Him Mark Lai Bibliography Sample

Because of the long delays associated with testimonies, living conditions became the focal point of immigrants’ frustrations. Immigrants became prisoners under lock and key 24 hours a day, the barracks had been deemed by public health officials to be a firetrap, the food was barely edible, recreation or time allowed outside was limited, and under such conditions, some even demanded to be returned to China on the next boat out. It was common to hear rumors of suicide by those who were schedule to be deported. The most visible and durable testimony to their suffering are the famous poems, some written, some carved with a classical Cantonese technique into the wooden walls of the barracks. This was not mere graffiti. Couched in classical allegories and historical references, these poems poured forth the aspirations of the immigrants with their anger and sadness at the injustice of their initial reception by America.

Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days,
It is all because of the Mexican exclusion law which implicates me.
It’s a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so that I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on, I am departing far from this building
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.

– From the walls of Angel Island Immigration Station, author unknown, Poem 69 from Island, p. 134.

ANGEL ISLAND POEMS read in Toishanese

The largest percentage of Chinese immigrants who came to America in the first part of the twentieth century were from Toishan District in Guangdong Province. So too were many of the Chinese immigrants who were detained at Angel Island and Victoria, B.C. and who wrote the poems on the walls of the detention buildings. The following poems, published in Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung’s book, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, 2nd edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014), are sung in Toishanese by Yui Poon Ng 伍銳泮 of the Ing Suey Sun Tong Association of Vancouver 溫哥華伍胥山公所. The video recording was produced by Joanne Poon 潘美珠 and donated to the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. We greatly appreciate the contributions of Mr. Ng and Ms. Poon.

Poem 3, p. 187


– 辛亥年七月十二日李字題寧邑

Sitting alone in the customs office,
How could my heart not ache?
Had my family not been poor,
I would not have traveled far away from home.
It was my elder brother who urged me
To embark on a voyage to this shore.
The black devil* here is unjust—
He forces the Chinese to clean the floor.
Two meals a day are provided,
But I wonder, when will I be homeward bound?

– Lee from Toishan District, September 4, 1911

* A pejorative to refer to those of African descent—here,
presumably, an African Canadian working at the immigration station
directed the detainees to sweep the floors.

Poem 4, p. 189



– 辛亥七月十二日到李字題寧邑

My Wife’s Admonishment

We are poor, so you’re leaving home to seek wealth;
Keep hold of propriety while on this journey.
Never pick wildflowers along the road,*
For you have your own wife at home!
Before you depart, I admonish you a thousand times;
Don’t let my words just whistle past your ears.
Don’t worry about us, be diligent and frugal,
And two years hence return to sweep the ancestors’ tombs.
Your wife and children haven’t a thing to wear;
Not half a cup of rice can be scooped from the pot.
Our house and rooms are dilapidated;
Our housewares are worn, and the curtains torn.
In the past, you did nothing but gamble;
You never thought of me and my flowing tears.
You are fortunate your elder brother has paid the taxes—
Always remember your great debt to him!

Lee from Toishan District, Arrived July 12, 1911

* To engage in romantic/sexual affairs while away from home.

Poem 7, p. 51


Originally, I had intended to come to America last year.
Lack of money delayed me until early autumn.
It was on the day that the Weaver Maiden met the Cowherd*
That I took passage on the President Lincoln.
I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.
Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.
I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?
The barbarians’ abuse is really difficult to take.
When my family’s circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flows.
I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon,
Thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.

