Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chinese-American Civil Rights Fighter
“American Heathen”  --The Stanford Graphic Novel Project

by Winny Lin
Vice President of CA South Bay Chapter

Out of the blue, I received an email about the publication of a graphic novel project about Wong Chin Foo,王清福, the very first Chinese-American activist, and his journey.  Thanks to both Shimon Tanaka and Scott Hutchins, Stanford lecturers and project leaders, I received a copy and started reading.

The novel tells the story of a Chinese-American who in the 19th century pioneered the struggle for the civil rights of his own people while under the restrictions of the Exclusion Act.  Today, the scenery has changed.  Chinese-Americans are working in every field, no longer are they isolated in restaurants and laundries.  Nevertheless, we are still struggling to improve our rights and places in the United States of America. 

It was amazing how Wong knew to use the same tactics we are using today to fight for the rights for Chinese-Americans--- newspaper, associations, testimony in US Congress, and traveling lectures.

In 1874 Wong became a naturalized US citizen.  However when he exercised his right to vote, he was thrown into jail.  In the novel he is quoted as saying “Cutting my queue, speaking perfect English, lecturing to thousands---none of it matters.” It is still true that in parts of America today, there is still subtle discrimination against Chinese-Americans. I remember when our attorney first jokingly called my husband, “Chinaman” many years ago, my smile froze and did not know how to respond. Last year when I subbed in a 5th grade classroom in Kentucky, a girl was mocking me and my accent. Where did all these come from? History and stereotype!?

The novel goes on to explain that Wong founded a weekly newspaper, The Chinese American, in New York City for distribution east of the Rockies.  The purpose was to keep the people informed and organized to fight for their rights. In 1893, he wrote in his paper about the Geary Act which extended the Exclusion Act and made it even more onerous.  The new law required all Chinese to carry their resident permit, or they would be deported or get a year of hard labor.  As difficult as it is to imagine, Chinese were not allowed to bear witness in court.

Wong established the Chinese Rights League and organized meetings to discuss how to protest the hideous Geary Act. “We won’t let stand a law that treats us like branded cattle” he is quoted as saying.  Over a thousand prominent Americans came  to support his rally at Cooper Union in New York City.  This reminded me of the rally held in Washington DC in 1963.  I was not surprised to see in the novel that Wong is compared to Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, Wong used the same strategy way before King. Interesting!

The novel reports that he spoke for 150,000 Chinese in the US and testified at Congressional hearings.  He faced Congressman Thomas J. Geary himself and said “I will not be photographed against my will like a criminal.  I would be hanged first.”  Why should Chinese be singled out for this treatment?  Although Wong did not completely succeed, Secretary of the Treasury Carlisle did make modifications to the government’s enforcement procedures under the Geary Act.  So his effort did pay off!

Wong traveled the globe giving speeches to the American public and promoted the awareness of Chinese culture, Confucianism, and the evil of opium brought by western world to China.  He even defended Chinese food against the rumor of rats and cats served in Chinese restaurants. One time he offered $500 reward for anyone who could prove that Chinese ate cats and rats.  It is so sad that people in the Mid-West still asked me if our Chinese restaurants in town serve cats and rats! History and stereotype! It has not changed yet.

Other than his fight for civil rights, Wong struggled with his own identity.  Was he a Chinese or an American? Once he was educated by Christian missionary and  baptized into the Baptist faith. However, when he spoke to the general American public, he often praised Confucius’ teaching as the reason for a harmonious society and criticized “the hypocrisy of Christianity”.   And that is “why I am a heathen”, he proclaimed.  He worked hard to protect the rights of Chinese in America, but was often sought after by Chinese tongs (secret societies often engaged in illicit activities), because he wrote about the vices existing in  of Chinatowns.  When he was in China, the Qing government put a reward on his head, due to his anti-government activities.  So where could he find his place?  Over 150 years later, many of us also are facing the dilemma: Chinese or Americans?  Or do we get the best of two worlds?

 Before reading this graphic novel, “American Heathen”, I was not aware of Wong Chin Foo (王清福) and his Chinese-American activism.  USCPFA South Bay chapter recently had several speakers to speak on the topics of Chinese-American’s history:
1.     Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants by author John Jung and artist Flo Wong
2.     The Angel Island Story by Buck Gee, president of the Board of Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
3.     Long Overdue Dedication to Fishing Village by activist and historian Gerry Low-Sabado.
I have found these very interesting and relevant, since I immigrated to the USA during the influx of college graduates from Taiwan in the 70’s.  This publication of “American Heathen”, a project of a group of twelve students at Stanford has added more depth of my understanding of the struggle of Chinese-Americans.  Since the project leader, Shimon Tanaka came on October 25 and explained the process how the book was done, I feel more appreciative of this graphic novel, especially each of us present was gifted a signed copy. Thank you, Shimon. 謝謝!

