Skip to main content

tv   American Artifacts The Chinese in America Part 1  CSPAN  August 12, 2021 5:10pm-5:41pm EDT

5:10 pm
administration go to cspanshop org. follow american history tv on twitter, facebook and youtube for schedule updates to learn about what happened on this day in history, watch videos and learn more about the people and event that's have shaped the american story. find us at cspan history. >> american history tv continues now. watch more online any time at >> next, american history tv visits san francisco's chinatown to learn the history of the chinese and america. >> good afternoon. good afternoon, and welcome to the chinese historical society of america. my name is charlie chin. i'm officially listed here as artist in residence, but i do a double duty as a historian for a simple reason, because as you know artists don't make money,
5:11 pm
whatsoever, but historians are underpaid, so it is a step up. what we are going to do today is to take an overview of the chinese american history, and for that, we will be doing two different sections. one is in-house docent tour, and one is a street tour where we will look at chinatown today. for your sake of general education, i should point out that we are in a building that was the old chinatown ywca. it was built and designed in 1932 by julia morgan, a very famous female architect who amongst other things endorsed by the ywca for obvious reasons. the organization is the chinese historical society of america founded in 1963. its purpose was to deal with the problem which still basically exists which is the study of in
5:12 pm
this case asian american history and specifically china's american history is small. much of the information that has been researched is not available to the general public. it usually sits on a dusty shelf in a major institution of learning and accessed only by those people whose field of study it is. the organization amongst other thing, the purpose was to ensure that average people would be able to get information about the chinese american experience for reasons which will become abundantly clear as we continue. at any point in our time together if something occurs to you, please raise your hand.
5:13 pm
it does not have to do with what i am discussing at the moment, but if a question comes up, because if while for you the time together is interminable, for me, it is very, very brief. so i want to make sure that you get whatever information you need in order to complete the pictures that you have in your mind of what asian america is and what chinese american history is. to begin with, we have to look at the situation as it exists today. there are certain questions that arise, because we have the benefit of the group of people who are adults, we often deal with children, i can go into this more in depth. number one, here is a cartoon from last year. 2012. a cardon that shows and this is a cartoon of a great painting of american gothic that shows that asians are the fastest growing minority in the united states. well, that is true, and why i propose as a question is that it is very unlikely that they will ever become a majority. here, we have from a local newspaper the "chronicle" last year, a peer report showing that asian americans as a group has the largest incomes, the best educated and considered
5:14 pm
generally the happiest, and yet for some reason we know that 54% of the people who live in chinatown live at or below the poverty level. how is that possible at the same time? asians seem to be represented on all different levels of society. here for instance, the recent galla for the san francisco ballet. i'm not in the picture. last year, the house and the senate apologized to chinese americans. two years before that in 2009, the state of california apologized to chinese americans. what did they apologize for? why in large do the chinese americans know and really don't care that this congress apologized to chinese americans? now, i don't expect you to all agree with everything that i propose, but i ask you for the indulgence to relax for a little while and look at things through the lenses through which i am looking through, all right.
