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Chinese in America: When They Came

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food in History

Winter Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(4) page(s): 36

This puzzling question has an answer, but with little information. In Asian Americans: An Interpretive History by Sucheng Chan (Twayne Publishers, Boston MA, 1991), it says that in the 1600s the Chinese reached California on ships of the Manila Galleon. However, then California belonged to Mexico an it did until 1848. Chinese sugar masters worked in Hawaii in the early 1800s. Chinese peddlers and sailors were in New York during those years, too. In 1844, the US and China signed their first treaty; and in that year, three Chinese students arrived in New York City for schooling. One of them, Yung Wing, graduated from Yale University in 1854. He was the first Chinese ever to graduate from an American university.

Some sources said the Chinese really came to the US in the 4th century CE and provided early Asian influences at Port Henry. The first Chinese laborers landed in Hawaii in 1852. More than twenty thousand had already entered California by then, some appearing in court that same year. William Speer opened a Presbyterian mission for them in 1852.

Therefore, there were Chinese in the US as early as the 1850s. In 1858, California passed a law to bar the entry of any Chinese and Mongolians, though many were already in the US at that time. In 1862, California added a ‘police tax’ of $25.00 a month on every Chinese in the US.

Not all information we read about the Chinese in the US in those days may be true. For example, Robert Frost said in 2009 reported on the website www.historyAccess.com that the first Chinese immigrants reached US shores in the 1920s. In the UK in 1848, John Davis published the first detailed English language description of Chinese cooking about Chinese in the US. He mentions that on December 10, 1849, the first Chinese restaurant opened in San Francisco; it was named the Canton. Did he really know that or was he a good guesser? Did he or anyone else think someone else was cooking their food?

There seems to be little agreement and fewer facts about the Chinese in the US. For example, a Japanese website: www.yutakioka.jugem.ip/?eid says “some researchers assert that the first Chinese immigrants reached the North American continent in the 4th century CE long before Christopher Columbus discovered the US:” Fang in 1980, and Steiner in 1979, report similar information. A Frenchman, de Guigenes, writes about that, but in 1761. He says they arrived one thousand years earlier than that. Bruce, in 1998, says three Chinese sailed for San Francisco in 1847. Neither he nor anyone else says when or where they landed.

Buddhist literature says that Hu-Shen (also spelled Heoi-Shin) who was a monk and missionary, followed the Japanese current in 499 CE and found a huge canyon that with various bands of color along its sides and a winding river under its boulders. Others wrote that a tangible finding of early Chinese in the US is a Chinese ship anchor in California in the 1970s or 1980s. This particular artifact was shown on the History Channel on a TV program called: “In Search Of...”

To check the deGoines reference, there is a 1761 title called: Researches Sur Les Navigations des Chinos du Cote de L’amerique at the Paris Academe des Inscription. An additional item on this topic is the 1980 Zhongpu Fong title of "Did Buddhists Reach America 1,000 Years Before Columbus?" That was in China Reconstructs in its Volume 29(8) on page 65. Asian-American Chronology edited by DG Baron and SB Gall and published by Gale Research (NY, 1984) has similar information.

Some issues back, this magazine wrote about three Chinese crewman stranded in Baltimore for a year. It took them that long to find a ship willing to take them back to China. They had arrived in Maryland on the ship called Pallas. For the record, two of them were called Achyun, and Accun.

Incidentally, those first sugar masters mentioned above had arrived in Hawaii in 1802. We hope you locate other information about the Chinese coming to or already in the US. If you do, please send us your sources and what you learn. More information will help to clarify this to my and other people’s satisfaction. So far, it has not done so for ours.

Chinese cuisine, home to China's earliest sages, has many savory foods. Some information is reported in Volue 17(2), and in that issue and earleir ones, they speak of being known as lu cai or simply lu cuisine. Chinese food historians tell us its origins in the US date back to Neolithic times, and that it is loved in China for its extensive use of wheat, millet, yantai apples, laiyang pears, ziyang dates, and other foods; and that it has a huge following,

Seems many people love these foods in the US, and newer ones including Qingdao beer, Laoshan mineral water, Longkuo noodles, donkey hide gelatin, abalone, king prawns, rock oysters, and sea cucumber, among other foods. This magazine touts then all!

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