By Maj. Gen. Bill Chen, U.S. Army, retired
14th Air Service Group Memorial Day Parade 1943, Springfield, Ill.
On May 10, 2019, at Promontory Summit, Utah, the recognition and honoring of Chinese railroad workers at the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad completed the story arc of Chinese railroad workers. Along the way, Chinese railroad workers endured hard work, danger, risk of life, and sacrifices while also being ignored, forgotten, excluded and snubbed. Progress in recognition has been slow - the completed arc gave closure to the first major contribution of Chinese in America - the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
While not a historian, I would say that the second major contribution of Chinese in America and Chinese Americans was their service in World War II. Here I distinguish between Chinese in America and Chinese Americans, where the former were Chinese, not American citizens in America; and the latter predominately are native or natural-born Americans of Chinese origin.
Using some poetic license on what a story arc is – this article recaps the storyline of the Chinese American World War II veterans.
Source: Jennifer Zhan, Asian American News
Image courtesy of U.S. Mint
The Citizens Coin Advisory Committee (CCAC) has recommended a design for the Congressional Gold Medal for Chinese American World War II veterans, Coin World reports.
On Sept. 18, the committee reviewed more than a dozen designs each for both sides of the medal before making its rec- ommendation to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to Coin World.
The CCAC recommended an obverse side that depicts Chinese American service- men and a nurse. The recommended reverse side sets a World War II American flag behind an Iowa-class battleship (a class of fast battleships for intercepting fast enemy ships), an M4 Sherman tank and a P-40 Warhawk from the Flying Tigers.
According to the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act, Congress finds that “Chinese Americans served the United States in every conflict since the Civil War, and distin- guished themselves in World War II, serving in every theater of war and every branch of service, earning citations for their heroism and honorable service, including the Medal of Honor.”
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) sponsored the bill that called Congress to award this collective honor to Chinese American WWII veterans. It was intro- duced in the Senate in 2017 and became Public Law 115-337 in December of 2018.
OCA– Asian Pacific American Advo- cates President Sharon Wong said in a 2018 press release that the recognition was “very timely,” given that the law passed following the 75th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates is dedicated to advancing the social, political, and eco- nomic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“Over 20,000 Chinese-Americans served their nation and sacrificed their lives for the sake of our freedom. Although many of the veterans are no longer with us, it is still poignant that they have been recognized by their country for their service,” Wong added in the statement.
The law dictates that after the medal is formally awarded in honor of the veterans, it will be given to the Smithsonian Institu- tion to be displayed and made available for research.
Coin World also reports that the U.S. Mint will strike and offer 1.5-inch and 3-inch bronze duplicates of the gold medal for public sale. ♦
Note: Go to www.caww2.org to register known Chinese American veterans of WWII and perhaps be eligible for a free replica of the Congressional Gold Medal that is now estimated to be awarded in the Spring of 2020.
By Elaine Dunn
In 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared on Oct. 1 the founding of the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) and Oct. 1 would be its National Day.
That first inaugural proclamation was followed by a military parade, numbering 16,400 troops and
thousands of cheering civilians marching along.
The first National Day (1949) was captured by artist Dong Xiwen in an oil painting, unveiled in 1953. The painting,
however, had to be “edited” in 1954 where the bearded gentleman to Mao’s left was purged from the Party and the
painting after he called for Mao to retire. His spot was replaced by a potted chrysanthemum!
Since 1949, National Day in China has been marked by much bigger military parades (in Beijing and
Shanghai), state banquets, large political gatherings and speeches. In 1954, Beijing even sent a
representative to Moscow to study how the Soviets conducted such events. The result of that trip was the
addition of an “advancing forward in unison” element, where parade participants rush toward the review
platform to cheer and greet the leaders present. A “living image” element was added in 1957. This
consisted of thousands of people holding bouquets or colored placards facing Tiananmen Gate to form a
huge visual pattern.
Around the holiday, portraits of revered leaders are prominently displayed in public spaces still.
