Saturday, July 21, 2012

China Boy, by Kay Haugaard

For a change of pace, this is a review of the above book. 

It is a pleasant, quiet read; a fictional account of a young man who arrives in the California Gold Rush from Guangdong.  The story is somewhat idealized so we are spared real nastiness although the author writes about the rise of anti-Chinese feelings that ultimately produced the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1880.  To keep the score even, there are nasty moments among the Chinese themselves--greed, jealousy, tongs.

With hard work and the help of some friendly Chinese and non-Chinese, the main character thrives and finds his sister--presumed lost in some floods in Guangdong, she has actually made her own way to the Beautiful Country.  The author, writing in 1971, found the sister's bound feet worthy of remark.  Perhaps it is but most traditional Chinese prefer not to speak about it. The author presents a truer picture of the success of the Chinese in that period in showing how many prospered in the restaurants and laundry establishments as opposed to striking it rich in the mines.  In general, it has been remarked, more money was made off the miners than in the mines; logically, this presents a puzzle for economists.  The book does not go into the railroad building and other later activities and troubles of the immigrants.  The plot and character development in the book do not invite comment.

Many books have been written about the coming of the Chinese to America, from Gunther Barth's pioneering (1964) Bitter Strength and T. Y. Char's edition of recollections (1975) of those who made it to The Sandalwood Mountains (Hawaii).  The most detailed recent work of H. M Lai (2004) Becoming Chinese American focused on the Chinese in California arriving before the Exclusion Act and the social and other organizations they created.  It is safe to say that the descendants of those who arrived in the 19th century are not conscious of being foreign in America.

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