* Better known as the Festival of the Seventh Day of the Seventh
Moon, the Qiqiao Festival is widely celebrated among the Cantonese.
In the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Maiden (Niulang Zhinü),
the Weaver Maiden in heaven one day fell in love with a mortal
Cowherd. After their marriage, her loom, which once wove garments
for the gods, fell silent. Angered by her dereliction of duty, the
gods ordered her back to work. She was separated from the Cowherd by
the Silver Stream, or Milky Way, with the Cowherd in the
constellation Aquila, while she was across the Heavenly River in the
constellation Lyra. The couple was allowed to meet only once a year
on the seventh day of the seventh moon, when the Silver Stream is
spanned by a bridge of magpies. On this day, maidens display toys,
figurines, artificial fruits and flowers, embroidery, and other
examples of their handiwork, so that men can judge their skills. It
is also customary for girls to worship the gods and make offerings
of fruit to them.

Poem 10, p. 55




Poem by One Named Huie from Heungshan Encouraging the Traveler

Just talk about going to the land of the Flowery Flag and my
countenance fills with happiness.
Not without hard work were one thousand pieces of gold dug up and
gathered together.
There were words of farewell to the parents, but the throat choked
up first.
There were many feelings, many tears flowing face to face, when
parting with the wife.

Waves big as mountains often astonished this traveler.
With laws harsh as tigers,* I had a taste of all the barbarities.
Do not forget this day when you land ashore.
Push yourself ahead and do not be lazy or idle.

* From “Tangong,” a chapter in the Book of Rites: Confucius was
passing Mount Tai and saw a woman weeping and wailing at a grave.
Confucius asked why she was wailing so sadly. She said, “My father-
in-law and my husband were killed by tigers. Now my son has also
been killed by a tiger.” Confucius asked why she didn’t leave this
dangerous place. She replied that it was because there was no
oppressive rule here. Confucius remarked, “Oppressive rule is surely
fiercer than any tiger.”

Poem 24, p. 67




Random Thoughts Deep at Night

In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon seeing the landscape, I
composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.

Written by Yee of Toishan

Poem 41, p. 81



After leaping into prison, I cannot come out.
From endless sorrows, tears and blood streak.
The jingwei bird carries gravel to fill its old grudge.*
The migrating wild goose complains to the moon, mourning his harried life.
When Ziqing was in distant lands, who pitied and inquired after him?**
When Ruan Ji reached the end of the road, he shed futile tears.***
The scented grass and hidden orchids complain of withering and falling.
When may I be allowed to soar at my own pleasing?

By Lee Gengbo of Toishan

* According to a folktale, the daughter of the legendary Yandi
was drowned while playing in the Eastern Sea. Her soul changed into
a bird called a jingwei, which, resenting the fact that the ocean
had taken her life, carried pebbles from the Western Mountains in
her beak and dropped them into the ocean, hoping to fill it up.

** Another name for Su Wu (140–60 BCE), who, during the Western
Han dynasty (206 BCE–24 CE), was sent by the Chinese government as
envoy to the Xiongnu, a nomadic people north of the Chinese empire.
Su Wu was detained there for nineteen years but refused to renounce
his loyalty to the Han emperor.

*** Ruan Ji (210–263), a scholar during the period of the Three
Kingdoms (220–80), enjoyed drinking and visiting mountains and
streams. Often, when he reached the end of the road, he would cry
bitterly before turning back.

Poem 43, p. 83


Imprisoned in the wooden building day after day,
My freedom withheld; how can I bear to talk about it?
I look to see who is happy, but they only sit quietly.
I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep.
The days are long and the bottle constantly empty;
my sad mood, even so, is not dispelled.
Nights are long and the pillow cold; who can pity my loneliness?
After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow,
Why not just return home and learn to plow the fields?