“We Are Not the Degraded Race You Would Make Us”: Norman Asing Challenges Chinese Immigration Restrictions
California had a few thousand Chinese immigrants in 1850. By 1852, the number swelled to 20,000, constituting almost a quarter of California’s work force. Chinese who toiled in mines and worked as shopkeepers were welcomed, even recruited, at first. But nativist sentiment to curtail Chinese immigration grew as the number of immigrants increased. John Bigler, the state’s third Governor, called for immigration restriction in 1852, citing Chinese immigrants’ inability to assimilate as European immigrants had. Norman Asing, a restaurant owner and leader in San Francisco’s Chinese community, assailed the governor for his anti-Chinese stance and utilized the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution against Bigler’s claims of the danger of Chinese immigration. But Asing’s argument also embraced some of the era’s racist assumptions about African Americans and Native Americans.
TO HIS EXCELLENCY GOV. BIGLER
Sir: I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions; am much attached to the principles of the government of the United States, and therefore take the liberty of addressing you as the chief of the government of this State. Your official position gives you a great opportunity of good and evil. Your opinions through a message to a legislative body have weight and , and perhaps none more so with the people, for the effect of your late message has been thus far to prejudice the public mind against my people, to enable those who wait the opportunity to hunt them down, and rob them of the rewards of their toil. You may not have meant that this should be the case, but you can see what will be the result of your propositions.
I am not much acquainted with your logic, that by excluding population from this State you enhance its wealth. I have always considered that population was wealth; particularly a population of producers, of men who by the labor of their hands or intellect, enrich the warehouses or the granaries of the country with the products of nature and art. You are deeply convinced you say “that to enhance the prosperity and preserve the tranquility of this State, Asiatic immigration must be checked.” This, your Excellency, is but one step towards a retrograde movement of the government, which, on reflection, you will discover; and which the citizens of this country ought never to tolerate. It was one of the principal causes of quarrel between you (when colonies) and England; when the latter pressed laws against emigration, you looked for immigration; it came, and immigration made you what you are— your nation what it is. It transferred you at once from childhood to manhood and made you great and respectable throughout the nations of the earth. I am sure your Excellency cannot, if you would, prevent your being called the descendant of an immigrant, for I am sure you do not boast of being a descendant of the red man. But your further logic is more reprehensible.
You argue that this is a republic of a particular race—that the Constitution of the United States admits of no asylum to any other than the pale face. This proposition is false in the extreme, and you know it. The declaration of your independence, and all the acts of your government, your people, and your history are all against you.
It is true, you have degraded the Negro because of your holding him in involuntary servitude, and because for the sake of union in some of your states such was tolerated, and amongst this class you would endeavor
to place us; and no doubt it would be pleasing to some would-be freemen to mark the brand of servitude upon us. But we would beg to remind you that when your nation was a wilderness, and the nation from which you sprung barbarous, we exercised most of the arts and virtues of civilized life; that we are possessed of a language and a literature, and that men skilled in science and the arts are numerous among us; that the productions of our manufactories, our sail, and workshops, form no small share of the commerce of the world; and that for centuries, colleges, schools, charitable institutions, asylums, and hospitals, have been as common as in your own land. That our people cannot be reproved for their idleness, and that your historians have given them due credit for the variety and richness of their works of art, and for their simplicity of manners, and particularly their industry. And we beg to remark, that so far as the history of our race in California goes, it stamps with the test of truth the fact that we are not the degraded race you would make us. We came amongst you as mechanics or traders, and following every honorable business of life. You do not find us pursuing occupations of degrading character, except you consider labor
degrading, which I am sure you do not; and if our countrymen save the proceeds of their industry from the tavern and the gambling house to spend it on farms or town lots or on their families, surely you will admit that even these are virtues. You say “you desire to see no change in the generous policy of this government as far as regards Europeans.” It is out of your power to say, however, in what way or to whom the doctrines of the Constitution shall apply. You have no more right to propose a measure for checking immigration, than you have the right of sending a message to the Legislature on the subject. As far as regards the color and complexion of our race, we are perfectly aware that our population have been a little more tan than yours.
