Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/ChungTaiPan

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Chung Tai-Pan
Bornc. 1868
China
DiedUnknown
OccupationLaundryman

Overview[edit]

Chung Tai-Pan was a Chinese laundryman living in Savannah, Georgia. Chung was interviewed by Gerald Chan Sieg on January 20, 1939 in Savannah as part of the Federal Writers' Project.

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Chung Tai-Pan was born in Southern China around 1868 where his family owned a rice farm. Chung completed his primary education at a boys’ school in Canton (also known as Guangzhou), where his father was a teacher. Chung continued his studies in classics and poetry at a larger school. He advanced as a scholar, known for his extensive knowledge of Chinese characters and calligraphy. His knowledge allowed him to serve three terms as a secretary of an important Chinese convention (the name of which he did not disclose). In Chung’s early adulthood, he developed a dislike for the Manchu government and frequently met with other like-minded Chinese scholars to discuss plans for revolution. However, his actions posed a threat to his personal safety so he fled China at the age of nineteen and immigrated to the United States after hearing about the financial success that many Chinese experienced. Chung first arrived in San Francisco where he joined the Chinese Free Masons. Around 1890, Chung arrived in Savannah but would only settle there after his journey as a Free Mason led him to visit Chinese communities in New Orleans, Tampa, Havana, and Mexico to raise money to send back to China [1].

Adult Life[edit]

Once he settled in Savannah, Chung served as the president of the local chapter of the Free Masons for twenty years and became a regular attendee of the Independent Presbyterian Sunday School. He later married a woman of Cantonese and Spanish-American descent from California whose name has not been confirmed. The couple had six children and raised their family in Savannah. Before entering the laundry business, Chung operated a failed farm and failed restaurant. He worked at a local laundromat until he saved up enough money to open one of his own. Chung’s laundry business experienced a decline during the Great Depression but became successful once he invested in steam equipment and converted his traditional laundromat into a steam laundromat [2]. The date of Chung's death is unknown.

Social Issues[edit]

Chinese Exclusion Act[edit]

Construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad brought approximately ten thousand Chinese male laborers to the American West in the late 1860s [3]. After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, many of these laborers remained in the United States and acquired other manual occupations such as mining. As a result, many White workers were left unemployed and widespread resentment toward the Chinese began. The Chinese were framed as a threat to American industrialization and the birth of American wealth [4].

Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The act banned the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. However, those who were already in the United States before the legislation was passed were required to acquire an identification certificate as a form of proof. This certificate allowed re-entry into the United States after trips to China but those without it were deported. Years later, the act would also prohibit the Chinese from obtaining citizenship through naturalization. American-born Chinese were granted citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment; however, they were constantly questioned and required to provide proof of citizenship at a time when birth certificates were not common [5].

Chinese-Americans and Jim Crow[edit]

After the Civil War, using slaves as a free labor source was no longer an option for Southern farmers. As a result, a wave of Chinese migrants arrived in the American South as a replacement labor force [6]. Many Chinese families transitioned from being farmers to merchants and began opening grocery stores to earn a living. These Chinese-owned grocery businesses maintained a strong presence in each of the communities that they served. However, the Chinese-American community faced problems associated with the binary racial classification system that existed in the United States at the time. The Chinese were not considered Black but also not considered White [7].

Chinese in the South were faced with the problem of assimilating into a binary racial classification system. The racial classification of the Chinese gave their community a social distance from both Black and White communities. In an attempt to align with societal power structures, the Chinese refused to identify with Black-Americans [8]. This was most notably demonstrated by Jeu Gong Lum and his wife, Katherine Wong. Since attending a Black school would grant their daughters colored status, Lum and Wong enrolled their daughters in a White school. When their two daughters were denied admission into this White school, the situation escalated into the Lum v. Rice Supreme Court case of 1927 that challenged public school segregation in the South. The Supreme Court ruled that the decision to segregate the Chinese into Black schools was to be decided by the local school board. Still, Lum refused to allow his daughters to attend a Black school and continued to search for White schools that would accept them [9].

The Lum v. Rice case confirmed the colored status of Chinese in the South. However, many Chinese made efforts to deny this racial classification. Some Chinese attempted to obtain White status by marking themselves as White on state documents [10]. However, the discrimination that the Chinese experienced in a society dominated by White-Americans also prevented comfortable interaction with that community [11].

References[edit]

  1. Chung, Tai-Pan. Interview with Gerald Chan Sieg. Laundryman. January 20, 1939, folder 252, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 5-9.
  2. Chung, Tai-Pan. Interview with Gerald Chan Sieg. Laundryman. January 20, 1939, folder 252, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 8-18.
  3. Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin . “Fragments of the Past: Archaeology, History, and the Chinese Railroad Workers of North America.” Historical Archaeology 49, no. 1 (2015). 1-3. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF03376952.pdf.
  4. Price, Polly J. “A “Chinese Wall” at the Nation's Borders: Justice Stephen Field and The Chinese Exclusion Case.” Journal of Supreme Court History 43, no. 1 (2018). 7-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsch.12167.
  5. Price, Polly J. “A “Chinese Wall” at the Nation's Borders: Justice Stephen Field and The Chinese Exclusion Case.” Journal of Supreme Court History 43, no. 1 (2018). 7-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsch.12167.
  6. Braswell, Sean. “The Forgotten Chinese-American Family That Challenged Jim Crow.” Ozy, August 28, 2017. https://www.ozy.com/flashback/the-forgotten-chinese-american-family-that-challenged-jim-crow/80484 (accessed September 22, 2018).
  7. Block, Melissa. “The Legacy Of The Mississippi Delta Chinese.” NPR, March 18, 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/03/18/519017287/the-legacy-of-the-mississippi-delta-chinese (accessed September 22, 2018).
  8. Braswell, Sean. “The Forgotten Chinese-American Family That Challenged Jim Crow.” Ozy, August 28, 2017. https://www.ozy.com/flashback/the-forgotten-chinese-american-family-that-challenged-jim-crow/80484 (accessed September 22, 2018).
  9. Braswell, Sean. “The Forgotten Chinese-American Family That Challenged Jim Crow.” Ozy, August 28, 2017. https://www.ozy.com/flashback/the-forgotten-chinese-american-family-that-challenged-jim-crow/80484 (accessed September 22, 2018).
  10. Bow, Leslie. “RACIAL INTERSTITIALITY AND THE ANXIETIES OF THE "PARTLY COLORED": Representations of Asians under Jim Crow.” Journal of Asian American Studies 10, no. 1 (2007). 1-30. https://search.proquest.com/docview/216870091/fulltext/A13E3A0491354F7EPQ/1?accountid=14244.
  11. Block, Melissa. “The Legacy Of The Mississippi Delta Chinese.” NPR, March 18, 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/03/18/519017287/the-legacy-of-the-mississippi-delta-chinese (accessed September 22, 2018).