Click to hear readings of Chinese poems in Cantonese and English

http://www.poeticwaves.net (Mandarin)

http://www.kqed.org/w/pacificlink/history/angelisland/poetry/one.html (Mandarin and Cantonese)

<Previous: Life on Angel Island

Described by others as quaint and exotic, or as depraved and threatening, and, more recently, as successful and exemplary, the Chinese in America have rarely been asked to describe themselves in their own words. This superb anthology, a diverse and illuminating collection of primary documents and stories by Chinese Americans, provides an intimate and textured history of the Chinese in America from their arrival during the California Gold Rush to the present. Among the documents are letters, speeches, testimonies, oral histories, personal memoirs, poems, essays, and folksongs; many have never been published before or have been translated into English for the first time. They bring to life the diverse voices of immigrants and American-born; laborers, merchants, and professionals; ministers and students; housewives and prostitutes; and community leaders and activists. Together, they provide insight into immigration, work, family and social life, and the longstanding fight for equality and inclusion. Featuring photographs and extensive introductions to the documents written by three leading Chinese American scholars, this compelling volume offers a panoramic perspective on the Chinese American experience and opens new vistas on American social, cultural, and political history.

list of illustrations

part i: early chinese immigrants, 1852–1904

Songs of Gold Mountain Wives

Norman Asing, To His Excellency Governor Bigler (1852)

The Founding of Golden Hills News (1854)

Sing Kum, Letter by a Chinese Girl (1876)

Documents of the Chinese Six Companies Pertaining to Immigration

A Memorial from Representative Chinamen in America (1876)

A Memorial to the State of California to Bar Prostitutes (1868)

A Letter Writing Campaign to Discourage Immigration (1876)

The Second Exhumation and Return of the Remains of Our Departed Friends to the Homeland (1876)

Wen Bing Chung, Reminiscences of a Pioneer Student (1923)

Wong Hau-hon, Reminiscences of an Old Chinese Railroad Worker (1926)

Huang Zunxian, Memorandum No. 29 to Envoy Zheng (1882)

Memorial of Chinese Laborers at Rock Springs, Wyoming (1885)

Saum Song Bo, A Chinese View of the Statue of Liberty (1885)

Huie Kin, Reminiscences of an Early Chinese Minister (1932)

Bow On Guk (Protective Bureau) (1887)

Wong Chin Foo, Why Am I a Heathen? (1887)

Yan Phou Lee, Why I Am Not a Heathen: A Rejoinder to Wong Chin Foo (1887)

Jee Gam, The Geary Act: From the Standpoint of a Christian Chinese (1892)

Elizabeth Wong, Leaves from the Life History of a Chinese Immigrant (1936)

Kam Wah Chung Letters (1898–1903)

part ii: life under exclusion, 1904–1943

Ng Poon Chew, The Treatment of the Exempt Classes of Chinese in the U.S. (1908)

Detention in the Wooden Building (1910)

Chin Gee Hee, Letter Asking for Support to Build the Sunning Railroad (1911)

Chinese-American Citizens’ Alliance, Admission of Wives of American Citizens of Oriental Ancestry (1926)

Gong Yuen Tim, “Just plain old luck and good timing:” Reminiscences of a Gold Mountain Man (1988)

Helen Hong Wong, “I was the only Chinese woman in town:” Reminiscences of a Gold Mountain Woman (1982)

Pardee Lowe, Second-Generation Dilemmas (1930s)

Anna May Wong, I Am Growing More Chinese—Each Passing Year! (1934)

Declaration of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (1933)

Chinese Women’s Association Condensed Report for the Years 1932–1936

Happy Lim, Song of Chinese Workers (1938)

Lim P. Lee, Chinatown Goes Picketing (1938)

Liu Liangmo, Paul Robeson: The People’s Singer (1950)

Jew Baak Ming, The Founding of McGehee Chinese School (1944)

Eddie Fung, “There but for the grace of God go I:” The Story of a POW Survivor in World War II (2202)

Gilbert Woo, One Hundred and Seven Chinese (1943)

part iii: becoming an integral part of america, 1943–2003 000

Chinese News Service, San Francisco Chinese Papers Blame Immigration Practices in Suicide of Chinese Woman (1948)

Eddie Gong, I Want to Marry an American Girl (1955)

Hsue-shen Tsien, My Bitter Experience in the United States (1956)

Maurice Chuck, Father and Son (1995)

Ah Quon McElrath, “We gave workers a sense of dignity:” The Story of a Union Social Worker (1982)