photo #1 Many of us asked Shimon to sign our copy of the book.
photo #2 On behalf of the chapter, I presented Shimon with a certificate of appreciation.
photo #3 Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Member Dr George Koo Recounts Unjust Cases

Dr Koo recently attended the panel discussion on the case of Professor XiaoXing Xi, head of the Physics Department at Temple University, a man accused of spying on the US government. Mr. Xi was awakened in the middle of the night this May, handcuffed and lead away. His family was thrown into turmoil--emotional and financial--for months..until the US government suddenly withdrew its claims. Dr. Koo discusses this in his article, recently published in the Asia Times.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spreading Stories That Need To Be Heard

Our October speaker, Shimon Tanaka, teaches several classes at Stanford (fiction writing, non-fiction writing, screenplay writing.) But what captured our curiosity was a 20-week course he does with colleague Scott Hutchins on the Graphic Novel. This class was started in 2008 by Pulitzer-Prize winning author (The Orphan Master’s Son) and Stanford Professor, Adam Johnson. During the class, students choose a subject or story, do research, write the script, add the art, and create their own graphic novel.
“It’s like a book-length comic book,” said Tanaka.
In past years, they’ve written about the first women in space, Africa’s oldest national park, a young girl living in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the trafficking of South Korean women to San Francisco, and the miraculous life of a man who endured both atomic bombs during WWII. This year, they chose to research the story of the first Chinese-American activist. For their research, they found great information in Scott Seligman’s Book, The First Chinese American, which interestingly enough was recently reviewed by member Dr. George Koo. 
 Wong Chin Foo was born in Shandong Province in 1847. When he was twenty, an American missionary sponsored him to come to the US to study, assuming that after he was properly educated, Wong would return to China and spread the gospel. Wong went to the University of Lewisburg, PA (known today as Bucknell), only lasting a year before he went back to China to get married. Yet, something about his upbringing and education and travels had changed him. So when he saw corruption and mismanagement while working in the Customs House in China, he organized an anti-government campaign. The government immediately went after him, and Wong had to flee for the U.S., leaving his wife and infant son behind.
Wong noticed on his journey to San Francisco that there was a whole load of young women enslaved on the boat, having been tricked by a Chinese Tong. So, as soon as the ship landed, he reported the issue to authorities. This endeared Wong to the women, but not the Tongs.  (In fact in his lifetime, he survived numerous assassination attempts.)
Wong began touring the U.S. to introduce Chinese culture to Americans. He brought Chinese theater to New York, established a language school, and opened a Confucian temple. He also was the first to coin the term, “Chinese-American.”
At the time, there was a Labor Leader in San Francisco named Denis Kearny who ended all of his speeches with, “Whatever happens, the Chinese must go.”  Wong challenged Kearney to a public debate, and Kearny eventually backed down. Despite this, public opinion and legislation swayed against the Chinese.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. In 1892, Congressman Thomas Geary extended the Exclusion Act, adding more restrictions. A Chinese person had to have two white witnesses to testify to his/her (mostly his) immigration status. He had to always carry his certificate of residence or risked being thrown out of the country. Wong Chin Foo thought this was wrong. He established the Chinese Equal Rights League, as well as a newspaper to discuss such issues.  He debated Geary on the topic. Unfortunately, he not only lost the debate, but more importantly the issue. As our membership pointed out, he was just one person fighting the U.S. (The Chinese Exclusion Act wasn’t dismantled til 1943.) Despite his “failures“ and mis-steps, throughout his life Wong forged ahead, trying to explain Chinese culture to Americans, and fighting for all Chinese to be recognized, “according to principles of common humanity.”  
As an aside, Tanaka said that, although Geary St is not named after Thomas Geary—but a relative—it is still a happy irony that today this street in San Francisco is filled with Chinese.
The Stanford students who researched Wong’s life, worked together to create dialogue, drew the art, and revised, revised, revised. The result was the graphic novel, “American Heathen.
Tanaka brought each USCPFA member a complimentary copy.  For those who didn’t get a copy, it is available online as a free download.  The Stanford students also sent one copy back to China, via author Scott Seligman, to Wong Chin Foo’s great-great-great grandson.

“Thank you,” the man said. “Thank you very much.”

Friday, October 9, 2015

Commonwealth Club Program

Member George Koo writes:
I would like to call your attention to an important forthcoming forum at the Commonwealth Club to be held on October 22. The two speakers will discuss how conflict between China and the U.S. can be avoided from very different but relevant points of views. Rather than bore you with long bio descriptions of the speakers, I refer you to two links that tell you something about them.

Zhang Weiwei

Admiral (ret) Gary Roughead

I hope you will attend this event and help me spread the word and encourage your friends and others to attend. To register, please go to the link below:

A good turnout will encourage the organizers to move forward with the next in the series.