5:15 pm
begin over here, and join moefr here. as we are looking around, we have to ask ourselves the first and primary question, how long have there been chinese in the united states? would somebody like to venture a guess. nobody would like to venture a guess as to how long there have been chinese in the united states? >> the 1700s. >> 1700s. that's a relatively good guess, yes. no one else? that shaking sound you hear is me trembling about the future. it's a trick question. you see, there were chinese in what would become the united states long before there was a united states. of course. most of you know from your elementary school education that
5:16 pm
somebody sailed the ocean blue in 1492. who was that? columbus. italian americans are always very proud that he was italian, but of course, the reality is that he was sailing under a spanish flag, so it was spain who did the early exploration on behalf of the europeans, and how much and how often and i understand that in 1513 when ponce de leon landed in florida, some of the indigenous people greeted him in spanish and they had already met several spanish explorers. spain had vast holdings. another whole discussion and how they arrived at that, but for our purposes it didn't end there. spain expanded her territories and possessions, her trade interests all the way to asia, across the pacific to the which island of the philippines which are named after the king of spain at that time, king phillip ii. so by the 1500s, there are galleons sailing all around the
5:17 pm
world to asian back across the pacific and across the atlantic back to spain and with this trade are various groups of asians, including filipino and chinese and various indonesians, and others. but for our purposes everything begins in 1776, 13 colonies propose to be their own country, they have war. the war lasts until 1783. it was a long war, the war of independence, of course, not as long as the wars we have now. but right after the war was completed in 1783, the following year it was important, so important it was one of the first things they did, this little country sent forth a ship out of new york harbor. the name of the ship was "the empress of china." it was outfitted to do trade with china. now, why was it so important for them to immediately upon
5:18 pm
surviving the war of independence, why was it immediately important for them to go to china? what was there in china that everybody needed, wanted and part of the reason why they had separated? >> tea. >> tea. everybody drank it. even working class people thought they had a right to tea. so, it was an upscale item. if you drank tea, of course, you would be drinking it from a porcelain cup, a teapot or still referred to as chinaware in english. you might have been drinking it from a teakwood table which you got in china. you might have been sitting there in a silk shirt. before world war ii there was no substitute for silk. you might have been having a baked scone with it scented with cinnamon. it wasn't grown in china, but that is where you went to trade for it. that's easy enough to figure out. the question arises what did
5:19 pm
s directions, but still considered itself to be the this little fledgling country, the emerging country have, that china was willing to trade for? don't forget china at this point considered itself the center of the world. it was ruled by the ching dynasty which conquered china in 1644, a foreign group of people, and basically froze in all directions, but still considered itself to be the center of the world. what did the americans have that china was willing to trade for, anyone? >> was it fur? >> furs. the americas were famous for furs. earliest fortunes made were made in furs. see mr. astor. beaver, fox, mink, various others, vermine captured and trapped here in canada and the united states and shipped to china. the americans arrived, and they were very aggressive in this trade. they learned very quickly there were several different things they could trade, including mexican and spanish money and pesos. spain had a huge empire, it was gigantic. sandalwood which was picked up in hawaii, which is why it's very hard to find sandalwood in hawaii today. sea cucumbers.
5:20 pm
do most people know what a sea cucumber is? most people seem to know. it is an invertebrate sea animal dried and reconstituted with water. it has an interesting texture, but not particularly a great taste. perhaps one of the most important things that was an early trade item from the country was american ginseng. now, ginseng had been a trade item for a while. french missionaries who had arrived in what is today michigan and wisconsin had discovered an american version of ginseng growing here. they knew that it worked in china. they knew it was an important trade item. ginseng was an important item then, it's an important item now. it's grown commercially in wisconsin. when people visit us from the people's republic of china frequently they ask where they can get american ginseng to bring back as gifts to coal -- co-workers and for relatives. this is an example if you're not familiar what it looks like.
