Monday for 28 March. That year was 1836.

37 “Afong Moy,” Public Ledger, 14 April 1836, 2.

38 “Welcome to the Town of Havana!”, at www.townofhavana.com, accessed 22 May 2014.

39 “United Attractions for This Week Only,” Public Ledger, 30 May–4 June 1836.

40 “United Attractions for One Week More,” Public Ledger, 10 June 1836, 3.

41 “Now or Never,” Public Ledger, 11 June 1836, 2.

42 “Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 14–22 June 1836.

43 “Miss Afong Moy,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 27 June 1836, 2; “Peale's Museum,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 28 June–18 July 1836; Evening Post, 30 June 1836, 3.

44 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 3 Dec. 1836, 3.

45 Odell, George C. D., Annals of the New York Stage, Volume IV (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928), 186.

46 “Poor Miss Afong Moy,” Sun, 11 April 1838, 2; “Afong Moy,” Charleston Courier, 6 April 1838, 2; “Afong Moy,” The Floridian, 14 April 1838, 3.

47 “Afong Moy,” Connecticut Courant, 7 April 1838, 3; New-York Spectator, 12 April 1838, 1; Hampshire Gazette, 18 April 1838, 2.

48 “Mr. Caleb E. Taylor,” Charleston Courier, 27 April 1838, 2; “Afong Moy,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 25 April 1838, 2.

49 “The Keeper,” Daily Picayune, 25 April 1838, 2; “The Story,” Hampshire Gazette, 25 April 1838, 3; “False Report,” Sun, 19 April 1838, 2.

50 “Marriage Extraordinary,” New York Mirror, 28 April 1838, 351.

51 “One of the Siamese Twins,” Daily Picayune, 9 June 1838, 2.

52 “The Siamese Twins,” Portland Advertiser and Gazette of Maine, 9 Dec. 1834, 4.

53 “It Appears,” State Gazette, 7 April 1848, 1.

54 “The Chinese Lady,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette, 26 Aug. 1847, 2.

55 “Extraordinary Exhibition,” Daily Evening Transcript, 8 Sept. 1847, 3; “Amusements,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette, 17 March 1849, 1; “Afong Moy Nanchoy,” Daily National Intelligencer, 5 Nov. 1849, 3.

56 Quoted in Thomas A. Bogar, John E. Owens: Nineteenth Century American Actor and Manager (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002), 35.

57 “Extraordinary Exhibition,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 12 April 1850, 2.

58 “The Chinese Lady,” Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier, 19 Jan. 1835, 2; “Will Positively Close Tomorrow,” Southern Patriot, 1 May 1835, 3; “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 10 Nov. 1834, 2; “The Chinese Lady,” New York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2; “Peale's Museum,” Evening Post, 30 June 1836, 3; “Positively the Last Week of the Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 14 July 1836, 3; “Correspondence of the Advertiser,” Portland Advertiser and Gazette of Maine, 9 Dec. 1834, 4; “Extraordinary Exhibition,” Daily Evening Transcript, 8 Sept. 1847, 3.

59 “Visit to Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Portsmouth Journal of Literature & Politics, 22 Nov. 1834, 3.

60 The same article could be found in many other newspapers, including the Norfolk Advertiser, and Independent Politician, 15 Nov. 1834, 3; the American Advocate, 19 Nov. 1834, 3; the New-Bedford Mercury, 21 Nov. 1834, 1; and the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 22 Nov. 1834, 2.

61 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Nantucket Inquirer, 19 Nov. 1834, 2; “Museum,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 24 March 1835, 3; “For a Very Short Time Only,” Charleston Courier, 22 April 1835, 2, original emphasis.

62 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2; “The Chinese Lady,” New Hampshire Patriot, and State Gazette, 24 Nov. 1834, 3; “A Chinese Lady,” Connecticut Courant, 24 Nov. 1834, 2; “Miss Afong Moy,” Massachusetts Spy, 3 Dec. 1834, 2.

63 “The Chinese Lady,” New Hampshire Patriot, and State Gazette, 24 Nov. 1834, 3; “Miss Afong Moy,” Farmer's Gazette, 28 Nov. 1834, 2; “Miss Afong Moy,” Massachusetts Spy, 3 Dec. 1834, 2.

