Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Joe Shing

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Overview[edit]

Joe Shing (Chinese Name 周兴, Chinese spelling Zhou Xing, 1893~?) was a Chinese immigrant running a laundry house in Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA, in the 1930s.

Life[edit]

Family and Childhood[edit]

Joe Shing was born in Polo, Kanton Province, in China in 1893. Joe was his family name and Shing was his given name. He followed the Chinese tradition to put the family name ahead of the given name. His family was a typical peasant family in China cultivating the land inefficiently by hand. The family could only cover its own food and often stayed hungry.

Joe went to a feudalistic private school that was set up by the king to select government officers, but quitted after the Chinese Revolution in 1911 overthrew the feudal government.

In the 1910s China had just opened its door to the outside world. Joe’s family for the first time heard of the USA from a missionary who preached and also talked about the western countries. In order to escape from the poor and turbulent China, Joe and his family considered the USA as a good place to go to.

Teenager Years in the USA[edit]

Joe Shing first arrived in San Francisco at the age of 18, and started to learn English after his arrival. He got his first job as a clerk in a Chinese grocery store, and after three years, moved to Chicago to join his brother’s Coffee shop. After accumulating enough money by this business, he and his brother started a laundry house in Athens, Georgia. After several years of success, Joe Shing received the news that his father died. Having to financially support his family in China, Joe ultimately sold his business.

The Laundry House in Spartanburgs[edit]

Joe Shing operated a laundry house in Spartanburgs, South Carolina, after his previous laundry business was sold. Joe employed African American women to wash and iron the clothes. His customers were mainly Asians and African Americans, and his price was approximately 20% cheaper than the local laundry houses[1] The laundry house was also Joe’s home. His living section was separate from the laundry business section; although the two-floor house was small, it was orderly.

The War and the Homeland[edit]

Joe returned his country three times; the last trip was in 1932. He witnessed the change of China and felt proud of it. When interviewed by Henderson in December 1938, Joe’s homeland China was in war with Japan, as a part of the World War II. He was confident about China’s final victory, and had faith in China’s future development.

Chinese Laundrymen[edit]

The start of a tradition[edit]

The tradition of the Chinese immigrants operating the laundry started in the 1850s, in California. When the gold rush brought an influx of population into California, the demand for laundry also rose. Chinese men saw the profit and joined the market that was originally occupied by Native American and Spanish American women[2].

When more and more Chinese immigrants arrived in the USA, they mostly followed their predecessors’ success and started their own laundry houses, turning the word ‘laundrymen’ almost an icon for Chinese. At the end of 19 Century, nearly one-fourth of the Chinese immigrants earned their living by laundry[3].

Competition in the market[edit]

Chinese Laundrymen worked averagely sixteen hours a day[4] to accomplish as much work as possible to earn profit. In the 1930s the laundry houses operated by the whites were equipped with advanced machines; they were more efficient than Chinese laundry houses. In order to survive in the market, the Chinese lowed down their prices and offered free service such as delivery. Due to the low price, Chinese gained very few payments.

Resistance by the native laundrymen[edit]

Feeling threatened by Chinese laundrymen’s low price, the native laundrymen asked the government to regulate the business. The government reacted by imposing laws that set the minimum wages and maximum operating hours[5], which increased the prime cost for laundry business. Since Chinese Laundrymen could not cover such high cost, many of them shut down their business; the survivors organized to protest to the government[6].

Discrimination[edit]

Rumors[edit]

Chinese Laundrymen were often male adults, some were bachelor, some left their wives in China; thus the rumors of sexual harassment rose, and the white females often considered Chinese as dangerous and nasty[7].

Nativism[edit]

Nativism, an anti-immigrant attitude, was popular. Several anti-immigrant laws (such as Chinese exclusion act of 1882, Emergency Quota Act of 1921, and National Origins Act of 1924) were enacted and affected the American Chinese in 1930s. Under this social environment, the Americans did not welcome the Chinese immigrants. Chinese immigrants were isolated from the society due to the ethnic discrimination.

Laundrymen's initial dreams and their final decline[edit]

Chinese Laundrymen generally hoped to earn enough wealth in the USA to support their families and finally returned China to enjoy a peaceful elder age. [8]However few of them realized their dreams.

After the modern mechanized laundry house emerged, the handwork Chinese Laundries gradually declined[9]. Chinese immigrants turned to other business such as restaurants and grocery stores.

  1. his price was approximately 20% cheaper than the local laundry houses.Henderson, D. Ruth, “South Carolina Writers Project, Life History”, Spartanburg’s Chinatown, 5,7
  2. Chinese men saw the profit and joined the market that was originally occupied by Native American and Spanish American women, Cao, Lan., “Laundrymen, Chinatown”, TriQuarterly,ISSN0041-3097 (2006), 126
  3. At the end of 19 Century, nearly one-fourth of the Chinese immigrants earned the living by laundry, Yung, Judy; Chang, Gordon H.; Lai, Him Mark, eds. (2006), "Declaration of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance.", Chinese American Voices, University of California Press, 183–185
  4. They worked averagely sixteen hours a day, Cao, Lan., “Laundrymen, Chinatown”, TriQuarterly,ISSN0041-3097 (2006), 129
  5. The government reacted by imposing laws that set the minimum wages and maximum operating hours, Cao, Lan., “Laundrymen, Chinatown”, TriQuarterly,ISSN0041-3097 (2006), 127
  6. the survivors organized to protest to the government, Yung, Judy; Chang, Gordon H.; Lai, Him Mark,(2006), “Chinese-American Citizen’s Alliance”, Chinese American Voices, University of California Press, 131
  7. the white females often considered Chinese as dangerous and nasty, Jung, John, “Preface”, Chinese Laundries: Tickets to survival on gold mountain, 8
  8. Chinese Laundrymen generally hoped to earn enough wealth in the USA to support their families and finally returned China, Jung, John, Chinese Laundries: Tickets to survival on gold mountain, 106
  9. After the modern mechanized laundry house emerged, the handwork Chinese Laundries gradually declined,Jung, John, Chinese Laundries: Tickets to survival on gold mountain, 106