5:21 pm
this is the root when it's fresh. there's a dried root in there. in places like tennessee and kentucky, near the appalachian mountains, people still hunt for it during the summers. they call it seng hunting. it's not just an amusement. you can get up to $1,000 for a decent size root. so it's worth the look. it's grown commercially here in the united states, one of the most famous brands is this, prince of peace, the group that grows it are christians, as you can see. it's verified by the wisconsin board of ginseng. so the americans jump in with both feet into this china trade. they developed a special ship called "the china clipper." it sacrifices space in the hull for sleek speed. it's very long and narrow. has huge amounts of sail. the americans fly the american flag which onshore chinese take to mean red and white stripes and what appear to be white
5:22 pm
flowers on a blue background, and so the first name for the united states is the flower flag country. very important. flower flag country and flower flag products. this name is to be the name that america was known under for quite a while until something else was to happen. but let's take a look over here and see what's happening in general. america enters the china trade relatively late. others have been dealing with it for a long, long time. france, britain, spain, portugal, the dutch, several other countries have been dealing with china and trading there for many, many years. most of the trading is done in the far south of china. the ching dynasty which is in control, has relegated all trade essentially by foreigners to the far south. the purpose being to prevent as they saw it the taint of foreign influence. so if the capital is up here,
5:23 pm
guangdong province and the ports of trade are all the way down here, as far south as you can imagine and still be in china. now, this was a wild and woolly free for all economically. fortunes were made, fortunes were lost. young men at that time, it was men primarily went there to seek their fortune. this led to several things. amongst them, of course, a mild disregard for anything that was supposed to be legal. that's not how one makes a fortune. usually one makes a fortune by doing something illegal or unethical. and that's pretty much true to this day. but what was to happen was the opium trade stood first and foremost. now, opium was illegal in china. it was illegal to bring it into china. it was known in china and had been used in china for thousands of years, but it was illegal to import it, much the same way that cocaine is known in the united states, but it's illegal
5:24 pm
to bring it in. then as now what people did was they walked around the law. so british, french, american ships delivered their cargos outside of the major ports or arrived late at night under cover of darkness, or bribed, and/or bribed every official they could see in sight. though fortunes are to be made. so quite an efficient way to do it. when i say fortunes were made, you might suspect that this is distant and foreign history which is inapplicable to you as an american citizen. i'll present you with this one interesting case. in 1833 a young man named warren delano, 24 years old, arrived in guangdong province and he became involved in the opium trade. he made a fortune. he made so much money he was able to return to the united states as it happens to be, and marry into a very wealthy and old family. what happens, of course, is when that once you become wealthy, nobody ever wonders how you made your money. they only know that you're wealthy. he had a daughter.
5:25 pm
his daughter married into another important family, old dutch family and they produced a son. the son's name was franklin delano roosevelt who went on to become president of the united states. so when we talk about this china trade, it actually has a direct relationship to us as american citizens. but as things are going on, one of the things that happens is that china keeps complaining that this opium trade is illegal and sends a special commissioner, commissioner lin, down to the south to confiscate all the opium he can find and incarcerate all of the malefactors. the amount of opium that is taken is huge. 55,000 chests of opium are taken. now a chest of opium is roughly the size of a microwave. we're talking about a lot of opium. and, of course, everybody who was involved directly is incarcerated. he reads out loud once again it's illegal to bring opium into
5:26 pm
china and britain takes an interesting position. britain said you just took british property, and you haven't paid for it. this leads to an argument which becomes the first and second of the so-called opium wars where britain sends gun boats to force payment. involves itself in a shooting war with china, and in both cases china loses for a very simple reason. china was old. china was vast. china had fallen behind technologically. her ships were not as maneuverable as britain's where. they were state of the art. the cannons were behind. the chinese cannons were cast of bronze and made in portugal in the 1600s. the british cannons were the finest that could be had and most accurate. britain handily won the first and second of these so-called opium wars and used that opportunity to demand that china open up several of the ports, including shanghai, et cetera. once this news became known this is what happened. if we take a look at this political cartoon -- you can step around. if you take a look at this political cartoon, you get an
5:27 pm