64 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Easton Gazette, 22 Nov. 1834, 1.

65 “Extraordinary Exhibition,” Daily Evening Transcript, 8 Sept. 1847, 3; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 12 April 1850, 2.

66 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Nantucket Inquirer, 19 Nov. 1834, 2.

67 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Easton Gazette, 22 Nov. 1834, 1.

68 “Miss Afong Moy – Second Visit,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 22 Nov. 1834, 2.

69 “Museum,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 24 March 1835, 3; “Miss Afong Moy,” Norfolk Advertiser, and Independent Politician, 18 July 1835, 2.

70 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2; Connecticut Courant, 24 Nov. 1834, 2; New Hampshire Patriot, and State Gazette, 24 Nov. 1834, 3.

71 “United Attractions for This Week Only,” Public Ledger, 10 June 1836, 3; “Baltimore Museum and Gallery of the Fine Arts,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 14 June 1836, 3; “The Chinese Lady,” Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, 19 May 1835, 1; “Peale's Museum,” Evening Post, 30 June 1836, 3.

72 “Novel Examination,” Southern Patriot, 5 Feb. 1835, 2.

73 “Manners and Customs in the East,” Parley's Magazine, 1 Jan. 1835, 71–72.

74 “Afong Moy,” Charleston Courier, 6 April 1838, 2.

75 “Afong Moy,” The Floridian, 14 April 1838, 3.

76 “Unprecedented Novelty,” Daily National Intelligencer, 2 March 1835, 4; “Museum,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 24 March 1835, 3; “A Chinese Lady,” Connecticut Courant, 24 Nov. 1835, 2.

77 “Correspondence of the Advertiser,” Portland Advertiser and Gazette of Maine, 9 Dec. 1834, 4.

78 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2.

79 “The Chinese Lady,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 17 March 1835, 2.

80 “Feet of the Chinese Women,” Scientific American, 7 Oct. 1848, 19.

81 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2.

82 “A Fair for the Purpose of Obtaining Funds,” Boston Courier, 1 Jan. 1835, 4.

83 “Noah's Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” New-Bedford Mercury, 21 Nov. 1834, 1.

84 “Miss Afong Moy – Second Visit,” Charleston Courier, 29 Nov. 1834, 2.

85 “The Chinese Lady's Foot,” Atkinson's Saturday Evening Post, 14 Feb. 1835, 3.

86 “To the Editor of the National Gazette,” National Gazette and Literary Register, 21 Feb. 1835, 4.

87 “China and Its Prospective Trade,” United States Magazine, and Democratic Review, May 1846, 385.

88 “Unprecedented Novelty,” Daily National Intelligencer, 6 March 1835, 1; “Museum,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 24 March 1835, 3; “For a Very Short Time Only,” Charleston Courier, 22 April 1835, 2.

89 “Afong Moy,” Hampshire Gazette, 18 April 1838, 2; “It Appears,” State Gazette, 7 April 1848, 1.

90 “Chinese Tradition,” Boston Weekly Magazine, 6 Oct. 1838, 39.

91 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Portsmouth Journal of Literature & Politics, 22 Nov. 1834, 3.

92 “Afong Moy,” Charleston Courier, 2 May 1835, 2; “Now or Never,” Public Ledger, 11 June 1836, 2.

93 “Miss Afong Moy,” Massachusetts Spy, 3 Dec. 1834, 2.

94 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2.

95 Ibid.

96 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Portsmouth Journal of Literature & Politics, 22 Nov. 1834, 3; “Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Farmer's Gazette, 28 Nov. 1834, 2.

97 “For a Very Short Time Only,” Charleston Courier, 20 April 1835, 3; “Afong Moy,” Charleston Courier, 2 May 1835, 2.

98 “Now or Never,” Public Ledger, 11 June 1836, 2; “Peale's Museum,” Evening Post, 30 June 1836, 3; “Positively the Last Week of the Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 14 July 1836, 3.

99 “Look Out,” Atkinson's Saturday Evening Post, 28 March 1835, 2.

100 “Miss Afong Moy,” Georgia Journal, 26 May 1835, 2.