Sheila Chin Morris, “All the daddies were Chinese and all the mommies were white:” Growing Up Biracial in Minnesota (2002)

Bonnie C. Lew, “I always felt out of place there:” Growing Up Chinese in Mississippi (1998)

Johnny Wong, “It was not a winnable war:” Remembering Vietnam (1998)

Jeffery Paul Chow, “I am a Chinaman:” An Interview with Frank Chin (1970)

L. Ling-chi Wang, Major Education Problems Facing the Chinese Community (1972)

On the Normalization of Relations Between China and the U.S.

Proclamation by the Chinese Six Companies of San Francisco (1971)

Gilbert Woo, A Turning Point in Chinatown (1979)

Sadie Lum, Asian American Women and Revolution: A Personal View (1983)

Shui Mak Ka, “In unity there is strength:” Garment Worker Speaks Out at Union Rally (1982)

Kitty Tsui, The Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire (1983)

Helen Zia, The New Violence (1984)

Lily Wang, A Journey of Bitterness (1999)

Fu Lee, Immigrant Women Speak Out on Garment Industry Abuse (1993)

Jubilee Lau, Chinese and Proud of It (1996)

Marilee Chang Lin, Learning to See the Man Himself (1997)

Ellen D. Wu, The Best Tofu in the World Comes from . . . Indiana? (1998)

Binh Ha Hong, Reflections on Becoming American (1999)

Chang-Lin Tien, Affirming Affirmative Action (1995)

Alethea Yip, Countering Complacency: An Interview with OCA Director Daphne Kwok (1996)

“One mile, one hundred years:” Governor Gary Locke’s Inaugural Address (1997)

Kristie Wang, A Second-Generation Call to Action (1999)

Cheuk-Yin Wong, The Los Alamos Incident and Its Effects on Chinese American Scientists (2000)

David Ho, “We are Americans:” The Story behind Time Magazine’s Man of the Year (2003)

chronology of chinese american history
chinese glossary

Judy Yung, Professor Emerita of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is author of the award-winning Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (California, 1995) among other books. Gordon H. Chang, Professor of History at Stanford University, is editor of Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, Prospects (2001)and author of other books. Him Mark Lai, Adjunct Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, is author of Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions (2004), and other books.

“This volume sets a new milestone in the field of Chinese American studies.”—Western Folklore

“The rich and varied contribution of the Chinese to American culture and society is dramatized in this collection of essays, documents, letters, interviews and articles by and about the Chinese-American experience in the United States from the mid-1800s to date.”—History Wire

"Skillfully selected, translated, and annotated, this compelling compendium of voices bear witness to the diversity and depth of the Chinese American experience and, significantly, its indispensable centrality to American life and history."—Gary Y. Okihiro, author of Common Ground: Reimagining American History

"Here at last is a wide-ranging record of Chinese American experiences from the viewpoints of the players. Chinese American Voices is an impressive feat of scholarship, an indispensable reference, and a compelling read."—Ruthanne Lum McCunn, author of Thousand Pieces of Gold and The Moon Pearl

"This anthology offers a virtual "Gam Saan" (Gold Mountain) of original sources. The stories burst with telling and re-affirm a vision of men and women as actors in history, who made themselves as Chinese Americans as they helped to make America itself."—Ronald Takaki, author of Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans

"This volume of sixty-two annotated documents, many translated from Chinese for the first time, is a boon to faculty and students interested in Chinese American history, Asian American history, U.S. immigration history, and race and ethnic relations. The life stories, in particular, are appealing for students, the reading public, and scholars alike as they hear the voices of individuals long misunderstood, denigrated, and silenced. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to the three editors for their dedicated labor of love."—Sucheng Chan, author of Chinese American Transnationalism: The Flow of People, Resources, and Ideas between China and America during the Exclusion Era

"This is a superb collection."—Roger Daniels, author of Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882

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