idea of what was to happen. here we see china shown as a sleeping dragon. of course, a reference to napoleon's comment that china was a sleeping giant. fighting over the carcass we see the british lion, the russian bear, the american eagle, the french rooster, et cetera. they are all fighting over the carcass. to be more exact, it was quite common for people to march in and just take over a whole section of china and rule it as if it were their own country. though most of you don't look old enough to drink, i must suspect that some of you are old enough to drink, and, therefore, if you've been in a chinese restaurant, you know that there's a chinese beer that comes in a green bottle. you may have seen it. have you ever wondered why beer is made in china? because in 1885 germany came in and took over the entire province and ruled it as if it
5:28 pm
were its own. most of you are not old enough to remember that what we refer as southeast asia had been referred to formerly as french indochina because, indeed, france had come in and taken over the vassal states that had formerly been part of china's empire and made them their own. this is why when you go to have pho, you'll notice that the menu that's written in vietnamese is written in an alphabet, a phonetic alphabet. why? the french couldn't deal with characters so they introduced the phonetic alphabet. while all of this is going on we have an interesting situation percolating in the far south. china in terms of its government is crumbling. what is happening? the ching dynasty came in in 1644, froze everything and attempted to just basically run china as it had been run for the previous dynasty or two. but things were corroding, collapsing from within, imploding. the war with britain was disastrous because amongst other things they had the peasant uprisings, but now china had to pay the cost of the opium and the cost of the expeditions in silver to britain, and the only
5:29 pm
way she could do that was by taxing the peasants in advance which means if you are paying this year's taxes, you must also pay next year's taxes and the taxes for the year after that. most of you know there's a little thing called foreclosure when you cannot pay your taxes. your land is taken from you, and this was the situation. now, in this one particular area in the far south of china, guangdong province, we have a very interesting situation. guangdong province was chosen as a major trade area for a number of reasons, and one of them was it had been a traditional trade area since the tong dynasty, roughly since the 700s. what happened you board your ships off shore in these island. hong kong is a port, macau. you went up through the delta where the special trading handler to the trading compound in the city of canton. fabled and famous, the city of canton was synonymous with trade, was synonymous with riches. so much so in the united states
5:30 pm
in the early part of the 1800s and later, the name canton was used again and again as cities incorporated as towns incorporated in hopes they would become as famous as the city in china. here's an example. this is a brochure from canton, michigan. when i began several years ago, i used to comment there was a canton, ohio which is very famous. but as groups came through, they would say we're from mississippi. we have a canton, mississippi. oh, we're from new hampshire. we have a canton, new hampshire. so i went to the trusty internet and found that approximately 41 or 42 of to 50 states have a city or town named canton, and they are named in honor of the fabled trade city of canton guangzhou in china. so there were foreigners coming through constantly. now, this has an effect because the topography here is or little
5:31 pm
unusual. the delta is very rich. famous actually for fruits and vegetables. the city is very rich. lots of trade. but the surrounding land is very poor. if you enter the area you see marked here in beige and brown, you come to an area which at that time was vastly overpopulated, and a special situation had developed. since the land could only support the local people six months out of the year, it became customary for men to leave the land yearly to look for work on the seacoast. now the reason why this is unusual is because throughout much of china's confucion-directed culture it was a matter, of course, that adult males stay close to their parents to support them in their old age. but here was a situation where the only way to support the family was to leave periodically, and so it began a process which we see even to this day. part of the process is the men would work seasonally on the seacoast as laborers, take the money they made and buy
5:32 pm
merchandise, return to the village and sell it. therefore, doubling their profits for having gone to the seacoast by selling things that they bought at the seacoast back in the village. it was to begin the cantonese practice of small businessmen which still exists today. most people notice canton is very good at small business. they tend to be a little leery of corporations, but they are excellent at small business. now, wave after wave do this every year, and things become very, very bad. there is, amongst other things, the so-called opium wars. by the middle of the 1800s, a chinese mystic who spent several weeks at a christian missionary falls into a coma, and when he comes out of the coma, he realizes he is the younger brother of jesus christ, his last name was hong, and he began
5:33 pm