Your Excellency will discover, however, that we are as much allied to the African race and the red man as you are yourself, and that as far as the aristocracy of skin is concerned, ours might compare with many of the European races; nor do we consider that your Excellency, as a Democrat, will make us believe that the framers of your declaration of rights ever suggested the propriety of establishing an aristocracy of skin. I am a naturalized citizen, your Excellency, of Charleston, South Carolina, and a Christian, too; and so hope you will stand corrected in your assertion “that none of the Asiatic class” as you are pleased to term them, have applied for benefits under our naturalization act. I could point out to you numbers of citizens, all over the whole continent, who have taken advantage of your hospitality and citizenship, and I defy you to say that our race have ever abused that hospitality or forfeited their claim on this or any of the governments of South America, by an infringement on the laws of the countries into which they pass. You find us peculiarly peaceable and orderly. It does not cost your state much for our criminal prosecution. We apply less to your courts for redress, and so far as I know, there are none who are a charge upon the state, as paupers.
You say that “gold, with its talismanic power, has overcome those natural habits of non-intercourse we have exhibited.” I ask you, has not gold had the same effect upon your people, and the people of other countries, who have migrated hither? Why, it was gold that filled your country (formerly a desert) with people, filled your harbours with ships and opened our much-coveted trade to the enterprise of your merchants.
You cannot, in the face of facts that stare you in the face, assert that the cupidity of which you speak is ours alone; so that your Excellency will perceive that in this age a change of cupidity would not tell. Thousands of your own citizens come here to dig gold, with the idea of returning as speedily as they can.
We think you are in error, however, in this respect, as many of us, and many more, will acquire a domicile amongst you.
But, for the present, I shall take leave of your Excellency, and shall resume this question upon another occasion which I hope you will take into consideration in a spirit of candor. Your predecessor pursued a different line of conduct towards us, as will appear by reference to his message.
I have the honor to be your Excellency’s very obedient servant, NORMAN ASING
Fourth of July. Independence Day. Nationalistic pride. A day off to enjoy community parades, picnics in the park, backyard BBQs and a night of fireworks. A day to celebrate one of the documents that is the foundation of the American spirit., the Declaration of Independence
In 1776, July 4 was a declaration of independence from the king of England, that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” It was an affirmation of freedom, liberty and freedom of choice.
The second paragraph of that most sacred of documents, the Declaration of Independence, states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Yet for the Chinese who came to “the Gold Mountain” in the mid-1800s in pursuit of a better life, this sentiment did not seem to apply to them except for the few early ones whose diligent work ethic and willingness to perform tasks European Americans deemed undesirable made them welcome.
Life for the Chinese immigrants in the mid-1800s was absolutely no picnic. They were feared, loathed and stereotyped. Many toiled as inexpensive railroad workers, miners, cooks and laundrymen. For those early Chinese in America, they were certainly not considered equal and their pursuit of happiness, let alone citizenship, was much thwarted.
Then, as now, there is a portion of the American population who feel they and their identity are under siege with the presence of Chinese (then) and other non-Caucasian (now) immigrants.
As a group, Chinese Americans are considered the “model minority” -- self-reliant with good work ethics and strong family values.
Yet, as the timeline shows, the “fortunes” of Chinese Americans parallel the ups and downs of U.S.-Chinese relations. Things improved during WWII, when the two countries became allies. Those Chinese, particularly students, who were stranded in the U.S. at that time became new immigrants. When the Cold War began, Chinese Americans were once again the target of suspicion and potential enemies of the state. Right now, with tensions between the two countries high, Chinese Americans are once again looked upon with distrust by some.
The FBI’s current campaign on economic espionage has China and Chinese Americans in its crosshairs.
