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[LABOR] Bar "John Chinaman" to Eternity (Terence Powderly)

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  • madchinaman
    The Chinese Question and American Labor Historians Stanford M. Lyman [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000] STANFORD M.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8 4:08 PM
      The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians
      Stanford M. Lyman
      [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter
      STANFORD M. LYMAN is Robert J. Morrow Eminent Scholar and professor
      of Social Science at Florida Atlantic University. A specialist on
      Asian American studies, minorities and sociological theory, he is
      the author of Chinese Americans, The Asian in North America, and
      Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community among
      Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. His most recent book is
      Postmodernism and a Sociology of the Absurd and Other Essays on
      the "Nouvelle Vague" in American Social Science.


      The opposition to the Chinese coolie is not alone because of his
      race or his religion, but because of the economic position he
      occupies in this country . . . They do not assimilate with our
      people, do not wear our clothing, do not adopt our customs,
      language, religion or sentiments. It is said that the Chinese, if
      given an opportunity, will become Americanized. The Chinese coolie
      will no more become Americanized than an American can take on the
      habits, customs, garb and religion of the Mongolian . . . American
      and Chinese civilizations are antagonistic; they cannot live and
      thrive and both survive on the same soil.

      Powderly closed this peroration with a dire prophecy: "One or the
      other must perish."

      Powderly served not only a five-year term (1897-1902) as U.S.
      Commissioner-General of Immigration and a one-year term as special
      representative of the Department of Labor and Commerce to study
      European immigration problems, but also accepted appointment as
      chief of the Division of Information in the Bureau of Immigration
      and Naturalization, a position he held from 1907 until his death in

      In each of these offices he (and his successor Commissioners-
      General: Frank P. Sargent [1902-1908], grand master of the
      Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and Daniel Joseph Keefe [1908-
      1913], a sometime vice-president of the A.F.L.260) came into regular
      contact with and pressure from Samuel Gompers for whom the
      relentless pursuit of ever-stricter enforcement of Asiatic exclusion
      had, as we have seen, become a veritable obsession.261

      Gyory, of course, makes no mention of any of this. Having ended his
      investigation with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882,
      he does not report on how Powderly, Gompers and the other
      exclusionists were challenged by Rev. Wu P'an-chao (1866-1931),
      known in America as Dr. Ng Poon Chew, founder and editor of Chung
      Sai Yat Po, the first Chinese-language newspaper in the United

      Ng, who succeeded in obtaining a reclassification of newspaper
      editors as educators rather than laborers, toured the United States
      in behalf of a repeal of the law, published an eloquent refutation
      of the exclusionist position in The New York Times, and debated
      both Powderly and Gompers when, in 1905, they sought an even harsher
      measure prohibiting the coming of Asians to America.

      Nor does Gyory take account of the study published in 1916, by Tien-
      Lu Li, Professor of English at Peking University, who, having not
      only examined the facts and forces associated with the Burlingame
      Treaty of 1868, the modification of the latter in 1880, the treaty
      of 1894, the Exclusion Acts of 1882, 1884, 1888, 1892, 1893, 1902,
      and 1904, the extension of the exclusion laws to Hawaii and the
      Philippine Islands after 1898, and also critically appraised both
      the pro- and the anti- exclusionist positions, concluded, "It is no
      solution of the problem that omits the main . . . question . . . the
      exclusion of Chinese laborers . . . If the present policy is sound,
      wise, and in accordance with eternal truth and justice, then let it
      be pursued and maintained, cost what it may. But it would do no harm
      to pause and think whether it is."266 A singular shortcoming of
      Gyory's investigation is that he did not take up the kind of
      challenge that Professor Li had issued more than eight decades
      before his book was published.
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