101 Frances Anne Kemble, Francis the First (New York: Peabody, 1832).

102 “We Paid Our Respects to Her Chinese Ladyship, Miss Afong Moy,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 18 March 1835, 2.

103 “Visit to Miss Afong Moy, the Chinese Lady,” Norfolk Advertiser, and Independent Politician, 15 Nov. 1834, 3.

104 “Miss Afong Moy – Second Visit,” Charleston Courier, 29 Nov. 1834, 2.

105 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Commercial Advertiser, 15 Nov. 1834, 2; “Baltimore Museum and Gallery of the Fine Arts,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 14 June 1836, 3.

106 “Miss Afong Moy,” Alexandria Gazette, 15 Jan. 1835, 3.

107 “The Chinese Lady,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 17 March 1835, 2.

108 “Afong Moy,” The Floridian, 14 April 1838, 4.

109 “A Chinese Lady,” Connecticut Courant, 24 Nov. 1834, 2.

110 Ibid.

111 “Chinese Ladies,” Souvenir, 11 March 1829, 295.

112 Ashby, LeRoy, With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 7, 1121.

113 “The Chinese Lady,” New-York Mirror, 6 Dec. 1834, 183.

114 Metzger, Sean, “Charles Parsloe's Chinese Fetish: An Example of Yellowface Performance in Nineteenth-Century American Melodrama,” Theatre Journal, 56 (Dec. 2004), 627–51, 631; Moon, Yellowface, 6–8.

115 Based on Voltaire's famous play of the same title and adapted into English by the British playwright Arthur Murphy (1727–1805), The Orphan of China made its American stage debut in Philadelphia on 16 January 1767. See Moy, Marginal Sights, 9.

116 “From the Washington Correspondent of the Baltimore Gazette,” Alexandria Gazette, 21 Jan. 1835, 2.

117 “American Theatre,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 4 April 1835, 3.

118 “Morus Multicaulis,” Genesee Farmer and Gardener's Journal, 8 Nov. 1834, 359.

119 “Our City,” Daily National Intelligencer, 1 April 1835, 2.

120 “Miss Moy,” Georgia Journal, 2 Dec. 1834, 2.

121 Leslie, Miss, Althea Vernon; Or the Embroidered Handkerchief (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1838), 109–10.

122 “Correspondence of the Advertiser,” Portland Advertiser and Gazette of Maine, 9 Dec. 1834, 4.

123 Leland, Charles Godfrey and Neumann, Karl Friedrich, Fusang, or, the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century, reprint (New York: Cosimo, 2007; first published 1875), 135.

124 Chang, The Chinese in America, 94.

125 Ruskola, Teemu, Legal Orientalism: China, the United States, and Modern Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 147.

126 Jeff Gammage, “Chinatown Is Choking,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 Feb. 2004, M1.

127 “UO to Stage Tale of Teen Seeking Birth Mother,” Register-Guard, 15 May 2008, D29; Richard Leinaweaver, “‘Lotus Lessons’: A Thoughtful Tale of Identity,” Register-Guard, 23 May 2008, D37.

128 Cornuke, Robert, The Bell Messenger: A Novel (New York: Howard, 2008), 132–36.

129 Leong, Karen J., The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 57105.

130 Takaki, Ronald, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, updated and rev. edn (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 8081.

131 “Chinese Subjects of the United States,” Christian Register, 7 Sept. 1850, 144.

132 Paul, Rodman W., “The Origin of the Chinese Issue in California,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 25 (Sept. 1938), 181–96.

133 “Report of the Rev. E. W. Syle,” in The Spirit of Missions; Edited for the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, by the Secretaries and General Agents of the Two Committees, Volume XIX (New York: Daniel Dana Jr., 1854), 323–28.

134 Tchen, New York before Chinatown, 167–95.

135 “The Chinese in Georgia,” New York Times, 11 June 1883, 5. In 1865 Georgia wrote the ban on interracial marriage into its state constitution; violators would be charged with felony and face life imprisonment. See Pascoe, Peggy, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 30.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their inspiring comments. He is also grateful to Jessica Linker of the University of Connecticut and Roy Goodman of American Philosophical Society Library, USA, for their help, encouragement, and suggestions.

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