Criminal Annals, Part 88 – Letter to the Governor

As we have seen, the question regarding what needs to be done about the “Asiatics” was constantly in the news during the Gold Rush and people were taking up sides on the issue. Even Governor Bigler has taken a position on the matter and has made some derogatory remarks about these people, which has resulted in some Chinese people being thrown off their claims, violence and the consideration of the “Foreigner’s Tax” by the Legislature.

A group of learned Chinese gentlemen wrote a letter to the Governor in answer to his comments, which the Sacramento “Daily Union” published in their May 8, 1852 edition. Because it is very lengthy, and in some cases illegible, it has been carefully edited.


“San Francisco, April 29, 1852.

“Sir: The Chinamen have learned with sorrow that you have published a message against them. Although we are Asiatics, some of us have been educated in American schools and have learned your language which has enabled us to read your message int eh newspapers for ourselves, and to explain it to the rest of our countrymen. We have all thought a great deal bout it, and after consultation with one another, we have determined to write you as decent and respectful letter as we could pointed out to you Excellency some of the errors you have fallen into about us.

“When you speak of the laws of your own country, we shall not presume to contradict you. In our all great men are learned men, and a man’s rank is just according to his education. Keying [the emperor’s Commissioner Ch’i-ying ], who made the treaty with Mr. Cushing [Caleb Cushing, President Tyler’s commissioner to China who established regular diplomatic relations with that country in 1844], was not only a cousin of the Emperor, but one of the most learned men in the Empire, otherwise he would not have been Governor of Canton. Just so, we doubt not, it is in California and other enlightened countries. But it will not be making little of your attainments to suppose tht you do not know as much about our people as you do of your own.

“You speak of the Chinamen as ‘Coolies,’ and in one sense the word is applicable to a great many of them; but not in that in which you seem to use it. ‘Cooley’ is not a Chinese word; it has been imported into China from foreign parts, as it has been into this country. What its original signification was, we do not know; but with us it means a common laborer, and nothing more. We have never known it used among us as a designation of a class, such as you have in view – persons bound to labor under contracts which the can be be forcibly compelled to comply with. The Irishmen who are engaged in digging down your hills, the men who unload ships, who clean your streets, or even drive your drays, would, if they were in China, be considered ‘Coolies;” tradesmen, mechanics of every kind and professional men, would not. If you mean by ‘Coolies’ laborers, many of our countrymen in the mines are ‘Coolies,’ and many again are not. There are among them tradesmen, mechanics, gentry (being persons of respectability, and who enjoy a certain rank and privilege.) and schoolmasters, who are reckoned with the gentry, and with us considered a respectable class of people. None are ‘Coolies,’ if by that word you mean bound men or contract slaves.

“The ship Challenge, of which you speak in your message, as bringing over more than five hundred Chinamen, did not bring over one who was under ‘Cooley’ contract to labor. Hab-wa, who came here as agent for the charter, as one of the signers of this letter, states to your Excellency that they were all passengers and are going to work in the mines for themselves.

“As to our countrymen coming over here to labor for $3 or $4 per month wages, it is unreasonable on the face of it, and is not true. That strong affection which they have for their own country, which induces them to return with the gold they dig, as you say, would prevent them from leaving their homes for wages so little, if at all better than they could get there. The Chinamen are indeed remarkable for their love of their country in a domestic way. They gather together in clans in districts and neighborhoods, and in some villages there are thousands of the same surname, flocking around the original family home. They honor their parents, and age generally, with a respect like religion, and have the deepest anxiety to provide for their descendants. To honor his parents is the great duty of the son. A Chinese proverb runs somewhat in this way: ‘In the morning when you rise, inquire after your parents’ health, at midday be not far from the, and in the evening comfort them when the go to rest: this it is to be a pious son.’ With such feeling as these, it is to be expected that they will return with their gains to their homes, but it is foolish to believe they will leave them for trifling inducements. To the same cause yo must look for the reason why there are no Chinese drunkards in your streets, nor convicts in your prisons, madmen in your hospitals, or other who are a charge to your State. They live orderly, work hard, and take care of themselves that they may have the means of providing for their homes and living amidst their families. The other matter which you allude to, their leaving their families in pledge as security for their performance of the contract is still more inconsistent with their character and absurd.

“We will tell you how it is that Chinese poor come to California. Some have borrowed the small amount necessary, to be returned with unusual interest on account of the risk; some have been furnished with money without interest by their friends and relations and some agin, but much the smaller portion, have received advances in money, to be returned out of the profits of their adventure. The usual apportionment of the profits is about three-tenths to the lender of the money and rarely if ever any more. The poor Chinaman does not come here as a slave. He comes because of his desire for independence, and he is assisted by the charity of his his countrymen, which they bestow on him safely, because he is industrious and honestly repays them. When he gets to the mines he sets to work with patience, industry, temperance and economy. He gives no man any offence, and he is contented with small gains, perhaps only two or three dollars per day. His living costs him something and he is well pleased if he saves up three or four hundred dollars a year. But not all: others – full as many as of other nations – invest their gains in merchandise and bring it into the country and sell it at your markets. We are not able to tell you how much has been paid by Chinese importers at the Custom House, but the sum must be very large. In this city alone [San Francisco] there are twenty stores kept by Chinamen, who own the lots and erected the building themselves.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.