a great uprising called the great heavenly peace uprising. and it was to free the land and make everybody equal, but what it did eventually was, lasted for 14 years and cost the lives of over 20 million people. this devastated large portions of china, the south notwithstanding. the whole areas are devastated, huge social unrest. now, as men began to come to the seacoast, they begin to fork into two different directions. one is they start to walk south. if you walk south out of southern china, you end up in -- oh, my. you end up in vietnam. you continue further south, you end up in the peninsula, you end up in indonesia, malaysia, et cetera. if you go to the seacoast, there are foreign ships waiting, and it just so happened during this time period, it happened to be during a period of expansion for
5:34 pm
many western nations. now, here's a push factor. this area between 1850 and 1900, the areas that you see marked in beige and brown, saw 14 floods, seven typhoons of katrina/sandy nature. of course, with so much death and destruction, five years of epidemics, four earthquakes and two years of complete drought. meaning that every year something happened which was to drive these men off the land. drive them off the land. they stepped aboard ships in the early and middle 1800s because of something very basic that had happened in another part of the world. spain and england had ended slavery. as a matter of fact, america had ended the slave trade as well. didn't mean they ended slavery but they stopped the slave trade which means they couldn't raid africa or dealwith africans that dealt in the slave trade
5:35 pm
anymore. the british found that cheap labor in two places, the punjabi of india where they found indian farmers who were willing to lead and guandong province with thousands and thousands of men were being driven to the seacoast almost every year to look for work. if they were lucky they ended up some place that wasn't too bad. if they were unlucky they were set up in lots of 20 and 30. numbers were painted on their chest. nobody registered their names. they might be sent to the guano mines of peru. i don't know if you're familiar with the guano mines of peru. people know what guano is. it's the droppings of bats. and had been going on for years. several miles thick. it's an important component in fertilizer and explosives. in the middle of all this something was to happen in california that drew thousands of these men here, right here.
5:36 pm
what happened in california in 1848? >> gold rush. >> wrong. >> 1848. gold is discovered. the gold rush doesn't happen until 1849. please join me over here. just making sure you're still awake. there was a sleepy place galled yerba buena. it was first a spanish and then mexican territory. in the early 1840s here's a pencil sketch made by a visitor of a little town. dana in his book two years before the mass visits this little port and points out there really isn't much here. there's about a handful of
5:37 pm
buildings. the population estimates go from 400 to 800. not much is going on. one ship a month passes through. but something is to happen, and that something is caused by a man -- let's see if we can find it. here it is. there's a picture of him. he came back several years later to have his photograph taken next to the lumber mill. this is mr. marshall. now, he was working for mr. sutter. johan sutter. he hated it when people called him sutter, because his name was swiss, and his name was often just broken down into sutter. we have a sutter street here, of course. now, he had a land grant from mexico that was so big he was planning on making his own country. seriously. it was going to be a new switzerland here in the california hills. but to do this, he had to have lumber so houses could be built and people could come and live here. so he basically hired mr. marshall to set up the lumber mill. mr. marshall, while checking the runoff one day, finds a shiny object, thinks it's gold, tests
5:38 pm
it and realizes after three or four days it is gold. now, what's really interesting here is gold had been discovered several times before in california, but if you think about it people usually kept it quiet. why would you tell everybody that there's gold where you are? the difference was this man, this man is mr. samuel brennan. we have a brennan suite here, too. mr. brennan was very important in the founding of san francisco as a city. he had a store in sacramento, he had come to yerba buena as a mormon on the good ship "brooklyn" to meet brigham young. brigham young discovered utah was the promised land and so what was to happen was he stopped there. mr. brennan met him there, they had a falling out, mr. brennan came back and opened the store in sacramento. the store is still there. the brick outside of the store is still there. strangely it's now a restaurant
5:39 pm
called fat city that's owned by chinese people. what was to happen was mr. brennan heard that gold had been discovered, and reasoned very simply. if there was a gold rush to the hills of the sierras, people would have to pass through sacramento. if they passed through sacramento, they would have to walk past his store. so he immediately went out, once he discovered these rumors were true and bought up everything you could possibly need in order to look for gold. pans, picks, shovels, et cetera. once he had completed that task, he came down here. he had a little newspaper, not too far from where we're standing right now, and he ran around portsmouth square with a small vial of gold dust screaming gold has been discovered on the american river. people heard and dropped what they were doing and ran to the hills. now, you know the push factor out of southern china and now you know the pull factor.
5:40 pm
this is the first of a three-part series on the chinese in america with historian and storyteller charlie chin. you can view this and other american artifacts at our website ♪♪ next, we continue our look with the chinese in ameca


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on