In January of this year, the director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas, a naturalized Chinese American award-winning epidemiologist, stepped down after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. (No charges have been filed against her as we go to press.) Hers is not an isolated incident. A Bloomberg article in June reported “the National Institutes of Health and FBI are targeting ethnic Chinese scientists, including U.S citizens, searching for a cancer cure.” Three other top Chinese American scientists from Houston had left in recent months.
We cannot be too complacent. The constant bombardment of “China rising” may lead to the resurrection of “Yellow Peril” paranoia. Some of the recent political campaign messages are reminiscent of the mid- to late-1800s anti-Chinese rhetoric.
As Chinese Americans, we need to exercise our rights and voice our concerns, just like Norman Asing and Wong Ar Chong.
As Chinese, we’ll never look Caucasian American. So we’ll just have to grin and bear the question, “So, where are you from?” and trust that one day, the 1931 study that concluded Chinese may be “American by birth, but not in fact” will be but a sad past.
So, what’s your Independence Day going to be like? Given the unmentionable hardships the early Chinese in America endured, we should all be celebrating with gusto! But also remember their struggles.
Americans know April 15 as tax day. But 107 years ago, it was a day that shocked the world.
At 2:20 a.m., April 15, 1912, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of the time (and considered “unsinkable” by many because of its compartmentalized hull construction), sank into the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean. Of the 2,200 people on board, eight were Chinese. Of the 706 who survived, six of the eight Chinese made it.
These six Chinese survivors of the RMS Titanic tragedy disappeared soon after their arrival in New York.
There has been much coverage of the Titanic story by the global media, but nothing was reported of the Chinese passengers. Of the hundreds other survivors who were interviewed by the press for their survival tales, none paid attention to the six Chinese.
By Greg Hugh
At the end of this year, the Chinese Exclusion Act would have been repealed for 75 years. TPT will be broadcasting a series, “The Chinese Exclusion Act: American Experience” that asks “What it means to be American? What makes you American?” Check your local TPT station for dates and times when The Chinese Exclusion Act will be shown.
The Chinese Exclusion Act (Immigration Act of 1882) was a U. S. federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The act followed the Angell Treaty of 1880, a set of revisions to the U.S.-China Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that allowed the U.S. to suspend Chinese immigration. The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first and only law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It was repealed by the Magnuson Act on Dec. 17, 1943.
From today’s perspective, it is difficult to believe that once upon a time in America, Chinese were considered heathens and subjected to widespread persecution and violence. The earlier hostile attitude toward Chinese is very different from the contemporary esteem for them as a "model minority" to be emulated by others.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
The communist takeover of China in 1949 saw a significant achievement of a comprehensive government. After the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (中國人民共和國) on Oct. 1, 1949, the Communist Party (共產黨) expected fighting for a few more years. To their surprise, once Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (國民黨, KMT) armies were shoved off the mainland, the whole country seemed to accept the communist ascension. Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (人民解放軍) found themselves able to sweep through the south and southwest fairly easily.
Public sentiment in the cities the first year was one of euphoria. The residents of the cities saw a conquering army of seemingly self-disciplined country lads who appeared to be both helpful and polite. This was in stark contrast to the looting and raping activities of both the warlords and all-too-often corrupt KMT troops. The new government was seen as cleaning things up. The streets and drains were cleared of not only the filth and garbage but also of the petty criminals, prostitutes and beggars. The beggars and those who had been involved in criminal and immoral activities were rounded up and sent for reeducation aimed at teaching them how they can and should become productive members of the new society. This activity was the source of the word “brainwashing” (洗腦).
Events in China moved faster than even the Party anticipated. The Communist Party numbered only about 750,000 members but there was a need to fill over 2,000,000 government posts at all levels. For that reason, the Party allowed most of the former KMT government to remain in their positions, receive salaries and continue their functions. While this was being done, the government abolished foreign privileges, stamped out corruption and mobilized the citizenry into people who repaired public works, spread literacy, repair railroads and steamship lines while controlling diseases.